‘Last of Us’ Crew Wasn’t Allowed to Say ‘Zombie’ on Set: ‘It Was Like a Banned Word’

“There’s a lot of things 'The Last of Us' is not,” the series' DP said. “It’s not a cliché zombie movie."
The Last of Us
"The Last of Us"
Liane Hentscher/HBO

Everybody has an opinion about “The Last of Us,” the survival horror series smashing viewership records for HBO week after week.

One misconception from not-so-eagle-eyed-and-eared viewers — or especially those who haven’t really experienced the show or game it’s based on — is that the show from Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin is about “zombies.” Not so far, as the enemies in the series starring Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey aren’t undead, duh. They’re just infected and turned feral by a rapidly spreading fungus that’s destroyed the planet. (Kinda like the “rage virus” that infected people in “28 Days Later,” which Danny Boyle similarly claimed was not a zombie movie.)

The alleged miscategorization dates back to even the 2013 and 2020 Naughty Dog video games, where a post-pandemic United States faces off against a sprawling, spreading population of Infected. That may be why, as series cinematographer Eben Bolter explained in a recent interview over at The Credits, cast and crew were seemingly banned, in his words, from using the word “zombie” at all.

“We weren’t allowed to say the Z word on set,” the cinematographer said. “It was like a banned word. They were the Infected. We weren’t a zombie show.”

The Infected take different forms, from “clickers” to a Xenomorph-like, massive “bloater” as revealed in Episode 5’s tense face-off. But they are very much alive, as someone as wrongheaded as conservative pundit Ben Shapiro would know if they were actually paying attention. Shapiro recently slammed the series’ beloved Episode 3, which incorporated a queer romantic storyline, as “Brokeback Zombie Farm.” That episode also did not include any Infected at all.

“Of course, there’s tension building and jump scares, but the show’s really about our characters; The Infected are an obstacle they have to deal with,” Bolter said, seemingly aware that the show’s marketing and premise certainly suggest something like a zombie apocalypse thriller.

“There’s a lot of things ‘The Last of Us’ is not,” Bolter added. “It’s not a cliché zombie movie, it’s not Hollywood backlit where everyone’s close-up is perfect.

Read more of IndieWire’s recent “Last of Us” coverage, including a sit-down with actors from Episode 5, here. Between linear air times and streaming, the series is averaging around 15 million viewers a week for HBO, ahead of even the first season of “Game of Thrones.”

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