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5 Reasons We Don’t Need More Infected on HBO’s ‘The Last of Us’

Less is more.

Close-up image of a bloater infected from HBO's the last of us. It is emerging from the ground and everything around it is on fire. It is enormous and covered in fungal plates. It's mouth is open.

There’s some criticism floating around about how the presence of the infected in The Last of Us on HBO is too minimal for some fans. When Twitter feed Naughty Dog Central put the question to fans earlier this week, there were many who were unhappy about how little we’ve seen our fine, fungal friends in the episodes of HBO’s adaptation that have aired so far. I guess a swarm of infected erupting from the bowels of the earth wasn’t cool enough?

Some fans have been happy about the human-to-infected ratio:

But others were less than enthusiastic:

Obviously, everyone is entitled to their opinion. It’s just that some of you are wrong. Here are 5 reasons why “less is more” when it comes to infected in The Last of Us.

1. We need different things from gameplay than we do from TV

Image from the first "The Last of Us" video game. Tess and Ellie stand in a doorway as a clicker charges at Joel in a dark hotel hallway.
(Naughty Dog)

You can hear showrunners Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann talk about this stuff at length on the official HBO companion podcast for The Last of Us, but video games are an active medium. The enjoyment you experience comes from doing. You are whatever character you’re playing. So, when you take down a swarm of infected, or handle a raider attack, you feel heroic and receive a sweet, sweet dopamine hit.

You might think you want to see more infected in the TV series version, but it likely wouldn’t have the same effect. 1) You wouldn’t be able to do anything about them. 2) It would mess with the realism of the world the show is portraying.

The games constantly manufacture situations where the player has to go into a building or underground location where infected are likely to be, to give them something to do, whereas if the events are happening in a live-action story and meant to be realistic, characters would stay as far away from enclosed, unexplored places as possible. There wouldn’t be many infected on the road, because FEDRA bombed most infected early in the outbreak. Most likely, they’d be concentrated in places where they were trapped, with only the occasional infected staggering its way out into the world.

You don’t need a swarm of infected to give an attack dramatic impact, just one infected at the absolute wrong time.

And again, I’ll direct you to the BLOATER AND THE MASSIVE INFECTED SWARM ERUPTING FROM THE EARTH IN KANSAS CITY! That was freaking terrifying.

2. Monsters have more impact on the viewer the less we see them

Image of a chiId clicker emerging from the back seat of a car at night on HBO's 'The last of Us.' She has blonde hair in a messy ponytail. The clicker cordyceps fungal plates are emerging out of her face obscuring everything but her mouth.

Whether you’re talking about the shark in Jaws, the xenomorph in Alien, the Weeping Angels on Doctor Who, or the alien monster in Cloverfield, one thing is true: monsters have more emotional impact on an audience the less you see them.

Each encounter with infected that we’ve experienced on the show has been effective precisely because they’ve been rare. They are a danger just out of sight, or beneath your feet. As a viewer, you might forget they exist as you get sucked into Bill and Frank’s love story, or are on the edge of your seat watching Ellie deal with David. Then, just when you forget they’re a thing, out they shamble.

Think about when Tess revealed that she was bitten. We didn’t see her get attacked. It happened off-screen. Yet it was such an emotionally affecting moment, because we knew what the bite meant.

Personally, I’d trade the “excitement” of watching infected get shot for the gut-punch emotion that Tess and Joel delivered in that scene any day of the week.

3. Monsters have more impact on characters and story the less they’re seen

Close up image of an adult clicker charging forward. Its face is entirely obscured by fungal plates. Its mouth is open wide, and blood drips from it.

Just as minimal interaction with monsters has a greater emotional impact on the viewing audience, it also has a huge impact on the characters and story in-world.

As tough, wary, and violent as Joel and Ellie are, they are still human beings who crave safety. Whenever they feel the slightest bit safer than usual, that’s when they let their guards down. So, they aren’t prepared for the lone infected at the mall, or even a pair of brothers with a gun.

Minimal interaction with infected, especially outside and above ground, allows characters to breathe and explore other aspects of themselves, while emerging just enough to remind them of the fragility of human life.

4. You think rendering infected in a video game is expensive?

Full-length image of an adult clicker in a museum on HBO's 'the last of us.' It's body is turned toward the left as if it hears something in that direction. Thick fungal plates cover most of the top of its head, though some long dark hair is visible, too. It's wearing a torn green shirt and dark torn pants.

It costs millions of dollars to develop a AAA game, and yes, the different types of infected in The Last of Us and The Last of Us Part II look amazing. Yet, while game developers are typically hush-hush about their budgets, the numbers that get thrown around are generally under $100 million, for years of work—numbers that are pocket change compared to what can be spent in TV or film.

It’s not as if HBO doesn’t have money. I mean, they’ve continually boasted the shows with some of the largest budgets in the industry. According to Collider, Game of Thrones was $15 million an episode in its first five seasons (more after that!), and House of the Dragon is $20 million per episode. Then again, J.J. Abrams’ ill-fated original series, Demimonde, was scrapped before it could premiere at HBO due to concerns over its $200 million budget, according to Deadline.

Point being, money is always a concern no matter how much you’ve got to spend.

According to The New Yorker, HBO gave The Last of Us “a budget exceeding that of each of the first five seasons of Game of Thrones.” If Game of Thrones was $15 million/episode, that means this nine-episode first season of The Last of Us cost more than $150 million.

And that was without a crap-ton of infected in every episode!

The size of a show’s budget can be the deciding factor in whether or not it sees the light of day. I’m sure the dearth of infected had something to do with keeping costs down so the show could be made, in addition to being a story choice. Considering the finished product, I would happily take fewer infected in order for this show to exist.

5. Man is the real monster

A scene from HBO's 'The last of us.' David (Scott Shepherd) is sitting on a torn out floor in a dilapidated barn in front of a fire. His knees are up and his arms are on his knees. His hands are together as if in prayer as he looks into the distance. He is a white man with a receding hairline and red hair and facial hair. He's in a thick, black jacket and dark pants. Ellie (Bella Ramsay) is seated in front of him with her back to the camera. She's in a brown coat and wearing a ski hat.

Whether talking about the games or the TV series, The Last of Us was never primarily about the infected. As is the case for damn near every zombie story (though infected are not zombies—we’ll fight about it later), they are merely a backdrop used to highlight what we should really fear: other human beings.

For example, “walkers” weren’t the scariest part of The Walking Dead. The scariest antagonists on TWD were people like Negan, or Pamela Milton, or groups like The Whisperers. It was the moments when our heroes had to face off against human antagonists that were the most frightening and impactful.

Fights with infected are usually forgotten soon after they’re over. Moments like Ellie escaping David, however, are indelible. Now we’re curious! What was your favorite infected moment on The Last of Us? And what was your favorite moment with a human threat? Tell us below!

(featured image: HBO)

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Teresa Jusino (she/her) is a native New Yorker and a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish, bisexual woman with ADHD. She's been writing professionally since 2010 and was a former TMS assistant editor from 2015-18. Now, she's back as a contributing writer. When not writing about pop culture, she's writing screenplays and is the creator of your future favorite genre show. Teresa lives in L.A. with her brilliant wife. Her other great loves include: Star Trek, The Last of Us, anything by Brian K. Vaughan, and her Level 5 android Paladin named Lal.