HBO’s ‘The Last of Us’ reportedly set 10 years before the video game

Image via Sony Pictures

The strongest piece of evidence yet to support the long-held speculation that HBO’s The Last of Us series will be set a decade prior to the video game original has just surfaced online.

Now to clarify, we’re not saying the post-apocalyptic show centering around fungus-infected zombies is thought to be a prequel to the game. Instead, the outbreak of said Cordyceps in the show occurs in 2003, rather than in 2013, like in the game. Since the majority of the first game is set 20 years after the outbreak, that would mean the HBO series would likely largely take place in 2023.

The Twitter account @NaughtyDogInfo shared an apparent set piece from the show’s production, which is still underway in Alberta, Canada. The image contains a considerably aged-looking banner for an academic biomedical sciences conference slated for 2003 at the fictional University of Eastern Colorado, one of the locales that Ellie and Joel visit in the first video game.

Assuming the image, which the Twitter account credited to u/hagilles, is genuine — and we don’t have much reason to believe otherwise — this would be the first confirmation that the 2003 date rumor for the show is not because of some kind of pre-outbreak flashback scene, since the banner is so old-looking.

Prior to now, we got another hint at the timeline change of the show from a CBC report, back in May 2021, saying a casting call for extras included that the production crew put out a call for people who had vehicles from 1995-2003.

In addition, a now-deleted interview with Gabriel Luna, who plays Tommy in the show, also indicated the outbreak would begin in 2003. As the video is no longer available, we weren’t able to confirm the exact quote for ourselves, but someone on Reddit shared the timeline detail from the interview at the time.

Official information about The Last of Us is fairly scant on HBO’s website, and so the timeline change has not been formerly acknowledged by the network as of yet.

However, we do know The Mandalorian‘s Pedro Pascal will play Joel and Game of Thrones‘ Bella Ramsey will portray Ellie. We already mentioned Luna’s Tommy, but the show will also star Fringe‘s Anna Torv, The Third Day‘s Nico Parker, The White Lotus‘ Murray Bartlett, Parks and Recreation‘s Nick Offerman, Euphoria‘s Storm Reid and original The Last of Us video game actors Merle Dandridge and Jeffrey Pierce.

Though many pop culture fandoms are notoriously sticklers for strictly sticking to the source material when adaptations are made (see: Uncharted movie), we think the timeline change for The Last of Us show might actually be a good thing.

With the real-life coronavirus pandemic that has upended civilization around the world, setting the show about a fictional — and much worse — pandemic closer to the present day may resonate more with modern viewers. Since the show was greenlit by HBO in the midst of the pandemic, we’re guessing the timeline change was very much intentional, for the reason we explained, on the part of its creators.

And we’re excited to see how the series producers bring the Cordyceps zombies to life. CBC’s report included a reference to some actors possibly being turned into the unspeakable monsters, implying there may be a practical make-up approach to making the creatures, rather than solely relying on computer-generated imagery. If they’re anything like some of the fan creations The Last of Us video game developer Naughty Dog has shared on their Instagram recently, the zombies will be as breathtaking as they are terrifying.

The Last of Us is slated to continue filming in Canada through June, with the series making an expected premiere on HBO in late 2022.