The Last of Us – Episode 2 Recap – ‘Infected’

In Episode 2 of the HBO adaptation of The Last of Us, Joel, Tess, and Ellie reach their rendezvous point, and the virus is further explored.
The Last of Us HBO TV Series Episode 2 Recap

Episode 2 of the HBO TV series adaptation of The Last of Us continues with another strong episode, that deftly and faithfully reinterprets the events of the video game, while adding several new and worthwhile elements to the tale. 

After ending Episode 1, ‘When You’re Lost in the Darkness’, with Joel and Tess discovering that Ellie is infected, and potentially immune, Episode 2, ‘Infected’, sees the two adults coming to terms with what this means, while Ellie is exposed to the dangerous nature of the virus in the world outside the Quarantine Zone. 

Episode 2 of The Last of Us sticks closely with the central protagonists to really give that feeling of a video game-like journey – tension, levity, combat encounters, and all – but we still get a downright fantastic Chernobyl-like opening sequence that further explores the origins and proliferation of the virus. 

In this recap of The Last of Us Episode 2, we’ll recount and reflect on the events of the show, and provide some light analysis and context in regards to how well the HBO adaptation handles and portrays its interpretation of this story, and how it compares to the original video game.

For further analysis and reading on the HBO adaptation of The Last of Us, you can check out the following articles: 

Episode recaps and analysis: 

Behind-the-scenes podcast recaps:

The Last of Us is now streaming on HBO Max in the US, and Binge in Australia.

The Last of Us HBO – Episode 2 Recap – ‘Infected’

This episode was written by Craig Mazin, and directed by Neil Druckmann.

The Last of Us HBO - Episode 2 Recap - ‘Infected’
Image: HBO / Binge

The episode opens in Jakarta Indonesia, on 24 September 2023, where a woman who’s quietly having her lunch of satay chicken in a restaurant is whisked away by two military officials. She’s confused, assuming that they have the wrong person, but they don’t. She’s Ibu Ratna, a Professor of Mycology (Fungi studies) at the University of Indonesia. 

Hurrying to keep up with the brisk walk of the officials, she discovers that she’s been brought in to examine a specimen through a microscope, which she quickly identifies as ophiocordyceps. When told that the sample came from a human, she protests that cordyceps can’t survive in humans – as discussed by the scientists in the cold open of Episode 1 of The Last of Us.

Soon after, she’s covered head-to-toe in protective gear in a sealed examination room, the corpse of a woman on the table. She’s been shot in the head. Examining a bite on the corpse’s leg – a bite from a human – Ratna performs an incision, which splits the skin and reveals a white substance underneath. She looks concerned. 

Ratna opens the corpse’s mouth, and explores it with a pair of medical pliers, eventually pulling out a wiry, writhing, hairy tentacle-like objects. She rushes from the room.

Image: HBO / Binge

In a debriefing with one of the military officials, she learns that the corpse was found in a flour and grain factory, which she describes as a perfect substrate. The woman suddenly went violent, bit her co-workers, and was locked in a bathroom. She attacked the police when they arrived, and they shot her. The people that she bit were taken for observation and eventually executed. They have no idea who bit the woman in question. Fourteen workers from the same factory are missing.

Ratna becomes visibly distressed, unable to hold her cup of tea. The general urges her to help stop the spread with a vaccine or something similar. 

Ratna’s demeanour becomes incredibly stern. She’s been studying fungi her entire life. She clearly tells him that there is no medicine. There is no vaccine. 

The general, flustered, asks what they can do. She responds: ‘Bomb. Start bombing. Bomb this city and everyone in it.’ He’s terrified. She begins to cry, and takes her leave to be with her family.

The Last of Us HBO - Episode 2 Recap - ‘Infected’
Image: HBO / Binge

After the opening titles, we join Ellie (Bella Ramsey), sleeping in a fetal position in a lush looking bed of grass and wildflowers. She awakes, opening her eyes to see the morning sunlight pouring through a hole in the building she’s in, which has allowed her soft sleeping place to grow within the manmade structure.

She turns, and realises that Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Tess (Anna Torv) are watching over her intently, Joel armed with the automatic rifle he pilfered from the guard he killed at the end of the previous episode. She moves, and Joel raises the firearm. 

Having just learned that Ellie has been bitten by an infected, they are incredibly wary. Despite Ellie’s protest, Joel demands to see her arm, which she does, and it looks fine. Tess and Joel share glances. 

