Obviously, Joel is still the cynical man with a dark past that we met in the original 2013 game. But, while game actor Troy Baker really leaned into Joel’s coldness as a defense mechanism to avoid growing closer to his companion, Pedro Pascal’s take on Joel remains strategically distant, but still affectionate/protective towards Ellie in his own awkward and stilted ways. Baker’s Joel responds to Ellie shooting one of his attackers with an angry lecture about her irresponsibility before deciding to let her use a rifle. In contrast, Pascal’s Joel apologizes for his failure to protect Ellie from the act of murder.
There’s a similar dynamic happening here in the scene between Joel and Tommy in Jackson. In the original game, when Baker’s take on Joel makes the proposal to impart Ellie and his quest on Tommy, the rejection leads to a screaming match between the brothers. In this moment, Baker’s Joel regresses — he’s reverted back to the violent man that was dedicated to protecting Tommy and his kin at all costs in the early days of the pandemic. To Joel, Tommys owes him for all those psychological scars. A combat sequence involving the brothers and a clash with Maria is ultimately what changes Tommy’s mind.
This scene is approached almost completely differently in the show. Not only do we get to see way more of the Jackson Commune than we do in the game (directly evoking the sequel, “The Last of Us Part II”), but while the scene where Joel makes his proposal to Tommy begins similarly, there’s a crucial shift into pure vulnerability that gives Pascal’s Joel a whole lot more internality.