Ellie and Joel in The Last of Us TV show
Image via HBO

What are the infected stages in The Last of Us show?

They're very pretty.

If you have ever seen any entertainment media with zombies in it, you likely know that the process of becoming an undead monster is usually the same. A person is bitten and, slowly, over time, will die and be reanimated with the need to eat brains. The Last of Us’s cordyceps fungal infection differs slightly from the usual zombie tale. Here is an explanation of the stages of infection in HBO’s The Last of Us show.

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The stages of infection in The Last of Us show

The Cordyceps Brain Infection in The Last of Us is slightly more frightening than most zombie tales. Rather than simply explaining “they just come back to life,” how a person reacts to the infection is quite intensive, and the longer their infected body survives, the more they will change through four stages. First, a person needs to have some part of the fungus enter their body — which can happen by being bitten by an infected person or if they breathe in airborne spores.

After a person has been infected, the fungus will spread in the new host’s body until it reaches the brain. This causes coughing, slurred speech, muscle spasms, and mood changes. If the infection starts near the head, that person has at most 15 minutes before being taken over. Midsection infections can last between two and eight hours, and leg or foot infections can take between 12 and 24 hours before the person entirely turns.

Image via HBO

Stage 1 — Becoming A Runner

Once the cordyceps infection reaches the brain, that person goes into the first stage of infection, becoming a Runner. These newly infected have many of the same body capabilities as the person when they were alive, so they can see and run after new hosts they find. They open their mouth to let their fungal tendrils out that can spread to other newly infected bodies.

Image via HBO

Stage 2 — Stalker

As of this writing, the HBO show has not explored the second stage, where the infected becomes a Stalker. It is important to note that the fungus does not like sunlight. Within the first year of infection, the infected body will find dark places to survive and spread to more hosts. During this time, the infected is known as a Stalker because they hide away in the dark and stick to various walls and surfaces for the fungus to grow in their body.

Image via HBO

Stage 3 — Clicker

After more than a year of the fungus expanding through the infected’s body, the third stage begins with a visible fungus beginning to sprout from the brain and surrounding the head. After this grows enough, the infected are blinded, but the fungus is alive and very strong. This stage is a Clicker, and they make clicking sounds that work like echolocation to locate objects in front of them.

Image via HBO

Stage 4 — Bloater and Shambler

Image via HBO

After multiple years, there are two ways that the infected can go. The one that appears in the show is a Bloater. At this point, the fungal growth on the body has almost entirely covered the body and made a thick armor-like shell around them. Bloaters are incredibly strong but have a little worse echolocation than Clickers. They can also tear spores from themselves and use them as spore bombs to instantly infect any uninfected person who breathes them in in the game. However, spores aren’t around in the show, so they may have a new unique power that is explored in the future. The one we see in episode five just rips Perry’s jaw apart.

The other fourth stage of infection is the Shambler which only happens around areas with a lot of water or humidity. This infected debuted in Seattle in The Last of Us Part II, so it is doubtful they will appear in the HBO series’ first season. Shamblers are not as strong as Bloaters, but they expel large clouds of spores that can infect anyone who breathes them in.

Stage 5 — Rat King

After surviving for so long, there is a chance that the infected can begin to merge if they stay in the same environment for too long. This infected stage is called a Rat King and can be a horrific creature made up of multiple Stalkers, Clickers, and Bloaters in one joined body. Again, this has only been seen in The Last of Us Part II, so it is doubtful to appear in the HBO series’ first season.


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John Hansen
John Hansen is a Full-time Staff Writer for Gamepur as well as a host for the YouTube channel Pixel Street Videos where he co-hosts a weekly gaming podcast and more. His favorite games include Super Mario 64, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Breath of the Wild, Left 4 Dead 2, and Overwatch. He covers Overwatch 2 and other FPS titles, Minecraft, Sonic the Hedgehog, Legend of Zelda, and whatever zombie games are placed in front of him.