There’s still so much unknown when it comes to the fungal infection responsible for kickstarting an apocalypse on HBO’s The Last of Us. We’re starting to suspect creators Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann like it that way, because keeping fans in the dark about the world-ending pandemic’s origins and reproductive methodology only makes this show more unnerving to watch each week.
We’re pointing fingers, placing blame, tossing out old boxes of pancake mix, and just maybe considering going Keto again. (Damn you Druckmann!)
How Did Cordyceps Initially Spread?
We know the infection likely originated in Jakarta, Indonesia. That heavily-populated hub was the focus of a radio report playing in the background during the season premiere as Sarah and Joel were enjoying his meager birthday breakfast. There would’ve been pancakes to accompany Sarah’s shell-laden scrambled eggs but her dad forgot to pick up more mix, a fact Tommy also remarks on when he comes home. As the family — Sarah, Joel, and Uncle Tommy — load up into the pick-up truck, ready to drive to school/work, a neighbor offers them some homemade biscuits, something they all turn down. So that’s two opportunities to consume carbs denied by characters this show is trying to convince us live in Texas, where carbs are one of the main food groups. Seems suspect, but let’s move on.
Sarah also refuses to eat some of her next-door neighbor’s homemade cookies — to be fair, they’re raisin cookies so that’s not necessarily a red flag, just an indicator Sarah has good taste in sweets and her Boomer babysitter doesn’t. And both she and Joel skip his planned birthday cake snack when he arrives home late and empty-handed. (Sidenote: Has anyone eaten at all on the day the world ends? If not, that’s bleak.) When Joel and Tommy race to grab Sarah and escape the chaos once Infected start roaming the streets later in the episode, they posit theories on how the “virus” is spreading. Joel says it’s contained to the cities while Sarah questions if terrorists might be behind the outbreak. She also wants to know how they’re so sure they aren’t already sick.
Besides not exhibiting any symptoms, it seems like a plausible answer might be that they didn’t consume any flour that day.
In the video game series, Cordyceps Brain Infection was initially spread through crops in South America that had been infected with the fungus, but the mention of Jakarta, Indonesia in the show has led some to think a flour and grain factory might be the culprit. That would mean that everything from bread to granola and, yes, pancake mix, might carry spores capable of invading those who ingest foods like biscuits and cookies and really all of the best items on the food pyramid. According to a Vulture breakdown, that pathway for fungal infections to spread has happened before, first in the Middle Ages but more recently in places like Manchester and France. Even certain strains of fungi like Candida survive off yeast produced in our bodies and can cause serious health issues. (Which, rude.)
All in all, it sounds like it was a good thing Joel didn’t indulge his sweet tooth on his birthday, though why some people got sick while others who most likely had consumed flour and grain in the days leading up to the outbreak didn’t is still something that’s keeping us up at night.