Meet the Clickers.
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The Last of Us Pedro Pascal

Jakarta, Indonesia. September, 2003. Ibu Ratna, professor of mycology (the study of fungi) at the University of Indonesia, sees her lunch interrupted by military personnel. She's ushered to a lab, where she sees an Ophiocordyceps specimen beneath a microscope. This is the very genus that can infest and manipulate insects, but this one, she learns, came from a human. But that's impossible. "They cannot survive in humans," she says. 

They can now. 

Wrapped in a hazmat suit, she's led to the corpse of a middle-aged woman with a gnarly bite on her left leg. When Ibu cuts it open, she's met not with blood or muscle, but a hard, pale mass. Using a pair of forceps, she reaches into the mouth of the woman. What she pulls out are strands of hypha, as alive as the body is dead. She runs. 

What happened is this: The woman became violent while working at a flour and grain factory, biting three of coworkers before being shot by police. Whoever bit her is still out in the wild, as are 14 of her missing coworkers. This information greatly disturbs Ibu. "We brought you here to help us keep this from spreading," says her military escort. "We need a vaccine." She tells him what the epidemiologist told us last week: "There is no medicine. There is no vaccine." 

All there is to do, she says, is "bomb this city and everyone in it." 

Her advice was eventually taken. That much is clear from the ruins of Boston, where craters from bygone missiles gape beneath tilting highrises wrapped in plate-like Polypores. Most of the big cities were bombed to help prevent the spread, Tess (Anna Torv) tells Ellie (Bella Ramsey) in the post-apocalyptic wasteland of 2023. "Worked here," she adds, "but not in most places." 

Joel (Pedro Pascal) remains wary of Ellie, who he and Tess just learned is technically infected despite not showing symptoms. (By her telling, Ellie was bit three weeks previous inside an abandoned mall in the QZ.) "It's gonna happen sooner or later," Joel portends. He wants to take her back to the quarantine zone, but Tess knows she'll end up dead if they do. "You need to stop talking about this kid like she's got some kind of life in front of her," he seethes. 

Tess takes a softer touch with Ellie, but not too soft. "Why are you so important to Marlene?" she asks, clearly developing a theory of her own. "Joel and I aren't good people. We're doing this for us, because apparently you're worth something. We don't know what you're worth if we don't know what we have." 

Ellie cracks, revealing that Marlene believes whatever's going on inside Ellie's body is key to developing a vaccine. There's Firefly doctors out west that want to examine her. Joel isn't just skeptical, he's angry. He's heard this story before, but no vaccine has ever emerged. Tess reminds him that it doesn't matter whether it's true or not; if the Fireflies think she's the key to humanity's survival, then they'll pay a handsome price for her. 

HBO The Last of Us Season 1 - Episode 2
Tess, Joel, and Ellie traverse a wrecked Boston.
| Credit: HBO

Ellie is surprised there aren't more Infected in the city. She heard it was crazy beyond the QZ, with "swarms of infected everywhere." She asks about super-powered creatures that "explode fungus spores on you," which gives Tess a laugh. Neither she nor Joel laugh, however, when Ellie raises the specter of Infected with "split-open heads that see in the dark like bats." 

Still, the cry of the Infected is audible in the distance, and though they're only a 10-minute walk from the Massachusetts State House, the quickest route is also the one most likely to be choked with Infected. They opt for the "long way," which involves climbing through the ruins of a luxury hotel, the first floor of which is submerged in scummy, skeleton-infested water. Once past that, they climb 10 flights only to discover their usual exit's been blocked by freshly fallen concrete. Tess squeezes past it in search of an alternate route, leaving Joel and Ellie alone. 

It's awkward. Joel doesn't want to talk about his life, his relationship to Tess, or how he ended up in Boston after living in Texas. He's more comfortable talking about the amount of Infected he's killed, which is "lots." 

"Is it hard, knowing they were people once?" she asks. 

"Sometimes," he replies. 

Tess returns, taking them on a route around the blockage. Ellie stops to look out at the ruined city from a balcony. Below, hundreds of Infected are gathered, feasting on bodies. She notices how their movements seem weirdly in sync, as if connected by some unifying force. Tess says she's correct. "The fungus also grows underground, long fibers like wires, some stretching over a mile," she explains. "You step on a patch of cordyceps in one place, you can wake a dozen Infected somewhere else. Now they know where you are. Now they come." 

