The last of us‘monsters are no ordinary zombies. Yes, they are rude. Yes, they bite. But they are not revived after death. Instead, they are living people who have been taken over by a fungus called Cordyceps – all their stuff multiplies and spreads the infection as far as possible.
The Cordyceps the infection evolves over the lifetime of an infected person, which makes infected Last of Us games all the scarier. Each of these different evolutions creates a unique threat. For example, the first stage – when a person has turned around for the first time – is super fast and can detect uninfected people to hunt. Clickers, at a later stage, are blind, with mushroom-like growths that open their faces and obscure their vision.
We have yet to see all the infected types of the games represented in HBO The last of usbut they are probably coming.
The first stage of infection occurs when the fungus spreads through the body. In HBO The last of us, the show’s creators slipped in an infographic to explain how long it takes for the infection to spread inside a person, depending on where the bite is: On the head or neck, it’s fast, in a few minutes. If the bite is on one end, such as a leg or arm, it will take longer than 24 hours. Early signs of infection include coughing, slurred speech, muscle spasms, and mood swings. (Remember the old lady in Episode 1? Muscle spasms were the first sign.)
The runners are fast – incredibly fast – and often travel in large groups. These look a lot like regular zombies, as they haven’t started sprouting mushrooms yet.
Stalkers are probably the most common type of infection. They are slightly more advanced than runners and have visible changes – fungi grow out of their bodies and sometimes their flesh visibly rots. Stalkers aren’t as fast as Runners, but they’re deadly, always on the lookout and ready to attack. In games, Stalkers sometimes grow out of walls with mushroom tendrils holding them in place. When you pass, they will break free in a surprise attack.
We saw them on HBO The last of us, but completely grown into the wall and seemingly dead. In some cases it looks like the mushroom network is still alive, but in others it is clearly dead and in ruins.
Probably the scariest sound in the series (and games), Clickers have been infected for some time, with fungus visibly protruding from the head, taking over the eyes. They cannot see, so it is necessary to move slowly and quietly near them. Any noise will alert a Clicker, and they are very good at finding their prey using audio cues. They are easy to identify because of their characteristic clicking sound, a form of echolocation, and because of the huge fruit mushroom that grows from the head. We saw a few on HBO The last of us in the Boston Historical Museum in the second episode.
Bloating is the most advanced stage and there are a few different variations within the group. We haven’t seen one on the show yet, but HBO has already teased a Bloater in one of the The last of us‘ trailers. You can tell an Infected is a Bloater because of their size – they’re big, grotesque, and naturally puffy with bubbles of rotting mushrooms. Bloaters and Shamblers are slower but very strong, and they can have a burst of energy to dash towards an enemy. Mushroom layers act as armor, which also makes them difficult to kill. They can also rip these growths out of their bodies and throw them away, sending noxious acid everywhere. If you get caught by a Bloater in-game, it’s an instant kill – and it rips your head in half through the jaw.
Shamblers are basically waterlogged puffies found more on the West Coast in games. They are quite similar, but they emit an acid gas which they spit at their enemies.
We’ve only seen one infected Rat King in the Last of Us games, and it’s pretty ghastly: it’s a chaotic mass of multiple infected Clickers, Runners, and Stalkers, all smashed together. It may be an anomaly, and who knows if we’ll see one in the first season of The last of us. The battle against the Rat King in The last of us part 2 takes place in two stages, and the monster breaks down into different infected. It has all the characteristics of the infected that compose it, throwing mushroom bombs and emitting poisonous gases.