The Last of Us episodes have something in common with Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, and it might not be a coincidence.
At the start of each episode so far, the show takes a few minutes to show viewers a story set in the world, but separate from the main storyline. On HBO’s The Last of Us Podcast, co-creator Craig Mazin reveals that he’s been a fan of Gilligan’s work, and that they’re going for a similar effect that his shows have executed so well.
“Every start is a new opportunity to reorient people or to disorient people. I’m particularly fond of disorientation. I’ve been watching Vince Gilligan do this forever. You have this five-six minutes at the beginning of every episode of television where the audience is the most open and receptive they’ll ever be. They’re willing to be confused, mystified, puzzled, As long as you get them, ultimately on solid ground.”
Opening installment “When You’re Lost in the Darkness” opens with an interview segment set in 1968, where three men are discussing the fear and potential dangers of viruses. One epidemiologist is most concerned with fungi. It seems harmless, but some fungi can alter our very minds and can bend an insect’s mind, directing its behavior and devouring the host from within. If fungi mutate, they can infect billions of us and spread the infection to every human alive.
In episode two, “Infected,” this fear begins taking shape into reality. It starts in Jakarta, Indonesia in 2003. A professor of mycology at the University of Indonesia is pulled out of a restaurant by soldiers and taken to a facility where a woman has been infected. She analyzes the body and discovers that the woman has been infected by cordyceps, which isn’t meant to survive in a human body. The professor knows that this means doom for humanity.
Mazin went further into their decision to include these cold openings as a way to shed more light on the worldwide implications of the infection’s existence.
“I think we knew we wanted to give a little bit more of an origin story. We wanted to see what it would really be like at the very, very beginning because we’re all pretty smart about this stuff now, and we wanted to show also that it was global. That this wasn’t something that was just happening in America, this was the world.”
It was also revealed that spores might appear in HBO’s The Last of Us, which gives fans of the video games hope. In the show, cordyceps have replaced spores and many people weren’t happy with it, but a reference to them in episode two could mean they’ll appear in the future.
The Last of Us airs on Sundays on HBO and is available to stream on HBO Max.