By now, it’s clear: When HBO really invests in a new show, said show is likely going to be worth talking about. Certainly this seems to be the case regarding The Last Of Us, the network’s latest high-stakes drama (and possibly your newest obsession).
Far from the modern, at least somewhat grounded worlds of The White Lotus or Succession, this popular TV show concerns a near-future Earth ravaged by pandemic, conflict, and societal breakdown.
To call it post-apocalyptic (unlike The Walking Dead) would be a stretch, but only a slight one. In this series, a fungal infection has caused what amounts to a zombie outbreak, and the humans left standing have to scrap and claw to survive.
If you’re looking to get in on the ground floor with this compelling HBO hit, here are 34 interesting and fun facts about The Last Of Us you should know (and its abundant source material).
1. The Show is Very True to the Video Game
With a few exceptions (the Tomb Raider franchise comes to mind), adaptations of video games don’t tend to fare very well. By all accounts though, this one is different. The Last Of Us is a tight adaptation, determinedly true to the video game.
Because that game happens to be driven by narrative and character development however, the adaptation already feels more natural. This is not a situation akin to, say, Jake Gyllenhaal having to mimic video-game parkour in Prince Of Persia. It’s simply a drama brought to life.
2. The Fungus Is Real…Kind Of
As you find out in the show’s opening minutes, the premise underlying the zombie outbreak in The Last Of Us is that a fungus capable of hijacking insects’ motor functions evolves to infect humans. Thankfully, this is a mostly unrealistic concept – as is the notion that people would turn into malicious zombies if in fact the fungus could infect us. But the actual fungus – cordyceps – is quite real. It can in fact hijack the minds of ants.
3. The Whole Idea Stemmed From ‘Planet Earth’
Further emphasizing that cordyceps is real is the fact that it first gained public attention via the Planet Earth documentary series. This series depicted the fungus acting on an ant, and is said to have inspired one Neil Druckmann to create the original video game. Mind you, once again, cordyceps is no actual threat to us. It is used in certain medicines, and even in some coffee alternatives people drink for morning energy!
4. The Show Borrows The Game’s Music
Fans of the video game have long admired the original music that was composed for it by Gustavo Santaolalla. They are thus no doubt appreciative that Santaolalla’s work has been used for the show, as well. The talented composer has recycled the music he originally wrote for the games, along with some additions and new material, to score HBO’s drama.
5. Seasons Of The Show Are Tied To Individual Games
Not counting remastered versions of original titles, there are essentially two The Last Of Us video games, along with one significant DLC pack. Every indication is that the show will be structured to match these games. Season one covers the game The Last Of Us, as well as story elements from the DLC (titled The Last Of Us: Left Behind).
The second season will then concern the events of The Last Of Us Part II; and as disclosed by Neil Druckman, the third season will also encompass events from the second game.
6. The Stars Are ‘Game Of Thrones’ Veterans
This fact about the show is a pretty obvious one – there are plenty of recognizable faces in The Last Of Us and that’s because show co-leads, Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey are recognizable Game Of Thrones characters. Pascal played the enigmatic Prince Oberyn Martell, and Ramsey was the precocious Lyanna Mormont. Both were fan-favorites and died pretty gruesome deaths.
7. Pascal and Ramsey Both Wanted Their Westeros Outfits For This Series
Amusingly, in a joint interview about The Last Of Us, both Pascal and Ramsey indicated that they’d have liked to have had their Game of Thrones wardrobes along with them. Fielding a question about what items they’d want from their GoT set, Pascal indicated that he’d like his gold-hued robe back (the two shared a laugh about how that would go over in the world of The Last of Us), and Ramsey longed for their old armor.
8. The Cast Were Told Not To Play The Games
Here’s some interesting trivia about The Last Of Us cast that may surprise you. It’s been said that even as they prepared for this bold new undertaking, Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey were instructed not to play the video games from the series.
The assumption is that the showrunners didn’t want the co-leads to be too preoccupied with imitating existing material. So far, this looks to have been a good decision, because Pascal and Ramsey are very much making The Last Of Us their own, without taking away from its faith to the source material.
