Audiences globally awaited the launch of HBO's much-anticipated drama series, The Last of Us, which premiered on 15th January 2023, to critical praise. During those who've played The Last of Us Part I would have some idea of the show's narrative; however, the showrunners have made some creative changes when adapting the video game for the live-action format.
While they had some creative liberty with the series, some Easter Eggs, callbacks to the video games, and additional references were planted in the episode. But if you missed any of them in the latest episode of the post-apocalyptic drama, we've listed some of the important Easter Eggs and references discovered in The Last of Us series.
13th March 2023 Update: We've updated this guide to include the most important Easter Eggs and references for The Last of Us as the series is renewed for a second season. The original reporting continues below.
Important Easter Eggs & References From The Last Of Us TV Series
From visual references, audio cues, callbacks, and minor details, The Last of Us is a treasure trove of Easter Eggs for casual television audiences and avid players. As many of these are connected to the series' overarching narrative, this is the official SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t watched all episodes available to stream on HBO Max.
Since there are too many, we’ll list the most important Easter Eggs and references you should know or missed during your first viewing. So, let’s have a look…
The Last Of Us Episode 1: When You’re Lost In The Darkness
- Happy Birthday, Joel?: In the video game, you can pick up a variety of collectibles, from notes, photos, pendants, and comics. One such collectible made its way to the show as a dino-centric birthday card for Joel appears briefly on-screen, something that Sarah forgets to give her dad.
- A Cheesy 80s Movie: This Easter Egg from The Last of Us Part II was mentioned in the first episode as Sarah borrows a particular film from her soon-to-be-infected neighbors. The movie in question is Curtis and Viper 2, which Ellie tells Dina during a conversation is a “cheesy 80s action movie” Joel had a liking to.
- Nice Shirt: One detail that was already picked out from the trailers is a particular T-Shirt that Sarah wears. The T-Shirt is the same design as the one worn in the video game, and in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, the cities appearing on the back are the stops Joel and Ellie travel to in the game.
- The Butterfly Effect: One detail throughout the series is the butterfly motif that first appeared when Sarah was introduced, as a doodle on her jeans and in the kitchen at breakfast. The butterfly emerges throughout the first game but less in Part II.
The Last Of Us Episode 2: Infected
- A Familiar Plush Toy: One iconic moment from the first game was foreshadowed in the second episode, but in the form of a beat-up plush toy found amongst wreckage. Given that fans had to wait until the final episode for this Easter Egg to pay off, this plush toy is also seen in Sarah’s bedroom in the game.
- In Uncharted Territory: Naughty Dog has created plenty of games over the years, including Crash Bandicoot and Jax and Daxter, but its biggest gaming release, aside from The Last of Us, was indirectly referenced. Tess’ lighter may look familiar to treasure hunters as it replicates Sam Drake’s lighter from Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, which Neil Druckmann confirmed.
- Flying and Soaring: As previously mentioned, more butterflies appeared as stained glass stickers on Joel’s apartment window, Sarah’s pillowcase, and flying around a sleeping Ellie. One theory suggests that the butterflies will connect Ellie to Joel like they connected Sarah and Joel.
- Sort Of Left Behind: When asked by Tess, Ellie briefly avoided discussing how she got infected and lied about specific details. Additionally, Tess grilled Ellie about her having a “boyfriend,” to which she adamantly said no, as this conversation seemingly references the Left Behind DLC.
The Last Of Us Episode 3: Long, Long Time
- Lookin’ Good: One core detail lifted from the video game is Joel’s iconic “hero” plaid shirt giving its origin story in the show. As it was centered on Bill and Frank, it’s seemingly confirmed that Joel inherited the shirt from Frank which becomes part of Joel’s identity for the remainder of the game. Likewise, Ellie undergoes a wardrobe change, switching to her iconic palm tree printed T-Shirt with long sleeves.
- Frank Will Be Frank: This episode spotlighted Bill and Frank’s relationship, and after their eventual passing, Frank got to leave behind a letter, much like he did in the game. The difference is that the context is less feisty, but it still carries Frank’s humor despite him not quite liking Joel.
- The Window To The Soul: One shot from this episode was nearly copied from the game to the series as the first game’s starting menu was replicated. The window, featured on the starting menu, became the episode’s final shot to linger the episode’s events like Bill and Frank did.
The Last Of Us Episode 4: Please Hold To My Hand
- Going Cross Country: Music has played a significant role in the game and the series, specifically from country recording artist Hank Williams. One of his songs appeared in the game, and another was featured in the episode and the show’s promotional marketing.
- Not So Punny: The highlight of this episode became Ellie’s treasured item: “No Pun Intended: Volume Too” book, a collection of the most deadpan jokes and puns, which Ellie provides examples for the remainder of the series. This book first appeared in the Left Behind DLC, which Riley gifts to Ellie.
