Last week's premiere of HBO's The Last Of Us didn't waste any time getting into the pandemic that ravaged the world in 2003, 20 years before the main timeline of the series. Meanwhile, in the present day, viewers saw how the cordyceps virus has changed not only the world, but humanity to its very core.
Those themes continued in the second episode, "Infected," as Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Tess (Anna Torv) tried to make sense of their new cargo: the rebellious Ellie (Bella Ramsey). While Joel was skeptical that Ellie was the promised cure to the fungus everyone was whispering about, Tess dug her heels in, hopeful to have some kind of promise that might end the status quo.
And so, she convinced Joel to carry on with their mission, getting Ellie across the borders and through wild Boston territory where fallen buildings were the least scary thing on the menu. As it turned out, she was so determined to see that mission be successful, she was even willing to put her life on the line to make it so.
All caught up on the most recent fungal developments from the show? Read on as Metacritic dissects the five biggest moments of the episode and what to expect ahead.
The episode opened once again in the past — 2003 — when officials in Jakarta tracked down a professor of mycology to get her hot take on the cordyceps virus living in humans and what that might mean for the world at large. In a creepy autopsy scene involving bubble suits, moving fungus coming out of a deceased body, and the eerie feeling the infected woman might reanimate at any moment, the professor realized what no one else yet had: humanity was doomed.
She told the officer as much when pressed for a cure or solution. After spending years studying cordyceps, she knew that based on how many people were already infected (with even more unaccounted for), the only thing to do was to bomb Jakarta and everyone in it.
But, as the present-day bomb craters Joel, Tess, and Ellie walked past in the U.S. proved, it wasn't just these officials who opted for that path with the hope of stopping the spread.
In order to create the show, executive producers Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann had to deter from the virus as set out in the game. Specifically they made it so the cordyceps virus could no longer be transmitted via air (otherwise actors would be walking around in gas masks all of the time). But they also made the decision to connect the spores and create a network of infected humans.
Tess revealed this connection to Ellie, explaining why it was so dangerous to come close to even one spore as it might summon an entire horde of zombies. That explainer was essential to viewers in understanding the chaos that came by the episode's big finish, but more on that below.
Another essential explainer in the episode was the definition of the various stages people go through after being infected. There are four stages in the game: runner, stalker, clicker, and bloater or shambler. In an homage to the game, Tess, Joel, and Ellie entered the museum in Episode 2, where they were directly confronted by clickers.
It takes a while for infected to reach the clicker stage, as that's when the fungus completely takes over the host's brain. Visually, that meant mushroom-headed humans walked around with superhuman hearing and zero sight in the episode, giving off some serious A Quiet Place vibes in tone, but provided quite the jump scare upon first visual sighting due to the graphic physical transformation.
While fighting the clickers, Tess suffered a bite and knew her time was up. Ellie realized what happened before Joel did, and at first neither of them seemed ready to accept Tess' fate. But when they arrived at the camp and realized everyone there had been infected, the threesome came to some hard realizations — fast.
As an infected tried to take them out, the heroes accidentally triggered that aforementioned spore network, summoning every single infected person in the vicinity.
With minutes to go and no time for proper goodbyes, Tess went out with a hero's death: by blowing herself and every infected being around her up so that Ellie and Joel could escape.
If you know the game, you may not have been shocked that Tess sacrificed herself, although the way in which she did is different in the show than the game. But more surprising than the explosion itself was how close she allowed an infected to get before she trigged the explosion — so close that he could kiss her. And well, he did kiss her — with the fungus spores wiggling from his mouth and entering hers and all.
Tess was the glue that kept Joel and Ellie together through their short time traveling. Now, following her death, the dynamics will probably shift pretty fast. Ellie doesn't trust Joel, and Joel doesn't believe Ellie is the cure to their new world, so there will be a lot for both of them to overcome in the next episode (and beyond).
Add in Joel's baggage over his daughter's death and his mistrust of… well, everyone, and these two have a lot to wade through.
However, with infected at every turn and a big journey ahead, they'll both have to learn to put up with each other pretty fast if they have any hope of survival. In other words, bring on Episode 3.
The Last of Us airs at 9 p.m. Sundays on HBO and streams the same day on HBO Max.