The Illusory Safety And The Harsh Realities In The Post-Apocalyptic World Of ‘The last Of Us’ Season 1

The roads in HBO’s “The Last of Us” are riddled with immense danger, and the possibility of death is ever-constant. From hordes of cordyceps-infected that can rip the unsuspecting traveler to shreds to the equally murderous gangs of marauders and raiders who have little value for human life and even less of a conscience, it’s a pretty terrifying world. But take away a man’s hopes, and he won’t survive another day, and people have often created getaways for themselves for a momentary respite from the omnipresent danger.

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Dreams can be the easiest escape from the horrors of life, but sometimes even dreams turn into nightmares, so people need something stronger to distract their minds. Enter the world of illusions, where the sufferers pretend that everything is alright, and they live in that fantasy for as long as it may suffice. Stepping out of those four walls of fantasy means having to encounter the harsh world, and that often ends horribly in this zombie-infested apocalypse. However, the characters of the show build their walls of fantasy even in the cruelest of situations, and here’s how, despite such flimsy escapades, reality always manages to invade their idyllic world. 

Let’s take the brothers, whom we won’t see ever again in the series, as an example. Henry was the older brother to the 8-year-old hearing impaired kid, Sam, and his whole reason for being was protecting the kid in every possible way. Beyond arranging food for Sam and finding medication for his leukemia, Henry tried creating a world where fear didn’t exist and shield Sam from the horrors no child should witness. From making him look away from the dead body of a soldier being dragged through the streets to gifting him crayons to draw with, Henry wanted his kid brother to retain his innocence and tuck him away in a safe space.

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The drawings Sam made of Super-Sam with Henry as his sidekick was the kid’s world of imagination, granting him an illusory safety in that tiny attic overlooking the militia-infested streets. Henry paints a pair of sunglasses over Sam’s eyes to make him feel even more like a superhero, but this feeling is temporary. In the end, however, Sam’s super-heroic fantasies are invaded by the infection that bites him, and reality sets in. Overnight, Sam turns into a monster and has to be shot dead by the same brother who tried to protect him from the trauma the world can throw at you. Henry’s illusion of safety now that they had escaped the Hunters and the infected are shattered, and unable to come to terms with his actions, he kills himself. Life proves to be unforgiving, with no room for fantasies, but that doesn’t stop people, does it?

If the drawings made in the underground tunnels by the children living as part of the community say anything, then creating illusions goes with human nature. Remember the castle drawn around the door that Sam tried opening excitedly? The kids in there had thought that this dilapidated and grey place was their fortress, where they’d be safe as long as the protectors like Ish stood guard. They built up a playroom for themselves, with a goalpost drawn on the wall, playroom rules set up for the kids, and toys and comics are strewn across the floor. While living underground, away from the raiders and Infected, people carved out their own fantasies, turning a small room into the Central Park, where kids could be kids for a while. We never see what became of the community that was living inside the tunnels in Episode 5, but according to the game, they met a horrific end. The adults were either ripped apart when the infected arrived or got turned, and the children got the quick and painless way out. Despite the imaginary fortifications of the castle of crayons, reality was far crueler and unforgiving.

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Ellie has become an expert at pretending that the ever-present dangers of the world don’t terrify her. Despite a few moments of letting her weakness trickle out, she puts on a brave face for Joel, keeping her teenage pride alive. After weeks of being held captive by the Fireflies and surviving the perilous road with only Joel to keep her company, Ellie finally lets herself be lulled into being a kid again when she meets Sam. Having been forced to abandon her childhood quite early at the FEDRA military school, playing football and comparing comics is new for Ellie, and she quickly becomes like an elder sister to Sam, promising to keep him safe.

In the motel, after escaping Kathleen and the zombies, Ellie finds out about the bite mark on Sam’s leg, and even then, reality doesn’t quite set in. Still clinging to the futile fantasy of having a friend who makes her feel like a kid again, she dabs her own blood on his wound, claiming that her blood has medicinal powers. The next morning comes as a rude awakening to reality as Ellie’s illusion that she can cure the world with her blood is destroyed, and Sam attacks her. The transitory happiness she experiences reading comics to Sam is rather short-lived, and she realizes quickly that they need to keep moving because settling down and living in a world of pure imagination is a fool’s game.

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However, two people played the fool’s game and could enjoy the fantasies of life a little longer than most. Bill and Frank spent their lives together, in the embrace of each other and living the dream. Bill was the no-nonsense insular man who preferred living in the now and believing in cold, hard facts until Frank fell into one of his traps. The two quickly built the perfect world for the two of them, with mowed lawns, painted houses, a redecorated boutique, and a house full of portraits. In the times where the law is ancient history and every day is like “The Walking Dead,” having afternoon brunches on the lawn with people Frank met on the radio and watering plants does feel like an illusion. However, the two men made this their reality, and even though life threw a curveball at them during their winter years in the shape of Frank’s terminal disease, they chose to go out in their own way. Sure, reality doesn’t leave them be either, but instead of wasting away, they share their last wine laced with sleeping pills and quit the world of fleeing illusions together.


See more: How Does Kathleen’s Fear Turn Her Into A Monster In ‘The Last Of Us’ Episode 5? Is She Dead Or Alive?


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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