It’s not that we haven't experienced zombie stories before. It’s not even that pandemics haven’t happened before. There’s something about the opening scene of The Last of Us’s season premiere that has an extra ominous tone to it, considering what we’ve been through. The epidemiologist describes what worries him during the talk show panel sequence in 1968. It’s similar to COVID-19 – a viral infection that passes through the airwaves. When the question is posed to Dr. Neuman (John Hannah), it doesn’t phase him. He describes fungus as the main threat – to the host and studio audience sort of laughs it off.
I think back to a video I saw on National Geographic about the Cordyceps fungus taking over various insects (not to mention, there are 600 species of Cordyceps. What??) This specific scene is not in The Last of Us game – it’s reminiscent of 1978’s Dawn of the Dead opening sequence (albeit calmer). The depiction of the Cordyceps virus itself has also been altered. In the game, transmissions through spores happen, and many characters must wear gas masks to get through particular areas. For the live-action version, it’s through a bite.
The talk show scene is an added stage setter for us to walk into the ultimate scenario where we lose against nature. Even with our current pandemic, humans were able to work on vaccines and treatments to fight the virus. What happens if there comes a day when none of our methods work and something from nature can’t be beaten back? Dr. Neuman mentioned warning temperatures – a phenomenon the world is going through right now. As Dr. Neuman continues his explanation, you can see the talk show host growing more concerned and a quiet hush in the audience. It just took a small sequence of words –
“Slightly warmer.” What happens during that one instance if humans miss a rung on the ladder and can’t stay one step ahead of nature? If you played the game, you know. It’s something that the show will navigate further and an instance in real life we never want to find out.