I’m no scientist, but I think a global apocalypse would be bad. Real bad. Like, probably one of the worst things that could happen to mankind bad. And an apocalypse where most of humanity becomes mind-controlled fungus monsters sounds like one of the worst ways armageddon could unfold. But, in my non-scientist opinion, the characters on HBO’s The Last of Us suffered in terrible ways that go well beyond the Cordyceps brain infection, the death of their loved ones, and the collapse of society. The timing of the outbreak— September 26, 2003—means survivors also had to live with the knowledge of everything they missed out on, as well as the dreams they never got to see come true. What does that mean? Basically, The Last of Us universe missed a lot of pop culture moments to come. Imagine being a Red Sox fan in Boston’s quarantine zone who never saw a World Series championship or how the Star Wars prequel trilogy ended.
You can’t lament missing something you never could have anticipated or known would happen. So we don’t have to feel bad for Joel, an action movie fan, never getting to see John Wick. He couldn’t have foreseen streaming making physical rentals obsolete either. Just as his daughter Sarah, whose bedroom featured countless music posters, didn’t miss out on Taylor Swift’s career. Even if she’d lived, Swift released her self-titled debut in 2006. We also don’t have to mourn The Last of Us‘ healthy humans never seeing the MCU or Mad Max: Fury Road. Ignorance, in these cases, is bliss. Zombie-apocalypse bliss.
But Joel might very well have been looking forward to seeing how The Matrix trilogy ended. Resurrections was set to premiere in November 2003, just six months after Reloaded. (Don’t feel too bad, Joel!) Meanwhile, poor Destiny’s Child fan Sarah never had a shot at hearing their last album, Destiny Fulfilled, which hit stores in ’04. Nor did she see Beyoncé go from mega star to Queen of America. Just like her uncle Tommy never got to witness bail reform become a real political issue.
A world-as-we-know-it ending pandemic breaking out in late September of 2003 was especially brutal for film lovers. In addition to The Matrix trilogy’s final film, it also means they never got to see The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (December ’03) or Revenge of the Sith (May ’05). It’s one thing to watch your best friend slowly become fungus and meld into a wall. It’s another to do so knowing the last new Star Wars movie you’d ever watch together was Attack of the Clones.
Living in a dystopian monster wasteland is bad. Doing so while realizing “I don’t like sand” is your final memory of Darth Vader is even worse.
Those people never got the chance to see Spider-Man 2 (June ’04), one of the best superhero movies ever. And imagine not getting Fox’s highly-anticipated follow-up to the fantastic X2. (Wait, that one’s not so bad when you remember the follow-up was X-Men: The Last Stand. I guess the Cordyceps outbreak wasn’t a total nightmare.)
And what a shame no one in that world ever got to see the day in 2008 when Guns N’ Roses finally released Chinese Democracy. Just as they never got to see America elect its first Black president, l earn where Stonehenge’s stones came from, or read Ron Chernow’s tome on Alexander Hamilton, which eventually became a smash Broadway musical.
Of course, as a dedicated Boston sports fan myself, I feel the most pity for The Last of Us‘ New England survivors. Forget missing out on nearly 20 years of unimaginable, unmatched success with our local teams. I can tell you we thought October of 2003 would finally be our year. And while that world’s fans never experienced the ’03 season’s heartbreak, they also never got to see the Red Sox end their 86-year drought the following post-season. That’s even worse than it sounds, too. It also means Yankees-fans survivors didn’t have to live with their team’s historic gag job. (Good thing real New Yorkers always will. GO SAWX!)
Lots of other long-suffering fanbases also had to deal with the same unfulfilled dreams. In the world of HBO’s The Last of Us, White Sox and Cubs fans in Chicago never got their titles. The NHL’s St. Louis Blues never get their only Stanley Cup, either. (Though that means my fictional equivalent didn’t have to be in the arena to witness their win, either. Good for fake me.)
Do movies, music, books, fun scientific discoveries, and sports mean anything when everyone you’ve ever known is either dead or a walking fungus? I mean, I can’t say for certain (and hopefully never will), but I’m going to guess not. And yet, all those things do matter to us. The shared experiences of pop culture matter, just as rooting for a sports team does. When they all went away during our own pandemic we missed them and celebrated their returns.
I know that’s a serious way to end a silly thought experiment on what a fake apocalypse would mean for fictional people. But it’s true. And after the last couple of years it’s definitely more fun than thinking about what it would actually be like to live through the end of the world.
But in all seriousness, if I survived The Last of Us‘ outbreak I’d have been really upset I never got to experience my teams never winning a World Series or a Stanley Cup. An apocalypse I can deal with. But I couldn’t have lived with never seeing that.
Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.