In episode 2 of The Last of Us, those who never played the video games were heartbroken when they saw what happened to Tess as she revealed that she had been infected by the Clicker that attacked them in the museum. As such, she decided that the best way for her to go out was as herself while giving Joel and Ellie time to escape the Runners that were on their way to the Capitol Building. But as Tess was trying to light the gasoline up to destroy the building, a Runner came up to her to “kiss” her. So, why did the infected kiss Tess?
The infected Runner kissed Tess because it allowed it to spread the infection faster, considering that there were Cordyceps tendrils that made their way through Tess’s mouth during the scene. Through this, the creators of The Last of Us were able to differentiate the infected from zombies.
It was always clear that the creators of HBO’s The Last of Us wanted to find a clear distinction between the infected and the zombies that we often see in many different post-apocalyptic shows. That “kiss” in episode 2 was one of the ways that the creators showed how different the infected are from the usual zombies that only bite and eat people. So, with that said, let’s look at what happened behind this kiss.
Why Did The Infected “Kiss” Tess?
Episode 2 was the most action-packed episode in The Last of Us at this point, as it allowed us to see how dangerous the infected are. Of course, Tess already explained to Ellie that she might be immune to the Cordyceps Brain Infection (CBI), but the Runners that they saw on the way to the Capitol Building are still more than capable of ripping her apart. So, with that said, it is clear that the infected are ferocious creatures that do more than just infect other people, as they can also rip them apart and kill them if they want to.
Meanwhile, when they got to the museum so that they could use a detour that would take them to the Capitol Building, the trio encountered two Clickers that gave them plenty of problems as Ellie got herself bitten. The good thing is that she was immune to the infection. But Tess suddenly acted in a manner that wasn’t like how she usually acted. When they got to the Capitol Building, she was stressed out about the fact that the Fireflies that they were supposed to rendezvous with were dead.
That was when Ellie realized that Tess was acting strange because she knew that she didn’t have long as she was infected. Tess showed the bite mark left by the Clicker that attacked them in the museum, as it was now clear that she wasn’t going to complete the mission with Joel and that she was eventually going to become one of the infected. And when they killed a Runner that tried to attack them in the Capitol Building, the other Runners that they saw in the earlier part of the episode were alerted and were on their way to their location.
Tess, however, didn’t want to end up becoming like the mindless infected as she decided that she would die on her own terms. She told Joel that he should complete the mission to make up for all of the horrible things that they did in the past. With that, she poured gasoline all over the place while attempting to ignite it with a lighter. However, the lighter took its sweet time to light up as the Runners were already in the building, just after Joel and Ellie made their way out.
The weirdest part about that scene was the fact that one of the Runners made its way to Tess in a slow manner. Runners are known to attack people on sight, but this one, instead of attacking Tess, approached her and actually “kissed” her as Tess was clearly panicking while she was trying to ignite the gas with the lighter. Of course, Tess succeeded in killing the Runners by blowing them up. Still, why did the infected kiss Tess?
In an interview with Neil Druckmann, one of the creators of HBO’s The Last of Us, he said that he and co-creator Craig Mazin wanted to find a way to distinguish their work from zombie movies and series that you can find in different networks and streaming sites. Of course, we know that the infected are not zombies but are still human beings that have been mind-controlled by the Cordyceps. But it was still important for the co-creators to make sure that the infected were not like zombies to the eyes of the viewers.
“Craig smartly said, ‘What can we do to separate our infected even further from zombies?‘ It’s more than just a bite. There’s something else going on,” Druckmann said. “I wish we had that aha moment immediately, but we brainstormed so many different things that they could be doing,” he adds. “Some of them were pretty outlandish.”
That was when the creators smartly came up with the idea of using Cordyceps tendrils to distinguish the infected from zombies. We know for a fact that the infected are able to spread the infection from one person to another through bites. In the games, they can also spread the infection through spores. But using tendrils allowed them to make the infected different from zombies in the sense that they were not as bloodthirsty as zombies that simply wanted to bite and eat people.
In that regard, the Runner that “kissed” Tess did so because it must have already sensed that she was infected as well. As such, it kissed Tess so that it could spread the infection faster, as there were Cordyceps tendrils sticking out of its mouth. This would have allowed it to allow the tendrils to make their way through Tess’s body to spread the infection faster. Thankfully, Tess died on her own terms as she blew up the building in a heroic manner.
How Do The Cordyceps Tendrils Work?
Fans of the game version of The Last of Us would be able to notice the fact that the series introduced some changes. Notably, the tendrils that the infected use is a change that was added to the series in place of the spores that the infected tend to release to infect people. But how do the tendrils work?
It was explained in episode 2 of The Last of Us that these tendrils work in a manner that is quite similar to a hive. There are tendrils that are hidden deep underground and can stretch for up to a mile. And these tendrils allow the infected to communicate with one another so that they can share a hivemind.
That was what happened when the infected Runners in Boston were alerted of the presence of Joel, Tess, and Ellie in the Capitol Building as one of the tendrils communicated with them. Of course, the tendrils are more than just communication tools but are also ways for the infection to spread. We saw that in the opening scene of episode 2 when Professor Ibu Ratna noticed that the mouth of the dead infected had Cordyceps tendrils. And, of course, the Runner that kissed Tess allowed the tendrils to do their thing as well.
In explaining the choice of using tendrils instead of spores, Craig Mazin had this to say:
“Part of the issue with the spores is that you run into them quite a bit in the game, although not as much as people think, and if there were that many spores and they were airborne, that infection’s gonna go even faster. It’s hard to imagine how anyone escapes it, and people would probably be wearing masks all the time. In the game, the second you leave a spore space, you’re like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa! Get a mile away.'”
Of course, this minor change in the way that the CBI works in HBO’s The Last of Us doesn’t really change the entire narrative but only makes things easier to explain and simpler to understand. But that does not mean that spores no longer have their place in the series, as there is still a possibility that spores will make their way to HBO’s live-action version sometime in the future of the storyline.