Episode Analysis The Last of Us: Infected

The second episode of HBO's The Last of Us shows Neil Druckmann's directing chops as well as the challenges of translating a video game into live action.

Episode Analysis The Last of Us: Infected
Image courtesy WarnerMedia

Warning: The following contains spoilers for The Last of Us through episode two as well as references to how the same story points in the game were handled differently. Read at your own risk.


HBO’s The Last of Us: Infected was a solid episode. It wasn’t as amazing as last week’s episode but in fairness it was put in a position where it was hard for it to be.

Unlike When You’re Lost in the Darkness, which had the challenge of hooking the audience as its primary need and goal, this week had to handle exposition. How do things work? Why are Joel and Tess doing what they do? Why does Ellie matter?

It’s hard to do all of that and redefine media as we know it. So the fact that Infected managed to get in some good character beats and action while getting that exposition in there was remarkable. Does it earn as high a grade as episode one? No. But episode one really screwed the curve for the rest of the class. Episode two can’t be blamed for it.

Because this episode was about trying to make the necessary moving pieces of the story work, I want to take this opportunity to focus on how it reveals some of the moving pieces behind the scenes. Namely, how did Neil Druckmann do directing his first TV show, how did the show handle some necessary production details, and round it out by talking about how the execution of those tendrils reveals some of the way things probably unfolded from script to screen.

Let’s get into it.

Neil Druckmann the Game Director vs Neil Druckmann the Show Director

Make no mistake, Neil Druckmann is an amazing game director. He’s got the pedigree to prove it. There’s a reason I frequently point people at this moment of Troy Baker talking about filming Sarah’s death. Not only does it demonstrate just how much voice actors are called upon to convey using only their voice, it also shows what Neil Druckmann was smart enough to ask for.

One of the things people usually talk about with The Last of Us the game is that it’s not the game, it’s the story. Yes, there’s gameplay and the gameplay is interesting. But what brings people back again and again is not stealth mechanics but the story that Neil Druckmann wrote and the way the actors and the game portrayed it. And of course the actors and developers of The Last of Us are very skilled, but it takes a good director to turn that skill into a layered story being told through pixels on a screen.

The challenge, though, is that Neil Druckmann has never done live action before. Live action has limitations that video games do not. And while I think Neil did a very good job - especially for a first go - I do think you could see some of where he had problems making the leap from one form to the other.

First up, let’s get this out of the way right now: I don’t care that Neil had sole directing credit for this episode. If Craig Mazin didn’t direct that Jakarta prologue I will bite myself. Everything from the directing to the cinematography to the editing to the color coding was Craig Mazin from top to bottom. If you need help understanding why I refer you again to Thomas Flight’s video on Chernobyl’s master class in perspective so you can see the hallmarks.

If that prologue wasn’t actually Craig Mazin then it was Neil Druckmann doing an amazing Craig Mazin impression which, I’m going to be honest, the rest of the episode doesn’t make me believe Neil is capable of on his own. Compare the use of focusing on character reactions to convey impact in the prologue vs how they were used in the museum scene. Same concept: teach the audience to be afraid by showing the fear instead of showing what they’re supposed to be afraid of. The prologue got you to connect with Ibu Ratna and her mounting terror. The museum… showed you that Joel, Tess, and Ellie were afraid.

Which was good! Don’t get me wrong, seeing badass Tess practically shitting herself at the sound of the clickers definitely told the audience that clickers are something to be scared of. But there’s a distinct difference from the show giving us Ibu Ratna’s thoughts via staying on Christine Hakim’s expressions and body language, and the show quickly editing in “Hey did you notice Tess is scared? Cool, we’re moving on now!”

The issue of editing was particularly in force during the museum action scenes. I get the idea that monsters are scarier when you don’t see them. However, you should be able to see action. When things were frantic and fast paced it was nigh impossible to keep track of the visuals. Which is a great recreation of when you forget how to use your game controller during a fight scene but I doubt that was the effect they were going for.