9. Pedro Pascal Tried Anyway…And Failed
With all of the above said, Pascal has admitted that he ignored directions to avoid the game. He said he felt it was important for him to “play notes that were in the game,” and naturally he could only hope to do so by playing it. Even so, he found that he was bad at it, and also became concerned about falling into a pattern of imitation. So he passed the game on to his nephew (who was apparently much better at it).
10. This Isn’t The First Attempt At An Adaptation
Once upon a time, The Last Of Us was set to be adapted as a feature film. In fact, there was even a director attached to the project: Sam Raimi, of the Spider-Man movies (the Tobey Maguire ones). Sony was developing the project, but it ultimately fell through, evidently over creative differences between Neil Druckmann and the studio. It’s interesting to wonder what Raimi would’ve brought to the film, but perhaps it’s best that The Last Of Us ultimately got a series.
11. It Cost A Lot to Make It
There are a bunch of pricey TV shows out there, and The Last Of Us ranks among them. According to The New Yorker, “HBO gave the series a budget exceeding that of each of the first five seasons of Game of Thrones.” Well, with GoT having a budget of approximately $6 million (seasons 1-5) per episode, that makes us think The Last Of Us probably costs around the $10 million mark. Even Screenrant believes the entire season cost around $100 million.
12. The Show Was Created By The ‘Chernobyl’ Guy
While original video-game creator Druckmann remains involved in the adaptation, the show was also co-created by Craig Maizin. For his part, Maizin has been a successful Hollywood writer for years, penning multiple installments of the Scary Movies series, the sequels to The Hangover and a pending sixth Pirates Of The Caribbean project. But he’s perhaps best-known for his mini-series Chernobyl.
If you watched that chilling series about the tragic nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, you’ll find some familiar notes of tension and existential anxiety in The Last Of Us.
13. Those Creepy Fungus Tendrils Are A Break From The Game Lore
Some of the most unsettling images and moments from early episodes of The Last Of Us involve tendrils of fungus feeling their way out of infected humans in search of more prey. But those who haven’t played the video games might be interested to know that these horrifying fungal feelers are actually a break from the source material.
In the games (and where the real-life fungus is concerned), spread occurs via spores, and characters protect themselves with gas masks. Maizin has indicated that the change was made so that actors didn’t have to be in those masks all the time, as well as because spores would spread the infection too easily.
14. The Idea Of Connected Fungus Zombies Differs from the Game
Another difference between the show and game, and a fairly major one, is that the show has explicitly revealed that the ‘infected’ are connected in vast fungal networks. We don’t necessarily know that this isn’t the case in the games, but it’s certainly not spelled out the same way. And given that the show has already depicted contact with fungus setting off a sort of remote zombie summons, it seems this change is going to play a big part in the action to come.
15. Sarah Looks Familiar For A Reason
The first 30-40 minutes of the first episode of The Last Of Us are dominated by a spectacular Nico Parker, who plays Sarah, the daughter of Joel. And if you thought Parker looked awfully familiar, there’s a reason why. In real life, she is the daughter of famous actress Thandie Newton, and the two share a striking resemblance. Of course, you may also have seen Parker in some of her previous work, such as the films Dumbo and Reminiscence. But more than likely, you’re noticing that she is a virtual clone of her mother!
16. She, Too, Is An HBO Veteran
Given the Game Of Thrones connections, it’s clear that HBO is seeking to keep some actors in the family with its show casting. Interestingly enough, Nico Parker can be looked at as an extension of this unspoken policy as well. This is in part because her mother was one of the stars of Westworld. Even Parker, however, has sort of worked with HBO before. The film Reminiscence (starring Hugh Jackman) was produced by Warner Bros. and released to HBO Max.
17. The Atkins Diet Reference is Important
A fun detail that was sort of important was in the early episodes – the Atkins diet. This is not an Easter Egg from the games, but rather a point based on what appears at first to be a throwaway line by Joel. In the first episode, he turns down food on the grounds that he’s on Atkins – seemingly just a cheeky reference that helps date the show in the early 2000s, when this diet was a major fad.
