The pilot episode to HBO’s The Last of Us debuted last week to the tune of 4.7 million viewers and critical success, including high praise from yours truly.
In a little over 82 minutes, “When You’re Lost in the Darkness” sets up the foundation of a world ripped apart by a fungal pandemic before letting us go with one of its last scenes featuring Joel (Pedro Pascal) pound away at a federal agent all while the young Ellie (Bella Ramsey) looks on, with a mortified yet excitable reaction on her face.
As engaging as it was, it wasn’t without criticism, particularly some that I had with the same introduction in the video game. It was rapid fire. It went on way too fast, potentially leaving the audience with questions that nobody knows if they’ll have the patience required to wait for an answer. All this said, it was a pleasant surprise to see the second episode of the season be a bit slower.
Titled “Infected” we get to know Joel and Ellie a little more as they get to know each other. We also finally get a good look at the world outside of the quarantine zone. The chemistry between both Pascal and Ramsey went beyond banter as we saw brief moments where they actually spoke to one another, and it was a fun moment despite the circumstances. Though they’re both Game of Thrones alumni, I can’t remember if they were ever shown in the same episode, so it was nice to see the dynamic finally pick up.
The key point in “Infected” is its more intimate introduction to the infected. We saw “Runners” in action last week, and this week we’re introduced to the Clicker–the “zombie” in The Last of Us. Unlike a Runner, Clickers depict human bodies with a more seasoned infection–their flesh from neck to toe are covered in fungus, and they’ve had more than their brains absolutely taken over. From the clicks to the shrieks, the Clickers are absolutely menacing and they’re just as dangerous and frightful as they are in the video games thanks to both the makeup and sound design.
Plot-wise, again, without delving too far into spoiler territory, we do begin to see some significant change from the video game. In the game, in addition to being scratched or bitten by an infected, people can also be infected by breathing in spores. The characters in the game would react to these very visible spores by wearing gas masks to get through. In the TV show, spores seem to have been replaced by fungal strands. They’re all over the earth and linked to where various infected live, so when an Infected is killed, it sends a signal to other Infected informing them of where their prey are, and this is actually how the infection spread in the first place.
The cold open to the episode provided for a nice precursor to how the pandemic began and took shape as they showed a 2003 incident in Indonesia where a world renowned doctor told the military that the only way to stop the infection was to “bomb” the city, which explains the craters we’ve seen both in the series and the game in various metropolitan areas.
Directed by Neil Druckmann himself, “Infected” might be a polarizing episode as it fundamentally changes some of the rules we thought existed in Naughty Dog’s beautiful but damaged world, but just as the pilot did — the storytelling and acting we’ve seen from the cast so far will continue to keep viewers engaged wondering what happens next, even when people already know.