There were also smaller details which didn’t hit as well. The timing of the cut from Ellie’s gasp to the clicker turning on them wasn’t fast enough to show that it was meant to be a cause and effect. But this gets into the handling of the clickers and the infection as a concept which I’ll get into more later. But point being there were a few moments where the editing could have been tighter.

I don’t want to throw editor Mark Hartzell under the bus here though. I don’t know his style well enough to comment on what he did or didn’t contribute to that part of the storytelling. I will say, however, that my gut is telling me part of problem is what Mark was given to edit. And this is where Neil Druckmann comes in again.

The thing about working on games like the ones Neil does is that the way the games are made allows flexibility in the storytelling. The acting part is done by actors in motion capture suits working in a white space. Maybe they’re given some props to help position their hands for things like holding guns, or a box to sit on to mimic a car seat. But the important thing for directing purposes is getting every movement they make, including their facial expressions, recorded in three dimensions. That information can then be put into the game and from there it’s the programmers and designers who create the environments, the look of the characters, and even the camera angles.

(Remember that one, it’s important.)

There’s a great example of how this ability to constantly evolve the story worked really well in The Last of Us which I’ll get into with next week’s episode. But to give a simple example just to illustrate the concept, let’s say all the voice recording and motion capture for the game has been done. The game development is chugging along. It’s a few months from release, and somebody has the idea of hey, what if Ellie’s favorite color was blue instead of red?

Well in a game that’s not a hard change to do. You go in and tweak the color of Ellie’s sweatshirt in the graphics. Maybe your worst case scenario is you need to call Ashley Johnson back into the recording booth to redo a line of dialogue where Ellie said what her favorite color was. Bingo bango bongo, you’re done.

With live action, though, you can’t do that. If you want Ellie in a blue sweatshirt then you have to bring back Bella Ramsey and everybody else to refilm all the scenes where she was wearing a red sweatshirt. That’s not just Bella, that’s hair, makeup, sets, lighting, anybody Bella was acting with, and so on.

Yes, yes, CGI these days is such that in theory they could use VFX to change her sweatshirt. Just go with it because you know what I mean, which is that when filming live action you want to get everything you need in the can the first time. Yes, reshoots are a thing and this episode even had some (more on that in a sec). But reshoots are expensive and you don’t want to blow that wad on something like a blue sweatshirt.

So when you’re filming, you, the director, want to get everything you need. You want the right costumes, you want the right acting, you want the right action, and you want the right camera angles.

Neil did very good, but I suspect part of the problem with why things like the museum action scenes didn’t make sense is that Neil didn’t know what coverage he needed to get, which then translated to Mark Hartzell having to make the best of what he had. Reason being, in a video game like The Last of Us the director doesn’t decide the camera angles for a fight scene: the player does. So I suspect decades of never having to worry about where the camera is looking during a fight meant that particular skillset atrophied and left Neil struggling when it came to getting it in the museum.

I suspected that while watching the show and then, sure enough, in a comment in this week’s podcast, which I’ll link in the Lagniappe section, Neil and Craig Mazin talk about how Neil’s lack of coverage could cause issues in the editing. Now they don’t call out the museum action scenes specifically, but my guess is that was one of the places where it happened.

(Also note this is my superpower kicking in and enabling me to guess what happened behind the scenes and being right about it. Remember that because I’m going to use that power to guess what went on with the tendrils.)

I do want to give credit where due, however. Neil had some great moments with his directing, particularly with character beats. That long shot of Joel quietly trying to reload his gun was beautifully done. And, in much the same way Neil knew how to walk Troy through the emotional journey his voice needed to go through when reacting to Sarah’s death, I would not be surprised if Neil gave Pedro Pascal similar guidance on the thoughts that would be influencing Joel’s expressions as he reloaded. And, coverage credit where due, the slow tightening of the shot on Joel so that we the audience couldn’t see the clicker anymore than Joel could was a great way to increase the terror of that moment.

(Shout out to cinematographer Ksenia Sereda, by the way. She did last week’s episode as well and seeing the difference in what she got this week vs last helps illustrate how different directors can affect the work the cinematographer does in the same way directors affect the performance actors give.)

