Why the Finale’s Giraffe Scene Hits Different in the Game Version of ‘The Last of Us’
For the most part, HBO’s adaptation of The Last of Us has been more than faithful—it’s been transformative. We’ve been consistently impressed by how they’ve elevated the source material from the game for the small screen series format, and their overall success in this fashion should hopefully prove for good that you can make great adaptations out of video games.
That said … this one detail got lost in translation for me, because it simply doesn’t hit the same as it does in-game. That detail is the famous “Giraffe Scene,” wherein Joel and Ellie, after escaping an intensely traumatic situation, find a moment of peace amongst freed zoo animals in Salt Lake City. Despite the horrors that Ellie has just endured, she’s still able to have a moment of childlike wonder when she meets her first giraffe; the beast sticks its head out to her, curious after generations of no real human contact, and a beautiful moment is shared when Ellie feeds it some greenery.
The two then look out over the horizon at all the zoo animals gathered in an overgrown city. It’s a lovely scene that demonstrates a more peaceful aspect of this fungal apocalypse: There’s something still sacred and beautiful to behold in nature, even with so much violence to contend with.
And … it doesn’t hit quite as hard on television as it does in-game.
For the show, this scene—which they had to include because it’d be a bastardization of the story if they didn’t—was just an extension of the movie magic that has been present throughout the entire series. Watching television is a naturally passive activity, with the appeal being visual effects that pull us in, paired with narratively compelling plot beats. In that sense, the giraffe scene isn’t any different from the tender dinner scenes between Bill and Frank, or the Wyoming journey scenes as Joel and Ellie traverse the frozen wilds. It’s beautiful to behold, and meant to make us catch our breaths, but ultimately, it’s just one of many.
By contrast, what made it stand out in the original game was how it provided a mental break—the likes of which were entirely unique. Throughout the game, you only had brief moments of humanity outside of cutscenes, optional moments where you could joke around with Ellie, comment on comic books, things like that. Otherwise, you were constantly entrenched in violence and survival, to the point where it could become overwhelming. (Many of our own staff members admitted to not being able to finish the game for this reason alone!)
So, by the time you reached the giraffes in the game, you were already a little burned out and anticipating more violence. Instead, you were greeted with an opportunity to desist. You had a moment of pure, childlike wonder to indulge in—and it was a choice. And in games, choices are immensely rewarding for our brains! They make us connect with moments much more, and as a result, those moments stand out amongst other parts of the game by nature.
With the giraffes, you were given the choice to pause and rest, and you got to choose when you wanted to leave. I remember being so relieved at this moment of repose that I let it run for an hour while I got some food, and I just watched the giraffe’s AI mill around while the beautiful soundtrack played on a loop.
Truthfully, there’s no way they could have made this work for the show. I think they adapted this scene the best they could, and they would have been fools not to include it. All the same, that special something is lost by design by not playing through it. That said … maybe this will provide some impetus for viewers to give the game a try, now that they’ve watched the show.
(featured image: Naughty Dog)
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