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The Last of Us zombies
Image: Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution

Culture

The Last of Us Zombies Explained: The Different Stages of the Infection

Every type of infected zombie

Fans of the hit video game franchise, The Last of Us, can without a doubt confirm that the zombies in said video games are unlike anything we have ever seen before. Typically, zombies are reanimated corpses that feast on the flesh of the living, and while The Last of Us zombies do indeed bite, their major difference is that they are not reanimated corpses. Instead, The living have become infected by a fungus called Cordyceps which mutates and spreads over time. This leads the infected to become stronger and powerful with each stage of the infection.

Players of the hit video games are familiar with the stages of the infection, but if you are tuning into HBO’s series without playing the video games, then you may not be as familiar with said stages. Well, if that is the case, join us as we explain each stage of the infection.

Runner

runner
Image: Sony Computer Entertainment

Runners are your typical zombies, that are mostly seen during the explosive outbreak in episode one of the show. They are still incredibly fast, agile and deadly individually, but pack hundreds of them into a terrifying horde and there is very little chance that you can escape. Runners will eat at your flesh in order to spread the Cordyceps infection as far and as wide as possible.  The first stage of the Cordyceps infection are very much like the zombies found in such movies like World War Z and 28 Days Later.

Depending on the location of the bite from a runner, the infection can spread through the body within a matter of minutes. As shown with the old lady in episode one some of the key signs of infection include muscle spasms, slurred speech and coughing. 

Stalker

stalker
Image: Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution

After the Cordyceps infection devastated the world, it wasn’t long before most if not all infected eventually turned into Stalkers, the most common type of infected. With fungus spewing from their mouths and growing over the skin of the living, the Stalkers are far more advanced than Runners. Sure, their vision may decay over time, and they may not be as fast as runners yet they are even more deadly. 

Stalkers will often lurk and “stalk” the uninfected living, waiting for their opportunity to pounce. Stalkers are fairly often grown onto the walls with Cordycep tendrils holding them into place, something that the show briefly touches on in episode one when Joel and Tess go underneath the QZ, but for the most part, the tendrils/ spores are absent from the show. Although seemingly deceased when buried into the walls, Stalkers are just waiting for someone to walk past before they jump out and attack.

Clicker

Clicker
Image: Warner Bros. Television Studios

The infamous *clicks are buried deep into the nightmares of gamers and more recently, audiences of HBO’s tv show, which simply proves how terrifying these long infected creatures are. Their lack of vision doesn’t hold them back, as their hearing has only doubled and even the slightest murmur or footstep can trigger a Clicker to charge. 

Distinctly Clicker’s have the Cordyceps mushroom visibly protruding on their head, causing them to lose their vision. With all that aside, Clickers are twice as fast, twice as strong and twice as hard to kill. The Clickers made their terrifying appearance in episode two of the show, when Joel, Tess and Ellie were forced to fight for their lives in Boston’s historical museum.

Bloater

The Last of Us zombies
Image: Sony Computer Entertainment

Bloaters are the biggest and most dangerous stage of the infection. Coming in a few different variations, Bloaters are slow, but their strength, size and near invulnerability make for a truly terrifying foe. Bloaters are easily identifiable, and are overcome with mushrooms, to a point that the sheer number of mushrooms protruding from an infected, acts as armor against the deadliest weapons. And did we mention that Bloaters can rip said mushrooms off their body and throw it, sending acid damage everywhere. 

In the games if you get caught by a Bloater, it’s an instant kill, ripping your head in half from the jaw. We haven’t seen any in the show as of yet, but various trailers suggest that Joel and Ellie will be unfortunate to cross paths with one. 

Likewise, Shamblers are variations of Bloaters except Shamblers have a unique and damaging ability of emitting acid that they use to spit at enemies. 

The Rat King

The Last of Us zombies
Image: Sony Computer Entertainment

Found in The Last of Us Part 2, The Rat King is the most grotesque and deadly mutation of the Cordyceps infection. On the bright side, there is only one, which we know of. The Rat King is made up of multiple Clickers, Runners and Stalkers as its gastly form sees said infected reaching from The Rat King’s body to attack players. Everything that makes each stage of the infected so distinct and terrifying all culminate into a large, powerful, fast and invulnerable monster that can spews out poison gas. 

The Rat King certainly won’t show up in season one of HBO’s Last of Us, however expect the ghastly titan to show up in either season two or three which promise to tell the story of the second game.

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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