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The HBO Max series The Last of Us hits home more than fans expected. Based on the video game, The Last of Us chronicles the story of Joel (Pedro Pascal). He smuggles a special girl across the country in a post-apocalyptic world in 2023. The timeline of The Last of Us was changed from the original game storyline for a reason by creator Craig Marzin to give it a more realistic effect.

Craig Marzin behind-the-scenes of 'The Last of Us' Episode 1.
Craig Marzin behind-the-scenes of ‘The Last of Us’ Episode 1 | Shane Harvey via HBO

Joel and his family saw the outbreak of the virus in 2003

One of the biggest storyline elements of The Last of Us video game is when the chaotic events occur. The games had the outbreak occur in 2013 before there was a big time jump to over a decade later when the world drastically changed post-pandemic. In The Last of Us, the outbreak occurs 10 years earlier than in video games.

Fans watch Joel, Sarah (Nico Parker), and Tommy’s (Gabriel Luna) story unfold in 2003. While unnoticeable at first, there are clues like Joel using a thicker Nokia-style phone instead of the lavish iPhones everyone is used to. Nostalgia kicks in when Sarah borrows a DVD movie she can watch with her father for his birthday.

There is also Joel, Sarah, and Tommy listening to the radio in the morning and Sarah’s more laid-back T-shirt style. In an interview with Insider, creator Craig Marzin explains, “It also weirdly did give us an opportunity to explore this interesting period of early 2000s. It has its own aesthetic. It’s got its own technology. It was an interesting place to freeze the world. It kind of helped give us a little bit more of a period feeling to the world.”

But changing the timeline in The Last of Us series was done for a specific reason and a personal choice made by Marzin to create a more realistic parallel to the world’s current pandemic.

The creators did not want to comment heavily on the modern pandemic with ‘The Last of Us’ timeline

Fans praise the series for accurately depicting the video game. The Last of Us paralleled crucial moments like Sarah’s death. When it comes to the timeline for The Last of Us, Marzin felt beginning the series in 2013 and later in 2043 was too far-fetched for his liking.

According to Inverse, “I have this thing about jumping into the future. I feel like, if I’m watching a show and the year is 2023, and the show takes place in 2043, it’s just a little less real. Even if I’m watching a show in 2023 and it takes place in 2016, it’s a little less real.”

Marzin suggested the timeline change and admits, “there’s just something about saying this is happening now in this parallel universe.” Video game developer of Naughty Dog, Neil Druckman, explains the Spanish flu inspired the original game. He describes why the parallel to the modern coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic was kept in the series storyline. “I think it feels so real is because we’ve experienced it already as part of our history,” said Druckman.

But Druckman explains they did not want to make The Last of Us and its timeline about COVID-19. Instead, “Ultimately, this is a show that’s post-pandemic.” Fans will watch how Joel and the rest of the country navigate life over a decade after the viral outbreak in a newly established society. Joel lives with the nostalgia of a simple time and lives in the peril of a newly dangerous world.

Fans were weary of the series’s opening scene

While The Last of Us timeline takes place in 2003, the opening sequence rattled fans. Since COVID-19, a series based on viral infections and an apocalyptic world has effectively scarred audiences after experiencing a similar reality. The scene opens with a TV interview in the 1960s with two epidemiologists.

They discuss the possibility of an apocalypse. The epidemiologist, played by John Hannah, explains the high probability of a fungal virus and its mutation due to global warming.


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It just so happens that the opening scene is a prologue to the near future in the series, where a ravenous fungus takes over the world. But The Last of Us has yet to reveal how it happened. According to Den of Geek, the fungal infection in the video game is called Cordyceps. It takes over the brain and turns people into bloodthirsty monsters. But the scene itself instills fear as the fungus exists in real life. But it mostly affects insects and turns them into “zombies.”