Missing smuggler Tess (Anna Torv) after episode 2 of The Last of Us? Craving more information about the character? Well, you’re in luck. The Last of Us co-creators Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann dig into their scrapped plans for showing Tess’s past on HBO’s official The Last of Us podcast. While the discussion is devastating, it is also illuminating.
“There is something we had talked about, and we wrote it but never shot it. It was a little bit of the backstory of Tess, and the fact that Tess had a kid,” Mazin reveals. “She had a husband and she had a son, and they were infected, and she had to kill them. She killed her husband, but could not kill the son.”
In this backstory, Tess locked her infected son in her basement rather than kill him outright. “Theoretically, he’s still a Clicker,” Mazin says.
“We had a cold open where the camera pushed on this door and you hear this pounding coming from this basement, and then we cut out,” explains Druckmann. “Later, Tess would tell the story of how she couldn’t kill her son.” Mazin and Druckmann ultimately decided that the scene didn’t fit, but even the knowledge of Tess’s backstory informs her arc in episode 2 in a powerful way.
Tess spends much of episode 2 protecting Ellie (Bella Ramsey), whose immunity to cordyceps may lead to a vaccine for everyone else. While Joel (Pedro Pascal) is cynical and believes Ellie will succumb any day now, Tess is “brave enough to dare to hope,” says Mazin. For Tess, if Ellie is the key to the cure, there’s a chance no one will have to lose people in the way that she did again.
For this reason, Mazin says, Tess goes into “mother mode” in this episode — a description that hits harder with the knowledge that Tess had a child. With hope in sight, she will do whatever it takes to keep Ellie alive. As we see at the end of the episode, this includes sacrificing herself to a horde of Clickers so that Joel and Ellie can escape.
Right before she dies, Tess tells Joel, “Save who you can save.” As Mazin and Druckmann point out in the podcast, she’s reminding him that he can’t save his daughter, Sarah (Nico Parker), who died at the very start of the episode. However, he can save Ellie. Perhaps there’s an extra layer to this as well: Once she’s infected, Tess realizes she doesn’t have much time left. She chooses to save who she is able to save — Joel and Ellie — by sacrificing herself. And in saving them, she still has some hope that maybe, just maybe, they can save the world.