A Survival Guide to the Infected Fungus ‘Zombies’ of The Last of Us

Welcome, students of The Last of Us, to Fungus Zombies 101. On this seminar, we’ll cover the fundamentals of what’s referred to as the cordyceps infection, the way it spreads throughout a number’s lifetime, and why it must haunt your nightmares. Ready? Let’s dive in!

In the brand new HBO show The Last of Us—and the 2013 PlayStation video game that inspired it—the zombies are usually not, actually, zombies. They never died, nor were they ever reborn; as a substitute, a terrifying fungus crawled through their insides and took over control of their still-living bodies. Thus, the correct term for these creatures is “infected,” though “fungus zombies” is an oft-accepted colloquialism. (Just don’t tell game developer and show co-creator Neil Druckmann.)

There are 4 predominant stages of the cordyceps infection, plus one bonus stage we’ll get to in a bit. Each stage will only progress inside the proper conditions, whether time or environment. If those conditions aren’t met, some infected will remain in a single state for long periods; others die before they’ve had the possibility to evolve through the ultimate stage. Regardless, all of them are violent, bloodthirsty, and able to spreading the fungus through bites, spores, or—within the show—long tendrils of mushroom-like stalks. If that’s not enough to stir your survivalist instincts, read ahead for just a few more the reason why it’s best to put money into bunker.


In The Last of Us, there’s just one real hope against this wave of wobbling monsters: Ellie (Bella Ramsey), a 14-year-old girl who’s developed immunity against the fungus. Whether she’s really the reply to a long-awaited cure stays to be seen, so within the meantime, you’ll need to know the difference between your clickers and bloaters. Below, we’ll run through the varieties of infected—and dole out just a few recommendations on outlive them. Study up, and mayhaps keep away from pancake mix.

Stage 1: Runners

Runners are essentially the most humanlike of the infected, largely because they’re essentially the most recently “turned.” Inside two days of a bite (or respiration in a healthy dose of spores), but sometimes inside hours, a human will lose control over their faculties and transform right into a runner.

At this point, the fungus hasn’t yet had the possibility to spread throughout the body and pierce the skin, so while runners’ minds is perhaps a lost cause, their bodies still look deceptively human. You’ll know them, as a substitute, by their hair loss and diseased-looking skin; their erratic, jerky movements; the snarls and screams that erupt unprompted from their throats; their torn, stained clothing and bloody mouths; and—if you happen to dare look close enough—the tendrils of cordyceps that sometimes emerge from between their lips.

Within the video game, runners are the simplest group of infected to kill, though they have a tendency to attack in groups and move at extreme speeds (thus the moniker “runner”). The runners within the HBO show exhibit similar tendencies: Within the premiere episode, a runner chasing Joel and his daughter is so quick it seems almost supernatural. But because these monsters have yet to develop any fungal armor, runners are liable to gunshots, knives, and some other weaponry that might take out your average pleb.

The interior awareness of runners is the topic of debate on this planet of The Last of Us, but there’s evidence runners are still “awake” enough to acknowledge they’re now not accountable for their very own bodies. (Some runners moan and shriek in agony even once they’re not under attack, and others seem resistant and even remorseful over their gory instincts.) It’s an unsightly premise, one the show is more likely to explore in additional detail than the sport.

runners in 'the last of us'

Freshly turned runners caught in Joel’s headlights in the course of the first episode of The Last of Us.


Stage 2: Stalkers

Often after two weeks post-infection, runners shift into stalkers, a stage they’ll remain in for over a yr. At this point, fungal growth becomes visible on their bodies, peeling away skin and bursting through orifices. (In the event you get close, pray you might have gag reflex.) These creatures begin to lose their humanlike sounds and as a substitute emit croaks, though they’re still quiet enough to cover, track and attack their victims, earning them their “stalker” title. For that reason, they have a tendency to prefer locations with loads of places to cover; bonus points if it’s dark and moist.

Stalkers are also stronger than runners. By this stage, they’ve sprouted the beginnings of what, in essence, is mushroom chainmail. A straightforward fist fight ain’t gonna cut it, so shotguns and flamethrowers are sometimes a greater pick if you happen to’ve got an arsenal at your disposal. But beware getting too near a stalker that already seems deceased. The creatures are able to temporary dormancy: They will attach themselves to buildings while they nap, allowing tendrils to emerge from their bodies and climb the encircling partitions. If woke up, they’ll break out of this shell and attack again. Others remain on this state until the cordyceps fully consumes their bodies and so they die.

