Things get extra gross on “The Last of Us” this week.
In an interview with Variety, series creators Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann talked about the zombie kiss scene in the video game adaptation’s second episode.
In the episode, Anna Torv’s Tess is attempting to light a cache of gasoline when one of the show’s zombies walks up to her and kisses her with fungal tendrils protruding from his mouth.
“We were doing early research on how fungus appears in reality, and we had a really good template for what it looked like in the game,” Mazin said of how they conceived of the moment. “We wanted to go further and say, ‘OK, what are the different forms and functions?’ I found this image that an artist had created of somebody that had become subsumed by fungus and in their mouth there were mushrooms.”
He continued, “We were already talking about tendrils coming out and we were asking these philosophical questions, ‘Why are infected people violent? If the point is to spread the fungus, why do they need to be violent?’ We landed on that they don’t. They’re violent because we resist, but what if you don’t? What does it look like if you just stand perfectly still and let them do this to you?”
Mazin added, “Then we landed on this nightmare fuel. It’s disturbing and it’s violative. I think it’s very primal in the way it invades your own body. To use an overused word, it’s triggering. It’s remarkable combination of Neil’s direction, Anna Torv’s acting when there isn’t obviously anything there and our visual effects department doing this gorgeous work to make it all come together and feel real and terrible.”
Druckmann explained how the moment was also informed by how they’d made changes to the storyline from the original game.
“Part of it was the deviation from the game, where Tess is killed by soldiers,” he explained. “We had a long conversation about what’s more thematically appropriate for this episode, which is called “Infected” and is about the threat of the outside. We’ve left the quarantine zone and that led to this other version where she’s giving an opening to escape to Joel and Ellie by blowing up a bunch of infected. Because we’re cruel to the characters we love so much, it felt like she knows she’s done for, and then the lighter doesn’t work, and we take her all the way to the edge of horror before we finally give her an out.”