I also loved the subtle money saving moments, like that long conversation with Ellie and Joel in the hotel hallway. Easy to film, cheap to set up, take that money and spend it on the clicker prosthetics as you should. Perfect, no notes.

They also did a great job of presenting exposition as naturally as possible, particularly in the use of Ellie as the one who either needed to ask questions or be told what to do. Many, many, many shows screw the pooch in this area with “As you know, Bob…” scenes and HBO’s The Last of Us avoided that entirely. Another one of perfect, no notes.

Except… for the exposition itself. And this is when we start talking about the tendrils.

The Problem With the Tendrils on HBO’s The Last of Us

Here’s the thing: in the game infection is spread in two ways. Either by bite or by breathing in spores from the air. The way the spores are handled in game is that the characters, except Ellie, wear gas masks. Given that there’s already a show where people pay money to hire Pedro Pascal but not show his face they obviously don’t to retread that here. Ergo no spores.

Which I’m fine with! There’s people in the fandom absolutely losing their shit over taking the spores out of the equation and honestly I do not get it. First up because the spores don’t actually serve a function in the game other than to prove Ellie’s immunity. Joel and Tess need gas masks, Ellie doesn’t, there’s the proof. But, as the show demonstrated, there are multiple other ways of proving Ellie is immune: watch her for a few hours and let her get bit again (frankly I think both was overkill but whatever).

Other than that the spores don’t do anything. They certainly don’t affect gameplay. The characters put their masks on automatically so the player doesn’t have to remember to do it. The gas masks don’t wear out so you don’t have to spend your time scavenging for them like you do bullets and med kits. They don’t affect the characters’ or player’s ability to see, hear, or move. You could remove the spores from the game and change nothing.

I suspect - and I don’t have the super power with game development I do with TV and movies, granted - but I suspect the spores existed for two reasons. One is that The Last of Us was showing off the graphic capabilities of the PS3 when it came out, and particle effects, i.e. motes of something floating in the air, are a favorite way of game developers to show off graphics quality (reflections and waving flags are another).

The second is that while a gas mask on a TV show is a detriment because it obscures the actor’s face, on a game it’s a positive because now the character’s face is one less thing you have to animate. Though honestly the masks don’t come up often enough in The Last of Us for that to be a huge savings so that guess I’m more iffy on.

So removing the spores from the TV show doesn’t really hurt anything. It also arguably has a benefit in the world building because if the fungus is airborne that does indicate that an open air quarantine zone is only going to do so much for you. After all, spores aren’t going to wait at the checkpoint to be let in, they’ll float right over the wall.

The thing I have more of an issue with is the addition of the tendrils. And here’s why: I suspect this was an early stage brainstorming idea they got excited about (”activated” as Craig Mazin likes to  put it), they meant to get back to it at some point to flesh it out more than “Tendrils? Tess kiss??” on the white board, but then they got distracted by focusing on making sure all the things directly from the game were exactly like the game and forgot that they were supposed to make the tendrils make sense.

Here’s why I suspect that: the only thing that is fully fleshed out with the tendrils is the stuff affected by prosthetics and CGI, aka the things you need to set in motion early in production so they can be ready in time. Absolutely nothing in the story was affected by them and, in fact, directly contradicts them.

Let’s break it down.

Thanks to the podcast (again I’ll link below), we know that Craig and Neil developed tunnel vision on game related things. They needed to be told that Ellie’s comment about Infected with “spit-open heads that see in the dark like bats” wasn’t enough information to explain what clickers were to the non-gaming audience. And we could get into all the reasons for that alone but for example notice the verb in Ellie’s sentence: see. What’s the thing clickers can’t do? See.

Yeah, “see in the dark like bats” but now we’re confusing it even more. What’s meant is the echolocation. Clickers click because that’s how they find where their prey is. That’s the bat part. But in real life if a bat gets into your house nobody says the advice is be silent. The advice is to avoid the thing so you don’t risk getting rabies. Plus the echolocation aspect overlooks the part where they can hear in general. Again: nobody tells you the way to deal with a bat is to throw something to the other side of the room while yelling “STREET SMARTS!” You can, as Joel did, distract clickers by doing something noisy in one place - such as breaking glass - and you being somewhere else.

