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A Look into HBO’s The Last of Us

Updated: Apr 29, 2023

Zeina Hachem, Staff Writer

The Last of Us, based on the 2013 action-adventure survival video game created by Naughty Dog and written by Neil Druckmann, is a post-apocalyptic survival story. Producers and writers Craig Mazin and Druckmann created the drama television series for HBO, as they wanted to bring this well-beloved suspense-ridden story to life for its fans.

(Possible spoilers ahead)

The pilot episode opens in 1968 with Dr. Neuman and Dr. Schoenheiss, two epidemiologists, as guests on a talk show. Dr. Neuman discusses viral pandemics and what could be one key threat to humanity: fungi. He states that even though viruses can make us very sick, they are not the real danger. Rather, the fungus has a much more serious effect as it can alter and control our minds. Dr. Schoenheiss disagrees with this viewpoint; he believes that there is no reason to worry since humans are too warm to have fungi to survive within us.

Though, this is where Dr. Neuman throws a turning point in this opening. Here, he poses the hypothetical question of the earth’s rising temperature which, in turn, would force the fungi to evolve to withstand higher temperatures. A sense of doom is implanted in the minds of the viewers, as they now comprehend that global warming is the only thing that fungi need to truly evolve and cause serious harm to humans. Without a cure, billions could become victims of the spread of this fungus. AKA: “we lose.”

The Last of Us stars Pedro Pascal as Joel Miller, the main protagonist, accompanied by Nico Parker, who plays Sarah, Joel’s daughter. Their story starts on September 26, 2003, on a warm, sunny morning in Austin, Texas. Sarah makes scrambled eggs for Joel’s birthday breakfast. Uncle Tommy, Joel’s brother played by Gabriel Luna, makes an appearance, as they discuss work. Everything is perfect…. or so it seems. The radio reports a disturbance in Jakarta, Indonesia, foreshadowing what is soon to come. The characters are quick to ignore it, however, and continue on through their day.

Uncle Tommy and Joel drop Sarah off at school. In the middle of class, Sarah notices one of her classmates twitching unusually. She brushes it off, however, and gets on the city bus at the end of the school day. She heads into a repair store to fix Joel’s old watch as a birthday present. Through the store’s windowpanes, police and ambulance sirens blare through the streets. “All day,” states the shopkeeper, “I swear,” (“When You’re Lost in the Darkness,” 11:25-11:31).

Suddenly, Sarah is pushed out of the shop by the shopkeeper’s wife and is warned to go home. At this point, Sarah is noticing a dangerous trend of these ominous warnings.

Later that night, Sarah wakes up to the sounds of helicopters and explosions, with flashing lights shining through the windows. The entire city is awake in a frenzy. The realization of the situation finally hits Sarah when she, Uncle Tommy, and Joel drive through the madness.

Later in the episode, after a notable time skip, we meet Ellie, played by Bella Ramsey, who becomes Joel’s friend in a post-apocalyptic world on a journey across the country to complete an important mission.

The main story takes place 20 years after a mass fungal infection causes a global pandemic, where people have turned into zombie-like creatures referred to as the infected. Mazin and Druckmann did not want to create just another zombie show. They wanted to make the show as realistic as they possibly could.

For instance, making sure that the fungal infection made sense scientifically with the cordyceps mutation, the fungi causing the outbreak, was extremely important to the producers. “[They] ...wanted to ground this show in as much science as possible”. Cordyceps is a fungus that is well known to turn ants into “zombies,” which is what Dr. Neuman described in the opening of the pilot episode. The cordyceps infection in the show invades the brain and takes over all motor functions. The infection happens in stages. However, the main goal is always the same, to spread and survive.

Everything within the show depicts something that could possibly happen in our reality, especially with warming temperatures forcing many organisms to evolve to survive a changing planet. After experiencing the COVID pandemic that spread very quickly in the United States in 2020, this opening scene becomes much more terrifying.

If you would like to watch The Last of Us, episodes are released every week on Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO Max. There are a total of nine episodes in the first season, with the season finale scheduled to be released on March 12, 2023.

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