The Last of Us

Last of Us Episode 5's Most Exciting Scene was Ruined by One Dumb Flaw

They could do anything with the Bloaters. Why do that?

All zombie fiction is predicated on our willingness to believe that the mindless undead would be a credible threat to sentient beings. The average zombie can be foiled by taking a brisk walk, and even when they’re given a speed or strength boost with a silly sci-fi virus, their muscles are still destined to decay into ground beef. Most zombie media therefore glazes over the question of how society collapses to focus on the drama of the aftermath.

The Last of Us put a novel twist on the formula, blaming the infection on a fungus that seizes control of the brain and employs the body like a pawn to spread a giant Cordyceps network. The series’ creepiest moments, like the network-spreading kiss an Infected offers Tess in her final moments, lean into this unique premise. It even provides some justification for the speed and strength the Infected display; the parasitic fungus will grind tendons and cartilage to dust to accomplish its immediate goals.

Those little touches contribute to one of the franchise’s underlying themes; that humanity is subject to nature’s whims, and we’ll need to recalibrate how we derive meaning if the tables ever turn on us. This is also why the introduction of a Bloater in Episode 5 was, to use a nuanced screenwriting term, dumb as hell. From the moment that fungal himbo barreled onto the battlefield, the tenor of the show changed for the worst.

The ultimate terror: a zombie who hasn’t skipped leg day.


A big silly rage monster with the inexplicable strength to rip Jeffrey Pierce’s head off simply feels like it’s out of a different, lesser show. This is especially true when contrasted with the Clickers highlighted in Episode 2, which sported unique practical effects as they stumbled around in a blind fury. That, after all, is what makes nature scary; for all that we can outsmart it, it only takes one wrong move to end up in a heap of trouble.

It’s underwhelming to learn that those clacking terrors evolve into roided out dudebros, and it undermines the show’s premise of a slithering fungal network when you imagine those bulletproof bozos bumbling around America like the land is awash in Resident Evil minibosses. That’s not nature turning the tables; that’s HBO needing a money shot. It’s like if Craig Mazin’s last show, Chernobyl, had a scene where radiation poisoning turned someone into the Hulk before it returned to being a grim look at bureaucratic paralysis.

This was a lost opportunity. In the game, Bloaters were slow and clumsy. Their physical strength was a threat, but what made them unique were the sacks of toxic spores they chucked around like biological water balloons. The show ditched the premise of the virus being an airborne infection, which necessitated a redesign. The possibilities were endless, but instead of showing us a horrifying amalgamation of fungus and flesh, HBO went with a Lord of the Rings troll having a bad skin day.

This is the nittiest of nitpicks, and “Endure and Survive” was still a good episode of a good show. But it does feel like a moment where The Last of Us had a chance to do something bold, but settled for something safe. We’ll likely see a Bloater again, and hopefully the show will take more risks when we do.

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