As I say we could go on but point being that this demonstrates that when they were focused on game things Craig and Nell didn’t notice their own dialogue and plot holes. They forgot that someone had to explain clickers to the audience because in the game this gets explained to the player via tutorials and environmental storytelling such as FEDRA pamphlets. Joel explaining the part where clickers can’t see but they can hear was one of those earlier mentioned reshoots. Neil and Craig didn’t script or film it the first time because they were focused on getting the museum scenes as close to the game as possible.

This issue now gets worse with the tendrils.

To be clear: I’m sure for people who didn’t play the game this didn’t stand out at all. Or, if it did, not by much. But again we’re talking my super power so I’m walking you through it so you can start to develop your own sense for how things come together and, by extension, appreciate who it was doing a good job when a good job is done.

The concept of the tendrils came because Craig Mazin read up on fungus and how in real life it can in fact be a single organism connected over miles. He then, with Neil’s blessing, put that into the show. We the audience get brought in when Tess explains it to Ellie thusly:

“The fungus also grows underground. Long fibers like wires, some of them stretching over a mile. Now you step on a patch of cordyceps in one place and you can wake a dozen Infected from somewhere else. Now they know where you are, now they come.”

Tess even stresses that this is something Ellie - and again by extension the audience - needs to remember. She flat out says “It’s important. I’m trying to keep you alive.”

Okay, we’re doing great so far. Craig read about fungus networks in real life, which are underground fibers going for miles. He puts that directly into the script in what’s arguably the bullet point pitch he gave Neil: Fibers, network, step here and alert there.

Here’s why I say this is where he and Neil stopped and forgot to go back to actually turn this into worldbuilding instead of a post-it from Wikipedia they stuck on the script: this never comes up again.

Tess just told Ellie information she says is to keep Ellie alive. What’s the information: about stepping on the fungus. What’s the one thing Tess, Joel, and Ellie never do the rest of the episode?

Did you guess watch where they step? If so, come get your prize!

Not only do the three of them never watch where they step, they extremely do not watch where they step. When they get outside of the museum one of the first things Joel does is poke the fungus on the ground, then he smashes it with his gun. Yeah, he concluded that it was dead but if you worry about touch alerting a herd of Infected wouldn’t you figure out other ways of checking that than jabbing the thing we’ve established you shouldn’t make contact with?

Then when they go into the museum Tess gives Ellie the rules about how to stay safe. She says go slowly, sure, but not watch where she steps. And we know from the game that slowly is for clickers because moving fast makes noise. It’s not about Ellie keeping an eye on where she’s walking. And even if we didn’t know from the game we know Joel and Tess don’t worry about where they walk because where do they point their flashlights inside the museum? Not at the ground, that’s for sure.

The concept of stepping on the fungus is so forgotten that when Ellie actually steps on the hand of a dead Infected the only thing Joel and Tess flinch at is the noise. The rules of foreshadowing say that is the moment when shit goes down and that herd they initially avoided is about to come running. But it’s not. Because it wasn’t in the game, so it’s not in the show.

On top of that it’s made worse in the final scene when the herd is summoned. Because what summons them? Not stepping on something, that’s for sure!

What does something is that Joel shoots a recently animated Infected, the body hits the ground, and then the tendrils grow up from the moss on the floor and that is what communicates back to the infected they avoided by going to the museum.

Did you catch all this? Nothing of what we were told about this piece of world building ever happened. The only piece that did was the concept of communicating across long distance, which was presented the way you find out about it if you’re researching fungus as Craig did. They didn’t even update Tess’s dialogue to indicate the fungus actively seeks the information, as it did when it grew after Joel shot that guy. According to Tess it’s a passive communication system that all the infected share.

Which, frankly, also doesn’t make sense because, unlike mushrooms, runners and clickers aren’t rooted to the ground. Again showing it was an early note from research that was never revised. The part where the fungus grows to actively communicate makes much more sense. But that’s your VFX team doing you a solid.

