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That Beloved Character from ‘The Last of Us’ Was Not Actually CGI

Bella Ramsey on set with Nabo the giraffe

Yes, the season finale of The Last of Us was bleak as hell but there was one bright spot in the middle of it. I speak, of course, about that iconic character—The Giraffe.

The Giraffe gave us one of the best-loved moments in the entire game, the scene where Ellie and Joel stop for a minute in the middle of an overgrown post-apocalyptic city to admire and feed the beautiful, completely unexpected animal they just encountered. And not only was this all lovingly recreated for the HBO show, they used a real giraffe for the close-up shots!

Meet Nabo

This shining new star of the small screen is named Nabo, and he’s a male Masai giraffe who lives at the Calgary Zoo. In his spare time, he likes to eat plants, stick out his big long tongue, and ensure the survival of his vulnerable species.

The behind-the-scenes documentary, which aired after the season finale, gives us a little insight into what filming with a real giraffe was like. Spoiler alert, it was exactly as magical as presented in the game, except without the inconvenience of an apocalypse going on. Bella Ramsey described it as “like a spiritual experience almost, being so close to such a magnificent animal.”

Post-episode, GQ magazine also shared some snippets of Ramsey talking about the scene. They explained, “A lot of it was blue screen, but even then, they had to do one little square of blue screen at the time, so that the giraffes could get used to it.” Wait, giraffes, plural? Yeah, it sounds like Nabo had some friends with him before he filmed his big scene, as Ramsey also added, “We’d done a rehearsal with the giraffes a week or so before [shooting], maybe longer than that, and that was really special.” Awww.

But that’s Nabo who we see getting up close with the actors and he did such a good job plenty of people were convinced he was CGI. The show’s location manager Matt Palmer said in the doc, “Shooting with Nabo the giraffe will certainly be one of my favorite experiences. You can create a giraffe in visual effects, but it’s just not the same.”

Ellie and her new friend

Ellie William (Bella Ramsey) face to face with a giraffe

Ramsey also made it clear to GQ just how important the scene was for Ellie, who has been through A LOT this season. “Having to do it again when we were actually shooting it, it was a bittersweet moment,” they said. “I realized through talking to Craig [Mazin, showrunner] that actually that was exactly how it was meant to be. It wasn’t meant to be this overjoyous [moment] … there was joy, but there was still the trauma that she’s facing. It’s tainted by what has come before. I realized, basically, whatever Ellie was feeling, I was feeling.”

Congrats to Nabo for being such an integral part of The Last of Us!

(featured image: HBO)

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Sarah Barrett (she/her) is a freelance writer and fake geek girl. She has an unreliable brain but boundless, occasionally misplaced enthusiasm.