The last of us establishes a pattern of opening his episodes with flashbacks. The entire show begins with a guest on a 1968 talk show describing the terrifying potential for a Cordyceps outbreak – potential becoming a reality in 2003. The show’s second episode, “Infected,” begins with a vignette showing the response to the beginning of the Cordyceps outbreak in Jakarta, Indonesia.
The sequence is reminiscent of the scene in the very first episode where Joel (Pedro Pascal), Sarah (Nico Parker) and Tommy (Gabriel Luna) hear about riots in Jakarta over the radio. Now we know the true source of the unrest: The Cordyceps outbreak started in Jakarta because of a mutated fungus in a flour and grain factory.
The opening in Indonesia not only establishes a concrete starting point for the outbreak, which isn’t in the game — it’s also the first time The last of us Franchise examines how Cordyceps affects a country outside of the United States. At HBO The last of us Podcast, show co-creator and Naughty Dog co-president Neil Druckmann explains that the game version of The last of us is a declaration of love to Americana. Because of this, “we made a conscious decision never to leave the United States,” he says.
However, the show took a different direction. Co-creator Craig Mazin addresses this in the podcast. “We knew we wanted to tell a little bit more of an origin story [to the Cordyceps outbreak]. We wanted to see at the very, very beginning what it would really be like,” he says. “We also wanted to show that it’s global, that this isn’t just happening in America. That was the world.”
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Mazin and Druckmann originally planned a montage showing Cordyceps wreaking havoc on various locations around the world. However, the budget didn’t allow for that, so they settled on something much more low-key: a sequence between an Indonesian mycologist (Christine Hakim) and a military officer (Yayu AW Unru) realizing the magnitude of the threat ahead.
These scenes might not boast the zombie-like horror of clickers or the frightening prospect of a dark museum, but they’re filled with angst. From the moment the mycologist first plucks cordyceps vines from a corpse’s mouth, we know the apocalypse is near. And so does she.
In a tense one-take that gradually zooms in on the mycologist, she reveals that the only solution to this crisis is to bomb all affected areas. As Mazin says on the podcast, “There’s nothing you can do at this point to make this better than the unthinkable.”
It’s a heartbreaking moment, especially when the mycologist asks that she be taken home to be with her family while the world ends. Like the talk show in episode one, in which John Hannah’s mycologist brings home the lack of pharmaceutical solutions for fungal infections of this type, the Indonesia sequence also reminds us of the incredible threat Cordyceps poses – only now instead of a hypothesis reality is . And the only defense against it is destruction.
The last of us will now continue to be streamed HBO Max(opens in a new tab) with new episodes airing weekly Sunday nights at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.