- When Tommy Became Perry: The series utilized some of the game’s original voice actors in various roles throughout the episodes, which one debuted in the episode. Tommy’s voice actor Jerry Pierce got to play a different role for the show, Kathleen’s right-hand man Perry, whom we got to spend time with until it was cut short the following episode.
The Last Of Us Episode 5: Endure And Survive
- Comic Collector: As previously mentioned, there are plenty of items players can collect during their adventures in the video game, and comics are one of them. A comic appears in this episode as Ellie and Sam grow their friendship over the Savage Starlight comics, which reading comics are something Ellie is passionate about.
- Deeper Underground: Speaking of collecting items, another set of collectibles players can find are notes which provide relevant and insignificant details about people, events, and more. One note described the depressing tale of one underground community run by a character named Ish, whom Joel, Ellie, Henry, and Sam stumble across their bunker in the series.
The Last Of Us Episode 6: Kin
- Fade To Black: The episode relived the shocking conclusion of the previous episode, which utilized a feature that was included in the game. When Henry turns the gun on himself after killing his infected brother, like in the game, it cuts to black just as he fired it.
- Holed Up In Jackson: The Wyoming settlement Joel and Ellie are taken to, where Joel reunited with his brother, has connections to the second game. While this settlement’s origins in the game are based on a power plant, they borrowed the Jackson Hole location from the game, which Joel and Ellie head back to in the final episode.
- The Staring Game: After Joel and Ellie briefly settle in and enjoys a meal with Tommy and Maria, a peculiar girl begins to stare at Ellie, which enrages her. The character is credited as “Staring Girl,” however, many believe this girl to be Dina, Ellie’s love interest from Part II, but it has yet to be confirmed.
- A Shimmering Steed: While audiences were happy to see Joel and Tommy reunite in this episode, Ellie meets with a familiar animal from the video game, which fans were excited to see. Ellie gets introduced to a horse named Shimmer, who becomes a companion of Ellie’s in Part II, even though this union is short-lived.
The Last Of Us Episode 7: Left Behind
- A Very Naughty Dog: Another Naughty Dog Easter Egg was planted early in the episode after Ellie got sent to the Captain’s office for punching a bully. Right as she dropped his set of keys, a keychain bearing the iconic dog paw print, the symbol for the developer, can be seen.
- Finish Her: While Ellie spots a Mortal Kombat II arcade earlier in the season and a poster appears in her bedroom, it’s in the seventh episode that it was finally explored. Primarily based on the Left Behind DLC, the episode spent most of its time on Riley and Ellie as they explored an abandoned shopping mall and played many rounds of Mortal Kombat.
The Last Of Us Episode 8: When We Are In Need
- Deerly Beloved: As the season changes to winter in the game, the same occurs in the series as Ellie has to hunt to keep her alive as Joel recovers from his injury. As she sets out on her hunt, she tracks down a deer which leads her to David and James.
- Joel Meets Joel: Like Merle Dandridge and Jeffery Pierce, who appeared in the game and the series, prominent voice actor (and Joel’s voice actor) Troy Baker followed suit. This time, as David’s right-hand man, James, the character was unceremoniously killed off before the episode ended.
- Crouching Ellie, Hidden Ellie: Another game mechanic incorporated into the show saw Ellie crouch and hide from David during the restaurant sequence. This was lifted from Ellie’s final confrontation with David in the first game, as she had to depend on a knife and her surroundings to defeat him.
The Last Of Us Episode 9: Look For The Light
- There Can Be Two Ellies: The episode opens with a pregnant woman escaping an Infected, and while the face may not be recognizable, the role is played by Critical Role’s Ashley Johnson. Johnson provides the voice and motion capture for Ellie in the video games, and for the show, she portrays Ellie’s mother, Anna, who was referenced in a note in the game.
- Shredding: Joel alludes to teaching Ellie how to play guitar, likely in the second season, after he points out that a guitar had gone missing from an RV. It’s unknown how Joel will find a guitar and whether its lead, Pedro Pascal, can play, but it may happen in Season 2.
- Our Friend, The Giraffe: Well, if you didn’t guess, when the giraffe plush toy appeared early in the season, Ellie finally got to meet one in the final episode before arriving in Salt Lake City. The moment was replicated from the game to the series, which became warming given what’s to follow.
- Abby's Here: Like with previous TLOU voice actors, the last appeared as a nurse assisting in Ellie's procedure, portrayed by Abby Anderson's voice actor, Laura Bailey. Adding insult to injury, aimed at Joel's direction, she captured her inclusion in the show by recreating an iconic The Flash meme to mark the moment.
- Joel’s Heroic Moment: The final moment of the episode was lifted from the game, although with some differences as Joel shoots his way through the hospital after learning what would happen to Ellie. After finding Ellie, the doctor’s final words to Joel, which seals his fate, foreshadows what Joel and Ellie will face in the second season and, eventually, what becomes of their characters later in the series.
There are plenty more Easter Eggs and references we could go into detail about, but let us know which were your favorite or most significant. All episodes of The Last Of Us are now available to stream on HBO Max and Now TV.