How Did Kathleen’s Character In ‘The Last Of Us’ Symbolize That Humans Are Worse Than The Infected?

In the course of human history, no greater evil has been recorded than the ones committed by humans themselves. From the fiddle-playing Nero that slaughtered thousands in ancient Rome to the genocidal dictators like Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein, man has become the most violent species to walk the earth in times of the greatest terror. It’s known that world-ending events bring out the worst in people, and “The Last of Us” shows how the sister of a great revolutionary leader can turn into a revenge-obsessed despot who prefers killing the ones whose crime was survival. The fifth episode of “The Last of Us” is the second time we see Kathleen, the leader of the liberated Kansas City, and she’s being cheered on for overthrowing the FEDRA yoke, and how! The Hunter arc of the series shows that when humans are handed power beyond their means and given the autocracy to do as they wish, they can create a hell that mere beasts and creatures can never fathom. Here’s a look at the character of Kathleen and how she’s worse than zombies that don’t understand vengeance, hatred, and a desire for cruelty.

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In a flashback, we see the “people” to whom Kansas now belongs, stripping the military, burning them, lynching them, and dragging their naked, lifeless bodies through the streets after stringing the corpses from their armored cars. An entire city has descended into chaos at the hands of maniacs with guns, and “We the People” now just means a lawless group that can murder and terrorize without having to worry about consequences. Throughout history, rebel groups that sought to overthrow dictatorships in hopes of bringing about change have often sunk into the same horrible acts that they once protested against. It seems that human nature is constant, be it in The Reign of Terror in late-18th century France or in the free city of Kansas where the Hunters wreak havoc. 

Oftentimes, when humans commit acts of savagery, people compare them to animals, or in this case, the cordyceps-infected zombies, who are mindless monsters that only know how to bite. However, time and again, humans have proven how they’re significantly worse—Kathleen being the prime example. “The Last of Us” Episode 5 opens with Kathleen talking to an intimidating group of people huddling together and calling them rats because they gave up information about rebels in exchange for medicine and food. She promises to sentence the people to just jail time, and when she has extracted the information she needs, she sends her men to kill them and then burn their bodies like trash. The guile that a human brain can possess to play on the heartstrings of their victims before executing them without a second thought is something a Clicker or even a Bloater couldn’t muster—maybe because they don’t have a functioning brain. Kathleen admits to herself that her brother Michael was beautiful, and he’d be horrified by the acts of his sister, but she doesn’t care about her reputation as long as she gets her revenge. She’s a dictator in every sense of the word, and had she managed to survive for a few more years, she’d have been pulled down and slaughtered like every other dictator—unless you rule North Korea, then you’re safe.

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From the very beginning, Kathleen is presented as a massively unlikeable character. Vengeance and hatred become the primary driving forces for Kathleen, and her obsession to hunt down a man who gave up her brother to the FEDRA (the same brother who requested her to forgive the ones responsible) supersedes all else around her. With a city free of the fascist military reign, she could’ve built it into an idyllic city where democracy reigned like the pre-2003 USA in TLOU lore. However, Kathleen’s bloodthirst and her followers’ primal desire for violence make Kansas end up in a worse state than when FEDRA was in power. When her right-hand man Perry questions wasting manpower on knocking down doors to search for a hapless young man and his deaf kid brother, Kathleen says that’s her number one priority. Let’s face it: Kathleen was in no way fit to be a leader and just rose through the ranks riding the coattails of her hero brother. If she had an inkling of logical reasoning, she’d have known better than to execute perhaps the last remaining doctor in Kansas City because he refused to give up a kid and his protector.

When her entire force, with Kathleen at its head, surrounds Henry, Ellie, and Sam, the elder brother requests that she let the kids go, but Kathleen won’t even let that happen. She wants Ellie because she was with the man who stabbed Bryan—a marauder who’d have done the same if the circumstances were reversed—and she doesn’t think Sam’s life is worth Henry giving up Michael. Kathleen had established early on that she thinks medicine or food has a lot less value than shooting people or terrorizing the unarmed, so it’s not surprising that she can’t understand Henry’s reasoning. This dictator doesn’t even take kindly to kids, as she says that children dying isn’t such a shock, so Sam’s life is forfeit as well because Michael died so that Sam could have his leukemia medicine. It’s a miracle how Perry sacrificed himself—perhaps he didn’t know he’d have his head ripped off by a behemoth—for such a diabolical tyrant like Kathleen. In the end, the people she liberated and armed to take back the city were reclaimed by the army of the infected when her obsessive rage dragged the people to the middle of a deserted town. She could have continued her rule as the despot with nobody to challenge her autocracy, but vengeance is such a motivation that Kathleen grew confident and took actions that led to the massacre of her people.

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If her entire army being engulfed by the infected wasn’t enough, the way she met her just end was purely poetic. With the Hunters being torn apart by the infected, Henry, Sam, and Ellie were escaping, and Kathleen could’ve learned her lesson and headed back, but even then, the desire for revenge burned brighter than all other senses in her. She tried pinning Henry away from her guards but was taken down by a child-turned-Clicker who proceeded to feast on her as her targets escaped. The infected were following their nature—they’re mindless sheep being controlled by fungus, but humans should be smarter. An infection doesn’t discriminate between its targets because that’s its nature, but a good person would’ve at least let the children go, unlike Kathleen. The Rebel Leader of Kansas City is a study into human nature and how power can corrupt someone and make them into tyrants who treat people like vermin until one of the vermin drags them down to the dirt, just like the fate that Kathleen met.


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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