Why the Cast and Crew of “The Last of Us” Weren’t Allowed to Say the Word “Zombie” on Set?

Eben Bolter, who was in charge of the show's cinematography, said that the word “Zombie” was not allowed on the set of The Last of Us while it was being filmed. This was done to keep the show's real focus front and centre.

The hit HBO show is based on Naughty Dog's hit franchise, and season 1 tells the story of the first PlayStation game, which came out in 2013. In the world of The Last of Us, people are suddenly overrun by a mutated strain of the Cordyceps fungus that turns people into rabid, cannibalistic killers.

Pedro Pascal's character, Joel Miller, is sent to guide Bella Ramsey's character, Ellie Williams, across what's left of the United States. Bolter, the cinematographer for The Last of Us, said on The Credits podcast that the word “zombie” was not allowed on set during the four episodes he worked on.

The Last of Us

Even though the different scary Cordyceps victims look a lot like zombies in movies and TV shows, Bolter said that the word “zombie” was banned to keep the focus on the characters, who are the real stars of the show. Check out the full answer from the cinematographer below:

On set, we were not allowed to say “Z.” It was almost like a swear word. They were called the Infected. We weren't a zombie show. There are tension and jump scares, but the show is really about our characters. The Infected are just a problem they have to solve.

How is the Infection in the Last of Us Different From Other Zombies?

Cordyceps victims in The Last of Us can be compared to zombies because they seem to want to eat people and walk around aimlessly trying to catch them. However, the series makes sure to show how the victims are different from normal zombies.

In episode 2, “Infected,” Joel's partner in smuggling, Tess Servopoulos (Anna Torv), tells Ellie that the Cordyceps Infected have a shared consciousness that connects them not only to each other but also to any deep-rooted strands of the fungus across the country.

The Last of Us

The Infected are different from the other enemies in the game, but their connection is based on science. If they touch patches of Cordyceps in the environment, they can figure out where potential victims are.

Since Outbreak Day, the Cordyceps infection has gotten stronger, deadlier, and scarier in recent episodes of The Last of Us. Each new form has its own strengths. In Episode 2, the Clicker Infected forms were shown to the audience.

These victims are blinded by fungal plate growths on their heads and have learned to hunt using a form of echolocation that is very sensitive. Cordyceps patients who have had the infection for a long time can turn into Bloaters, whose bodies are covered in tough fungal plates that can withstand gunfire and are strong enough to tear people apart.

The Last of Us is really about the relationships between its main characters and the idea of humanity in their world. So, while the Infected tries to catch Joel and Ellie, the show spends a lot of time showing how close they are getting or the lives of the people they meet.

Bolter said that the crew wanted to keep the focus on the characters, so it's clear that the remaining episodes of The Last of Us will pay more attention to how Joel and Ellie's relationship is changing.

For more information about the zombies in The Last of Us, check out our guide on Bloaters. You can also read our guides that explain Who is Riley and Tommy MillerCan Ellie’s Blood Cure Infection in The Last of Us Series?