Spoiler Alert

One of the biggest Easter eggs a video game adaptation can provide to fans is the inclusion of an original cast member into the mix. On the eighth episode of HBO Max’s The Last of Us series, the show brought in Joel from the original video games. Troy Baker, who voices Joel in The Last of Us and The Last of Us Part II, finally joined the new infected world. But, of course, he didn’t play Joel this time around. Instead, Baker came into The Last of Us as an antagonist, James, the second-in-command of a horrible cult leader, David.

Naughty Dog/Liane Hentscher/HBO

Speaking to Variety, the original Joel shared a little bit about his adaptation experience. He noted, “I thought I was gonna get a walk-on role. And then I got the script, and I was like, ‘Oh, there’s meat here.'” In fact, Baker noted to Deadline he thought he would play a clicker on The Last of Us. Instead, he got to play something even more sinister.

While in the games, Baker plays a character whose very core revolves around protecting his charge, Ellie. In The Last of Us series, Troy Baker had to leave Joel behind and instead provide the menace.

Liane Hentscher/HBO

“That was probably my biggest challenge, not being in protector mode for Ellie.” Baker shares, “Here’s what’s so cool about Bella [Ramsey]: From my perspective, I’ve had such a dear relationship with Ashley Johnson and with the character of Ellie for so long, that I naturally want to assume that role. What Bella quickly teaches you, especially in this episode, is that there’s absolutely no protection needed. Both Bella and Ellie are incredibly fierce, adept, talented, powerful people. That’s the threat that James sees. He’s a pragmatist.”

But thankfully, series Ellie remains in good hands. Baker notes of The Last of Us‘ new Joel, Pedro Pascal. “If you watch all of [Pascal’s] choices, there’s so minimal, and because of that, they’re profound. And it makes Joel, in a lot of ways, more dangerous. There’s a physicality that he brought to this that we couldn’t have done in the game… That, to me, is something that helps to ground the story and present it in a very tangible way to a whole new audience.”

When characters get to live in different mediums, with different actors, fans get to benefit from each portrayal. As The Last of Us continues to adapt Joel and the other parts of the games, we look forward to returning to Baker’s performance and seeing it with new eyes.

Originally published on March 6, 2023.