In The Last of Us‘ universe, people are infected by the cordyceps fungus by inhaling airborne spores. However, that won’t be the case in the HBO Max series, as the infection will spread through another way: tendrils.
Series co-creators Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann explained the change in an interview with Collider. Druckmann talked about how they decided early on that they didn’t want to use gas masks in the series. This then led to conversations about how they could reinvent the fungus to better fit this new medium.
“Eventually, those conversations [about not using gas masks] led us to these tendrils,” said Druckmann. “And then, just thinking about how there’s a passage that happens from one infected to another, and like fungus does, it could become a network that is interconnected. It became very scary to think that they’re all working against us in this unified way, which was a concept that I really liked, that got developed in the show.”
Druckmann didn’t spell everything out about the tendrils and how exactly they work, but it was done to focus on how the infected are all connected. While it’s unclear if there was hesitation surrounding covering the actor’s faces with gas masks, Mazin also said the changes in the show were made to keep the focus on Joel and Ellie in one way or another.
“I will say that there is a character from the game that has a very interesting point of view about the fungus and his observation of Cordyceps that ties into some of the larger themes about what the show is about, and strangely enough, that ties into the notion of the beauty and potential danger of love,” said Mazin. “And so, part of what Neil and I wanted to do was just make sure that everything in our story that we built here, as it was inspired by and adapted from the work that he did on the game, ultimately feeds back into the thing that matters the most for us, and that is Joel and Ellie’s relationship.”
The show is changing some elements from the show and expanding upon others. After mentioning that COVID-19 made audiences wiser about how a pandemic could spread, Mazin said that the series goes back well before the game begins to flesh out some of the world’s backstory and give the outbreak more context.