“Fungi seem harmless enough. Many species know otherwise.”
According to The last of us, it’s not a viral pandemic that we should fear the end of the world as we know it, it’s a fungal pandemic. And in the HBO adaptation, showrunners Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann kick off the anticipated series with an additional introduction to the game’s context to really hammer home this mushroom foe beyond the idea that disasters don’t just happen overnight , someone always sees them coming.
The first episode opens with a scene that establishes the possibility that the apocalyptic Cordyceps fungus poses a much more deadly threat to humanity than a viral pandemic. bit too close to home offscreen. It’s a scene that isn’t present in the game; the cause of the Infected is explained through the montage of the game’s opening titles and through various dialogues in cutscenes.
How ‘The Last of Us’ successfully translates the game’s best mechanics to TV
In the opening sequence of the TV show, set in 1968, epidemiologist Dr. Neuman (played by John Hannah) on an interview show about the prospect of a viral pandemic. Neuman surprises the show’s host (Josh Brener) and says the threat won’t keep him up at night. “No, humanity has been at war with the virus from the very beginning. Sometimes millions of people die like in a real war, but in the end we always win,” he says. Instead, Neuman presents fungi as a bigger global threat than bacteria and viruses, causing public bewilderment.
“Fungi seem harmless enough. Many species know otherwise, because there are some fungi that don’t try to kill, but to control,” says Neuman, citing examples such as Cordyceps, with its ability to infect and control an ant’s circulatory system , causing it to bend to its will. “Viruses can make us sick, but fungi can change our minds,” he says.
Neuman is joined on the show by the more skeptical Dr. Schoenheiss (played by Christopher Heyerdahl), who explains that this type of fungal infection, while real, is not present in humans. And it is at this point that the show explains the real cause of the ultimate spread of Cordyceps infections to us: climate change.
“It’s true that fungi can’t survive if the host’s internal temperature is over 94 degrees,” says Neuman. “Currently, there are no reasons for fungi to evolve to withstand higher temperatures. But what if that changed? What if, for example, the world got a little warmer? Now there is reason to evolve. One gene mutates… and each of them could become able to lodge in our brains and take control, not over millions, but over billions of us. Billions of puppets with poisoned minds, permanently fixated on one unifying goal: to spread the infection by any means necessary to the last living human.”
Is the opening sequence of ‘The Last of Us’ in the game?
The opening scene of The last of us is purely a show creation – the game instead begins in Austin, Texas with the character of Joel Miller’s daughter, Sarah, expanding the series beyond the credits. The idea for this ominous interview came from director Mazin, who spoke about the scene on HBO’s official podcast for The last of us. Speaking to host and original Joel Miller voice actor Troy Baker, Mazin broke open the cold and how he pitched two ideas for it to his fellow showrunner, The last of us creator Druckmann.
For the first option, Mazin pitched a scene inspired by a shocking clip from David Attenborough’s BBC series Planet Earth showing how the Cordyceps fungus takes control of an ant’s brain. You can watch it below, but be warned.
“It’s pretty gruesome and it tells you everything you need to know,” said Mazin. “So what we decided to do was make our own little video, which is interesting, but not necessarily compelling. It was a bit of an intellectual argument.”
“You’re nice, it was kind of boring,” said Druckmann, who also appeared on the podcast.
“It was kind of boring to watch,” Mazin agreed, “and it was kind of like being in a social studies class.”
The director then explained that he had written another opening that reflected the interview style of the late 1960s TV show The Dick Cavett Show, which is the scene that ends up in the series. At the same time, starting the series this way has the effect of keeping fans of the game on their toes and giving newcomers important context to The last of us. In addition, it intensifies scenes years later in 2003 Texas with our protagonist Joel Miller (Pedro Pascal) and his daughter, Sarah (Nico Parker), and the looming presence of this threat in their daily lives.
Nico Parker as Sarah Miller in HBO’s “The Last of Us.”
Credit: Shane Harvey/HBO
“As a fan, it overwhelms you and already gives you signals: Everything you think you know about this, you don’t know,” Druckmann said on the podcast. “It accomplished what we were trying to achieve with that other opening in a much more effective, dramatized way that starts giving you clues or theories of ‘maybe this is how it started’. We’re not saying definitive, but this is a pretty good theory .”
HBO’s opening scene The last of us establishes a longer timeline.
The opening scene set decades before the global Cordyceps infection, Mazin explains, is also vital to establishing the extended time frame of the outbreak, relative to our own experience of knowing impending disaster – again, hello climate change as well as Mazin’s previous project, HBOs Chernobyl – and burying our heads in the sand.
“One of the things the opening does is put everything in the context of a longer time frame as well,” said Mazin. “That’s a whole Chernobyl thing I’m obsessed with, the idea that we know things, we all agree they’re going to happen, and then we pretend they don’t.”
In addition to setting the context for these scenes, Mazin and Druckmann talked about the importance of the opening scene in explaining fungi as the real threat to humanity, rather than capitalizing on the very real pain that a world under the deadly COVID-19 pandemic is inflicting. experiencing a pandemic.
“There was also an opportunity to address the elephant in the world room, which is that we all just went through a viral pandemic,” Mazin said. “I thought it was important to say to people, we’re not a show asking you to share with us some of your own personal horror about the viral pandemic. We didn’t assume it. We’re here to telling you there’s actually something much worse, that viral pandemics will happen again. They’ve happened before. Millions of people will die again. This is part of the natural cycle of the planet.
“But what hasn’t happened yet is a fungal pandemic. And if it does, then we’re not making that up. It’s going to be terrible and potentially irreparable because fungi are much more complicated and much more integrated into the cycle of life and death.” of the earth than viruses are.”
The last of us now flows through HBO max(opens in a new tab) with new episodes on HBO every week.