The Last of Us Episode 1’s Pre-Credits Scene Is a Perfect Beginning

Written by on January 23, 2023

Editor’s note: The below contains spoilers for Episode 1 of The Last of Us.

HBO’s The Last of Us finds the answer to the problems that makers often face, while introducing television audiences to already well-known stories, through its stellar pre-credits scene. Even for those who know nothing about the game, it’s tough to not know that The Last of Us was going to be about a future where humanity would be made to kneel on its knees by another zombie apocalypse. From this perspective, the pre-credits scene, which is not there in the game, sets a great pretext for the events in the distant future. The importance of the scene amplifies by the fact that it held the potential of making or breaking the expectations as a virtue of being the first reflection of Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann‘s vision behind this adaptation. Although a risky attempt at establishing context to the events that will follow eventually, the opening scene of The Last of Us on HBO Max becomes a great example of how a video game adaptation must build on its source and deviate from it, if at all.


The pre-credits scene establishes that the terror of the Cordyceps fungus was one predicted way back in the 1960s as a direct consequence of global warming. In this way, the opening scene acts as a beacon of warning that precedes every disaster. But importantly, what the scene accomplishes is giving a deep dive into the horror that is going to follow humanity if it’s not wary of its own actions. This minor addition goes a long way in instilling the eeriness that follows through the rest of the episode. Moreover, through a well-ideated and written scene, The Last of Us equips the uninitiated viewers, who probably tuned in to check what’s the hype about, with the adequate amount of exposition that would bring them to the edge of their seats for the remaining length of the premiere episode.

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‘The Last of Us’s Opening Scene Adds to the Tragedy

Image via HBO

A talk show interview from 1968 wouldn’t seem the best way to start off a highly anticipated show that is expected to deliver some heart-stopping adrenaline-packed sequences. Furthermore, two scientists discussing the possibility of a potential threat, in a talk show that’s meant to be humorous at best, highlight the trivial treatment that warnings from the scientific community receive from the masses. Dr. Neuman (John Hannah) points out the grave threat that fungi, such as Cordyceps, pose to humanity as a virtue of the reality that no preventive treatment or cure exists for a fungal infection. The opposition is quick as the other expert, Dr. Schoenheiss (Christopher Heyerdahl), is quick to point out that fungi are incapable of surviving inside the human body due to the higher temperature. Dr. Neuman claims the possibility that fungi may evolve if they are pushed to do as a result of an increase in Earth’s temperature. As the talk show host attempts to sneak a joke or two to evoke laughter from the audience, the conversation between the epidemiologists, Dr. Neuman and Dr. Schoenheiss, soon enters the space where it transcends the territory of hypothesis and enters the realm of possibility – a remote but terrifying one.

Neuman’s lines in the opening interview send a horrifying chill through the viewer by giving an insight into what will follow next. By making this minor addition, the makers have already set the tone and atmosphere of this much-awaited series within the initial moments without even the need for a visual reference. It also helps establish the fact that the horrifying impact of the game is going to be translated as it is to the series even if it means making a few worthy additions – a great signal for the fans of the game who have experienced the same horror firsthand. When it comes to translating horror, the game has the obvious advantage that it gains by putting the audience in the shoes of the protagonist who must survive the ensuing horror.

The Opening Scene Lends Greater Context to the Infection

Image via HBO

Within moments into the premiere, the opening scene achieves the level of the claustrophobic atmosphere experienced in the game by making the audience complacent in the suffering that dawns upon humanity in 2003 as it’s established that a situation ideal for the evolution of the Cordyceps fungus could be created if the temperature of the earth rose. In essence, it’s communicated in big red letters that humanity is very well capable of ushering its own extinction. While this is a harsh truth resonated and repeated in many sci-fi stories, The Last of Us uses the same to make the context and in turn, the consequences feel more real and more plausible. Although the period between the interview and the night when Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Sarah (Nico Parker) experienced what was predicted way back is not shown, the exposition in the opening scene helps the natural progression seem evident to those who are unaware of the science of it all. By doing so, a lot of world-building is already achieved without digressing too much from the source material.

Unlike the video game version, the tragedy in The Last of Us does not hit suddenly and shockingly; it comes slowly at a snail’s pace. Even the rest of the episode follows the same trend as Sarah witnesses the crisis developing throughout the day. The events of the night from which the 2013 video game picks up arrive at last, but before that, a lot follows in this faithful adaptation which takes some risks that pay off heavily and add manifolds to the experience. Once the premiere episode ends, it becomes clear that the makers of the series have made an attempt at amplifying the terror that surrounds Joel and others living in quarantine zones. If the television series somehow manages to feel more chilling than its source, it is because an attempt has been made to bring the suspense to a boil. While this is a trend that becomes clearly noticeable near the latter end of the episode, the opening scene contributes heftily to the heaviness that lurks in the air once the opening credits recede.

By all means, the impact which the opening scene of The Last of Us leaves behind is great. Dr. Neuman’s lines from the opening television talk show interview lend the experience of a premonition to the viewer, who knows what to expect but remains fearful of the moment when it arrives at last. A flavorful deviation from the source material, the opening scene of The Last of Us premiere delivers exposition, adds tension, and lends a sense of helplessness by establishing that the menace at the core of every tragedy in The Last of Us was an avoidable one. The knowledge that is extended by this opening scene only makes the following events feel more consequential. Beyond everything that it achieves, the opening scene makes it clear that this adaptation will not just stick to the source material but will add to the lore of The Last of Us in a greater fashion than anticipated before. If first impressions are anything to go by, the opening scene of The Last of Us premiere adds to the reasons why long-time fans and recent converts must all look forward to Joel and Ellie’s journey ahead with equal excitement.

New episodes of The Last of Us come to HBO and HBO Max every Sunday.

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