Tess quizzes Ellie about her relationship with Marlene, to which Ellie explains that Marlene found her after she was bitten, locked her up, and tested her for a number of days. They are clearly still wary, and afraid. Tess is seemingly convinced that she could be special, but Joel is having none of it, thinking that she’ll turn into an infected, eventually. He wants to abandon their plans, but Tess is having none of it. 

Image: HBO / Binge

‘You’ve got to stop talking about this kid like she’s got some kind of life in front of her’, Joel says, coldly.

Joel’s hand, meanwhile, is significantly injured after beating the aforementioned guard from Episode 1 to death, and he struggles to break off a piece of jerky they have as rations. 

Ellie, on the other hand, has an enormous chicken sandwich that Marlene has provided, much to the envy of Joel and Tess. Ellie takes pleasure in rubbing that fact in.

In response, Tess sternly presses Ellie on her importance to Marlene and the Fireflies, to which Ellie reluctantly divulges – there’s a Firefly basecamp out West that has doctors searching for the cure to the virus, and whatever happened to her is the key to unlocking that information.

Joel cuts her off. He’s heard this before, and he’s adamant that he and Tess return to the Quarantine Zone. Tess urges him to push on, convincing that they merely hold up their end of the deal for their own personal ends – to get access to a vehicle to find Joel’s brother Tommy (Gabriel Luna).

As they go to leave, Ellie sees Joel’s rifle and asks whether she can have a gun. The response from the adults is amusingly abrupt and in unison – absolutely not.

Image: HBO / Binge

They exit their camp, and Ellie is stunned by the beautiful devastation of downtown Boston, fallen skyscrapers leaning against each other, with foliage overtaking it. Tess explains that the military did indeed bomb major cities like Boston in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus, but it didn’t work everywhere.

The trio trek to a nearby hotel to scout the path ahead, Tess asks Ellie how she got bitten. Ellie recounts that she was exploring an abandoned shopping mall in the Quarantine Zone, where she got bit by an infected out of nowhere. Tess tries to clarify that it was just her in the mall, to which Ellie says yes. If you’re familiar with the events of The Last of Us: Left Behind, the expansion story to the video game, you know this isn’t the case. Will that change in the TV series? I won’t spoil it for you.

Tess remarks that Ellie certainly has some courage for a 14-year-old, a comment that Ellie takes some small pleasure from. Joel remains silent.

Ellie begins to comment that she’s heard stories about the world outside the quarantine zone, and she’s surprised by the lack of infected individuals and even more terrifying monsters that exist. As she shares some of the rumours she’s heard, Tess and Joel look at each other knowingly. 

The lone scream of an infected in the distance halts them in their tracks, but they keep moving.

Image: HBO / Binge

As they arrive at the flooded hotel, Ellie remarks that she can’t swim – a trait that those who have played the video game should know all too well, given that several puzzles involve transporting Ellie through flooded areas on a wooden palette. 

Here, however, Joel dismissively allays her concerns by showing that the water is only knee-deep.

Ellie goofs around, showing off her jovial side and pretending she’s checking into a hotel, but is frightened by a corpse. There’s a brief moment of bonding as Joel helps Ellie, which gives him some pause.

They arrive at the top of the hotel, at which point Tess makes a crack about climbing 10 flights of stairs with ‘their knees’, drawing attention to the fact that these versions of Tess and Joel are far less hardier than their almost superhuman video game counterparts.  

Encountering a blockage, Tess navigates around it to unlock a nearby door, leaving Joel and Ellie alone. They spend it in silence, mostly. Ellie plays with her knife, and the two attempt to make small talk, to no avail. Their relationship at this point is very standoffish.

Image: HBO / Binge

They do manage to get to a point where Joel tells Ellie the realities of how long the infected lasts. She’s curious about the difficulty of killing infected, knowing they were people. Joel remarks that it’s hard sometimes, to which Ellie asks about the guard Joel killed. Before he can respond, Tess returns.

The trio arrive on the rooftop, and look over the ledge to see hundreds of infected writing on the ground. Tess explains that the more that travel through the area looking for the Quarantine Zone, the more get infected, and the population grows.

When the mass of infected begin writhing in waves, Ellie realises that the infected are all somehow connected. Tess explains that she’s right, and what’s more, the fungus that infects them grows underground. Step in a patch of cordyceps in one place, and you could awaken a dozen infected somewhere else – this is a significant expansion of the game’s take on the virus, something that is more insidiously omnipresent.

