The Last Of Us Episode 2 Brings The Horror

In week two, "The Last of Us" finishes establishing its story, adds even more context to the outbreak, and does one very cool and terrifying change to the lore, all while cementing how perfect Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey are as Joel and Ellie.

We start not with Joel and Ellie, but in Jakarta, Indonesia back to September 24, 2003 — two days before the apocalypse begins in Texas in the first episode. We meet a scientist who is brought to a lab by the military to examine a worker in a flour and grain factory who became violent after being by a coworker. As the scientist deduces, the woman is infected with Cordyceps, which has evolved to survive in warm environments and infect humans. 

Realizing how quickly the infection is spreading, and how impossible it will be to stop it faster than it continues to spread, the scientist begs the army officer to just bombard the entire city. There is no vaccine or medicine they can make in time, all they can do is stop it here by killing everyone.

Just like with the first episode, this show-original opening is a fantastic addition to the story. Like Craig Mazin did so often in "Chernobyl," this scene shows the preventability of the tragedy, the moments of retroactive horror of knowing if anyone could have made a different, albeit hard decision, things could have been different. 

The opening also introduces us to the idea of the Cordyceps tendrils, which we briefly saw last episode, and become a big addition to the lore of the game, replacing the spores. If zombies weren't scary enough, this episode explains that the infected are all connected through cable-like fungal fibers that grow underground — meaning if you step on a fungus, the infected can hear you.

Perfect casting

Back in Boston, the episode mostly reckons with the ending of last week's episode — the discovery that Ellie is infected. After freaking out for a while, Ellie explains that Marlene and the Fireflies believe she can be the key to a cure. Joel is immediately skeptical and says there have been talks about a miracle cure for years, but Tess slowly grows to believe in the possibility.

Then we get the single best scene in the episode (and a very big highlight of the four episodes available for press ahead of time). We see Ellie mock Joel after he says that he'll kill her if she so much as twitches, by immediately twitching and making clicker noises to mess with him. It is not only Ellie's joking attitude toward Joel, her disregard for authority, or her ability to curse like a sailor then at just 15 years old that makes the scene funny and Ramsey's performance so good, it's the split-second shift in Ellie's behavior when Tess yells at her to stop and Ellie nods and says "yeah, okay" that sells the character. Ellie is a moody teenager, but one that also knows she lives in a very dangerous world where you need to listen to orders from more experienced people if you are to survive, and she knows where she has gone too far.

The scene also encapsulates the dynamic between Joel and Ellie, with the former being all stoic and constantly annoyed, while the latter is a smartass who doesn't take any nonsense from anyone. The two are stubborn idiots, and it is very easy to love them.

It's a horror show, remember?

As for the idea of a cure, the quest to cure the infection is not something we see a lot of in zombie stories — with a handful of exceptions, like "The Girl With All the Gifts," which strangely enough also deals with a Cordyceps mutation.

With the streets full of infected, the group decides to take a shortcut through a very creepy museum, and it is here that "The Last of Us" finally reminds us it is supposed to be a horror show in addition to a gripping drama. We get some cool jump scares throughout the episode, but the whole museum sequence is fantastic in how it builds up dread and creates an image of horror. 

The production design is key to all this, with fungi covering everything, with dead bodies fused to the walls, and that's before we get our first look at the clickers. The episode does something interesting early on, having Tess and Joel tell Ellie that stories of mutated infected with creepy features are just that, stories. They have never encountered special types of infected, which makes the appearance of the clickers a surprise, a nightmarish one. Everything from the movement of the actors to the exquisite makeup that somehow makes what is really a guy with a mushroom on his head look terrifying, by the time we hear their eponymous clicking noise, it is just the icing on the cake.

Let the tragedy begin

The production design is overall excellent in this episode, which is the first time we actually see travel to a full city and see the effects of the apocalypse in it. Everything from the giant practical sets full of debris to the interior sets of abandoned and flooded buildings, to the VFX-aided backgrounds with skyscrapers knocked down.

The episode ends with Joel, Tess, and Ellie finally reaching the rendezvous point with the Fireflies and realizing they are all dead — one got bit, then everyone fought and killed one another. Tess starts getting desperate and begs Joel to just take Ellie to the Firefly headquarters out west. Turns out, she was bitten, and seeing Ellie's bite, she now fully believes her immunity is real, so the cure is a possibility. After doing so much wrong, she begs Joel to finally set everything right.

When a horde of infected comes running at them, Joel and Ellie leave, while Tess stays behind to blow every one of them up. Right before she goes up, one of the infected approaches and gives her a big old kiss on the mouth, allowing tendrils to enter Tess' mouth in what's already the grossest image of 2023. Welcome to "The Last of Us," where everything sucks and everyone is miserable.