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The Outbreak’s Source Has Been Revealed

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A Reddit theory suggests that HBO’s The Last of Us revealed the source of the cordyceps outbreak in its series premiere – and it’s a plausible idea.


The following contains spoilers for The Last of Us Season 1, Episode 1, “When You’re Lost in the Darkness,” which debuted Sunday, Jan. 15 on HBO.

The first episode of HBO’s The Last of Us was extended in order to fully immerse audiences in the dread of the cordyceps pandemic. Season 1, Episode 1, “When You’re Lost in the Darkness” showed that the fungus mutated and then caused a lethal outbreak to spread far and wide. However, starting the premiere with the initial panic in 2003 left the outbreak’s origin vague.


Fans of the video games have already begun speculating about the TV series in earnest, and a recent Reddit theory argues that the pilot episode actually did reveal how the outbreak started. In fact, it might have been from a very mundane source. Could the HBO drama have solved one of its biggest mysteries right off the bat?

RELATED: The Last of Us Easter Eggs Give Insight Into the World’s Cordyceps Reaction


How HBO’s The Last of Us Made Fungus Terrifying

The Last of Us Opening Scene HBO John Hannah Christopher Heyerdahl the Silicon Valley kid

The Last of Us effectively translates the atmosphere of the original games into live action. One of the ways the premiere was able to achieve this was through the 1960s flashback that started the episode. That discussion of a hypothetical scenario where the existing cordyceps fungus would evolve and take human hosts set the tone for the entire series. The scene laid out the details of how the infection worked while also being filmed in a way that evoked fear in the audience.

The beginning of the scene was more light-hearted, but as the conversation switched to fungus, so did the body language and reactions of the characters. These changes foreshadowed the magnitude of the future the audience already knew was coming. When the episode jumped forward to 2003, the audience was able to see the signs of the outbreak while the characters remained ignorant, making tragic developments like Sarah Miller’s death even more painful. However, Sarah’s seemingly normal scenes pre-death may have been clues to the source of the outbreak.

RELATED: HBO Gives The Last of Us Its Own Game of Thrones Opening

The Last of Us May Have Revealed the Source of the Cordyceps Outbreak

HBO The Last of Us Joel Sarah

After The Last of Us set up the terrifying nature of the cordyceps outbreak, Reddit user u/anagnost has suggested that the show also gave it a specific origin point. The theory suggests that the outbreak started with infected flour. Both Sarah and her antihero father Joel Miller unintentionally avoided foods that contain flour. They were out of pancake mix at breakfast. They turned down the offer of biscuits from their neighbor — but the elderly lady was clearly seen eating them prior to her infection. Joel said he was on the Atkins diet, and while that could just be a joke, Atkins limits the intake of carbs and therefore flour. Sarah later turned down cookies and Joel never got a birthday cake, which would have also contained flour.

Joel and Sarah also discussed the civil unrest happening in Jakarta, which is home to the world’s largest flour mill, according to World Grain. Making Jakarta the source of the outbreak would line up with the video games, which revealed the source to be contaminated crops, although they were from South America and not Southeast Asia. With The Last of Us staying relatively faithful to the games but also adding its own ideas — such as the aforementioned 1960s flashback — the infected flour theory is a strong contender for the source of the cordyceps outbreak.

The Last of Us airs Sundays at 9:00 p.m. on HBO and streams on HBO Max.

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