For what it’s worth, you can also see the disconnect from script to VFX when Ellie makes her “They’re connected” comment. The only thing she saw was the Infected on the ground responding to sunlight. There’s nothing about that which suggests connection. It suggests response to sunlight. Even if you allow for Ellie realizing she should think about the Infected as more like plants than humans, we all know plants turn to face the sun on their own. They don’t need to communicate with other plants to do it.

Which points to that, in all likelihood - and as is not uncommon in shows like this - they didn’t have the final visual when they filmed Ellie saying that piece of dialogue. My guess is that given the sheer number of Infected they had to work with and that this was an episode where they were trying to save some VFX money (the static shots of buildings that don’t exist in the real world was a giveaway - not She-Hulk levels of egregiousness, but still there if you paid attention), and ultimately had to do a “Um, fuck it. We can do some lighting effects to indicate the sun and have them move in response to it.”

Which, for the record, is not me throwing shade at the VFX team. Static shots of buildings are where you should be saving your money considering all the other things they need to make come alive. Likewise do the same of a distance shot of Infected. I’m not saying it’s bad VFX, I’m saying the VFX provides another clue that tendrils wasn’t fully thought out as a concept.

And the reason why I blame focus on trying to recreate the game as much as possible for why implementing tendrils didn’t get the revision it deserved is that we can see this with other new elements as well. Case in point, the change from the game in why Joel and Tess took Ellie on in the first place, and why Tess dies.

Mild game spoilers here but in the game Joel and Tess aren’t looking for a battery for a truck. That fetch quest comes later. Instead Robert stole guns from them and they want their guns back. Robert gave the guns to the Fireflies via Marlene, Marlene says if Joel and Tess drop Ellie off at the Capitol building they’ll get their guns as payment.

Now changing it to a battery for a truck works. I think it’s a smart change both for efficiency purposes and for giving an easy to understand motivation for why Joel would go along with this (he needs the battery for a working truck so he can try to get to Tommy).

The problem comes in when you see that, much like the show forgetting to have everyone watch where they step, they forgot to have Joel care about a truck. Because when they get to the Capitol building and there’s a truck sitting right there… Joel doesn’t acknowledge it. He doesn’t acknowledge it’s a truck, he doesn’t acknowledge it’s their truck, he doesn’t even check to see if the keys are in the ignition.

Now I get that he was checking for danger but this is when you see the next part of game tunnel vision come in: the setup doesn’t make sense the way the show presents it.

In the game the Fireflies were killed by other humans, which previous encounters with dead Firefly bodies imply were military, and it’s FEDRA who shows up at the end. In interviews and on the podcast (again I’ll link below), Craig said he switched it to Infected for two reasons. One, the title of the episode is Infected so it made sense to stick with the theme, and two because to him it didn’t make sense that FEDRA would be interested in anything that happened outside of the walls of the quarantine zone.

To which… I mean you’re the dude typing, Craig. You can hit backspace on the title.

I get what he means in the sense that the theme of the episode was Infected, and if you’re hitting the points of the start of the Infection, Ellie and Tess’s different reactions to bites, and enemies it makes a sort of sense that the final enemy is Infected. But not the way they handled it.

Which starts from the other thing which is that it actually makes perfect sense for FEDRA to patrol outside the walls. Tess even explains it earlier: people come to the quarantine zone, they briefly seek shelter in abandoned buildings, they get bit, more Infected now roam around outside the walls. The more infected are outside the walls means the more likely it is for Infected to get inside the walls by overrunning them.

Not only that it’s in the game that if you have settlements, you have people working outside those settlements to keep them safe. There’s even a conversation you overhear when you first start walking around the quarantine zone with Tess: a civilian complains that she pulled outside duty when that’s supposed to be a job only the military does. (Said civilian, by the way, played by Laura Bailey who goes on to have a slightly bigger role in The Last of Us 2.)

The principle of protecting the quarantine zone from the Infected applies to the Fireflies as well. If FEDRA had been tipped off that the Fireflies were at the Capitol doing an important trade off, of course they’d show up guns blazing to stop it.

Which gets back to the other thing I think tripped up the development of the ending scene, which is that I think Craig and Neil got way too enamored, no pun intended, with the idea of the tendril kiss.

