The Last Of Us Co-Creator Explains Evolution Of The Show's Creatures, From Runners To Clickers To Bloaters

The first bloater in HBO's The Last Of Us
(Image credit: HBO Max)

Spoilers below for the latest episode of The Last of Us, so be warned if you haven’t yet watched!

How To Watch

New episodes of The Last of Us air Sunday nights on HBO at 9:00 p.m. ET, and are available to stream on HBO Max.

We’re at the point in the first season of HBO’s The Last of Us where I’m wistfully envying all the viewers who haven’t had the memorable experience of playing through Neil Druckmann & Co.’s video game series. Not only because TV-only audiences are learning about these characters and this story for the first time, with all the narrative differences already in place, but also because they’ll still be able to play it all for the first time.I imagine many such minds were blown when Episode 5 unleashed the chaotic horror of our first live-action Bloater, as well as that anxiety-inducing horde of Runners that took out seemingly all of Kathleen’s resistance army. For those curious about the different threats swarming about, Druckman offered up a quick rundown of how TLoU’s creature evolution works.

The latest installment of HBO’s The Last of Us Podcast, which is the excellent official tie-in follow-along to the TV show as hosted by O.G. Joel’s voice actor Troy Baker, featured a lot of talk between Druckmann and co-creator Craig Mazin about Kathleen’s denouement, the changes made for Henry and Sam’s story, and (obviously) the giant monster that ripped Perry’s head off. Considering this behemoth looks quite different from the other beasts previously introduced, Druckmann addressed the thought process behind the variances, saying:

When we worked on the game, we came up with the lifeline; all these stages of when someone is infected, and what could happen to them. So when you first get infected, there’s a thing called a ‘Runner,’ which is just a recently infected. In the show, it’s the one where you see tendrils come out — Nana in Episode 1. Then, if you’ve survived long enough, eventually the Cordyceps grows through your face, cracks it open, takes away your eyes, your vision. And you become what’s called a ‘Clicker,’ because now these infected use echolocation to find their way.

I think we can all agree that one of the grossest moments in The Last of Us so far, regardless of whether one knows the game, came in the seconds before Anna Torv’s Tess sacrificed herself, when she and one runner got all up close and personal and touched tongue to tendril. [Shudders ad nauseum.] I don't like knowing they're there even when they're not zoomed in on the screen. 

Druckmann then talked about a particularly gruesome subsection of infected that Joel and Ellie come across far more regularly in the game than the TV show, even though they're definitely still everpresent. 

And then we’re saying, there’s gotta be some people that — again, because this thing is eating away from your insides — eventually when they know they’re going to die, they go underground, to like a dark place, and they settle against a wall, they settle in the corner, and they become part of the environment. [The infection] grows all over the walls and the ceiling and the ground.

As dark as everything is in The Last of Us, there’s something exceedingly dour in tone about how many people in this universe would choose to make “sitting up against a wall” as their ideal way to die. I guess when most other luxuries are gone, it's hard to give a shit.

Druckmann then arrived at the Bloaters, and seemingly teased other creatures heading to the TV show in the future, unless he was just speaking broadly. Though that's less fun to consider.

But there are certain people who are just so strong and big that can survive even longer, and those are the bloaters. And that’s why you’re seeing this person who’s so tall and massive, and their strength. And it becomes that much scarier. As we go forward, there’s these new types of infected.

Even if we don't see any further evolutions of the Cordyceps threat in Season 1, there's a whole other season on the way that'll no doubt deliver bigger and grosser baddies. The Last of Us is already shaping up to be one of the best shows on the 2023 TV schedule, and even though it has a lot more to do with Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey’s chemistry as Joel and Ellie than the interconnected fungi-zoids they’re facing, I’m definitely happy to see everything Mazin and Druckmann are infecting fans’ eyeballs with as the second heads to its end.

With only a few episodes left in the season, fans can look forward to getting their hearts broken by Storm Reid’s Riley when she first shows up, as well as what’ll likely be a humdinger of a finale, assuming it sticks anywhere close to what the game delivered. Sundays can’t come fast enough.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native and an Assistant Managing Editor with a focus on TV and features. His humble origin story with CinemaBlend began all the way back in the pre-streaming era, circa 2009, as a freelancing DVD reviewer and TV recapper.  Nick leapfrogged over to the small screen to cover more and more television news and interviews, eventually taking over the section for the current era and covering topics like Yellowstone, The Walking Dead and horror. Born in Louisiana and currently living in Texas — Who Dat Nation over America’s Team all day, all night — Nick spent several years in the hospitality industry, and also worked as a 911 operator. If you ever happened to hear his music or read his comics/short stories, you have his sympathy.