Last week, I detailed some of the small deviations HBO’s adaptation of The Last of Us is making from the game.
However, over the weekend a fairly big change came to light – in HBO’s take on the series, the Cordyceps infection will not be spread by spores in the air. Rather, it will be able to spread by “tendrils” that can become a “network that is interconnected”.
During an interview with Collider, co-creators Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin spoke more about pandemics generally, and how the infection would be depicted in the show.
“It was… important for us to acknowledge that the audience is smarter about pandemics than they were five years ago,” Mazin stated. “We don’t wanna pretend that they don’t know things,” he said.
“A lot of the reason this show begins the way it does, with that scene in the ’60s [likely the scene shown in a now-deleted behind the scenes video which depicted a talk show discussing infection] is to say, ‘Look, the context is, there are viral pandemics and they are quite dangerous, but there’s something out there that’s worse. And it may sound funny to you, but let me explain why.’ And then, you start to realise, ‘Oh, that’s not good.’
“And also, it’s been there all along. So, when the outbreak happens, it’s not happening suddenly or capriciously. It’s finally happening. It was always gonna happen. We just happen to be there today to see it,” he explained.
Druckmann then went on to address how the infection will spread in the show, stating the team did not want to have the cast wearing gas masks like we see at certain points in the game.
Elaborating on this point, Druckmann said this eventually led to the idea of using “tendrils” instead of spores in the air.
“And then, just thinking about how there’s a passage that happens from one infected to another, and like fungus does, it could become a network that is interconnected. It became very scary to think that they’re all working against us in this unified way, which was a concept that I really liked, that got developed in the show,” he stated.
This was a topic the creators also chatted to ComicBook about.
“In the game… you encounter spores and you need to put a gas mask on. In the world that we’re creating [with the show], if we put spores in the air, it would be pretty clear that they would spread around everywhere and everybody would have to wear a mask all the time and probably everybody would be completely infected by that point,” Mazin stated.
“So, we challenged ourselves to come up with an interesting new way for the fungus to spread but mostly I think we just connected with the soul and spirit of the game.”
However, while these tendrils will be new in terms of being a final edit, they do make an appearance in The Last of Us’ original concept art.
A reddit post from Imissbreakingbad showing this artwork (see below) reveals that tendrils in this case were imagined to “slither along the ground looking for hosts”.
Additionally, an unused voice line from the game (which you can hear in the tweet below) mentions how tendrils could “snap back like a whip” from the even the smallest of touches and “break your arm”. So, while this change could be a surprise to fans of the games, perhaps it should not be a shock.
— Naughty Dog Central (@NaughtyNDC) January 8, 2023
Meanwhile, for those concerned about the show straying too far from its source material, both Mazin and Druckmann have stressed that any changes have been carefully thought through before making their way into the upcoming adaptation.
“There’s things that work in the game that would just not work in the show,” Druckmann explained at a recent roundtable (via GameSpot).
Mazin continued: “Neil would always say, ‘We can change anything, but we need to talk about why. And if there’s not a good reason – if we can’t do better – let’s deliver what we have.’
“There are places where I thought we came up with really interesting ideas. Sometimes I would call him, and I would be like, ‘I’m scared to say this idea,’ and every now and then he would say nothing for a bit, and then he would say, ‘Aw, you know what? We should have done that in the game.’ And then I’m like, ‘OK, aha, OK, we’re onto something.’
“The big secret is, Neil Druckmann was so confident and secure in the story of the game that he was then able to be flexible with me to go wander and fill in and change and alter.”
HBO’s The Last of Us adaptation is expected to cover the entirety of the first game and will debut on 15th/16th January (depending on which side of the pond you are).