As we come to learn that the fungal infection is spreading in part through crops and flour, however – and flour and grain intake are discouraged on Atkins – it appears that this little joke is also a hint as to why Joel isn’t infected early on.
18. The Chocolate Chip Cookies Kind of Have Meaning
Sarah is not on Atkins, but she too manages to turn down flour in the first episode. In this case, Sarah heads next door to help her neighbor, a Mrs. Adler, bake cookies. But she doesn’t actually take one when she learns that only raisin cookies – not chocolate chip – are on offer. It’s a small moment, but it’s likely why Sarah wasn’t infected early on, and thus another reason that Joel gets out of the first episode unscathed.
19. Texas Atmosphere Brought To You By Buddy Garrity
A more lighthearted note on the Adlers next door is that Mr. Adler is essentially an atmospheric casting stunt. As many will have noticed, the small role was played by none other than Brad Leland, who is best known as the inimitable Buddy Garrity in the Friday Night Lights show (as well as a similar character in the film adaptation).
Garrity created a lasting impression for millions of Friday Night Lights fans, as a sort of caricature of a Texan. So the use of Leland – who is in fact from Lubbock, Texas – was basically a way of further establishing the setting for the show’s beginning.
20. The Actors Playing Infected Went to a Movement Bootcamp
To play the infected requires real skill…and a stop-off at bootcamp. A cool fact about The Last of Us is that its infected characters are not CGI’d, but real actors, who have trained to look extra demented and creepy. In a behind-the-scenes featurette from HBO, it was revealed that the actors took part in a movement bootcamp lead by Terry Notary, who said, “When you have a human being playing these characters, you really get the subtleties that are so hard for animators. It takes them forever to recreate it.”
Oh, and those Clicker sounds? They’re not computerized, either:
21. Banter Is The Core Of The Series
It may sound odd to those who haven’t played video games, but The Last Of Us is largely about banter. The games have received a glowing reception over the years, and many reviews and descriptions focus on the dynamic between the characters of Joel and Ellie. Their discussions within the game help to drive the action and narrative forward in a way that’s seldom seen in video games. This is undoubtedly one reason this series seems better suited to adaptation than most games.
22. Pascal And Ramsey Have Real (And Lucky) Chemistry
Given the previous point, it’s clear that it was vital for HBO’s showrunners to find lead actors with the chemistry to bring the Joel-Ellie connection to life. By the sound of things, they accomplished this goal in a way they never dared hope for.
In a wide-ranging interview with the cast and crew, Craig Maizin gushed about the chemistry between the two, expressing that they genuinely love one another. He also noted that this sort of connection between cast members can’t be predicted or projected, but is based to an extent on dumb luck!
23. Pascal and Ramsey Didn’t Meet Until They Were On Set
It’s fantastic for The Last Of Us and its audience that Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey proved to have the kind of chemistry they do. To emphasize Maizin’s point that this was never a guarantee though, the actors didn’t actually meet until they were on set! Pascal and Ramsey revealed this during the same interview in which they mused about their Game of Thrones costumes. In fact, they indicated that Pascal had already been shooting scenes by the time Ramsey arrived.
24. The Show Gave Linda Ronstadt a Streams Boost
It looks like this 1970 ballad is surging in popularity again! Much as an episode of Stranger Things did for Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill in 2022, the third episode of The Last Of Us featuring the Linda Ronstadt song Long Long Time caused its Spotify streams to jump 4,900%!
25. Melanie Lynskey’s Husband Was a Clicker
Take your husband to work day! Melanie Lynskey’s (the actress who played super-mean leader, Kathleen Coghlan) husband, also known as actor Jason Ritter, got the opportunity to play a clicker during the two episodes that his wife appeared in.
Indeed, a fan noticed the actor getting prepped to be a fungus zombie during The Last of Us behind-the-scenes.
