Based on the video game of the same name, the HBO series The Last of Us imagines a world ravaged by cordyceps, a real-world fungus that controls the motor functions of the organisms it infects. Set in an alternate 2023, 21 years after the initial infection, the show focuses on loner Joel (Pedro Pascal) and the spunky Ellie (Bella Ramsey), a teen who appears to be resistant to the fungus. Joel and Ellie set off on a cross-country journey to Wyoming, where the latter will be studied by doctors to possibly create a cure and the former will reconnect with his troubled younger brother.
The Last of Us has some of the characters you’d expect in an end-of-the-world series, including Bill, a survivalist portrayed with comical stoicism by Nick Offerman. Only one word can describe the look on Bill’s face when he emerges from his stately New England home, lowers his pistol, and pulls off his gas mask: relief. Not relief that his neighbors were still there, saved from the disaster that government officials had been warning them about, but quite the opposite: Bill’s relief comes from the fact that his neighbors have gone, evacuated to a quarantine zone while he hid in his heavily fortified safe room. With the entire town to himself, Bill indulges in his new life and gets what most doomsday preppers only dream of: an actual doomsday.
Unsurprisingly, The Last of Us presents a cynical view of humanity. Like most post-apocalyptic zombie stories, the series features people living by a “kill or be killed” credo, people using violence to maintain their social power, and graceless interactions. Most of the characters forsake solidarity, choosing instead to find security through selfishness.