A Guide to the Infected World of THE LAST OF US

HBO’s long-anticipated adaptation of Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us is airing on the small screen January 15 after almost a decade of dogged adoration by its loyalists. Transforming a videogame into a nine-episode television series is no small feat. This adaptation will certainly have some liberties within its story. No one better explains the world changes better than Neil Druckmann, Naughty Dog president, creator of The Last of Us, and executive producer for the series. He spoke with IGN, stating: “Things sometimes stay pretty close… And sometimes they deviate greatly to much better effect because we are dealing with a different medium.”  

split photo of last of us joel and ellie in game and live action tv show world
Naughty Dog/HBO

Nevertheless, the world that houses both The Last of Us game and the series is rich with detail and background. Maybe it’s been a while since you’ve played through the game. Or maybe you’ve never touched a PlayStation controller in your life. We’ve got your back here at Nerdist. This post gives you everything you need to know about the universe and overall lore of The Last of Us. This includes The Last of Us‘ most important characters, themes, locations, timelines, and general facts that will equip you to watch the HBO series. Here’s what you need to know about the universe of The Last of Us. Beware of game spoilers ahead that could show up in the series.

Jump to: The World of The Last of Us // Plot and Timeline // The Last of Us Main Characters // The Last of Us Prominent Groups // The Last of Us Locations
Spoiler Alert

The Overall World Setting of The Last of Us

The Last of Us takes place in a world where a species of cordyceps fungus mutates and gains the ability to infect human beings. In the game, the infection reaches critical mass on September 26, 2013, a.k.a. “Outbreak Day.” This was the year of The Last of Us’ original release; however, the show’s production confirmed that Outbreak Day would occur on the same day but a decade earlier in 2003 for the HBO series. 

Ellie and Joel in HBO's The Last of Us series observe a wreckage, Pedro Pascal will star in the upcoming series.
Naughty Dog

The game is culturally thought of as set in a zombie apocalypse. But The Last of Us sets itself apart by the speculative science fiction of its world. Those with the infection are not dead but are merely being controlled by the fungus that rapidly takes over their bodies. The infection courses through their blood vessels, invades tissues, and sprouts through their heads. It is gruesome and also terrifying considering the fence that the story straddles when it comes to possibility. However, the infected behave generally like classic Hollywood zombies, with some exceptions and modifications. 

The mythology of the infected is subject to change with the show; however, in The Last of Us Part I, there are a few different classifications of infected, corresponding to disease progression. These classes include Runners, Stalkers, Clickers, and Bloaters. The most distinguished are Clickers and Bloaters. They embody very advanced disease states, with fungus covering most of their bodies. They sense the world through echolocation, as they are functionally unable to see. You can learn more about these creatures and their specific behaviors and looks in our handy guide.

A Brief Plot Synopsis and Timeline Comparison of The Last of Us 

An infected person attacks Ellie in a car in The Last of Us Part II.
Naughty Dog

Now that you have a general handle on the world, let’s get into the actual plot that we will see in the TV show and how it compares to the game. In both mediums, the main events of The Last of Us occur 20 years after Outbreak Day. In the game, things took place in 2033; however, the show changing the outbreak to 2003 means these events will take place in 2023. Very timely, indeed. The United States is run down with reduced local governments, starvation, murder, and desolation by this time. So, the core plot of The Last of Us cinches on hope and possibility with the promise of a cure.

The show will track a cross-country adventure between two unlikely travel companions, Joel Miller and Ellie Williams. The duo grow close and reluctantly evolve into a father-daughter pair that is both heartbreaking and heartwarming. These are the same main characters from The Last of Us‘ game world as well. The original story is rife with loss, violence, humor, and love, and we can expect similar themes in the series. There is one ultimate question that sits on everyone’s mind throughout the run: Will there truly be light at the end of the tunnel? 

Jump to: The World of The Last of Us // Plot and Timeline // The Last of Us Main Characters // The Last of Us Prominent Groups // The Last of Us Locations

The Main Characters of The Last of Us 

There are quite a few characters in The Last of Us that you need to know. While their characterization and other details may end up being a bit different in the show, here’s what you need to know about their general history.

Joel Miller
Pedro Pascal as Joel in The Last of Us series adaptation from HBO
Liane Hentscher/HBO

Joel Miller, played by Pedro Pascal in the series, is the father figure out of the two main characters we follow throughout the story. In his late 40s-50s, Joel is broken after losing his daughter Sarah on Outbreak Day. Sadly, she is on the wrong end of a soldier’s machine gun. Present day, he lives in the Boston Quarantine Zone (ZQ) and works as a smuggler with his partner Tess. The wristwatch he wears is a birthday gift from Sarah. But it gets shattered the very same night during the Outbreak. The pain of losing his daughter has haunted him for 20 years. This history will complicate Joel’s responsibility of crossing the country with a girl the same age as his daughter at the time of her death. But it may also be healing.

Ellie Williams
Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey in The Last of Us

Ellie, played by Bella Ramsey in the show, is a fourteen-year-old orphan who has spent her entire life within the Boston QZ. She has spent her life in the FEDRA (more on them later) military school. She is cheeky, scrappy, and hardened by the circumstances of her life without family. She likes comics, puns, and knows her way around a knife for someone of her age. Ellie is also functionally immune to the cordyceps fungus, which is why she becomes the object of the Fireflies’ interest when looking for a cure.  

Other Important Characters in The Last of Us 


Marlene is the head of the Fireflies within the Boston QZ. She has known Ellie since her birthday, as she knew Ellie’s mother, Anna. Marlene is with Ellie when she discovers that she is immune to the cordyceps fungus, which is when she organizes to have her transported across the country to the Fireflies lab, where they are looking for a cure. She had a relationship with Tommy Miller, Joel’s brother, when he was working with the Fireflies in the past. Merle Dandridge will play Marlene in the show.

