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The Last of Us - Infected
Image: Warner Bros. Television Studios

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The Last of Us “Infected” Explained and How They Differ From The Game

Zombie’s have been a very important and popular staple in horror pop culture ever since George A Romero essentially created the undead creatures in his iconic Night of The Living Dead movie back in 1968. Since then, we have received countless pieces of media centering around the undead, and by now, audiences have garnered pretty generalized expectations on the undead creatures. However, players who’ve experienced The Last of Us can, without a doubt confirm that the infected in the hit video games drastically differ from the zombie stereotypes we are used to. 

One of the major differences from the Zombies we have all grown accustomed to, is that The Last of Us’ monsters are not actually reanimated corpses, instead, the “mostly” made up deadly fungus called Cordyceps take over living people. The Cordyceps primary goal is to multiply and spread the infection as much as possible. HBO’s The Last of Us has proven that it deviates largely from the video game it’s based upon, but how does the show deviate from the hit video game?

The Cordyceps Origins in The Show

Infected
Image: Warner Bros. Television Studios

In HBO’s The Last of Us series, the infection originated in Jakarta, Indonesia, that was supposedly spread through yeast-based food products, including bread, cereal and pancake mix, most of which sees Joel and his family avoiding in episode one. The show does touch on this, with Joel explaining to Ellie his “speculation” on how the end of the world began in episode three, and whilst there is no concrete confirmation, like Joel we have done some detective work and theorized that yeast-based food products are the most likely source. 

Likewise, as the chilling cold open to episode one suggests, the rise of global warming only helped the infection spread and become more deadly. The equally chilling cold open of episode two provided us with the biggest puzzle piece yet. As it followed a doctor in Jakarta who was informed that there has been an outbreak of an unidentified infection near a massive flour and grain factory. Which leads us to believe that the infection must have started there or at least somewhere close by that managed to contaminate the food supply before being shipped to the rest of the world.

The Cordyceps Origins in The Game

The Last of Us - Infected
Image: Sony Computer Entertainment

Much like the show, players are not explicitly told where the Cordyceps infection originated from. However, when exploring the derelict post-apocalyptic world, players may come across an article from the Texas Herald that goes on to explain the early days of the outbreak. The article reads as follows: 

“The Food and Drug Administration’s investigation of crops potentially tainted with mold continues across the country. Initial lists distributed to vendors nationwide warned against crops imported from South America, but now the scope has extended to include Central America and Mexico. Several companies have already voluntarily recalled their food products from the shelves.”

In layman’s terms, the article suggests that the Cordyceps infection came from South America due to some moldy crops that eventually found their way into the world’s food supply. Whilst we are not too sure what these foods are, there is no mention of yeast-based products. 

How The Infection is Spread

Infected
Image: Warner Bros. Television Studios

Largely, after the end of the world, The Cordyceps infection is spread similar to any other Zombie infection. After being bit by an infected in both the video games and the show, the infection will fairly quickly begin to consume its host, turning them into another infected. In the video games the infection is predominantly spread by deadly spores, which is why most of the characters, except Ellie, carry gas masks on them at all costs. Once even a drop of a spore has been breathed in, you will, without a doubt, turn into an infected in no time.

Before the show even aired, one major difference that was confirmed was that the show will not include Cordyceps Tendrils, or as they more commonly known, spores. Why does the show not include spores you ask? Well, the answer is quite simple, so the cast don’t have to wear masks all the time. Sure, because putting Pedro Pascal in a mask makes for “bad” television. Anyway, we digress. The spores’ absence from the show caused an uproar in The Last of Us fandom. However, three episodes deep, and we are absolutely fine with that change, but are still hopeful they will make an appearance.

Fans of the Cordycep Tendrils shouldn’t be discouraged, however, as in an interview with Variety, the shows co-creator Craig Mazin states that “to say our world is devoid of them [spores] would not be accurate.” This should give fans hope as we may get spores in the future. Maybe in The Last of Us season 2 which was recently announced

How the Show Differs From The Games

Infected - The Last of Us
Image: Warner Bros. Television Studios

The major differences from HBO’s series and Playstation video games are the origins of both infections. The show originates in Jakarta due to infected yeast products, and the video game outbreak stemmed from South America through moldy crops. In another interview, but this time for Mashable, Craig Mazin went on to explain why the show differs from the games, as he states how the Cordyceps infection “was global, that this wasn’t just happening in America. This was the world.”

SImilarly, the show does give a lot more depth as to the origins and spread of the infection, compared to the video games which still somewhat feels a little more ambiguous and to those who never found the Texas Herald article, never really knew how the outbreak began, or even for those who did never got an as expanded origin story as the show presents. In the same interview, Craig Mazin explained that he and co-showrunner Neil Druckman “wanted to give a little bit more of an origin story [to the Cordyceps outbreak]”, which explains why the show deprived more of the infection’s origin.

Another major difference that not many are touching upon is that the rate of infection in HBO’s series is far quicker than that of the video game. Episode two’s cold open, set in Jakarta takes place on September 24th, 2003. Only two days later, on September 26th, the infection spread globally causing widespread destruction. The aforementioned Texas Article, dated September 26th, 2013, suggests that the world had a little more knowledge of the outbreak, leading us to believe that the FDA had more time to investigate the Cordyceps origin. It may also be important to add that the show’s outbreak occurred in 2003 and the show terrifyingly takes place 20 years later in 2023. Whereas the games outbreak occurred in 2013 to when we jump to the post-apocalyptic world 20 years later in 2033. 

Video: HBO Max
Written By

Olly Dyche is a film critic, journalist and admirer of cinema with an avid passion of gaming, who you will most likely find in his local multiplex chomping down on some SWEET (never salty) popcorn, taking in the gorgeous visuals. Sure, Olly probably knows a little too much about movies but his years of long yet enjoyable nights delving into his favorite games, also makes Olly an expert on video games.

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