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The Last of Us takes Ellie and the audience outside the walls for the first time 

The Last of Us

Neil Druckman and Craig Mazin introduce their players and their viewers to the post-ruin world and some of its terrifying monsters.

Hello again, and welcome to the second episode of HBO’s The Last of Us. Simply titled “Infected,” Episode 2 offers scraps of outbreak backstory, our first look at some truly unpleasant Infected folks, and our second big loss of the season. Directed by Neil Druckman and once again co-written by Druckman and Craig Mazin, “Infected” pulls no punches in this brave new world. It’s rough out there. And I do mean rough.  

In Jakarta, Indonesia, on September 24, 2003, a pair of soldiers take Dr. Ibu Ratna (Christine Hakim) to take a look at something, given her expertise as a professor of mycology. The commander takes Ratna to a hospital’s secure ward, where she examines a sample under a microscope. It’s ophiocordyceps, she says, but why was the specimen treated with chlorazol, used just for human specimens? Because it’s from a human, she’s told. Dr. Ratna suits up to take a look at the corpse of a woman from whom the sample came. The woman has a bite on her ankle; cutting into the swelling around the wound, Ratna finds fungus in the body. Checking the body’s mouth, she finds it full of living tendrils.

The Last of Us
Anna Torv’s Tess and Pedro Pascal’s Joel face off while Bella Ramsey’s Ellie looks on in The Last of Us on HBO.

A shaken Dr. Ratna accepts a cup of tea from the commander, who fills her in on the body’s backstory: The day prior, a woman working at a flour and grain factory suddenly went wild, bit three coworkers, and was subsequently executed. The three bitten coworkers, isolated for observation, have since been executed, and fourteen other workers from the factory have gone missing. They’ve brought in Dr. Ratna because they need medicine, a vaccine, or something to deal with this. Dr. Ratna has just one suggestion: “Bomb this city and everyone in it.”  

Back in the present, Ellie (Bella Ramsey) wakes up in a broken-down building. She turns to see Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Tess (Anna Torv) watching her, armed. They ask again to see her bite wound, and she begrudgingly shows them that it’s still the same. She explains that Marlene found her post-bite and had her locked up, as we saw in Episode 1, and that the Fireflies tested her every day to see if she was changing. It’s clear that Tess is starting to believe in Ellie’s immunity while Joel is well—when Ellie, going to find a place to pee, asks if there’s “Anything bad back here?” Joel responds, “Only you.” Nice, Joel. Nice.  

Joel wants Tess to stop treating Ellie like she has a future (oof). Tess asks Ellie why, exactly, the Fireflies want her sent west? Lamenting that she couldn’t keep a secret for even a day, Ellie explains that there’s a Firefly compound with doctors out west working on a cure. Disgusted, Joel considers her story a fairy tale they’ve heard a hundred times before. Tess points out that what they believe doesn’t matter—it’s what the Fireflies believe: they think Ellie is special, so they’re willing to pay for her safe transport. The trio head outside, into the most of the old world that Ellie has ever seen. They pass a crater caused by the bombings; Tess notes that they bombed most major cities following the Outbreak but that it worked in Boston better than in most places.  

With its first journey outside of the QZ walls, “Infected” is eye-opening both for Ellie and for the audience.

Ellie wonders why there aren’t any Infected around; she’s always been told that the open city was lousy with them at all times. Tess asks about Ellie’s bite, and Ellie explains that she snuck into an old mall in the QZ. She says she went alone, but based on her face, that’s a lie. Tess is mildly impressed, but Joel is not. Ellie asks if there are really Infected that go around shooting spores at you, and Tess scoffs that she sure hopes not. “What about the ones that hide in the dark like bats and have split-open heads??” Ellie asks eagerly—prompting Joel and Tess to exchange a look.  

To reach the State House, they’ll need to cross through a flooded hotel. Ellie is averse to crossing the flooded reception area at first since she can’t swim; Joel mockingly shows her that it’s only knee-deep. Her worries allayed, Ellie is excited to see an actual hotel and delighted by how gross it is. She makes her way over to the front desk and begins acting out a little scene. Joel tells her she’s a weird kid, and she replies that he’s a weird kid. Oh, you two. They head upstairs, but their usual path has been blocked by debris since their last trip. Tess clambers over the wreck to look for another way, leaving Ellie and Joel to sit and make awkward small talk in the hall.  

Joel offends Ellie when he clarifies that Detroit (Tess’ hometown) is in Michigan (she goes to school, you know). He refuses to answer questions about his and Tess’ relationship or how he got to Boston from Texas. Ellie asks if it’s hard to kill Infected, knowing that they were people once. Joel acknowledges that it is, sometimes. Good talk. Pascal and Ramsey have remarkable chemistry, even in these movements where Ellie sees Joel as an annoying old man, and he sees her as a bratty burden. Tess reenters to give them the bad news: they can’t use the path past the hotel. Stepping out onto a patio, they see the road covered in Infected. Ellie realizes that the Infected move together, connected, and Tess explains that the fungus also grows underground, and its host bodies are connected through that network as well.  

The Last of Us
Bella Ramsey’s Ellie and Anna Torv’s Tess wade through a ruined hotel in The Last of Us on HBO.