First up, no shade on the VFX and/or prosthetics team, both of which did amazing work elsewhere. But oh my god the tendrils in the kiss looked bad. It was not giving me horror, it was giving me “Baby shoves alfalfa sprouts out of its mouth because they taste icky.” It didn’t work. It didn’t work as a visual and it didn’t work for whatever the heck was supposed to be happening.

For the latter all you need to do is look at any online discussion about the episode to see the fairly even divide of people who can’t guess why the kiss happened. Did the Infected not know Tess was already bitten and thus was trying to infect her? Did it know and want to spread the infection faster? Was it trying to get her connected to the tendril network? Other?

Nobody can guess. And frankly interviews with Craig and Neil don’t clear it up either because the kiss happens because it happens. Their main thesis was that getting infected is gentler if you don’t fight which… I mean okay? I get that an organism doesn’t want to expend more energy than it has to in order to propagate. But, much like how the idea of stepping on things didn’t affect anyone’s behavior, the concept of the Infected being more gentle if you’re not actively fighting them doesn’t pan out either. All you have to do is remember the opening episode and how many of the newly infected were going ham on their neighbors even when said neighbors did nothing to hurt them. The elderly woman was ready to attack Sarah when all Sarah did was stand there.

(And don’t even get me started about how it makes no sense for mouth to mouth to be the method of doing this because we’ll be here all week. Suffice it to say this starts getting into the territory of don’t bring this stuff up in your worldbuilding if you don’t want your audience asking questions about how it works. Sometimes handwaving the details is fine.)

Which shows, much like the concept of stepping on the tendrils, Craig and Neil had the brainstorm, loved it, and never circled back to make it fit. Which you see in the setup of the final scene. Much like with Joel not caring about the truck, the setup of the corpses doesn’t make sense for infected. Why is there blood in the cab of the truck when both doors were firmly shut? Why were there bodies outside of the truck? Who got into the building bleeding all the way? If everyone else died in an Infected vs not infected battle, why are none of the bodies next to each other? Shouldn’t some of the dead Infected be on the ground near the person they were trying to infect? Why is everyone dead?

And on and on and on. And the reason is it looks the way it does because that’s how it looked in the game. Because in the game the Fireflies were killed by humans with guns who left those fresh corpses on the ground and then bounced. Neil and everyone else did a great job recreating a scene while forgetting the scene’s not supposed to look like that anymore.

This goes to even some of the admittedly pickier aspects of the scene which normally I’d ignore but I mention because it again goes to not realizing the moment changed: why didn’t Joel and Ellie quickly grab some grenades on their way out the door? For that matter, why didn’t they take Tess’s backpack? Because in the game the grenades weren’t there and Tess needed what she had on her because her heroic last stand was to distract the just arrived FEDRA agents so Joel and Ellie could get away. Tess in the game went out guns blazing which is hard to do when you don’t have guns. Tess on the show only needed a lighter.

So yeah. It’s fine to get rid of spores. The concept of tendrils was a great idea to put on the board to brainstorm about. But they never circled back to it because they were so focused on recreating the game scenes and it shows.

Which for the record is fine! Focusing on the game is the thing they should do. I just would’ve tapped them on the shoulder and whispered that they didn’t need the tendril stuff given how it panned out. Heck even if you wanted the infected to swarm at the end all you needed was what they’d already established draws their attention: noise.


