‘The Last of Us’: Explaining That Deadly Zombie Kiss From Episode 2

Warning: Spoilers for The Last of Us ahead.

Viewers should know by now. With any zombie apocalypse show, don’t get too attached to the characters. They’re wandering through a world full of deadly people-eaters, and well, not even the big-name star actors should make plans for next week. Anybody could die at any time. Was that enough of a spoiler warning? Here we go…

Episode 2 of The Last of Us aired Sunday, and one of the gritty, intriguing characters who stayed with viewers through the whole episode won’t be back. Tess (Anna Torv), the smuggler partner of Joel (Pedro Pascal), got bitten, and knowing she was doomed, sacrificed herself to blow up the gold-domed Massachusetts state capitol, which was crawling with Infected.

But it was how she went out that made Tess’ death even more unnerving. As her trembling fingers kept trying to flick a lighter to set spilled gasoline on fire, an Infected approached her. Rather than fight him off, which she’s proven to be an expert at, Tess just stood there and let him approach her for an open-mouthed kiss, which would allow the squirmy cordyceps fungi to enter her mouth. GAHHH! This was one difficult scene to watch.

Difficult though it might be, series co-creator Neil Druckmann told Entertainment Weekly that there was symbolism in the creepy kiss.

“These things don’t have to get violent unless you’re fighting them from spreading [the infection] further,” Druckmann said. “That is realized in this beautiful, yet horrific way with Anna.” 

The Infected are connected in a weird kind of hive mind, with their goal being to spread their infection to others, even if it has to be mouth-to-mouth with a living person. So rather than just gnaw on Tess, this particular Infected was set to get all Romeo-and-Juliet with her to help the Cordyceps brain infection spread and survive.

The Last of Us was a video game before it was a show, and gamers will note there are both similarities and differences in Tess’ death. In both, she gets infected while the characters are battling Infected in the Bostonian Museum. In the game, she’s gunned down by soldiers at the capitol, but in both cases, her death gives Joel and Ellie time to escape.

As we report in our episode 2 recap, there are no soldiers in the TV show’s death scene. Co-creator Craig Mazin told the Washington Post that it was unlikely soldiers would venture so deep into dangerous territory to chase down fugitives who’d probably get themselves killed anyway, so the show went a different route.

But the creepy, bean sprout-looking mouth tendrils are an unnerving and effective addition to the show, even if it doesn’t seem like Tess would simply stand there and let herself be kissed to death. And if you watch closely, the kiss doesn’t actually happen. She manages to get the lighter working and torch the place just before the lecherous Infected passes on the infection. This kiss was actually a miss.

According to HBO, episode 2 earned 5.7 million viewers Sunday night, up 22% from episode 1, and marking the largest week 2 audience growth for an HBO Original drama series in the history of the network.

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