Fans of “The Last of Us” may be surprised to find that HBO’s adaptation kicks off a decade earlier than the events of the hit video game.
When Insider asked series’ creators Craig Mazin (“Chernobyl”) and Neil Druckmann in December over Zoom why the show’s timeline starts in 2003 instead of 2013, like in the game, Mazin said it was something he suggested.
“I just had this thing where if I’m watching a show and it takes place 20 years in the future from my time now, it just seems less real,” Mazin told Insider with a laugh. “I’m just less connected.”
“I suggested this change because it would allow the show’s main timeline to be now, in 2023,” Mazin continued, adding, “There’s just something about saying this is happening now in this parallel universe.”
He added: “It also weirdly did give us an opportunity to explore this interesting period of early 2000s. It has its own aesthetic. It’s got its own technology. It was an interesting place to freeze the world. It kind of helped give us a little bit more of a period feeling to the world.”
Following a mutated fungus that infects and zombifies humans, leading to a large-scale pandemic, the series’ parallels to COVID-19 in the show’s pilot and early episodes are eerie as the show explores the origins of the outbreak.
Though the series was first announced in March 2020, as COVID-19 forced lockdowns across the world, Druckmann, who also created the hit PlayStation and Naughty Dog game, told Insider COVID-19 altered the series very little.
The basis for the first “The Last of Us” game was rooted very much in 1918’s influenza pandemic.
“Not as much as you think changed,” Druckmann said of how COVID-19 affected the series’ production. “We had met for a year prior to the pandemic on a pretty regular basis. Craig would come by Naughty Dog, and we’d spent hours just talking about the show, the story of the game, each individual characters, the relationship, the locations, these different factions. What do we wanna keep? What do we wanna throw out?”
“A lot of the research we did for the game was the Spanish flu and how people reacted and how they became, in some ways, xenophobic and kind of closed off their tribes. So that’s why I think it feels so real is because we’ve experienced it already as part of our history,” he added.
Druckmann added that the intention of the HBO adaptation wasn’t to focus on the current pandemic.
Instead, the series addresses the possibility of finding an actual cure to the fungal infestation as Joel Miller (Pedro Pascal) is begrudgingly tasked with taking a teenager, Ellie (Bella Ramsey), who’s apparently immune to the infection, cross-country. The show focuses on the unexpected bond that forms between the two during their adventure.
“It became important to us actually not to comment on the modern outbreak too much because we didn’t wanna make a Covid 19 show,” Druckmann said. “Ultimately, this is a show that’s post-pandemic.”
“The pandemic itself is a part of the show, and then we deal with 20 years after that,” Druckmann said. “How are people are dealing with this new reality? And people that are born after this outbreak? Ellie is an example of that. She doesn’t know the world from before. All she knows is this world. And Joel is one of the few people that are slowly dying off in this world that straddles this line. He knows enough to miss it, to be nostalgic for it, or to be sad about what’s no longer there.”