‘The Last Of Us’ Episode 1: World, Explained – How Does The HBO Series Create An Apocalyptic Atmosphere?

“The Last of Us,” a video game released in 2013 by Sony Computer Entertainment and Naughty Dog, presented a world infested by humans who have been infected by some form of fungus that have turned them into flesh-eating zombies. It was the duty of one man, Joel Miller, to carry out the tasks expected of him in this post-apocalyptic scenario while trying his best to keep the ones who depend on him alive. Now, HBO’s latest release, the TV series adaptation of the game with the same name, has hit the streaming platform, and the presentation of the world around Miller gives an immediate feeling that this isn’t the earth we know. Craig Mazin’s direction presents the Boston of 2023 as a nightmarish place where the common man is crushed between the dangers of becoming infected and being hanged to death for breaking any of the myriad rules that FEDRA—the Federal Disaster Response Agency—makes everyone follow. Here’s a better look into a world that nobody would want to be a part of.


Spoilers Ahead

What Was 

When we first met Joel Miller (Pedro Pascal) in 2003, it was the America we all know. Lawns with water sprinklers, oven-baked cookies, and classrooms filled with bored students. However, the lazy lull of Austin, Texas, where the events begin, starts fading quickly as the foreboding sense of danger starts spreading. What begins as scattered reports of disturbances happening in Jakarta, Indonesia, leads to extra police cars on the road and multiple fighter planes flying overhead within the span of a day. Nana, the disabled grandmother of the neighboring Adlers, has violent spasms and twitches, and she opens her mouth to scream, but the back-turned Sarah has no clue. That night, Sarah finds Nana chewing on the flesh of Mrs. Adler as strange tentacles sprout from her mouth. It’s only a matter of time from there for entire houses to burn, cars to collide, and the streets to flood with infected and panicked people when a plane crashes into the street. Soldiers are ordered to gun down any wounded people to avoid the spread of infection, and this leads to Joel losing his only daughter Sarah (Nico Parker), when she’s shot in the stomach.


What Is 

Two decades have passed since Sarah died in Joel’s arms, and the world has changed since then, and not in a good way. A child in tattered clothes walks towards Boston, which now lies in ruins. With moss growing over street signs and once-luxurious buildings turned into barracks, the only source of color in this greyish world is the star-spangled American flag. The entire place looks like a war zone, with debris, rubble, and obvious signs of destruction spread everywhere. It’s a world where any new arrival, like the mousy-looking boy, is strapped to a wheelchair and tested, and the test coming back red is never good news. In Boston in 2023, bodies are burned in an open fire as trucks bring in the dead by the heaps, including the child who had finally made it to the city. Armed forces patrol the city with a finger on the trigger, and people earn ration tickets for the duties they do. The easiest jobs pay the least and cleaning the sewer pays the highest. Ugly and industrial-looking buildings with messy roads make up the scenery in the city, with sign boards for curfew hours and warning signs about “cordyceps” infections littered everywhere. Items as common as shoelaces are bartered for single ration cards, and amputees are a common sight.

The military court is the only available judiciary, and people are tried for crimes like exiting or entering quarantine zones without permits and hanged to death in open view of the public. It’d remind you of a late 19th-century public execution if it weren’t for the military with automatic rifles. However, the military themselves engage in the illicit trade of contraband with people like Joel Miller, who have connections with those outside the city. Ammunition and drugs are the two most in-demand commodities, and they’re both supplied from Atlanta. The military has its hands full dealing with a terrorist organization known as the Fireflies that wants to establish democracy by overthrowing military rule. The fireflies constantly clash with the soldiers through guerrilla attacks and by sniping at unsuspecting soldiers. It’s a rebellion against the dictatorship, but it hasn’t achieved anything significant in the last 20 years. The only way to send messages to and from the city is through a man with a radio system, and long lines form to contact loved ones. Car batteries are precious cargo, and betrayal is an everyday concept. The situations harken back to conditions in North Korea, where poverty, oppression, and authoritarian rule controlled people’s lives. The only thing that’s new is the fungal infection, severe cases of which can have fungi growing out of a person, like tree branches that suck the human dry while they’re still alive.


In these times, secret messages have to be sent through codes, and the people of Boston have chosen music from the 1970s through the 1990s to communicate good or bad news. Ellie, a girl who’s considered highly valuable by the Firefly leaders, needs to be smuggled outside the city, and Joel and his partner, Tess, are chosen for the job. Sneaking out of the city without permission means certain death, and this makes sense. The world beyond the walls is a mess, with every kind of danger lurking. All manner of savages dwell in the outside world, and it’s a far cry from the civilized world that we last saw in 2003. With slavers and raiders running rampant, apart from the brain-dead infected, life outside the walls is horrible and difficult. The first episode of “The Last of Us” is able to present the situation that the protagonist has to live in and the circumstances that make the people take up jobs, like openly burning bodies of children who have been killed with lethal injections. Perhaps this is what the epidemiologist Dr. Newman talked about at the start of the show when he said that if the fungi learn to adapt, humanity shall lose. 

See more: ‘The Last Of Us’ Season 1 Episode 1: Every Major Character Appeared In Episode 1, Explained

Indrayudh Talukdar
Indrayudh Talukdar
Indrayudh has a master's degree in English literature from Calcutta University and a passion for all things in cinema. He loves writing about the finer aspects of cinema, although he is also an equally big fan of webseries and anime. In his free time, Indrayudh loves playing video games and reading classic novels.

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