The Last of Us TV Show Timeline: When Did the Outbreak Start?

The Last of Us TV Show Timeline: When Did the Outbreak Start?
Russell Kidson

Russell Kidson

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This is a very different type of article, but we’re super excited to share it. This article is rated S for spoilers, as we’ll be taking a look at the first episode of The Last of Us released recently on HBO Max. If you aren’t aware, there were so many people trying to watch episode one when it dropped that the HBO Max servers actually crashed. However, this isn’t that story. This is the story of the first episode of The Last of Us. 

The show takes place in three main time periods, 1968, 2003, and 2023. We’ll review the show as such, and, again, this article will contain tons of spoilers. So, if you haven’t seen the show yet and don’t want the first episode ruined, watch it first. Although, if you haven’t been able to due to HBO Max and it’s temperamental nature where this show is concerned, read on. Wink, wink. 


  • The cold open of the show is set in 1968.
  • It depicts a scene from an intellectual talk show interview with two scientists.
  • One of the scientists is worried about a fungal infection that could cause a pandemic.
  • The fungus depicted in the show can infect humans and causes them to fall into a deranged state, eventually consuming them from the inside out.
  • The scientist mentions that such a fungal infection would be unable to survive in the human body but becomes possible if the earth becomes warmer.
  • The audience is left tense and aware of the potential danger of such an outbreak.
  • The scene takes place during the era when the scientific community first started exploring the possibility of disasters due to climate change.
  • The show is a fictional horror, but it’s based on realistic horrors that we face each day.


  • The story picks up in 2003, presumably the year when the earth reached the temperature at which a fungal infection could wreak havoc within the human body and society.
  • The episode introduces the characters of Joel and his daughter Sarah.
  • The episode is presented from Sarah’s point of view and takes place on Joel’s birthday.
  • One critical moment is where Sarah decides to have her father’s favorite watch repaired for his birthday. 
  • Sarah and Joel’s neighbors, the Adlers, are killed by Mrs Adler’s mother who has undergone some sort of transformation.
  • Sarah, Joel, and his brother try to escape the area, but Sarah is killed by military enforcement while trying to reach safety.
  • This part of the story highlights that even in an apocalypse, humans are the biggest threat to humanity. 


  • The story now jumps forward to a post-apocalyptic Boston, 20 years after the outbreak of the pandemic.
  • A camp has been set up by the disaster relief agency FEDRA, where soldiers maintain order. There is also a rebel group called the Fireflies who are actively fighting against FEDRA.
  • Joel is now a smuggler who helps people get supplies and has a life partner, Tess.
  • He still wears a watch that his daughter Sarah got fixed for him, representing the moment she died and symbolizing his inability to move on. The watch is still cracked from the bullet that killed Sarah. 
  • Tess and Joel are trying to find Joel’s brother Tommy, who is still alive but missing.
  • They come across Ellie, who is being held captive by the Fireflies for an unclear reason.
  • Ellie is unique as she has been infected by the fungus but has not become sick or transformed, making her a medical miracle.
  • Marlene, leader of the Fireflies, wants to bring Ellie out west to study her unique condition and offers her to Joel as a smuggling job.
  • Joel is reluctant but Tess convinces him to take on the job and they set off on their journey.
  • Ellie sees their home and the signaling system they have set up with friends Bill and Frank.
  • The relationship between Joel and Ellie mirrors the trope of the reluctant guardian, similar to Hopper and Eleven’s dynamic in Stranger Things.
  • Joel will have to make several moral decisions throughout the course of the show, starting with his decision not to help a family with a child in 2003 and the decision to smuggle Ellie out of the military zone.
  • The episode ends with a crucial moment when Joel runs into a soldier he had sold pills to earlier in the episode.
  • Joel doesn’t know Ellie yet, but when faced with a similar situation that cost his daughter’s life, he acts instinctively.
  • He lunges at the soldier, fueled by 20 years of pent up rage.
  • Ellie’s initial joy turns into fear as she witnesses Joel’s violence.
  • Joel gets up and continues on with his life, but the soldier does not survive.
  • The episode ends with the heroes continuing their journey on the road, and the camera cuts back to Joel’s radio as “Never Let Me Down Again” by Depeche Mode begins to play, signaling trouble from Joel’s smuggler friends.

That’s that. I hope you’ve enjoyed this dramatic retelling of the first episode of The Last of Us. We’ll be back again next week with more news about the series and how it progresses.

And now, enjoy what is coming on the following weeks and check some fans reacting to the first episode:

Russell Kidson

Russell Kidson

I hail from the awe-inspiring beauty of South Africa. Born and raised in Pretoria, I've always had a deep interest in local history, particularly conflicts, architecture, and our country's rich past of being a plaything for European aristocracy. 'Tis an attempt at humor. My interest in history has since translated into hours at a time researching everything from the many reasons the Titanic sank (really, it's a wonder she ever left Belfast) to why Minecraft is such a feat of human technological accomplishment. I am an avid video gamer (Sims 4 definitely counts as video gaming, I checked) and particularly enjoy playing the part of a relatively benign overlord in Minecraft. I enjoy the diverse experiences gaming offers the player. Within the space of a few hours, a player can go from having a career as an interior decorator in Sims, to training as an archer under Niruin in Skyrim. I believe video games have so much more to teach humanity about community, kindness, and loyalty, and I enjoy the opportunity to bring concepts of the like into literary pieces.

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