HBO The Last of Us Season 1 - Episode 2
An Infected.
| Credit: HBO

This new route forces them to cut through a museum. It was once a hotspot for Infected, but the dry, chalky fungus stretched across its entrance makes Joel think "they're all finally dead in there." Guns and flashlights drawn, the trio enters. And though it looks empty at first, Ellie soon stumbles upon a fresh body, a bloodied one that looks as if it's been mauled. Whatever did this, Ellie realizes, is not your typical Infected. 

Joel, less sure about the safety of the museum, leads them silently upstairs. The building, though, appears to be in as bad of shape as the fungus growing at its doors. Their steps produce alarming creaks, as if the staircase, which is riddled with musty, fungi-ridden bodies, could collapse beneath them. After entering an exhibit room at the top of the steps, the ceiling collapses behind them, blocking the door behind them. Thankfully, the window leading to their destination is just ahead. 

Before they can reach it, though, a guttural rasp punctuated by an icky clicking pierces the silence. What turns the corner isn't your typical Infected; rather, it's one with a head that's more fungus than flesh. Though blind, its other senses appear to be heightened. It's also stronger and more aggressive than the average Infected. These are called Clickers, and there's not just one in the room with them, there's two. 

Ellie, having never seen one, is startled, her slight gasp enough to send both of them rushing in the trio's direction. Joel fires off some shots, but it's not enough to stop it. Ellie hides as Joel and Tess run, leading the Clickers to other areas of the exhibit. Joel, quiet as can be, reloads his gun and returns to Ellie. As they try to sneak past, he steps on the smallest shard of glass, alerting the Clicker and triggering a frantic struggle. Joel unloads his clip into the creature, his bullets tearing off shards of fungus before finally reaching its brain. When the other Clicker rushes forward, Tess brains it with an ancient ax (nicked from one of the displays) and Joel finishes it off with a shot to the face. 

Everyone emerges worse for the wear. Joel's still nursing a damaged hand from his fight with the soldier, Tess has a newly twisted ankle, and Ellie's suffered another, smaller bite on the same arm as her previous wound. This concerns Joel, who worries this will be the wound that turns her. Tess scolds him for his pessimism. 

They make their way to the State House, but something is off. The Firefly supply truck out front is abandoned and fresh blood paints the steps to the building. Inside, there's ample supplies, including weapons and gasoline, but the Fireflies are all dead. It's clear to Joel that one became infected and a struggle ensued. "The healthy ones fought the sick ones. Everyone lost." 

Despair sets in. With no one to take Ellie, Joel doesn't know what to do with her except go back to the QZ. And they're no closer to getting the battery. But Tess says she's not going back. "Our luck had to run out sooner or later," she sighs. Ellie calls it before Joel can — she's infected. One of the Clickers clipped her neck, after all, and the wound is growing larger and fiercer. It will consume her in short order. 

Joel's first instinct isn't concern, but fear. He reacts as if he's been betrayed. 

HBO The Last of Us Season 1 - Episode 2
Anna Torv as Tess.
| Credit: HBO

Tess contrasts her wound to Ellie's, which is already fading. "This is real, Joel," she asserts. "She's f---ing real." She tells him that, despite the carnage all around them, it's imperative he take Ellie west. "Keep her alive and you set everything right," she says. "All the s--- we did." 

One of the dead around them roars to life and Joel shoots it dead. Unfortunately, one of the fungal fibers in the ground reacts, just as Tess explained to Ellie earlier, alerting the Infected down the road from them. Tess knows time is short. She begins tipping the drums of gasoline and dumping boxes of grenades. "Joel," she says, "save who you can save." 

Joel, as unsentimental as they come, doesn't hesitate. He doesn't even say goodbye. He grabs Ellie and runs, leaving Tess to stare down the horde of Infected bursting through the front doors. She pulls out a lighter, but it won't spark a flame. An Infected corners her, gets close, opens its mouth as if to kiss her. Living strands of hyphae reach from its throat and wriggle into her mouth. And that's when the flame finally strikes, setting the gas ablaze and producing an obliterating explosion. 

Outside, Joel and Ellie listen to the shrieks of the burning undead. Where to now? Tess mentioned two names before sacrificing herself: Bill and Frank. Westward ho.

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The Last of Us Pedro Pascal
The Last of Us (TV series)

Based on the award-winning video games, set in a world where humanity has been decimated by a fungal plague, HBO is bringing the story of survivors Joel and Ellie to life.

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