All of the Contaminated Zombies in ‘The Final of Us,’ Defined: Runners, Stalkers, Clickers, Bloaters

Welcome, college students of The Final of Us, to Fungus Zombies 101. On this seminar, we’ll cowl the fundamentals of what is often called the cordyceps an infection, the way it spreads all through a bunch’s lifetime, and why it should hang-out your nightmares. Prepared? Let’s dive in!

Within the new HBO present The Final of Us—and the 2013 PlayStation online game that impressed it—the zombies are usually not, in truth, zombies. They by no means died, nor had been they ever reborn; as a substitute, a terrifying fungus crawled by way of their insides and took over management of their still-living our bodies. Thus, the right time period for these creatures is “contaminated,” although “fungus zombies” is an often-accepted colloquialism. (Simply do not inform sport developer and present co-creator Neil Druckmann.)

There are 4 most important levels of the cordyceps an infection, plus one bonus stage we’ll get to in a bit. Every stage will solely progress inside the correct situations, whether or not time or setting. If these situations aren’t met, some contaminated will stay in a single state for lengthy durations; others who earlier than they’ve had the possibility to evolve by way of the ultimate stage. Regardless, all of them are violent, bloodthirsty, and able to spreading the fungus by way of bites, spores, or—within the present—lengthy tendrils of mushroom-like stalks. If that is not sufficient to stir your survivalist instincts, learn forward for just a few extra the explanation why you must put money into a superb bunker.

In The Final of Us, there’s just one actual hope in opposition to this wave of wobbling monsters: Ellie (Bella Ramsey), a 14-year-old lady who’s developed immunity in opposition to the fungus. Whether or not she’s actually the reply to a long-awaited treatment stays to be seen, so within the meantime, you may wish to know the distinction between your clickers and bloaters. Under, we’ll run by way of the kinds of contaminated—and dole out just a few tips about the best way to outlive them. Examine up, and mayhaps avoid pancake combine.

Stage 1: Runners

Runners are probably the most humanlike of the contaminated, largely as a result of they’re probably the most lately “turned.” Inside two days of a chew (or inhaling a wholesome dose of spores), however typically inside hours, a human will lose management over their schools and remodel right into a runner.

At this level, the fungus hasn’t but had the possibility to unfold all through the physique and pierce the pores and skin, so whereas runners’ minds is likely to be a misplaced trigger, their our bodies nonetheless look deceptively human. You may know them, as a substitute, by their hair loss and diseased-looking pores and skin; their erratic, jerky actions; the snarls and screams that erupt unprompted from their throats; their torn, stained clothes and bloody mouths; and—should you dare look shut sufficient—the tendrils of cordyceps that typically emerge from between their lips.

Within the online game, runners are the best group of contaminated to kill, although they have a tendency to assault in teams and transfer at excessive speeds (thus the moniker “runner”). The runners within the HBO present exhibit comparable tendencies: Within the premiere episode, a runner chasing Joel and his daughter is so fast it appears virtually supernatural. However as a result of these monsters have but to develop any fungal armor, runners are inclined to gunshots, knives, and some other weaponry that may take out your common pleb.

The inner consciousness of runners is the topic of debate on the planet of The Final of Us, however there’s proof runners are nonetheless “awake” sufficient to acknowledge they’re not accountable for their very own our bodies. (Some runners moan and shriek in agony even once they’re not beneath assault, and others appear resistant and even remorseful over their gory instincts.) It is an unsightly premise, one the present is prone to discover in additional element than the sport.

runners in 'the last of us'

Freshly turned runners caught in Joel’s headlights throughout the first episode of The Final of Us.


Stage 2: Stalkers

Normally after two weeks post-infection, runners shift into stalkers, a stage they will stay in for over a 12 months. At this level, fungal progress turns into seen on their our bodies, peeling away pores and skin and bursting by way of orifices. (When you get shut, pray you have got a superb gag reflex.) These creatures start to lose their humanlike sounds and as a substitute emit croaks, although they’re nonetheless quiet sufficient to cover, monitor and assault their victims, incomes them their “stalker” title. For that reason, they have a tendency to choose areas with loads of locations to cover; Bonus factors if it is darkish and moist.

Stalkers are additionally stronger than runners. By this stage, they’ve sprouted the beginnings of what, in essence, is mushroom chainmail. A easy fist struggle ain’t gonna minimize it, so shotguns and flamethrowers are sometimes a greater decide should you’ve bought an arsenal at your disposal. However beware getting too near a stalker that already appears deceased. The creatures are able to short-term dormancy: They will connect themselves to buildings whereas they nap, permitting tendrils to emerge from their our bodies and climb the encircling partitions. When woke up, they will get away of this shell and assault once more. Others stay on this state till the cordyceps absolutely devour their our bodies they usually die.