As always, things which don’t fit anywhere else

  • I liked how they didn’t go with Ibu Ratna saying something fluffy like “pray” but instead the very hardcore and practical “bomb.”
  • I wasn’t 100% sold on the idea of Ratna as such a world renowned expert in mycology that if she says bomb you know we’re in deep shit. Not that I doubted her intelligence, but when she said “bomb” my first thought is okay now we need a second opinion to make sure Ratna doesn’t also say “bomb” when the store is out of paper towels that day. But I saw someone point out that for the purposes of the prologue we didn’t need to know if anybody else believed in the need to bomb in that moment, we needed to know she did. So now it works for me.
  • Did not care for how the corpse on the table was female. It felt very dehumanizing to have a woman’s breasts on display because she’s a dead body. A male corpse could’ve gotten the job done with his junk being hidden the whole time. (With, of course, the obligatory caveat that I’m speaking in cisgender terms here.)
  • Nice subtle character moments were how Ratna had to increase her pace to keep up with the military men and how Ellie is so tiny she had to boost herself up in order to look over the railing at the hotel.
  • Speaking of boosts, the show included a lot of shout-outs to the game (Joel boosting Tess, wrapping a bandage around your arm, Ellie’s inability to swim, etc) while making them feel natural and not Leo pointing meme delivery devices. I tip my hat to them for that.
  • This is a tiny bit of a game shout out because weapon sway is a game mechanic, but even without knowing that it’s in the game it’s a nice detail that Joel and Tess’s shots often went wide when they were fighting the clickers. They were panicked and running, of course their aim is going to be off.
  • Another subtle shout out to game is Ellie’s positioning in relation to Joel and Tess. One of the notable things about the AI in the game is that Ellie would stand closer or further from somebody depending on how she felt about them. (This compared to older games like Skyrim where AI companions notoriously forgot to be anywhere near you on the map, let alone in relationship to how they felt about you.) Of course when you’re working with actors this sort of blocking makes sense. But at the same time it wouldn’t surprise me if they were mindful of the source material when doing things like having Ellie and Tess walking close together and up ahead on the bridge while Joel was in the background.
  • I liked how Joel had no problem aiming his gun at Ellie in the museum when he was telling her they had to be silent. Yes, his finger wasn’t anywhere near the trigger. But the first thing you learn when handling guns is a safe gun is a gun pointed in a safe direction. Joel having no problem pointing his towards Ellie showed how willing he was to kill her if he had to.
  • Mad props to Barrie Gower and the entire prosthetics team for their work on the clickers. That was one of the most important elements of the game to get right and they nailed it. Also props to Craig and Neil for making the call to make the clickers as practical an effect as possible. Practical effects always feel more real and age better than CGI.
  • Related, shout out to Olivier Ross-Parent and Samuel Hoekesema for their work as the clickers in the museum. Just like with the makeup, getting the movement of the clickers right - and realistic, given that it’s live action and not an AI enemy with a set movement pattern until you aggro them - was so important. They did an amazing job.
  • You know, spores or no spores all that dust in the museum looked disgusting to breathe in.
  • I liked how you could see that Tess was the brains of the operation all the way up to the very end. She always knew how to get an angle on something and how to get Joel on board. Case in point, her pointing out to him that it didn’t matter if Ellie was the cure or not, it mattered that the Fireflies believed it.
  • I have a lot of thoughts about Ellie’s immunity and the idea of her being a cure but I’m going to save them for the end of the season. Otherwise it gets too spoilery.
  • I meant to bring this up last week but on the topic of video game adaptations, I don’t like the habit we’re seeing in media right now of saying that HBO’s The Last of Us is the first successful one. There are others out there but in particular I want to give a shout out to Arcane which was amazingly good and had Into the Spider-Verse levels of beauty and artistry in its animation. I get why Arcane, which is based on League of Legends in that it takes loose concepts and characters from the game and builds an entire story out of them from whole cloth is not the same adaptation challenge as taking the much more story based The Last of Us and putting it into live action. But just because it’s not the same challenge doesn’t mean it isn’t good. It would certainly have been lumped into the list of failed video game adaptations if it hadn’t worked, so I think it earns a spot in the hall of fame for being as good as it is. (Obligatory shameless plug: I reviewed Arcane for paid members.)
  • As promised, one of many interviews where Craig and Neil talk about tendrils and the kiss. Warning that this article includes a spoiler for a scene in a future episode though.
  • On the other hand, the podcast for episode 2 covers the same topic and only refers to what happens in the episode.
  • Finally, as someone who used to work in the hotel industry, it amuses me that nobody leapt on the branding opportunity of claiming to be the hotel that Joel, Tess, and Ellie were walking through. Not even a logo on a napkin! Impressive.

And that’s all for this week. See you next week for what’s supposed to be one of the best episode of the show, and possibly all of television. We’ll find out if it lives up to the hype.

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