Stage 3: Clickers

After the primary yr of infection, stalkers phase into clickers, arguably essentially the most iconic of The Last of Us inventions. With enormous blooms splitting open their skulls, clickers are more fungus than human—except their mouth and teeth, which remain intact to snap at victims. You higher consider that breath is foul.

Since the cordyceps has either covered, disfigured, or entirely done away with the body’s eyes by this stage, clickers are blind, but they make up for his or her inability to see with a bone-chilling type of echolocation. The croaks that began within the stalker stage now change into “clicks” because the infection spreads, and the clickers use this sound to locate humans and communicate with other infected.

When aware of a possible victim of their midst, clickers are obsessive, utterly consumed with the duty of finding (and gnawing on) the errant human. And when surprised or attacked, all bets are off; they go “berserk,” and also you’d best have a extremely dependable firearm in your back pocket. (Or a Molotov cocktail! You carry those around on a regular basis, right?) The higher option is to attempt to outsmart them, sneaking away silently in order to not trip their unsophisticated echolocating alarms. Much stronger than runners and stalkers, clickers are tough to kill and even tougher to expunge out of your dreams. Good luck!

infected clicker from the last of us

A very pissed-off clicker.


Stage 4: Bloaters or Shamblers

Several years post-infection, stalkers grow into bloaters or shamblers, depending on the environment they grew up in. (Nature versus nurture, it comes for us all!) Now almost entirely fungus, bloaters—if in drier climates—or shamblers—if in wetter—have few, if any, human-like features other than their bipedal movements. The encroaching fungus, by this point, has hardened into plates that provide significant protection, turning the once-human skin into something puckered and indistinguishable.

Each bloaters and shamblers are slow-moving and clumsy, though they make up for his or her two left feet with profound aggression. They will rip a human apart with just their bare hands, should they manage to grab you. Their low-toned “clicks” mimic a clicker, but their blindness is more pronounced and their echolocation even less refined. In the event you spot one, keep it zippy! Most frightening of all is their actual skin, home to glow-in-the-dark pouches of toxin or pus—toxin for bloaters, pus for shamblers—that they’ll unleash upon an enemy. These acidic weapons can burn and infect your skin, so layer up if you happen to’d prefer to not cope with one seriously disgusting rash.

As for fighting them off, well, I wish you the most effective. You’ll want a military surplus store’s value of ammunition, or in any case a dependable flamethrower. Once the fungal armor is burned away, bloaters and shamblers will likely be more vulnerable to gunshots, if you happen to can keep your hands regular long enough to aim.

a bloater in 'the last of us'

Don’t ask how this bloater got so tall.


Stage 5(ish): The Rat King

This section incorporates some minor spoilers, so breeze past if you happen to’d prefer to sleep higher at night.

Within the sequel to the video game, The Last of Us Part II, there’s a technical fifth and final stage to the infection: a super-organism referred to as the Rat King. If, after multiple many years of infection and compelled proximity, several infected hosts remain in the identical area, it seems that cordyceps is able to weaving these hosts together, fusing them into one enormous mega-boss.

These symbiotic creatures are almost unimaginable to kill, given their advanced armor and speed. You’ll want not only guns but bombs to take them out, and even then the Rat King remains to be able to splitting apart into individual stalkers, clickers, and bloaters.

The one comfort I can offer is that these creatures are rare. They require many, a few years of contained infection without exterior interference. The Rat King in Part II, for example, was made up of Seattle’s first patients, kept in quarantine once they were infected and never allowed to go away.

Stage 6: Death

Infected do, eventually, die. They either succumb to injuries or of something akin to old age, as soon because the fungus has consumed enough of the human flesh. At this point, the host will discover a spot hospitable to cordyceps—normally somewhere dark and wet—and grow still, becoming a corpse while the fungus itself continues to bloom. Over time, the dead body will turn right into a type of fungal blanket, spreading over partitions and surfaces and filling entire buildings with spores. (Within the TV show—which did away with the sport’s spores for logistical reasons—tendrils are as a substitute the resulting threat.) Only sunlight is able to annihilating this corpse-fueled fungus entirely; if a lightweight shines on the expansion long enough, it’ll change into bleached and hardened, then it’ll die. That’s an apt metaphor for a narrative like The Last of Us, steered by the anti-authoritarian group referred to as the Fireflies and their motto: “Whenever you’re lost within the darkness, search for the sunshine.”

Headshot of Lauren Puckett-Pope

Associate Editor

Lauren Puckett-Pope is an associate editor at ELLE, where she covers film, TV, books and fashion. 

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