‘It’s real’: The Last of Us showrunner Craig Mazin on elements of truth behind show’s fungal pandemic threat

The showrunner of The Last of Us has clarified whether the fungal pandemic referenced in the show is based on real science.

Craig Mazin is the creator of the HBO adaptation of the hit video game, which stars Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey as strangers navigating the US, 20 years after the fall of modern civilisation.

In the programme, much of humanity has been destroyed after a pandemic, sparked by the spreading of the brain-infecting Cordyceps fungus.

The first episode shows an epidemiologist speaking years prior to the pandemic about the potential for widespread disaster if a warmer climate led the fungus to have an effect on humans.

“Candida, ergot, Cordyceps, Aspergillosis – any one of them could be capable of burrowing into our brains and taking control of not millions of us, but billions,” the scientist, played by John Hannah, warns.

“Billions of puppets with poison minds… and there are no treatments for this, no preventatives.”

Mazin has discussed whether the threat posed in the programme is realistic – and he confirmed that there are elements of truth in the eerie, post-apocalyptic setup.

“It’s real – it’s real to the extent that everything he says that fungus do, they do,” Mazin told The Hollywood Reporter. “And they currently do it and have been doing it forever. There are some remarkable documentaries that you can watch that are quite terrifying.

Pedro Pascal as Joel in ‘The Last of Us' (HBO)
Pedro Pascal as Joel in ‘The Last of Us' (HBO)

“Now his warning – what if they evolve and get into us? – from a purely scientific point of view, would they do exactly to us what they do to ants? I don’t think so. I doubt it.”

Mazin continued by pointing out the scientist’s accurate observation that hallucinogenic drugs are derived from fungi, stating that the show uses truth without it necessarily being a prediction.

“On the other hand, he’s right – LSD and psilocybin do come from fungus. What I told John [Hannah] was, ‘What we’re doing in this scene is telling people this has always been here.’”

The Last of Us is available to watch on Sky Atlantic and NOW. You can read The Independent’s four-star review here.