Before it debuted with one of the most watched season premieres in HBO’s history, “The Last of Us” started off as a revered video game. Released in 2013 as one of the last games in the Playstation 3 generation, “The Last of Us” was an immediate success, gathering acclaim from critics and players alike. Not only was it fun and satisfying to play, it also provided viewers with an incredibly emotional and cinematic story that cleverly hid behind the facade of zombies.
Episode two of the series premiered this past Sunday, meeting some resistance from long time fans. Spoilers ahead!
Episode 2 is titled “Infected” and debuted the terrifying clickers, monsters that will make TV fans think of “Stranger Things” and “The Walking Dead.” As our heroes – Joel (Pedro Pascal), Ellie (Bella Ramsey), and Tess (Anna Torv) – escape the safety of their quarantine zone, they enter Boston, which has been overcome by nature after 23 years of no human interaction and multiple bombings that tried to control the virus’ outbreak. As the three tentatively get to know one another, they travel through the city and take in their dilapidated surroundings, encountering more and more challenges, including a swarm of infected, which results in Tess getting bitten in the neck and having minutes to live. In her final moments, she convinces Joel to keep traveling with Ellie and to deliver her to the Fireflies, a resistance group that hopes to make a cure and restore the world to normalcy. Her sacrifice is the final push Joel needs in order to cement his alliance with Ellie, providing the backbone for the entire series’ journey.
This is all present in the video game. The unexpected twist occurred later, when the series added in a sequence where an infected spots Tess. As she tries to light a cache of gasoline and explode the whole place, buying Joel and Ellie some time, the infected recognizes her and creeps closer. As she stands frozen, he kisses her, with fungi tendrils creeping out of his mouth and into hers, just before she manages to flick on her lighter and blow up their location.
Some fans were outraged, citing the moment as “gross” and like it sexualized Tess’ demise. They also contrast how video game Tess died, which was a moment that developed largely offscreen, with our last sight of her bravely squaring up to meet enemies. Austen Goslin, in Polygon, wrote that the infected kiss felt “leering for a show that often isn’t and doesn’t need to be.”
The show’s creators, Neil Druckman and Craig Mazin, also talked about the kiss scene, explaining that they landed on it because it felt very different than anything we’ve seen on zombie stories, and like it reinforced their view of the infected. “We were already talking about tendrils coming out and we were asking these philosophical questions, ‘Why are infected people violent? If the point is to spread the fungus, why do they need to be violent?’” said Mazin to Variety. “We landed on that they don’t. They’re violent because we resist, but what if you don’t?”
“The Last of Us” airs new episodes every Sunday, on HBO Max.