What in the End of the World is Happening in ‘The Last of Us’?

Fans of the award-winning video game franchise, The Last of Us, have been anticipating the arrival of the HBO Max streaming series since word of the project first circulated in late 2020. Led by Pedro Pascal, Anna Torv, and Bella Ramsey, the adaptation kicked off with an 80-minute first episode that covered a lot of ground (55 years to be exact), most of which was incredibly familiar to fans of the game and has fans of the game pretty fired up for more. But what about your average outsider? As a certified outsider, I have a lot of questions about just what the hell is happening at the end of the world in The Last of Us.


Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann came out swinging with some heavy science in the show’s opening scene. The science showdown between Quintus and The Swede was legit but it also really felt like HBO did a test screening of some portion of the series with a group of average IQ types and realized that without an explanation of what was going to happen 15 minutes later, they would have way too many questions. Then they went ahead and loaded it up with so much science that they may just have further confused the average IQ types. Fans of The Walking Dead spent several seasons trying to figure out how the end of the world began before getting over it, so at least there was some effort here.


Pretty standard stuff for the day the music died, really. Pedro Pascal‘s Joel seems like a real dawg and the stuff with his daughter, Sarah, clearly exists to make you sad soon and open a spot in Joel’s heart later. Outside of that, Joel’s brother (that’s Gabriel Luna?!) is a rowdy Army dude–seems important. The Mycelium Mouths are just simply terrifying. Thankfully, Quintus’ pre-present-day exposition allowed for some understanding of how an otherwise decrepit old lady could become a WMD…oh my God he smashed her skull with a pipe wrench! Thankfully the failed escape attempt didn’t go on too long (I want to see what was going on in that plane; I feel like it was World War Z-level action with the Mycelium Mouths).

As the D-Day stuff comes to a close, it seems pretty clear that the only necessary piece was the death of Sarah. As the audience makes the jump 20 years into the future, there’s no understanding of how or why the Mycelium Mouths came to be, only that they did, leaving us to imagine that Sarah’s death will mark the beginning of Joel’s origin story as “The Governor” of some post-apocalyptic civilization.

What Are Fireflies? What a Mouthy Brat!

Joel is just…a grunt? He should be running this DMZ but instead, he’s willing to burn bodies and work in the sewers? All these FEDRA people are faceless goons and someone kicked the shit out of I-didn’t-recognize-her-but-that’s Anna Torv. Obviously, these Fireflys are a big deal; that brat they have chained up is mouthy as hell. If you’re already chaining her up, add a modified Hannibal Lecter mask to keep her from talking unless you need her to. Where’s a wight giant when you need one? I adored the abstract art on the wall in the subway tunnel; I could have stared at the blown-up Mycelium Mouth all day trying to figure out exactly what I was looking at.

Joel and Agent Dunham are sneaky! Joel’s brother is now estranged…hopefully Joel reminds him that he’d likely be dead if he hadn’t bailed him out of jail…and that Sarah would probably not have been shot and killed if Joel hadn’t spent the time bailing him out. At this point in the series, it’s tough to accept swapping out sweet Sarah, who fixed her Dad’s watch for his birthday, with the abrasive, vulgar Ellie but she’s apparently the Mycelium Messiah, so I guess she’s going to fill that hole in Joel’s heart with all sorts of cuss words.

The biggest outstanding question at the moment is why Joel is so terrifying. I assumed his 20 years of experience would have included murdering his way to the top of some group of survivors so he could lead a revolution against the government that took his daughter away from him. Murders, maybe some light torture, and developing some mild psychoses; instead, he’s just a dude who while resourceful, would seem to be no more or less threatening than any other dude. Surely his war vet brother would be scarier.


It seems like most of the people in this episode were faceless because we’ll never see them again now that Joel, Tess, and Ellie left the zone. Though it was nothing extraordinary, the closing shot of the episode worked as a really great tease for me. The thought of them heading into a completely ruined city full of loud, screechy noises might not be Rick riding into Atlanta on his high horse, but it definitely portends bad things man, I mean bad things…

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