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Compared to most popular shows on TV nowadays, The Last Of Us is definitely a refreshing project. That is to say; it’s not a sequel, prequel, spinoff, or expansion of anything we’ve seen in film or TV before.
You’d then think it was a little lighter than other shows with references, clever nods to fans, and Easter Eggs. But that’s not the case.
While this post-apocalyptic drama doesn’t derive from other films or TV shows, it is famously based on a popular video game franchise. It’s also a show that’s great at building threads to real-world pop culture. As such, The Last Of Us manages to treat viewers with plenty of fun and sneaky Easter Eggs and hidden references.
To prove that, we want to present to you some of the best The Last of Us Easter Eggs we’ve noticed throughout season one.
1. Halican Drops Shirt
In the very first episode of The Last Of Us, Sarah is seen wearing a t-shirt representing the fictional band Halican Drops. It’s a nice bit of costuming, because it looks like something a girl her age might wear. But it’s also a direct callback to the video game.
In fact, Sarah’s similar shirt in the original game even features a list of tour dates and locations on the back – and the destinations correspond with places the main characters will visit throughout the game.
2. The Bloater’s Kill
Everything goes haywire in Episode 5 when a massive wave of infected monsters attack. In the midst of this attack, however, one particularly imposing zombie creature – a ‘bloater’ – emerges as a specific reference to the games.
The bloater seizes Perry and basically rips him in half by the jaw. This is exactly how bloaters will kill you in the games. Out of the many types of zombies in The Last of Us, bloaters are the most advanced stage of the infected – and one of the deadliest. So, you know, steer clear.
3. Jason Ritter’s Cameo
During the same battle (or perhaps massacre) sequence featuring the bloater, we see colony leader Kathleen (Melanie Lynskey) ultimately overcome by clickers. As it turns out, one of those clickers was actually played by none other than Jason Ritter – Lynskey’s husband in real life. This isn’t a traditional Easter Egg, but it’s a fun bit of trivia and must have been a blast for these actors.
4. The Daycare Clicker
Since we’re on the topic of clickers, you may recall the horrifying moment when Ellie is cornered by one in the car during the attack in Episode 5. Look closely, and you’ll notice this clicker is actually a child wearing a “Blue’s Clues” shirt. This is clearly one of the children from the underground daycare that Joel, Ellie, Henry, and Sam found earlier in the episode.
5. Backseat Driving
Those familiar with The Last of Us games, or even gaming in general, would have enjoyed this little Easter Egg. When Joel, Sarah, and Tommy are in the car escaping during the first episode, the camera is in the backseat, making our view the same as in the video game.
6. Google’s Easter Egg
Now, this isn’t exactly an Easter Egg found on the show or in the game, but it’s still fun, nonetheless. If you Google keywords related to the show, such as, “The Last of Us,” “Cordyceps Fungus”, or “Cordyceps”, a mushroom will appear at the bottom of your screen – click it for some extra fun!
7. ‘Never Let Me Down Again’
At the very end of Episode 1, we see an empty apartment that Joel and Tess have recently left. What matters, however, is the real-world song playing on their radio. The song is Never Let Me Down Again by Depeche Mode and it was released in 1987.
It eventually becomes clear in Episode 3 that the broadcast of this song was a danger signal from Bill and Frank that trouble was on the way.
Speaking of Bill and Frank, another small reference is made to them when Ellie goes through the ‘Billboard Number 1 Hits’ book in Joel’s apartment. The scribblings “B/F” can be spotted on a piece of paper inside the book, above the list of each decade of music and their signals.
9. Flour and Sugar
In Episode 3, Joel tells Ellie that the outbreak started from “a basic ingredient like flour or sugar,” found in “bread, cereal, pancake mix”. This takes us back to Episode 1 when Sarah avoided eating her neighbor’s cookies; or when she couldn’t find the pancake mix at home.
It also reminds us of when Joel said he was on the “Atkins Diet”, a diet that restricts flour and grains. Joel and Sarah luckily avoided flour and sugar, which explains why they weren’t infected from the start.
10. Mortal Kombat
Some of the cleverest things we see in post-apocalyptic dramas are references to ordinary life. They build in hints and memories of the pre-apocalypse world, and The Last Of Us does it brilliantly.