Stage 3: Clickers

After the primary 12 months of an infection, stalkers part into clickers, arguably probably the most iconic of The Final of Us innovations. With huge blooms splitting open their skulls, clickers are extra fungus than human—except their mouth and tooth, which stay intact to snap at victims. You higher consider that breath is foul.

As a result of the cordyceps has both coated, disfigured, or achieved completely away with the physique’s eyes by this stage, clickers are blind, however they make up for his or her incapacity to see with a bone-chilling type of echolocation. The croaks that started within the stalker stage now turn out to be “clicks” because the an infection spreads, and the clickers use this sound to find people and talk with different contaminated.

When conscious of a possible sufferer of their midst, clickers are obsessive, totally consumed with the duty of discovering (and gnawing on) the errant human. And when stunned or attacked, all bets are off; they go “berserk,” and also you’d finest have a extremely reliable firearm in your again pocket. (Or a Molotov cocktail! You carry these round on a regular basis, proper?) The higher choice is to attempt to outsmart them, sneaking away silently in order to not journey their unsophisticated echolocating alarms. A lot stronger than runners and stalkers, clickers are powerful to kill and even more durable to expunge out of your desires. Good luck!

infected clicker from the last of us

A very pissed-off clicker.


Stage 4: Bloaters or Shamblers

A number of years post-infection, stalkers develop into bloaters or shamblers, relying on the setting they grew up in. (Nature versus nurture, it comes for us all!) Now virtually completely fungus, bloaters—if in three climates—or shamblers—if in wetter—have few, if any, human-like options aside from their bipedal actions. The encroaching fungus, by this level, has hardened into plates that present important safety, turning the once-human pores and skin into one thing puckered and indistinguishable.

Each bloaters and shamblers are slow-moving and clumsy, although they make up for his or her two left ft with profound aggression. They will rip a human aside with simply their naked palms, ought to they handle to seize you. Their low-toned “clicks” mimic a clicker, however their blindness is extra pronounced and their echolocation even much less refined. When you spot one, hold it zippy! Most scary of all is their precise pores and skin, dwelling to glow-in-the-dark pouches of toxin or pus—toxin for bloaters, pus for shamblers—that they will unleash upon an enemy. These acidic weapons can burn and infect your pores and skin, so layer up should you’d choose to not take care of one severely disgusting rash.

As for combating them off, properly, I want you the very best. You may need a military surplus retailer’s price of ammunition, or in any case a reliable flamethrower. As soon as the fungal armor is burned away, bloaters and shamblers might be extra susceptible to gunshots, should you can hold your palms regular lengthy sufficient to purpose.

a bloater in 'the last of us'

Do not ask how this bloater bought so tall.


Stage 5(ish): The Rat King

This part accommodates some minor spoilers, so breeze previous should you’d choose to sleep higher at evening.

Within the sequel to the online game, The Final of Us Half II, there is a technical fifth and ultimate stage to the an infection: a super-organism often called the Rat King. If, after a number of many years of an infection and compelled proximity, a number of contaminated hosts stay in the identical space, it seems that cordyceps is able to weaving these hosts collectively, fusing them into one huge mega-boss.

These symbiotic creatures are virtually unattainable to kill, given their superior armor and velocity. You may need not simply weapons however bombs to take them out, and even then the Rat King remains to be able to splitting aside into particular person stalkers, clickers, and bloaters.

The one consolation I can supply is that these creatures are uncommon. They require many, a few years of contained an infection with out exterior interference. The Rat King in Half II, as an example, was made up of Seattle’s first sufferers, saved in quarantine as soon as they had been contaminated and by no means allowed to go away.

Stage 6: Dying

Contaminated do, ultimately, die. They both succumb to accidents or of one thing akin to previous age, as quickly because the fungus has consumed sufficient of the human flesh. At this level, the host will discover a spot hospitable to cordyceps—often someplace darkish and moist—and develop nonetheless, turning into a corpse whereas the fungus itself continues to bloom. Over time, the useless physique will flip right into a form of fungal blanket, spreading over partitions and surfaces and filling total buildings with spores. (Within the TV present—which did away with the sport’s spores for logistical causes—tendrils are as a substitute the ensuing menace.) Solely daylight is able to annihilating this corpse-fueled fungus completely; if a light-weight shines on the expansion lengthy sufficient, it should turn out to be bleached and hardened, then it should die. That is an apt metaphor for a story like The Final of Us, steered by the anti-authoritarian group often called the Fireflies and their motto: “If you’re misplaced within the darkness, search for the sunshine.”

Headshot of Lauren Puckett-Pope

Affiliate editor

Lauren Puckett-Pope is an affiliate editor at ELLE, the place she covers movie, TV, books and vogue.

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