It’s easy at first glance to think nothing of the timeline change. My initial thoughts when watching the series was that it was done to coincide with the year of the show’s release, 2023. However, certain aspects and lingering shots — the “Operation: Desert Storm” combat veteran sticker on Tommy’s truck, a random resident wearing a Gore/Lieberman campaign shirt in the Boston QZ — began to form a new picture in my head. The crashing plane imagery halfway through the first episode reinforces my reasoning for why the TV series co-creators changed the timeline — “The Last of Us,” like other movies and shows before it, takes the tragedies and social climate of the early 2000s, and uses them to its advantage when depicting the state of humanity in the U.S. after a global pandemic.
“The Last of Us” isn’t the first to use the backdrop of its fictional story to make parallels to real-world fears and insecurities. A more recent example would be Bruce Wayne’s anger and dialogue in “Batman v Superman,” with one scene, in particular, being essentially a word-for-word quote from former vice president Dick Cheney after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The effect 9/11 has had on pop culture throughout the years is palpable. And “The Last of Us” move to have the outbreak occur two years after 9/11 paints an entirely new perspective of the characters’ fears before the outbreak as well as events that came after, such as FEDRA, the military dictatorship spawned from the remnants of the U.S. Government.