The infected in the HBO The Last of Us TV series are just as unsettling as those in the games, maybe even a little more so. But being on the inside could be even worse, when you consider what the real-life version of the fungus does. That raises the question — are The Last of Us TV series infected alive?
Yes, Aside from the Fungus Itself, The Last of Us TV Series’s Infected Victims Are Alive — and It’s Just Horrifying
The horrifying truth is that the victims who become infected by the show’s fungus are, themselves, still alive. In episode 3 we see Ellie cut one of the infected, and blood flows from the wound. Yes, there’s fungal matter in there, but it confirms the victims are still biologically alive.
Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, the fungus’s real-life counterpart, infects ants and then has them clamp their mandibles onto a leaf. A fruiting body grows out of the ant, which is dead by that point, and it releases its spores. It’s as nasty as it sounds.
However, the show’s fungus doesn’t spread via spores. Instead, after the initial outbreak, it’s transmitted via a bite or a particularly nasty kiss. It needs its victims to stay mobile. That means keeping enough of them intact so their muscles and, in the case of the regular infected, their eyes work.
Clickers are essentially blind, with even more of the fungus erupting from their bodies, but there still needs to be a large part of the victim left — biologically, at least. There’s also the gruesome issue of whether or not the infected retain any awareness.
The cold open does suggest that the fungus uses hallucinogens to bend the victim to its “will” — so maybe the victim/host is unaware of what they’re really doing, existing in a dream state. But a 2019 study suggests it could be much, much worse.
According to the study, Ophiocordyceps unilateralis doesn’t affect the brain; it bypasses it. So, in the case of that fungus, the ant is just a passenger. The Last of Us TV’s early infected could be completely aware of what their bodies are doing but be unable to stop it, not unlike in the movie Get Out.
The game confirms that the fungus grows over the brain, but whether it infiltrates it or not isn’t specified. Just imagine having to watch as, completely against your will, your body tears into friends and family. It has been described like this before: “The ant ends its life as a prisoner in its own body. Its brain is still in the driver’s seat, but the fungus has the wheel.”
The TV series has confirmed that many infected expire after a year or so, putting an end to the fungus’s mobility. But some have been around since the original outbreak — that could be 20 years of living hell.
So yes, The Last of Us TV series infected are still alive, and actually becoming infected could be a fate worse than death.