It ain’t easy traveling across the country with folks who don’t have it all together. With the burden of succumbing to brutal violence himself, witnessing harm against folks who don’t deserve it, and remembering the echoes of normal life, the TV version of Joel is revealing something we all knew about Video Game Joel. Those of us who played The Last of Us rarely saw it, but it was always there: The dude might have a bad case of PTSD.
The Last of Us, in the HBO adaptation and the original game, follows the story of two survivors, Joel and Ellie, in a pandemic-sparked post apocalypse. As is fitting of zombie-adjacent drama, the story explores the inner emotional burden of survival and violence. HBO’s adaptation expands on this theme, showing us more of the psychic damage Joel has suffered and the toll on his mind and body. Suffering with symptoms similar to what we might describe as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Pedro Pascal’s Joel doesn’t seem to be able to keep it all bottled up as much as Troy Baker’s more stoic and grumbly version of the internet’s favorite apocalypse daddy. While early episodes hinted at the mental burden of Joel being forced into violent situations, the most recent one portrays Joel suffering through overwhelming panic attacks and, as one would expect, memes that break own his panic attack into three stages have followed.
Fans of the show are also finding the portrayal of Joel’s struggles with mental health work both to humanize Joel even further, and to provide something relatable for those who do suffer regularly with anxiety.
While Joel’s emotional struggles and the toll of trauma aren’t necessarily a secret in the original game, these scenes are a side of the character we haven’t really seen before. There’s something notably vulnerable and honest about these HBO portrayals. That said, many have noticed an interesting addition to the recent remake of the first game that’s more or less canonizing Joel’s specific mental health struggles.
While the opening of HBO’s adaptation and the original video game are similar in broad strokes, there are a number of key differences. The game’s opening is a bit shorter than the TV show, though players are given some time to play as Sarah and explore portions of her and Joel’s pre-pandemic home. It’s here that players are discovering what seems to be a sneaky addition from the remake: Joel’s anti-anxiety medication is now sitting on his nightstand. The show didn’t just add anxiety attacks for Joel out of nowhere, it turns out.
Some had even taken notice of this addition long before the show aired:
Unlike the game, HBO’s adaptation meditates a bit more on pre-pandemic life and the depths of what was lost in the carnage of the outbreak. But given the addition of the medication in the remake, it’s clear that the show isn’t the only thing evolving. It’s certainly got me thinking: What else did Naughty Dog update in that PS5 remake?