Wait, was that a click? Oh crap.
The second instalment of HBO’s adaptation of Naughty Dog’s series takes Joel (Pedro Pascal), Ellie (Bella Ramsey), and Tess (Anna Torv) deep into post-apocalyptic Massachusetts, beyond the walls of the Boston quarantine zone and into the messed up cornucopia of threats that await. Among these, one of the most terrifying, challenging enemies of the game, the type of Infected that has lived with the Cordyceps fungus long enough to have it take over their face and subsequently, sight: yep, we’re talking Clickers.
Joel, Ellie, and Tess meet this particularly vicious form of Infected while making their way through an abandoned museum, en route to the old State House. Taking the risk of moving up to the rooftops through the dark, dank building overrun with Cordyceps, the trio find themselves in a space filled with glass cases. And with one “click” sound, they’re in real trouble.
Naughty Dog’s game built in gameplay mechanics to heighten this sense of dread with the Clickers, allowing Joel and Ellie to enter “listening mode” to locate nearby enemies. The museum sequence in Episode 2 is immediately, horribly reminiscent of listening mode — it feels like the air has been sucked out of the room, with everything audible except for the Clickers’ dreaded sound.
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It’s also one of the reasons I almost stopped playing the game. Honestly, my feeble little heart couldn’t take it. The Clickers are one of the game’s hardest enemies — one tiny sound and you’re done for. They’re only really defeatable with two perfect headshots, which the HBO show perfectly demonstrates through Joel. You can’t run, you can’t fight them off. If they find you, it’s over. It’s this level of difficulty that would usually make someone simply frustrated, but Naughty Dog added the delightfully traumatic element of making you watch your beloved character die horrifically at the hands of a Clicker. Every. Time. I’m not hugely skilled at gaming, so I can’t tell you how many times I watched Joel and Ellie get their necks ripped open by a Clicker, a scene made even more horrendous with Naughty Dog’s sound design, that soars upward every time.
In the series, the Clickers are superbly executed, from the sound design to the visual prosthetics to their unmistakable, jolting movement and the terrified performances of the actors. Pascal’s delivery earlier in the museum scene expertly communicates this threat with such elegant dread I held my breath even knowing what was ahead: “OK from this point forward, we are silent,” he says at an ASMR level of whisper. Later, all Joel has to do is raise a finger to his eyes and ears and we’re in it. Every creaking stair, every rustle of clothing, every hesitant footstep could signal their doom. And once Ellie, Tess, and Joel are trapped within the museum’s Independence Hall, one of the most terrifying sequences you’ll endure begins with one horrible “aaarrwk.”
“To present the Clickers onscreen my feeling was that we had to make 5,000 decisions exactly right,” said director Craig Mazin in HBO’s behind-the-scenes video. The team brought in Barrie Gower, who worked on prosthetics on Chernobyl, to work with Mazin and The Last of Us creator Neil Druckmann to make the Clickers, and employed actors who were fans of The Last of Us game and knew that horrific Clicker movement perfectly.
“Even though we were creating new, refreshed versions on the same brief, we kept going back to the original designs that Neil and his team had created for the games,” said Gower.
“The first time I saw the full prosthetics, I got tears in my eyes,” said Druckmann. “It looked so good, and it looked so creepy and beautiful at the same time. It captured a lot of the things we were trying to do with the game, but there it was in real life.”
I, for one, would rather the Clickers remain out of real life, but luckily, in all their terrifying, echolocation-fuelled glory, they’re the highlight (and lowlight) of episode 2.
The Last of Us premieres Jan. 15 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and HBO Max, with new episodes airing weekly.