The Last of Us Monsters: From Clickers to Bloaters

The Last of US TV show writers, Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann, reveal what nightmarish monsters to expect in their live-action adaption.

What are The Infected, Cordyceps, Clickers and Bloaters?

CORDYCEPS: A fungus that burrows into a host organism, making its way to the brain in order to control the organism’s system. It continues its spread until wiping out a dominant species and restoring an ecological balance. The fungus exists in real life.

INFECTED: People infected and taken over by Cordyceps, they are no longer themselves, operated by the fungus with the mission to infect others.

CLICKERS: Infected monsters, once human, now hideous fusions of flesh, bone, and fungus, it’s body in awful contortions. At this point the fungus has blossomed out through the skull. They use a clicking sound as echolocation, and are harder to take down, even with gunshot, than the first phase of Infected.

BLOATERS: Humans that have been infected for many years and barely resemble their original form. They have enormous strength and are armoured with mounds of fungus.

What the writers have to say

Anyone who has played the award-winning Naughty Dog videogames knows that monsters don’t drive the plot of The Last of Us. What made the game and the forthcoming TV show different from other zombie apocalypse films and games, was that the focus was always on the human relationships, especially Joel and Ellie’s.

That said, it didn’t stop the game’s writer Neil Druckmann coming up with some inventive creatures. Unlike the Resident Evil games or Left For Dead, infected humans in The Last of Us aren’t your conventional zombies - hungry for the flesh of the living, transformed by some terrible virus. In the game and the show, they are humans infected by a fungal disease that takes over their minds and then their bodies.

Real Life Horrors inspired the game and show

What makes it more terrifying is that the infection is based on a real-world fungal disease - Ophiocordyceps unilateralis. Druckmann watched David Attenborough’s Planet Earth and saw the monstrous effects of the fungal infection on ants. Once infected, the ant’s mind is hijacked, and the body drained of nutrients to help spread the fungus. He couldn’t believe that it hadn’t been used before.

“It sounds made up when you tell people,” says Druckmann. “These [fungi] exist in nature and are beautiful and horrifying at the same time”, says Craig Mazin. The opening of the show explains how this cold-sweat-inducing scenario could come to pass, as a flashback to an epidemiologist in the 1960s warns of the potential dangers of fungal infection crossing to humans as the planet warms up.

Spores and icky tendrils

Anyone familiar with the game will remember that many of the characters, including Joel and Ellie, must wear masks to escape the deadly fungal spores that transmit the disease, as well as avoid getting bitten by the infected. For the TV show some changes were made for practical reasons. “We lost the spores because if that was how [the disease] was transmitted then the characters would wear gas masks all the time and we wouldn’t see their faces”, says Druckmann.

Instead, the virus is transmitted through bites, specifically tendrils that come out of the mouths of infected hosts, like silky worms. “They have a beauty and creepiness to them,” says Druckmann. “You can see them travel under the skin and it felt so icky and disgusting that we had to do it.”

Druckmann and Mazin wanted to make sure that they stayed true to the game, and distance themselves from the typical tropes of zombie films and games. “Neil and I were really careful to keep drawing that line between a sick, infected person, and a person who was a monster.” says Mazin. For both writers it was always about exploring the moral complexity of the characters rather than the jump scares of the undead bursting through doors. “I’m really fascinated by how disease can disrupt our humanity and show how fragile we are,” says Mazin.

Get prepared for Runners, Clickers, and Bloaters

Fans of the game need not fear. Some of your favourite creatures are going to be making an appearance in the show. For those yet to discover these horrifying monsters, they are infected humans at different stages of the disease. The first stage is an infected human, typically through a bite. Once the shaking subsides, the infection takes over their brains and turns them into a Runner. Clickers are more dangerous. They have been infected for longer, with the fungus taking over their minds and bodies, mutating them grotesquely and giving them great strength. The fungus grows over their heads, blinding them, so they use echolocation, like bats, to stalk their human prey. Then there are the hulking Bloaters. These are humans that have been infected for many years and barely resemble their original form. They have enormous strength and are armoured with mounds of fungus. What makes these monsters so terrifying is how grounded they are in the real world once you google what happens to those poor ants infected with Ophiocordyceps unilateralis.

A few surprises in store

Whilst the show brings many monsters across from the games, there will be surprises in store for diehard players of the videogames. “Even for those who know it beat by beat, there are so many things in the series that will be new for them and novel in a delightful way because it will enhance the experience,” says Mazin. “And for anyone who hasn't played the game, it’ll feel like it was always meant to be that way.”

Find out all you need to know about The Last of Us...

One of the most anticipated shows of 2023 - All you need to know about the show >

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"★★★★★ The best adaptation of a video-game ever made" - Read the reviews >

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The history of the award-winning game - Learn about the videogame behind the show >

Want to see more? - Watch the trailer >

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