The Last of Us’s first episode is a horrifying beauty


The Last of Us

Content warning: This story contains spoilers for The Last of Us (2023) as well as discussions of violence.

With The Last of Us recently wrapping up its first season, many are left to wonder if the series is worth starting. At first I was hesitant as well, as I’ve never been a fan of zombies or similar creatures, but the first episode delivers such a terrifying and captivating experience that it left me completely in awe; I simply couldn’t look away. 

The first scene is set backstage of a talk show, where we hear a scientist talking about a fungus that could be dangerous to humans. They discuss how even a slight increase in global temperature could set off a full on zombie apocalypse nightmare. This scene could not be more perfect in its delivery. It’s incredibly descriptive, and it’s made even better considering the fungus they’re talking about, Cordyceps, is a real fungus that affects ants in similar ways to how the show describes. It’s completely unsettling in all the best ways. 

I’m a jumpy person by nature, I’ll admit, but the initial introduction to the zombies had me full on head-under-the-covers shaking. We see a gruesome scene of buildings burning down, cars crashing and the infected attacking citizens.

Between the cries for help from the victims and the indescribably horrific unnatural movements of the infected, I was completely helpless during this scene.

We get a few more moments of gore to emphasize how the outbreak is spreading, but then the pacing slows down. It jumps from the year of the outbreak, 2003, to 2023. From here we get some of the best set up I’ve ever seen in a show; little details about the world are dropped in casually and instead of spoon feeding you exposition, they show you what’s going on and let you figure it out yourself. 

It’s also very clear that certain information is planted at the beginning and needs to be remembered for later episodes in order to get proper explanation. I really like how they encourage the watcher to continue on, rather than just laying out the story all at once and hoping it sticks enough to get viewers to keep going. 

My favorite example of this is our main character, Ellie. We’re shown at the beginning that she’s being held captive, and seemingly tested on. But we don’t really understand why that is until later. It’s a perfect set up and pay off. 

I think this show is honestly one of the best things I’ve watched this year. It not only balances fear and interest flawlessly, but it gives you loveable characters and a great story to pay attention to. With episodes ranging from 43 minutes to over an hour, it can feel like a big commitment starting a show like this, but it really makes each minute one worth watching. If you have an hour and a half to spare, I would definitely recommend watching at least the first episode.