Directed by Neil Druckmann, creator of The Last of Us game, the second episode of the long awaited saga continues to build upon the story of how the infection first came to be and making some pretty bold changes to the story that game players hold so dear to their hearts that led to a gut wrenching final couple of minutes.
In a recent interview with Variety magazine, game creators Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin spoke about their intentions with the TV series. As well as telling the epic story of Joel and Ellie navigating this post-apocalyptic world, they wanted to explore the pre-virus timeline, looking at where it came from and how it spread. Also, they want to consider the varying behaviours of the infected and how they function as a sort of ‘hive mind’. But we’re jumping ahead.
Ellie, Joel and Tess are continuing their mission to escort Ellie out of the Quarantine Zone and to the edges of the city. Joel and Tess learn that Ellie has been bitten but she never became infected and Ellie informs them that Marlene’s intentions for her were to get her ‘West’ where there are Doctors who can use her to create a vaccine. A cure. Something Joel has heard a hundred times before and is tired of entertaining. However, Tess, seeing for herself the actual miracle before them pushes on and pushes Joel to dedicate himself to the mission. Thankfully, she convinces him, and right on time as from now on Joel and Ellie are continuing this journey alone. In one the first major deviations to the game story, Tess is bitten by one of the infected and in her final moments she sacrifices herself to save Joel and Ellie.
In a flash back scene at the start of the episode we find ourselves in Jakarta, Indonesia in 2003. A scientist is taken by law officials to a laboratory where they ask her to look at a specimen under a microscope. She becomes alarmed that the thing she is looking at has come from a human being as the fungus she sees wouldn’t survive on human flesh. When she investigates the corpse that the specimen has come from, she discovers long mushroom-like tendrils growing in the back of their throat which seem to be alive, moving like grass in a breeze. However, as horrific as this moment is, its the conversation that follows that leaves you shaken. She tells the law official that brought her there that the only way to get rid of this is to bomb the city and everyone in it. She tearfully pleads him to take her to her family and the hopelessness of humanities future weighs heavy on them both. This is made even more terrifying by our own recent global pandemic that thankfully didn’t turn people into flesh eating, fungus-faced maniacs, but anything seems possible in this world doesn’t it? It’s just all a bit close to home for me.
In a further attempt to help us understand the virus and the infected themselves, we see Joel, Ellie and Tess observe a mass of infected responding in synchronicity to the sunlight, deducing that they are connected. The fungus that grows deep underground is connected to any infected above ground and that they have their own communication network in the fungus that grows throughout the city, something that is terrifyingly based on fact. Druckmann and Mazin explained the gut-wrenching kiss between Tess and an infected as a look into what would happen if you didn’t run from them? What would happen if you just let them do their thing? What if the infected don’t want to bite you but instead what to infect you another way? As vulgar a moment as it was, seeing the mushroom-like tendrils enter Tess’ mouth as she desperately tries to ignite her lighter, her death feels more meaningful as we see the infected act in a totally different way. They are more than just flesh-eating monsters in this, we are being invited to understand them.
We are introduced to the two main types of infected in this episode. Runners are infected who can see and hear and run extremely fast and these are the most common. These are the ones we see in the final scene. Then there are Clickers who are the ones with big fungus-faces who cannot see you, but have very sensitive hearing, these are the ones we see in the museum scene. Both are extremely deadly but at least you can sort of run away from a Clicker…
This second episode of The Last of Us, cemented Bella Ramsey as a good choice for Ellie. She may not be the ‘perfect’ choice but she is certainly feeling more like Ellie in this episode than the last. Perhaps it takes some getting used to when you grow so attached to a character being a certain way and with Pedro Pascal being the absolute spitting image of Joel in every way, its a harder pill to swallow when his counterpart isn’t quite so identical. However, she tows the line perfectly between frightened, angry teenager and innocent, traumatised child. She cracks jokes, responds sarcastically to almost every question she is asked, but only as way of protecting herself from any more hurt. Now that she and Joel are on their own, and Tess has made Joel understand how important Ellie is to the future of the human race, their journey can really begin.
The Last of Us continues on HBO on Sunday nights.