The Last of Us is establishing a pattern of opening its episodes with flashbacks. The entire show opens with a guest on a 1968 talk show detailing the horrific potential for a Cordyceps outbreak — potential which becomes reality in 2003. The show’s second episode, “Infected,” opens with a vignette showing the reaction to the very start of the Cordyceps outbreak in Jakarta, Indonesia.
The sequence harkens back to the scene in the very first episode where Joel (Pedro Pascal), Sarah (Nico Parker), and Tommy (Gabriel Luna) hear about unrest in Jakarta over the radio. Now, we know the true source of the unrest: The Cordyceps outbreak started in Jakarta because of mutated fungus in a flour and grain factory.
Not only does the Indonesia opening establish a concrete point of origin for the outbreak that isn’t in the game — it also marks the first time The Last of Us franchise explores how Cordyceps affects a country outside the United States. On HBO’s The Last of Us podcast, the show’s co-creator and Naughty Dog co-president Neil Druckmann explains that the game version of The Last of Us is a love letter to Americana. Because of this, “we made the conscious choice to never leave the United States,” he says.
However, the show took a different direction. Co-creator Craig Mazin elaborates on this in the podcast. “We knew we wanted to give a little bit more of an origin story [to the Cordyceps outbreak]. We wanted to see what it would really be like at the very, very beginning,” he says. “We wanted to show also that it was global, that this wasn’t just happening in America. This was the world.”
Originally, Mazin and Druckmann planned for a montage showing how Cordyceps was ravaging several different places across the world. However, the budget wouldn’t allow for it, so they went for something much more contained: a sequence between an Indonesian mycologist (Christine Hakim) and military officer (Yayu A.W. Unru) who realize the scope of the threat before them.
These scenes may not boast the zombie-like horror of the Clickers, or the frightening prospect of a darkened museum, but they are full of a chilling sense of dread. From the moment the mycologist first picks Cordyceps tendrils out of a corpse’s mouth, we know that the apocalypse is near. And so does she.
In a tense one-take shot that gradually zooms in on the mycologist, she reveals that the only solution to this crisis is to bomb any impacted areas. As Mazin says in the podcast, “there’s nothing you can do at that point that is going to make this better other than the unthinkable.”
It’s a heartbreaking moment, especially when the mycologist requests that she be brought back home to be with her family as the world comes to an end. Like the talk show in episode one, where John Hannah’s mycologist drives home the lack of pharmaceutical solutions for fungal infections of this kind, the Indonesia sequence also reminds us of the incredible threat Cordyceps presents — only now, instead of a hypothetical, it’s a reality. And the only defense against it is destruction.
The Last of Us is now streaming on HBO Max with new episodes airing weekly on Sunday nights at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.