Tess and Joel realise that they need to take a shorter, more dangerous route to get to their rendezvous point of the Boston State House – through the Boston Museum. As they approach, they see fungus enveloping the door – but Joel remarks that it’s dry, which means any infection inside could be long gone. Regardless, they arm themselves. Ellie once again suggests that she could use a gun, a comment that goes ignored.

Image: HBO / Binge

The trio find a fresh dead body that’s been partially torn apart, to which Tess reacts with some panic. Ellie pipes up with curiosity, to which she’s urged to be completely silent. 

As the group heads upstairs slowly and carefully, the stairs creak and the building shakes. They reach the top floor, and all seems well initially, until the stairwell collapses behind them, drawing the attention of Clickers, terrifying, advanced evolutions of infected humans who are vicious but blind, finding their way around by using a vocal ‘clicking’ sound to perform echolocation. 

Joel urges the trio to be silent as a Clicker hobbles near them, but a short and terrified gasp from Ellie draws its attention. Joel immediately retaliates with gunfire and urges Tess and Ellie to run.

Unfortunately, there’s another one. And as Joel struggles with one Clicker and is disarmed, Tess and Ellie try to avoid another, splitting up.

Joel manages to escape the chase, and slowly tries to reload his pistol. Before the Clicker can get close to Joel, it’s distracted by a sound across the room. Joel finds Ellie there, and leads her away slowly, but as he does, he accidentally steps on a piece of glass and the Clicker leaps and pins him. He manages to unload his revolver and kill it, but the second Clicker arrives and begins charging at him.

Image: HBO / Binge

Tess comes swinging out of nowhere and lands an axe in the second Clicker, which confuses it, and allows Joel to retrieve his rifle and finally kill it.

As the trio check on each other, Tess mentions she has a twisted ankle, and Ellie discovers that she’s been bitten, again, on the arm. She remarks that if it was going to happen to one of them, it might as well have been her – an ominous looking shot of concerned Tess immediately follows. 

The three head outside. Ellie keeps moving, crossing a thin wooden plank to an adjoining rooftop (another common activity in the video game version of The Last of Us) but Joel and Tess stay behind momentarily to tend to their wounds. 

As Joel straps Tess’s sprained ankle with electrical tape, the fragility of our protagonists becomes clear. Joel expresses his concerns with Ellie’s second bite – if the first one didn’t take, how about this one? But Tess snaps at him, chastising him for being so pessimistic. Tess sends Joel ahead, and looks dejected. 

Joel catches up to Ellie, who is admiring the rooftop view of the city, and there’s a brief moment of peace, beauty, and tranquillity. Tess hurries them along, visibly in pain.

The Last of Us HBO - Episode 2 Recap - ‘Infected’
Image: HBO / Binge

The trio arrives at the State House, but things are quiet. Joel scouts ahead, investigating an armoured Firefly vehicle, but finds blood on the seat and no-one inside. He discovers some corpses on the opposing side of the truck. Ellie notices a blood trail that leads inside the State House, and Tess hurries inside recklessly with Ellie in tow.

Inside, they find the bodies of several Firefly members, all shot to death. Joel quickly discerns that one of the Firefly members got sick, and the squad turned on each other, with no survivors. 

Tess frantically begins to try to find a radio to get in contact with someone, or at least the location of where they were taking Ellie. Joel refuses to help her, convinced that their journey is over and that it’s time to go home. But Tess lashes out at him, fiercely at first, but then more soberly tells him that she’s staying. 

Ellie immediately realises that Tess is infected. Tess smiles. Joel is terrified. 

Tess shows Joel her bite, which looks horrifically infected. Tess tells Ellie to remove her bandage, which reveals a bite that has already started to heal. She is convinced that Ellie is special.

Tess urges and begs Joel to continue on the journey and take Ellie to Bill and Frank – two of their allies who were briefly mentioned in Episode 1 via the coded radio transmissions of pop songs. 

As they talk, one of the infected Fireflies moans and comes to life, and Joel quickly pulls out his revolver and kills it. However, as it dies, cordyceps tendrils rise from the fungus on the ground and wrap themselves around the infected’s finger. Elsewhere, the other end of those same tendrils are wrapping themselves around another infected’s finger, and awakening it. Dozens and dozens of infected – presumably, the horde that we saw earlier in the episode – begin to rise and converge on the trio’s location. 

