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‘The Last of Us’ Fans Already Have a Theory for How the Cordyceps Outbreak Started

In a scene from 'The Last of Us,' Ellie (Bella Ramsey) sits alone in a mostly empty room, her ankle shackled to a radiator.

The Last of Us premiered on HBO on January 15, and even though only one episode has been released, it is already terrifying viewers with its depiction of a brain infection outbreak. The series is based on the PlayStation video game of the same name, so the premise isn’t wholly new. However, while drawing from the most terrifying and exciting aspects of the game, the adaption has added some extra heart, humanity, and context to the story. The show boasts an impressive score of 99% on Rotten Tomatoes and is only expected to gain more prominence as the season progresses.

The show follows Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey), an unlikely duo brought together by the horrors of a post-apocalyptic world. Humanity has been devastated by a fungal brain infection that turns its victims into brain-functionless, bloodthirsty, aggressive beings. As the infection progresses, the victims are rendered unrecognizable as their bodies are covered in fungal plates and lesions. Joel and Ellie struggle to survive and defend themselves against the infected, but Ellie’s immunity to the disease may be the key to saving humanity.

What makes the series so terrifying is that it is based on a real-life fungus called Cordyceps. This fungus attaches to its hosts and burrows inside of them. Then, it begins to spread fungal tendrils that reach the brain, diminishing brain function. By death, the fungal tendrils have sprouted from the host’s body, releasing spores to infect more hosts. The fungus can infect insects, but it does not target humans because our body temperature is too high for Cordyceps to survive. However, the show suggests global warming could result in Cordyceps adapting to withstand our body temperature. So, if Cordyceps could—hypothetically—adapt to infect humans, what would be the source of an outbreak?

This fan theory explains the origins of The Last of Us outbreak

In a scene from 'The Last of Us,' Joel (Pedro Pascal) stands alone with a pensive expression on his face. His hair and beard are graying to convey how much time has passed since the start of the outbreak.

While The Last of Us has dived into the science of the fungal outbreak, it did not explicitly identify a source. In the game, contaminated crops are the source of the pandemic. However, one fan posited an interesting theory that wouldn’t be a huge departure from the game. Redditor u/anagnost suggested that contaminated flour is the source of the infection. The perceptive user then went on to point out all the instances in the show where a character manages to avoid consuming flour. The instances are so numerous that it does start to look like maybe it isn’t a coincidence.

In one scene, Joel and his daughter, Sarah (Nico Parker), enjoy breakfast together. Sarah laments that she couldn’t make “birthday pancakes” for Joel because they happen to be out of pancake mix. The pair end up having a breakfast of eggs, and later turn down a neighbor’s pushy offer to take some biscuits. Similarly, Sarah refuses cookies from their neighbors because they have raisins in them. Also, despite promising to bring home a birthday cake, Joel forgets to bring one home. Hence, multiple products with flour are mentioned and shown, but coincidentally never eaten by the lead characters—who remain uninfected.

The Redditor later edited their post to add that Jakarta is mentioned in the first episode. It is believed this Indonesian city might be the starting point of the fictional pandemic. Meanwhile, Jakarta is the home of the largest flour mill in the world, with a capacity of 11,620 tons. Lastly, the show’s creators, in an episode of their Last of Us podcast, told fans that they should follow “little bits of breadcrumbs” sprinkled throughout episode 1. Could they have meant breadcrumbs in both the figurative and literal sense?

The theory does make a good deal of sense; if the flour is the source, the creators will have gone through some noticeable and detailed work in ensuring that flour never ends up near those who aren’t infected. Outbreaks of foodborne illness are known to happen, so it’s plausible. It also adds another layer of terror if a single cookie or cupcake can cause a gruesome infection. It’s also upsetting—we weren’t missing out on much being terrified of mushrooms, but being terrified of pastries is another matter.

(via Reddit, featured image: HBO)

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Rachel Ulatowski is a Freelance Writer, blogger, and aspiring author. As a Freelancer Writer she hopes to give readers the same comfort and enjoyment that she finds in all things nerdy and noteworthy, as a blogger she enjoys snarking on YouTubers and reality stars, and as a future novelist she hopes to raise awareness for child abuse through literature.