I think Ellie is starting to realize the gravity of the situation just a little. The trio makes their way to a museum covered in old fungus. Tess and Joel hold out hope that it’s been long enough for all of the Infected in the building to have died. Inside, the place seems clear, but Ellie stumbles upon a clawed-up body with relatively fresh wounds. They go upstairs and enter an old exhibit room when part of the ceiling in the hall collapses, narrowly missing Tess and Ellie. It also apparently wakes something up. Joel signals to Ellie that the new entrant (it’s a Clicker) can’t see but can hear. Ellie does her best, but the Clicker hears her gasp and lunges; Joel starts to tussle with it as Ellie and Tess run. There are some close calls, but ultimately they successfully kill two Clickers and make their way to the museum’s roof.  

Ellie has been bitten again over her old scar, and Tess has twisted her ankle, but they’re otherwise in one piece. Ellie strolls across the wobbly wooden planks that connect the museum to the building next door, leaving Joel to help Tess with her ankle. He’s concerned that though Ellie’s first bite didn’t take, maybe the second one will. Tess has had enough of Joel’s cynicism and demands that he take the good news for once, damn it. The group gets to the State House, but it’s eerily quiet, and there are no signs of the Fireflies. Joel investigates a truck covered in fresh blood and discovers the dead driver, and Ellie finds a blood trail leading into the building.  

Tess grabs Ellie’s hand and runs them inside, to Joel’s chagrin, where they find the bodies of all of the Fireflies. A desperate Tess starts looking for a radio while Joel theorizes that one of the Fireflies became Infected, and “all hell broke loose.” Joel tries to convince Tess to stop what she’s doing and head home, but she sadly says that they had to run out of luck sooner or later. Ellie realizes that Tess has been Infected. Tess shows her bite, already starting to get…fungus-y, while Ellie’s new bite just looks like a regular wound. Her immunity is still working. Tess wants Joel to take Ellie to Bill and Frank (their smuggling partners on the other side of the radio) and that they’ll take Ellie west. When Joel refuses, Tess tells him that she’s never asked him for anything, namely “Not to feel the way I feel” (OOOF), and begs him to help Ellie and set everything right. That’s a blow right to the heart. 

The Last of Us
Samuel Hokesema menaces as one of the fungus-consumed Infected in The Last of Us on HBO.

One of the Infected on the floor starts moving, and Joel swiftly shoots it, alerting the fungus that something is up and calling in the giant crowd of Infected that they passed earlier. Joel hears them coming and realizes they have maybe a minute to escape. Tess begins dumping barrels of gasoline that the Fireflies had stored and tells Joel to “save who you can save.” Joel drags a protesting Ellie from the building as Tess dumps more gasoline and a box of grenades across the floor. She waits for the crowd of Infected to run in, trying to light her lighter, when one of them notices her and approaches. A terrified Tess keeps trying her lighter as the Infected pushes its face into hers and gives her the world’s most horrible kiss, forcing its mouth tendrils into her mouth until Tess manages to work the lighter and drops it into the gasoline. 

The building blows up behind a fleeing Ellie and Joel. After a moment of looking back, Joel walks away as a sad and stunned Ellie catches her breath.  

With its first journey outside of the QZ walls, “Infected” is eye-opening both for Ellie and for the audience. As with last week’s episode, the pre-credits sequence was a chilling look at where the world was when the clock started running out. As we’ve all seen over the past few years, it doesn’t take much before people start panicking and doing desperate things. We’re lucky that here in the real world, that desperation primarily manifested as hoarding toilet paper and hand sanitizer. 

Our trio is down to a duo, and the weight of the storytelling is on the capable shoulders of Pascal and Ramsey. With Tess’ pained optimism missing from the equation, how will these two get on? Anna Torv’s performance as Tess was such a wonderful look at a woman who freely admits that she isn’t a good person, all while stifling her own hopefulness and a broken heart. Joel couldn’t even admit to Ellie that he and Tess were a thing, so imagine how many times Tess heard him make that same disclaimer yet still stayed by his side and pretended that it didn’t hurt. And while we saw Infected last week, what we saw were the early days, the Runners, not the shambling horrors that are Stalkers (I warned y’all I could only handle so many faces with fungus growing out of them) or the absolute terror beasts that are Clickers. I know there’s still more to go, and while the effects are impeccable and the scares are real, I just don’t wanna see them. The Last of Us is the grossest apocalypse yet.  

Airborne Spores:  

  • Can Ellie have a gun this week? That’s a firm no from Joel and Tess. 
  • Sounds like a good thing that Joel and Sarah never got any pancakes or biscuits or birthday cake. 
  • When Tess offers Ellie some of the jerky she and Joel are eating, Ellie rather smugly pulls out a chicken sandwich that Marlene packed for her. Look, I’d flex my chicken sandwich too.  

The Last of Us airs Sundays on HBO.

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CategoriesRecap TV
Megan Sunday

Megan Sunday is a writer, archivist, and cohost of Let’s Get Weirding: A Dune Podcast. She lives in the DC area with her family and her growing collection of horror paperbacks.

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