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We Love This ‘The Last of Us’ Change—That Almost Didn’t Happen

Keivonn Montreal Woodard as Sam in The Last of Us with face paint

It’s impossible not to fall in love with these characters.

Henry and his little brother Sam are the shit. Both in The Last of Us game and in the HBO series. They’re smart, tenacious, and so deeply loving toward one another. Tragically, things do not end well for the pair in the game or in the TV show. However, we can take comfort in the fact that in the HBO iteration we were able to see even more of Henry and Sam, and that their characters are even more fleshed out.

One of the most significant changes from the game is Sam’s deafness. In The Last Of Us game, Sam is not deaf, nor does he have any sort of disability. He is also a bit closer in age to Ellie, perhaps only two years younger than her rather than five or six.

Why did HBO make this change in The Last of Us?

According to a podcast interview with Neil Druckman and Craig Mazin, the pair chose to make Sam deaf in order to differentiate between the communication dynamic he uses with his brother and the communication dynamic between Joel and Ellie.

“I became nervous that there was a mode of communication between Joel and Ellie that I didn’t want to feel like I was repeating between Henry and Sam because as Neil points out, in the game, you don’t spend time with Henry and Sam on their own,” Mazin said. “But if they are on their own, and we knew we wanted to do that, what do those discussions sound like? And it could very easily fall into the trap of exasperated father figure and a curious, concerned, scared child figure.”

Mazin also brought up the two main characters in The Close, both of whom are deaf, which also inspired the decision.

According to the pair, the search to find the right actor was a difficult one. After traditional casting methods failed to find a suitable candidate, the pair turned to social media. They explain on the podcast that they were expecting at least 80 submissions, but they only received five. One of those submissions was the incredible and adorable Keivonn Woodard, who is himself deaf.

The casting decision also adds quite a bit of dramatic tension to some scenes. In the world of The Last Of Us, Sam’s deafness is a double-edged sword. It obviously makes him more vulnerable because he is unable to hear approaching enemies or gunfire, and even causes him to fall into sound traps such as Joel’s broken glass on the floor.

However, his ability to use ASL to communicate with Henry gives him an advantage over many other survivors. In a world where making a sound can mean life or death (I’m looking at you clickers) Sam and Henry’s ability to silently communicate in close proximity and from a distance gives them the upper hand when sneaking through Kansas City. It may actually be one of the contributing factors that allowed Sam and Henry to remain undetected for so long. In the end, it’s a fascinating departure from the games and makes Henry and Sam’s relationship all the more unique.

(featured image: HBO)

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