One of the best examples is when Ellie stumbles on a ‘Mortal Kombat 2’ arcade – something incredibly ordinary to us, but out of place in a zombie-ridden hellscape.
But this is also a nice nod to the ‘The Last Of Us: Left Behind’ game add-on. On the show, Ellie refers to a friend who knows ‘Mortal Kombat 2’, which is a reference to her friend Riley (who we meet in Episode 7). In the game, however, the game in question is ‘The Turning’, rather than ‘Mortal Kombat’.
11. Sam Drake’s Lighter
While it’s true that The Last Of Us doesn’t really belong to a broader piece of IP (save that of the game series), there are a few indications that this story kind of takes place in the same world as the Uncharted video games.
These games are very different, but they are made by the same developer, and there are hints of crossover relevance. In Episode 2, we get a fun little nod, specifically to Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. Tess uses a lighter that is identical to one that appears in this game by Sam Drake.
12. Misty Lee, Phillip Kovats’ Cameo
Remember those first horrifying clickers that attack Joel, Ellie, and Tess in Episode 2? Well, if you happen to have played the games upon which this show is based, you’ve actually heard their ominous sounds before. These two were played by Misty Lee and Phillip Kovats, who did the voice acting for the original game’s clickers.
13. Bill’s Gas Mask
One of the biggest changes HBO made to The Last Of Us is that in the show, the fungal infection spreads via contact, whereas in the game, it spreads through airborne spores. Still, Bill is wearing an old gas mask in one of our first glimpses of him.
This is likely an acknowledgment of the significance of such masks in the game. Though it could also be showrunner Craig Mazin making a subtle tribute to his miniseries Chernobyl, in which gas masks were also prominent.
14. The Title Screen Window
Episode 3 is based on the story of Bill and Frank, and that drama ends sadly on an open window. It’s made clear that the duo left the window open so that their own dead bodies wouldn’t make the house smell.
However, the episode’s creators have also said that the visual of the open window is an intentional reference to a similar shot that serves as the title screen for the original video game.
15. Clicker on a Building
You’d have to be eagle-eyed to spot this one, and you might have to pause the screen to catch it on the next round. At the end of Episode 1, a clicker is seen on the roof of a building. A very small and cheeky hidden Easter Egg, but definitely one that’ll make you smile.
16. Ashley Johnson’s Cameo
Ashley Johnson – the original voice of Ellie in the games – also makes an appearance on The Last of Us. This cameo is particularly interesting though, because Johnson plays her own character’s mother.
Early in Episode 9, we see a flashback in which a woman named Anna, played by Johnson, is scrambling to safety to give birth to Ellie. It seems odd, but there’s something nice about the implication that Johnson gave life to the character.
You can see more game actors who star in the show below:
17. Sam’s Superhero Mask
Sam’s pretend orange superhero mask in Episode 5 is an endearing moment on the show, reminding us of the innocence of children during these horrific times. A clever visual nod to this is given when his older brother Henry is looking through a window, and the reflection makes it look like he is wearing the same mask. This is a sweet reference to how Sam sees his older brother – like a superhero.
18. Hank Williams
Another comforting remnant of a normal world is depicted when Ellie whips out a Hank Williams cassette as she and Joel begin their drive toward Kansas City. This is also a nugget from the game, which essentially gives players the same scene. The only difference is the song that’s played.
In the show, it’s Alone And Forsaken, whereas, in the game, they listen to I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive (which is a little on the nose).
19. ‘Matchstick Men’, ‘Underworld’ References
More pop culture references? You bet! This one is subtle, but if you squint at an Episode 4 scene in the ruins of Kansas City, you can see a movie theater marquee. On this marquee are listings for Matchstick Men and Underworld, two movies from 2003. It’s one of the many hints that the world stopped in its tracks 20 years prior to what we’re seeing.
These movies were chosen deliberately, however. Underworld’s two characters, Selene and Michael, have a similar relationship to Joel and Ellie’s – Selene must protect Michael, while Joel must protect Ellie. And in the case of Matchstick Men, its story centers around a father-and-daughter relationship, much like that of Joel and Ellie.
