The Last of Us crew was banned from saying zombies on set

“There are a lot of things that ‘The Last of Us’ isn’t,” said the series’ DP. “This is not a clichéd zombie movie.”

Everyone has an opinion about The Last of Us, the survival horror series that breaks HBO’s ratings record week after week.

One of the common misconceptions among 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 Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin’s show is about “zombies.” Not until now, since the enemies of the series starring Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey are not undead, eh. They were infected and turned feral by a fast-spreading fungus that destroyed the planet. (Like the “rage virus” that infected people in “28 Days Later”, which Danny Boyle also claimed it wasn’t a zombie movie.)

The alleged miscategorization dates back to the 2013 and 2020 Naughty Dog video games, where a post-pandemic United States is confronted with a sprawling, spreading population of the infected. This may be the reason, as series cinematographer Eben Bolter explained in a recent article interview at The Creditsthe cast and crew apparently banned the use of the word “zombie” at all, he said.

“We didn’t say the Z word on set,” said the cameraman. “It was like a forbidden word. They were the infected. We weren’t a zombie show.”

The infected take many forms, from “snappers” to massive Xenomorph-like “inflators”, as shown in the tense confrontation in episode 5. But they are very much alive, as a badass like conservative pundit Ben Shapiro would know if they were really paying attention. Shapiro recently called the popular episode 3 of the series “Brokeback Zombie Farm,” which featured a quirky romantic storyline. He wasn’t infected at all in this episode.

“Of course there are suspense and jump scares, but the show is 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 were certainly suggests some sort of zombie apocalypse thriller.

“There are a lot of things that ‘The Last of Us’ isn’t,” Bolter added. “This is not a clichéd zombie movie, not Hollywood-backlit, where everyone has a perfect close-up.

Read more of IndieWire’s recent “Last of Us” coverage, including a sit-down with the cast of Episode 5, here. Between linear time and broadcast, the series averages about 15 million viewers per week on HBO, surpassing even the first season of “Game of Thrones.”

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