Movies, TV shows, and videogames have been trying for years to come up with different twists on the basic concept of a zombie apocalypse. In 2002’s 28 Days Later and the much lesser-known (but very fun) Mayhem (2017) people are infected with a “rage virus.” And in The Last of Us, which is about to become a big-budget epic TV series, the planet is plagued by the “Infected.”
It may come as a surprise that the Infected were inspired by that most gentle and soothing of grandfather-like figures, certified national treasure: David Attenborough. A clip from Attenborough’s Planet Earth series particularly horrified Neil Druckmann, the creator of The Last of Us – and he wasn’t the only one.
The cordyceps is a type of fungi which is parasitic. The Planet Earth segment sees it taking over the brain of an ant, and affecting its behaviour, before bursting out of its head in an attempt to infect more poor creatures. The cordyceps doesn’t just target ants, there are different types that specifically target different insects.
Druckmann chose the catalyst for the apocalypse in The Last of Us to be a mutant strain of the cordyceps fungus. Humans are transformed into aggressive creatures known as the Infected, and there are various stages of the infection including them becoming runners, stalkers, and probably the most famous – clickers.
As with real-life nature, the fungi’s only motivation is to spread and find and more hosts. The fungus erases the memory and drives the human host insane, modifying their instincts to seek no goal other than spreading the spores to others. Eventually the fungus kills its host, and will then grow out of the host’s body to spread spores (as can be seen with insects in Attenborough’s twisted video).
The Last of Us‘ storyline begins twenty years after the first infections, and focuses on two main characters Joel and Ellie. The TV series starring Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey starts on HBO on January 15, 2023. It’s been a huge, big-budget production in Canada.
In the meantime, check out our guide to the best zombie movies.