20. Joel and Ellie’s Outfits
The TV show pays homage to the game’s characters by dressing them in the same outfits. This can be seen in Episode 3 after Joel and Ellie shower at Bill and Frank’s house. Ellie changes into a similar red t-shirt with a black long-sleeved shirt, while Joel wears a green and red striped shirt – creating a mirror image of their video game counterparts.
21. Shimmer the Horse
We don’t get a whole lot of happy, friendly moments in The Last Of Us. However, there are some in Episode 6, including when Ellie meets a horse called Shimmer. It’s a lovely scene in the show, but it’s also a treat for those who played the video game. In ‘The Last Of Us Part II’, Ellie meets and rides a horse of the same name.
22. Stuffed Giraffe
Other than horses, there’s a whole lot of love for giraffes in this game/show. Watch carefully at the end of Episode 2, and you’ll spot a giraffe stuffed animal lying on the floor as Ellie and Tess walk through the city. This pays homage to the game, where giraffes are also scattered around random locations.
23. Naughty Dog Shout-Out
The Last Of Us also features a fairly direct shout-out to Naughty Dog – the studio behind the video games. In Episode 7, when Captain Kwong is reprimanding Ellie in his office, we get a glimpse of his keys. On the keychain is a dog print graphic that appears to be the same one used in Naughty Dog’s logo.
24. Fake ‘Twilight’
As mentioned, The Last Of Us features references to real films. However, the show also follows the game’s lead by including posters for the Dawn Of The Wolf film. This franchise doesn’t exist in the real world, but it appears to be a sort of fake Twilight saga.
25. Danny and Ish
In yet another The Last of Us Easter Egg, Joel sees a child’s drawing depicting “Danny and Ish” in Episode 5. Video game enthusiasts will already know that “Ish” is an existing character who established an underground settlement with schools and nurseries in the sewers. In the game, finding such notes that refer to Ish are actually collectibles that Joel must pick up.
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26. A Water Pistol
In some of the games’ DLC focusing on the relationship between Ellie and Riley, the two girls have a play fight with water pistols. This doesn’t happen when the two are together in Episode 7, but it is referenced when Riley says she has “a gift” for Ellie, and Ellie asks if it’s a “water pistol”.
Riley says she has something better, and though the two never have their fun little water fight, they do still wind up kissing (as they do in the game).
27. Troy Baker’s Cameo
Part of what makes these video games so great is the brilliant voice acting. Much of that acting was done by Troy Baker, who voices Joel in the games (and has been nominated for major awards for his work).
Baker may not have reprised the role for the show, but he does appear in Episode 8. Baker plays the part of James, a not-so-great fellow (cannibal) working alongside the even-less-great (pedophilic cannibal) David.
28. More Giraffes
As we said earlier, there are a lot of giraffe references in The Last Of Us. They’re meant to be seen as a symbol of hope and innocence in such bleak circumstances. The most notable giraffe scene in the show, where Joel and Ellie see a herd of these animals grazing on an old football field – was drawn straight from the games. Oh, and they used a real giraffe named ‘Nabo’ to film it.
29. Joel’s Favorite Movie
Video gamers already know that Joel’s favorite movie is apparently ‘Curtis and Viper 2’. Well, the TV series intentionally slipped this little Easter Egg in the show by making the film the movie Sarah borrows from her neighbor’s house.
30. ‘Take On Me’
The Last Of Us games are known for their dramatic clout and cinematic sequences; they’re more engaging as works of fiction than most video games. And one of their most poignant sequences features Ellie playing an acoustic version of the famous A-Ha song Take On Me.
Unfortunately, the show doesn’t recreate this moment. It does reference it, however, when Ellie’s stash of cassettes in Episode 7 includes an A-Ha tape.
The Last Of Us doesn’t always give us the kind of Easter Eggs we’re used to in shows and films that belong to larger creative “universes” (like Marvel or DC).
As this list demonstrates, though, the creators behind this show have still found plenty of clever ways to reference the games and pop culture. These are often the details that make a show feel particularly rich, and for that reason, we hope to see more in season two.
In the meantime, let us know what you enjoyed most in our list of The Last of Us Easter Eggs. Are there any we missed?
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