Rather than merely imitating the first “Last of Us” game and immediately opening the show with the story of Joel (Pedro Pascal) and his daughter Sarah (Nico Parker), the first scene of HBO’s “The Last of Us” is separated from the main story by half a century. Taking place in 1968, the cold open sees two epidemiologists and a TV presenter discussing viruses and the potentially lethal damage they could wreak upon the human race in the event of a pandemic.
This opening feels like it belongs in Craig Mazin’s previous television show, “Chernobyl,” with its focus on the scientific aspect of the horrors viewers are about to witness. Moreover, the characters are discussing the havoc the infection would cause purely as a hypothetical, presenting the “what if?” scenario of the main story to an initially skeptical studio audience that mirrors the people watching at home.
Despite their blissful unawareness of what’s to come, Dr. Newman’s (John Hannah) morbid description of the societal repercussions of a Cordyceps fungus becoming capable of infecting humans is unsettling to those gathered in the studio, who are at first surprised by the idea of fungi as a threat, but are soon listening in rapt silence. It’s an eerie cold open that works on two levels. For viewers familiar with the game and its story, it’s a clear and ominous foreshadowing of what the Cordyceps will do and how it will impact the characters they care about. For viewers going in blind, it’s an engaging and terrifying exposition of the show’s premise. Moreover, the scene isn’t in either of the video games. Instead, it’s an entirely new and unexpected perspective that makes the world of “The Last of Us” feel that much more real.