26. That Opening Scientific Discussion Isn’t From The Game
The show opens with a sort of talk show on which two scientists debate great risks to humanity. This is when the aforementioned John Hannah plays his part, specifically as a scientist explaining the potential risk of an evolved fungus infecting humans. Notably, this scene is original, and was not plucked from the games. It’s a great example of the hard work of successful adaptation – a clever bit of drama and context that makes the world pulled from the video game more feasible and unique to the audience.
27. There May Be A Crossover With ‘Uncharted’
Don’t hold your breath here, but it’s fun to keep in mind that there is some potential for The Last Of Us to cross over with Uncharted adaptations. Both game series were developed by Naughty Dog, and there are some indications – mostly through Uncharted Easter Eggs in The Last Of Us games – that they exist within a ‘shared universe’ of sorts.
This is not to suggest that the recent Uncharted film starring Tom Holland will come into play. But if The Last Of Us is successful for a few years on TV, it’s easy to imagine both Naughty Dog and HBO gaining interest in a fresh Uncharted adaptation with roots in The Last Of Us.
28. Ellie’s Mom Plays ‘Ellie’ in the Games
Only dedicated game fans would already know this fun fact. Ashley Johnson who starred as Ellie’s mom in the season finale is actually the actress who provided the voice and motion capture of Ellie in the original The Last of Us game. It’s wild how much the two look alike!
29. …And David Plays ‘Joel’ in the Games
The actor who played David (James’ right-hand man in the cannibalistic religious cult) in Episode 8 of The Last of Us is actually the real voice and motion capture of Joel in the games. Actor Troy Baker spoke to Vulture, discussing the surreality of starring on the show, “…It’s mind boggling. I’m elated to be a part of it, and I’m excited there’s now millions of people who are joining the conversation that we’ve all been having for the last 10 years.”
30. The Actor Who Plays Marlene Plays Her in the Game
Actress Merle Dandridge got the rare opportunity to play her video-game-self in the TV show. Talking to TVLine, she said, “I have this deep connection with this character. … The fact that it was even brought to my table was very exciting. … Not only does that never happen, but to get 10 years of still being in love with the character and then aging into the character? I mean, is this some kind of Hollywood dream come true?”
31. The Giraffe Scene was Real *Kinda*
Here’s a cool The Last Of Us fact! The giraffe scene in the season one finale was one of the happier moments during that tense hour. In case you were wondering, the scene “was a combination of a VFX stage, scenery and location shoot with real giraffes from the Calgary Zoo”, according to Twitter user, @TheLastofUsNews.
32. Bella Ramsey Got a Black Eye During Filming
Now this is what you call dedicated acting! Whilst fighting a Clicker in Episode 5 of the show, Bella Ramsey apparently got bruises and a black eye. They told IGN FanFest, “I got so many bruises, and I actually got a real black eye at one point…I stab the Clicker, and he dies, and at one point, as he was flailing around dying during a take, he accidentally, the poor guy, whacked me in the eye. I was so proud of it. I had a great time.”
33. Bella Ramsey Struggled to Speak in Episode 8
Everything you saw in Episode 8 of The Last of Us was “very real”, said Bella Ramsey in an interview with GQ. The actor revealed that filming in one degree Fahrenheit weather during the snowy scene in “When We Are in Need,” was a real struggle:
“It was very, very cold…that was the coldest day that we shot…My voice sort of changes a bit in that scene. … It’s so hard to speak normally when it’s that cold, like your mouth just doesn’t work. … And Ali Abbasi, the director of that episode, he likes long takes. Like, eight-minute-long takes, holding this super heavy gun in the freezing cold… everything you see is very real.”
34. Storm Reid Inspired Bella Ramsey to Go to University
Filming The Last of Us took an unexpected turn for Bella…and landed them in university. That’s right! They told W Magazine that they would see Storm Reid (who played Riley in Episode 7) studying whilst on set and “juggle school and show business”, which inspired them to impulsively enroll in university to study environmental science.
So, there you have it – 34 interesting facts about The Last Of Us. Hopefully this list has given you some insight and behind-the-scenes info to make the latest show just a tad more exciting.
What other fun trivia do you know about The Last Of Us? Sound off in the comments below…
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