Despite the progressive politics of early zombie films like George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, modern narratives about zombies are often strikingly conservative, displaying a world that rewards rugged individualism and presents a pessimistic view of human nature. The recent HBO drama The Last of Us, based on the acclaimed 2013 video game of the same name, exemplifies this tendency. The show takes place two decades after an outbreak of a zombifying fungal infection triggers global societal collapse. In this post-apocalyptic world, a fascist government violently maintains order within walled-off “quarantine zones,” while a brutal resistance group called the Fireflies strives to overthrow them. The Last of Us follows the cynical smuggler Joel (Pedro Pascal) and a teenager named Ellie (Bella Ramsey), who is immune to the fungus, on their treacherous journey to meet up with a team of Fireflies who believe they can use her to create a vaccine. As Joel and Ellie bond against the backdrop of a dog-eat-dog world where no one can be trusted, the show presents a largely right-wing vision in which the only path to redemption is through caring for one’s immediate kin. According to Neil Druckmann—the co-creator of the series as well as the game and its sequel, who spent his early childhood in a West Bank settlement—elements of The Last of Us are informed by the politics of Israel/Palestine. On this week’s episode of On the Nose, editor-in-chief Arielle Angel, managing editor Nathan Goldman, fellow Dahlia Krutkovich, and contributor Hazem Fahmy discuss the politics of the show, its relationship to Israel/Palestine, and its evocations of the Holocaust.
Note that this episode includes spoilers for the HBO series, as well as the game and its sequel, which will form the basis of future seasons of the show.
Thanks to Jesse Brenneman for producing and to Nathan Salsburg for the use of his song “VIII (All That Were Calculated Have Passed).”
“‘The Last of Us’ Is a Very Conservative Show. Really,” Michelle Goldberg, The New York Times
“The Not So Hidden Israeli Politics of ‘The Last of Us Part II,’” Emanuel Maiberg, Vice
“The Evolution of Ellie,” Elise Favis, The Washington Post
“The Gray Zone,” Primo Levi (from The Drowned and the Saved)
“The Last of Us Is Not a Video-Game Adaptation,” Andrea Long Chu, Vulture