“The Last of Us”: a video game about zombies and love


Hadley E.J. Monson

Joel (the good guy) fighting off a Clicker (a bad guy) in The Last of Us.

Everyone is on the edge of their seat waiting for the next episode of The Last Of Us on HBOMax, but before it became HBO’s big hit early this year, the video game was a huge hit for gamers back in 2013 when it first came out. 

The game was released on June 14th, 2013 by the studio Naughty Dog, and it’s rated M for mature. It follows main characters, Ellie and Joel during a post-apocalyptic world. Together the pair is trying to make it from Boston to Salt Lake City in the hellscape that is now the United States. 20 years prior to their journey, was the outbreak of the brain infection, Cordyceps. This infection causes fungal growths to grow over the brain, eventually turning you into a walking version of the infection within two days–i.e. zombie. The fungi’s only goal is to spread the infection as far and wide as possible. 

The game is played from Joel’s perspective, battling Clickers and other kinds of zombies, scavenging for supplies, and probably the scariest part of the game–fighting other people. His mission is to find the Fireflies, a group who believes they can find a cure to the infection using Ellie, a 14 year old girl who is mysteriously immune to the Cordyceps infection. She was bitten by an infected but never turned, leading her to wonder if she could be the savior of the cruel world she grew up in.

Ellie and Joel at the very beginning of their journey. (Hadley E.J. Monson)

Now that you have the basic gist of the story, let’s go all the way back to the beginning. 

It’s Sept. 26th, 2013, the night of the outbreak. You wake up as Sarah Miller, Joel’s daughter in Austin, Texas, in the middle of the night with an overwhelming sense that something is wrong. As you explore the house from her perspective, you find that she is completely alone. Her father is suddenly gone and as her chilling voice calls out for him, things quickly start to go downhill. 

The city is in chaos as people are trying to escape, but the infection is only spreading. The police and military are trying to keep everyone inside to stop the spread. Joel and his brother Tommy make it to Sarah, determined to get out as quickly as possible. From Sarah’s perspective in the back of their car, you can look around at all the growing danger outside.

The burning house of one of Joel and Tommy’s friends on the way out of Austin. (Hadley E.J. Monson)

Forced to abandon their car after they get hit in an intersection, Sarah and Joel have to continue on foot. They get stopped by the military who are doing anything to keep the infection under control, including killing a father and his daughter who aren’t infected. Despite Joel’s attempts to save his daughter, Sarah never makes it out of the city. 

Cordyceps develop in stages and those infected are categorized into the 4 stages of infection: Runners, Stalkers, Clickers, and Bloaters. They only become harder to kill as the stages develop further. As time goes on, infected people begin to grow blooms of fungi over their face and body. By stage 3 of infection the blooms have grown over their eyes causing them to be completely blind and use echolocation to seek out prey. 

The fungus continues to grow out of a Clicker after its death. (Hadley E.J. Monson)

20 years after the initial outbreak, you wake up as Joel, now living in the Boston QZ (which stands for Quarantine Zone). His brother is somewhere out in Wyoming, and it seems like they split ways a while ago. The Quarantine Zones are strict places that don’t allow anyone to leave easily. Joel and his partner, Tess have made a living smuggling things in and outside the walls of the QZ. Thinking they’re going to confront one of their suppliers for a missing load of weapons, they get caught up with the Fireflies, who need their help to get 14-year-old Ellie outside the QZ. 

Joel and Tess get Ellie out of Boston but face another issue. The Fireflies waiting for Ellie outside Boston are all dead, and it seems like Tess will soon share their fate. Tess was bitten and infected in the fight with Clickers outside the wall. 

Ellie showing Joel and Tess the three week old bite mark on her arm, proving she’s immune.(Hadley E.J. Monson)

Joel and Ellie continue on without Tess. Without a map or understanding of where they’re trying to go, Tess tells them to go find Joel’s brother, Tommy, who used to be part of the Fireflies. What started for Joel as a simple cargo drop off, became something much bigger. Soon Ellie would be the most important thing in the world to Joel, and he would do anything to protect her. Ellie and Joel become each other’s family on their year-long trip across America.

This game requires strategy and luck to play through the challenges you face, and the beautiful graphics of the game are a sight to see. You get to see how nature takes back the world with vines crawling up buildings and foliage growing out of wreckage from buildings long ago. The story of love and found family unfolds gracefully, you might even want to bring a few tissues. Joel and Ellie’s relationship grows stronger as you play and their father-daughter dynamic works perfectly and gives a little comedic relief in the stressful situations. 

Nature in Boston taking over buildings decades after people left them behind. (Hadley E.J. Monson)

In the HBO adaptation, starring Pedro Pascal as Joel and Bella Ramsey as Ellie, there have been many similar if not exact scenes that are identical to the video game. The show has been renewed for a second season which will cover the events of The Last of Us Part 2, the sequel to the first game. The second game is played from Ellie’s perspective in her adult life, taking another journey across America. Gamers and watchers alike are ready to see how HBO portrays the story in the second season. 

This is not a show about zombies, this is a show and a story about love.”

— Troy Baker, the voice of Joel in The Last of Us, on HBO's adaptation