The Last of Us — Every Type of Cordyceps-Infected Enemy

The television adaptation of the hit action-adventure video game The Last of Us is set to premiere on January 15 on HBO Max. Excitement about the series has caught on faster than the apocalyptic cordyceps fungus collapsed society within the story’s universe, and for good reason.

The Last of Us, which has been recently remastered and frequently spotlighted on Best Of lists since its debut in 2013, is a compelling and frightening adventure. The story follows reluctant guardian Joel (who lost his daughter at the outbreak of the infection) as he protects the young Ellie, who somehow might hold the key to resisting the killer fungus.

While Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voiced the pair for the video games, the live action roles will be helmed by everyone’s favorite “gruff dad protecting the child he didn’t plan for” actor Pedro Pascal and Game of Thrones breakout Bella Ramsey. Of course, in addition to the sympathetic human survivors, there are plenty of cordyceps-infected zombies to be found.

Series creator Neil Druckmann has been at the helm of the leap to television and recently shared some interesting information about the cordyceps infection’s transition to live-action media. Let’s dive in and take a closer look at the terrifying types of infected enemies encountered in the original video game, and see how the fungus is evolving for the HBO series.

**Warning for The Last of Us Parts 1 and 2 spoilers, as well as unsettling descriptions of the fictionalized Cordyceps Infection**

The Tendrils

First, let’s talk about how the infection is changing for television. Druckmann and adaptation co-creator Craig Mazin wanted to ground the cordyceps apocalypse in more scientific accuracy, especially in a world exhausted by a contemporary pandemic. In the video game, the infection is spread primarily via floating fungal spores that create claustrophobia-inducing sequences in which characters must wear gas masks as they traverse sewers and overgrown buildings.

Now, fans will see the zombie outbreak evolve with what the team are calling “tendrils.” Mimicking the growth and spread of the actual cordyceps fungus more closely (which typically only zombifies ants), these tendrils can form fungal networks, search pointedly for host bodies, and work against humanity in a more natural and terrifying manner. This eliminates the randomness of airborne spores and actually presents the terrifying idea that the infected are part of a virulent mushroom hivemind. Super Mario, this certainly is not.

It’s interesting to note that this idea was actually present in The Last of Us‘ original video game concept art (seen above), being ultimately discarded before the original 2013 release. Fans even discovered unused voice lines in the game code that have the characters discussing the violent, prehensile properties of the tendrils.


As in the animal kingdom, the cordyceps infection in The Last of Us takes root in the brain. It slowly develops and compromises vital systems until the victim simply becomes a mindless vessel for the fungus to spread. Runners are those unfortunate souls in the most nascent stages of infection. This stage can develop within two days of spore exposure, an infected wound or bite, or other contact with the fungus.

The most “human” of the infected, Runners are marked by their discolored skin, thinning hair, and poor eyesight due to the cordyceps attacking the eyes first. Their behavior is irritable and despite their often hunched body language, they can move incredibly quickly to attack when provoked. Runners are known to exhibit some more humane emotions like fear and distress, though signs of personality are essentially lost.


It takes between two weeks to a year to reach the Stalker stage of the infection. At this point, fungus has begun to erupt from the infected’s face, though they are usually left with at least one poorly functioning eye. Stalkers are agile and ferocious, and have begun to develop a form of echolocation which sounds like croaking.

Encountered pretty rarely, the Stalkers are also skilled at ambush tactics and will make an effort to hide from the player and not attack outright until very close up. Some even have bioluminescent veins that are visible in dark environments. They are one of the main enemies in the infamous “Hotel Basement” level (if you know, you know) and are often found near bodies of water. This, however, does not seem to have any specific relation to the fungus’ biological imperative. Fungal evolution in wet environments does come into play in the sequel game, though — more on that later.


Clickers are the “mascot” of the series, if there is one. This is the most infamous, innovative zombie design featured in the primary marketing. Taking roughly a full year to develop from initial infection, Clickers are named for the terrifying clicks they make as their form of echolocation (evolved from the Stalker stage). They are recognizable by the flowering fungus that has fully erupted from their skulls, often only leaving a toothy jaw as the last identifiable feature of a human face.

Clickers are totally blind, rendering them more sensitive to sound. They are hardier and more ferocious than previous stages of the infection, their bodies strengthened and reinforced by the fungal plates sprouting all over. This is the first stage where the fungus appears to be in complete control of the individual, and they have frightening intelligence when hunting. When left alone, Clickers will often claw at their own faces as if trying to remove the fungus, suggesting their humanity might still be deep within them.


Extremely rare due to the length of time it takes to reach this stage, Bloaters are slow, blind, and incredibly dangerous. Their entire bodies are plated with fungal armor and bioluminescent tissue developed after several years of infection. Additionally, they house pouches of mycotoxin which can be lobbed with concussive bursts of infectious spores. Because their faces are completely obscured, their echolocation is less sensitive than that of Clickers.

While they are dangerously strong and can rip Joel’s jaw open if he is caught by one, Bloaters are highly susceptible to fire. As patches of the cordyceps fungus begin to be knocked off, the infected individual grows more vulnerable to gunfire and other offensive tactics. Still, it’s better to stay as far away from them as possible, between their long and close range offensive capabilities.


Shamblers are an alternate stage of the infection analogous to the Bloater, with the prime difference being that they developed in extremely wet and humid environments. They were first introduced in the Seattle region in The Last of Us Part 2, so it is unknown if they will appear in the television series at such an early stage. Like Bloaters, they take several years to develop, but unlike their brethren, their fungal qualities are more caustic.

Shamblers forcefully emit an acidic form of the spores that can cause severe burns to the victims. While possessing fungal-plated bodies, their lower halves are more fleshlike while their upper bodies contain the largest density of cordyceps pustules. They aren’t as physically strong as Bloaters, but are also very vulnerable to fire.

Rat King

The Rat King is … just as horrific as it sounds. Its mere existence is an anomalous byproduct of over 20 years of infected progression. Like the rare concept it is named for, the Rat King is a super-organism resulting from the fusion of numerous Stalkers, Clickers, and a Bloater all bonded through the cordyceps growth. This nightmare creature is encountered by Abby (played by Laura Bailey, the second Critical Role alum in the cast after Johnson) in a Seattle hospital during the events of TLOU Part 2.

The Rat King possesses an incredible amount of strength and damage resistance. Perhaps most terrifyingly, every infected entity connected to the mass seems to be an independent unit. As it takes damage, the individual Stalkers and Clickers are able to wrestle free and attack the player of their own accord. The stunt performers for the monster’s motion capture were even tied together for the initial animation tracking, eventually played by separate actors as the Rat King split further apart.

The world of The Last of Us is an ever-evolving and frequently terrifying place. We can’t wait to see it come to our screens in live-action format, along with the whole host of cordyceps-infected victims to bloom in our nightmares.

Which of these forms are you most excited (or most afraid) to see? Have you already played the games and want to chat about them with likeminded geeks? Visit and don’t forget to Let Your Geek Sideshow!