The specifics of how and where Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Tommy (Diego Luna) have their reunion differ significantly from the game. Originally, Joel and Ellie happen upon the power plant/hydroelectric dam that Tommy and his people were using to power their settlement. They are met by Maria sniping them. In the show, Joel and Ellie are making their way across the River of Death when they are ambushed by armed people on horses, one of which turned out to be Maria (Rutina Wesley). When she discovers who Joel is, she takes the two back to the fully thriving Jackson settlement, which originally wasn’t seen until the second game.
Maria explained in the show how no one person is in charge of their “commune.” Maria and Tommy happily state that the citizens of the settlement share “collective ownership” of the rewards and responsibilities within their society. Although some of these values are implied when we see more of Jackson in “Part II,” the difference in the first game is that Tommy and Maria make clear that Maria (and her father) is in charge. There was a hierarchy in the game, whereas the show is more interested in making Maria and Tommy down to earth.
Compared to her portrayal in the game, the show’s Maria is much softer and more welcoming to strangers. She is a mother two-fold in the show when she isn’t in the game. She lost her first child presumably post-outbreak and is expecting another with Tommy. The haircut conversation she has with Ellie, wherein she tells Ellie about Sara for the first time, doesn’t exist in the game. The game sees Ellie reveal to Joel that Maria told her about Sara in an offscreen conversation.