The Last of Us HBO - Episode 2 Recap - ‘Infected’
Image: HBO / Binge

Joel is flustered and panic begins overwhelming his face, but Tess leaps into action, spilling tanks of gasoline, overturning boxes of grenades, and telling Joel, ‘save who you can save’. They stare into each other’s eyes. 

With that, Joel grabs Ellie and forcefully drags Ellie out of the State House as she protests, leaving Tess alone. 

As the hoard of infected begins banging on the front door of the State House, Tess pulls out a Zippo lighter and desperately tries to light it, to no avail. She witnesses dozens of infected who all run by, except one, who stops and spots her. The infected slowly makes his way towards her, and in a close-up shot of the two figures, live fungal tendrils slowly emerge from his mouth. 

It leans in towards Tess, and as if kissing her, forces the fungal tendrils into Tess’ body in a grotesque and violating way. She gags and begins to struggle, but her hand finally, and thankfully, manages to light the Zippo and ignite the State House in an enormous fireball.

Outside, Joel and Ellie witness the explosion, which seems to have effectively caught all the pursuing infected. Joel quickly turns his back and walks away. Ellie remains for a moment to catch her breath, the State House behind her. 

Image: HBO / Binge

Stray Observations and Analysis

  • Like Episode 1 of The Last of Us, Episode 2 begins with a great, extended cold open sequence that explores the origins of the Cordyceps virus. This sequence is great for so many reasons.
    • It grounds the virus in a believable, real-world, scientific context, which makes it that much more terrifying to think about.
    • The atmosphere and tension of the impending disaster of this scene were outstanding, and definitely once again recalls Craig Mazin’s Chernobyl, though it should be mentioned that Mazin wrote this episode, and Naughty Dog’s Neil Druckmann directed it.
    • I enjoyed the brief slice-of-life snapshot of contemporary Indonesia, even if its use may have been mainly for the purposes of heightening the feeling of unfamiliarity and othering of the virus.
    • It revealed some great attention to detail in the first episode – Joel, Tommy, and Sarah managed to somehow avoid consuming wheat and flour products throughout the day of the outbreak, and it’s revealed now that the infection was proliferated in a flour and wheat mill. 
Image: HBO / Binge
  • Outside of the cold open, the episode feels like it faithfully portrays the feeling of playing The Last of Us video game. It’s not in the portrayal of certain scenes verbatim, as it was in the first episode, but more in the style of how the journey unfolds in this episode. The fact that we stick with the protagonists closely this time around helps to build that feeling of the journey, and lets us experience all the chronological tension, levity, and obstacles that you find on the way. It’s an entertaining watch as a result, and the Clicker scene was very well done – good job, Neil Druckmann. 
  • I don’t think Tess comes off as formidable as she should in this adaptation. Because HBO’s The Last of Us goes to greater lengths to ground the characters (and rightly so), she and Joel spend a lot of the episode displaying the fragility of their bodies, because of their age. While she’s still incredibly strong in her demeanour and attitude, she doesn’t get the chance to show all of her survival capabilities like Joel does (in the game, she feels like a more cold-blooded character than Joel), which makes the end of her story here more sad than it is tragic. In the game, it almost feels as if Tess should’ve been the one to take Ellie all the way.
  • At the end of The Last of Us video game, Tess also goes out in a blaze of glory at the State House fighting FEDRA forces, showing that she’s just as capable as Joel in fighting off heavily armed guards. The way she’s violated in the show by an infected forcing his mouth tentacles into her is highly distressing, and while that’s likely a device to show various facets of how the reimagined virus works, I can’t help but think that Tess deserved to go out in a way less depressing manner. Anna Torv, who plays Tess, does an excellent job portraying her regardless.
The Last of Us HBO - Episode 2 Recap - ‘Infected’
Image: HBO / Binge
  • That said, I do like what they’ve done to reimagine the virus in the show. It’s somehow even more of a sinister threat than it was in the game, given how omnipresent (and gross) it actually is. Getting bitten is fine. Getting bitten and having things grow and writhe inside you? No thank you. 
  • Line of the Show: ‘Okay, Jesus, fine. I’ll just throw a fucking sandwich at them.’ – Ellie, after asking if she can have a gun. 

What did you think of the second episode of HBO’s adaptation of The Last of Us? Tell us on Twitter, @GamesHubDotCom, and let us know what you’d like to see for future recaps. 

Edmond was the founding managing editor of GamesHub. He was also previously at GameSpot for 13 years, where he was the Australian Editor and an award-winning video producer. You can follow him @EdmondTran