HBO’s The Last of Us has officially been introduced to the world and its second episode, “Infected” has arrived. Here is a breakdown of what was seen in the episode and how it may impact the season going forward. Please be advised that this may contain spoilers for both The Last of Us series and video game.
As the episode opens, it is reminiscent of the cold open in the premiere episode as this occurs just two days before Outbreak Day on September 24, 2003 in Jakarta, the site of the disturbances mentioned in the previous episode as a military general tracks down a scientist who specializes in fungi. The scientist is taken to a secure facility where she examines a specimen confirmed to be the cordyceps fungus but is skeptical once she hears that it came from a human. She is then shown a cadaver and extracts tendrils from its mouth and her skepticism is immediately tossed aside as the fear sets in. The general provides a timeline of events as to how the individual became infected, how they infected others and asks the scientist to develop medicine or a vaccine to combat this epidemic but his request is met with a stern direction. The scientist warns that no medicine or vaccine can stop what is coming and she coldly recommends that the entire city be bombed to prevent the spread of the fungus. The Last of Us is excelling at these cold opens as this provides even more context for how the infection spread.
As the credits end, the story picks up the morning after Tess, Joel and Ellie moved further into the bombed out ruins of Boston and Ellie awakes from a deep sleep to find Tess and Joel keeping an eye on her. They are not concerned for her wellbeing so much as their own as they are still skeptical of Ellie’s immunity as the young girl is grilled on the details of her captivity by Marlene and how she became infected. We can also see during this scene that the violence is already taken a toll on Joel as he believes he may have a hairline fracture in his hand after beating a FEDRA soldier to death during their escape. Joel will not allow himself to believe that Ellie’s immunity means anything and he is perfectly willing to either abandon her or shoot her if it means he does not have to connect with another human being especially one who reminds him of his daughter, Sarah. Tess, on the other hand, is open to the possibility that Ellie truly is immune and wants to figure out why Marlene is so interested in Ellie and this mission they have accepted until Ellie reveals that there is a Firefly base somewhere out west that is working on a cure as Joel scoffs at this prospect and his anger starts bubbling up until Tess is able to talk him down from the ledge once again. The show has done well to expand on the unique partnership Tess and Joel as a romantic relationship was implied during the game but it seems to be confirmed in the show as they shared a bed in the prior episode and their dialogue implies a deeper connection.
As they embark on their journey for the day, Ellie takes in the macabre splendor of the ruins as she is able to truly see the entire city in its bombed-out landscape. It is another reminder of an entire generation that grew up in this world and are not able to imagine any other world than the one they constantly see. The attention to detail in this show is spectacular and the production design is immaculate as Alberta, Canada perfectly substitutes for Boston in this episode. The Last of Us is supposedly the largest production to film in Canada and the look of the first two episodes seamlessly match that of the landscapes created in the first game. Nature has begun to reclaim the urban sprawl and the group cuts through a flooded hotel lobby and here is where Ellie begins to show off her playful side as she messes with the phone system until she finds a submerged skeleton. It is also during this long walk through the city that Ellie is asked about how she became infected and she recounts how she snuck out of the orphanage she was staying in to explore the abandoned mall where civilians are not allowed to go. Fans of the game will recognize this during the events of the Left Behind downloadable content where flashbacks reveal how Ellie and her friend Riley snuck into the mall for a night of carefree fun that is interrupted by infected and how both of them were bitten. Ellie glosses over the fact that Riley was with her when she became infected but Riley’s fate is unknown so it is possible we could see what happened to the young girl in a future episode.
The city of Boston is surprisingly clear as Ellie begins to ask what types of infected exist in the world. Those who have played the game are familiar with the Runners, Stalkers, Clickers and Bloaters that populate this world but Ellie is unfamiliar with just how dangerous these infected can be until they are required to take a shortcut to get to the Massachusetts State House and they have a quiet moment. Ellie and Joel manage to get some one-on-one time and she begins to ask him some poignant questions. Joel is not the type of man to divulge his most intimate secrets to people he has just met until she asks if he has ever killed an infected and if it is hard knowing that they were once people. Joel simply remarks that he has killed them before but as adept as Joel is to violence, he does not revel in it or boast about tendencies. It is during this shortcut that we finally see a horde of infected interact with the cordyceps fungus as Tess reveals that they are a hive mind and that if the fungus is alerted, it will trigger a horde to come to their location. This is a noted change from the game series but it is a welcome one as the hive mind mentality of the infected makes them even more dangerous and makes the expected journey much more perilous than just trekking through the wilderness. The horde forces them to divert to a fungal covered museum and as they encounter, they see the horrors of the outbreak; fungus covering the entire exterior of the museum and bodies that have been overtaken by the infection.
As they move through the museum, Ellie accidentally makes the slightest bit of noise and it triggers the horrifying sound of the Clickers, blind infected who made sections of the game series complete nightmares as these creatures can kill the player with one hit. Clickers hunt by using echolocation and their attempt to silently move to their objective is thwarted when the Clickers discover their presence and immediately begin to attack them and force them to separate. Ellie is bitten again but remarks that if anyone was going to be bitten it should be her but Joel is able to kill both of the Clickers and they exit the museum. Tess claims to have twisted her ankle but is even more determined to get Ellie to the State House and drop her off with the Fireflies so they can finish their mission. The last several minutes of the episode include lines of dialogue that are directly lifted from the game and their arrival at the State House is delayed as the Fireflies are nowhere in sight until Joel begins to investigate and finds that the Fireflies have been torn apart by infected and a further inspection indoors shows that some of them became infected and a firefight ensued. Tess becomes frantic at the sight of the dead Fireflies and begins searching for a radio or a map that reveals the location of the Fireflies. Tess then sadly remarks that her luck was bound to run out at some point and Ellie figures out that she became infected during their encounter in the museum. Joel is in utter disbelief but Tess is able to give him one final command to show him that Ellie’s immunity is real and could mean the salvation of humanity but this is interrupted by an infected coming to life and alerting the cordyceps to attack their position. Tess sets a trap in the State House and as the infected enter, one notices her and does not immediately attack her as it can probably recognize that she is already infected but it places its tendrils into her mouth and in her final act of defiance, she is able to spring her trap and blows up the attacking infected. As Joel and Ellie look at the destruction and the death of Tess, they are forced to pick up and move on to find Bill and Frank.
Featured Image Credit: HBO