Theresa “Tess” Servopoulos

Tess is Joel’s smuggling partner in the QZ, but is also his best friend, and more than likely something more than that as they share an apartment, but they don’t use any extra labels. Tess is the brains behind their 2-person operation on The Last of Us, but can also hold her own in a fight. She is fierce and unyielding but dedicated to her partner. It is her dying wish that acts as the driving factor for Joel to embark on his journey of transporting Ellie across the country. Anna Torv will take on this role in The Last of Us TV show.

Bella Ramsey and Anna Torv sitting down talking in a bard in The Last Of Us
Liane Hentscher/HBO

Riley is Ellie’s best and only friend. The Last of Us: Left Behind centers on Ellie’s story with Riley and how they got infected together. But Riley is not immune to the fungus, so she dies shortly before the modern-day events of the story. Riley originally was attending military school with Ellie but left to be one of the youngest of the Fireflies in Boston. Storm Reid will take on the role of Riley in The Last of Us.

Tommy Miller

Tommy is Joel’s younger brother. They were close prior to Outbreak Day and he saves Joel and Sarah from a shooting death. At some point, Tommy and Joel venture from Austin up to Boston, and there are hints that the two of them lived as Hunters before arriving at the Boston QZ.  When in Boston, Tommy became one of the Fireflies and had some relationship with Marlene. At some point, he leaves Boston after a falling out with Joel and moves across the country to Jackson, Wyoming, where he meets his future wife, Maria. The two of them live and work in a fully-functional commune. Gabriel Luna will portray Tommy in the series.

A Guide to the Infected World of THE LAST OF US_1

Bill is a paranoid and bitter survivalist who lives in a town on the outskirts of Boston. He has traps and trip wires set up on the perimeter to keep out Infected and raiders, and Joel explains to Ellie that he doesn’t take too kindly to strangers. His interactions with Ellie in the game provide comedic relief amidst the horror. There are hints that Bill is gay, as Ellie steals one of his male porn magazines. His relationship with his “partner” Frank could get expansion in the world of The Last of Us with Murray Bartlett taking on a larger role. 

Henry & Sam

Henry and Sam are brothers whom Joel and Ellie meet in Pittsburgh when trying to get through the city. Henry is the elder, in his 20s, and Sam is just a year younger than Ellie. Henry is very protective over his younger brother, and they ultimately ally themselves with Joel and Ellie in their travels. Lamar Johnson and Keivonn Woodard will be the show’s Henry and Sam, respectively.

Jump to: The World of The Last of Us // Plot and Timeline // The Last of Us Main Characters // The Last of Us Prominent Groups // The Last of Us Locations

Prominent Groups Within The Last of Us 

There are different collectives, both formal and informal, that function within the story of The Last of Us, both antagonistically and not. They form as a result of the Outbreak and have been ongoing for close to 20 years, with variability in their different locations.


When the outbreak of cordyceps hits the United States, FEDRA (Federal Disaster Response Agency) usurps the central government, declares martial law, and takes control of the military. They are incredibly militant and authoritarian and are generally seen as monsters in the eyes of common folk for the actions that they take in the name of protecting the people. They act locally by moving uninfected people into Quarantine Zones within major cities. In the QZs, they regulate food rations, work stations, and execute civilian escapees. 

Pedro Pascal as Joel on HBO's The Last of Us
The Fireflies

The Fireflies arise as a revolutionary militia group in response to the barbaric actions of FEDRA; their ultimate goals are to dissolve FEDRA and strive for a more centralized government. Like FEDRA, there are many different factions of the Fireflies, acting in different Quarantine Zones throughout the country. They are most notably known for their bombings and attacks on FEDRA officers, but they also organize in other various ways, like smuggling resources into the QZ. Cynics like Joel see their actions as inconsequential and misdirected.


Hunters are a general term for hostile survivor-types who murder innocent, uninfected civilians to obtain more resources like clothing or food. They have little regard for human life other than their own and will murder with little to no provocation. 

The Last of Us Road Map: Important Locations and Settings

As The Last of Us embodies an Odyssey-like adventure, there is a litany of different settings featured within the story. The cross country roadtrip begins in Boston and ends in Salt Lake City, with stops along the way. Here are the locations that show up in the world of The Last of Us.


The events in Boston take place between the Boston QZ and Downtown Boston. The Boston QZ is where the journey begins as Joel, Ellie, and Tess sneak out of the Quarantine Zone, risking their lives.

The Last of Us teaser trailer Ellie firing a gun
Jackson, Wyoming 

Jackson houses the commune that was started by Maria and her father. They are fully functional, harnessing energy from the dam for electricity, growing food, and purifying their own water. At some point, it is mentioned that 20 families live within the commune. So, this location proves to be the hope that civilization could restart after the apocalypse. 

University of Eastern Colorado

The University of Eastern Colorado, though only a fictional institution, is where the Fireflies were rumored to be researching the vaccine against cordyceps.

St. Mary’s Hospital, Salt Lake City

This hospital encompasses another of the Fireflies’ labs, as there was a need to abandon the first due to a mass influx of Infected. This is the endpoint on the roadmap, where the main events of the final leg of the story occur.

Now here is where we leave you! Go forth and into the HBO series with a solid background in The Last of Us and its dark yet hopeful world.

Jump to: The World of The Last of Us // Plot and Timeline // The Last of Us Main Characters // The Last of Us Prominent Groups // The Last of Us Locations

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