Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann on Telling a Finite Story
Jan 15, 2023
From writers/executive producers Craig Mazin (Chernobyl) and Neil Druckmann (who also wrote the video game of the same name), the highly anticipated HBO series The Last of Us explores what life is like after a viral outbreak has destroyed modern civilization. No matter who you were before or where you come from, the world can be a brutal and ugly place when you have no one to help ensure your survival, and heartbreaking when you fall short of protecting your family and loved ones, all while still trying to find some semblance of hope.
During the junket, which took place after members of the media were able to see the first four episodes of the season, Collider got the opportunity to chat with Mazin and Druckmann about how they’re expanding the origins of the Cordyceps mutation, keeping it all as grounded in reality as possible, that Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie’s (Bella Ramsey) relationship is what matters the most, avoiding making a zombie show, and why they see the storytelling as finite.
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Collider: This series really expands the background of the infection and where it originates before it overtakes the world. Why did it feel important to really show the origins of the Cordyceps mutation?
CRAIG MAZIN: Well, we wanted to ground this show in as much science as possible. The game did it pretty darn well, especially for a genre where it would be easy to say, “Oh, there’s zombies, but the zombies come out of the ground.” Cordyceps is a fascinating concept, and it’s absolutely real. We wanted to push that a little further. We wanted to give us much reality as we could because the realer that is, the more we connect to the characters that are in that space playing around. It was also important for us to acknowledge that the audience is smarter about pandemics than they were five years ago. We don’t wanna pretend that they don’t know things. And in fact, a lot of the reason this show begins the way it does, with that scene in the ‘60s, is to say, “Look, the context is, there are viral pandemics and they are quite dangerous, but there’s something out there that’s worse. And it may sound funny to you, but let me explain why.” And then, you start to realize, “Oh, that’s not good.” And also, it’s been there all along. So, when the outbreak happens, it’s not happening suddenly or capriciously. It’s finally happening. It was always gonna happen. We just happen to be there today to see it.
Image via HBO
The show also illuminates the connection that those who are infected share with one another and how linked they are by this fungus. Are there any other ways in which this season will reveal that there is more to this virus than we’ve seen before?
MAZIN: That’s interesting. I will say that there is a character from the game that has a very interesting point of view about the fungus and his observation of Cordyceps that ties into some of the larger themes about what the show is about, and strangely enough, that ties into the notion of the beauty and potential danger of love. And so, part of what Neil [Druckmann] and I wanted to do was just make sure that everything in our story that we built here, as it was inspired by and adapted from the work that he did on the game, ultimately feeds back into the thing that matters the most for us, and that is Joel and Ellie’s relationship.
NEIL DRUCKMANN: Craig is right, there are certain additions that we made to the show, which I really liked. We wanted to avoid making a zombie show. We have the Clickers, which helps separate us, by grounding them in one way. But also, they’re such interesting, weird beings, and they use echolocation to find their way around. But with the more recently infected, we had a lot of conversation about what that vector could look like because there are certain things from the game that we took away. The game had spores in the air and people had to wear gas masks, and we decided, early on, that we didn’t wanna do that for the show. Eventually, those conversations led us to these tendrils. And then, just thinking about how there’s a passage that happens from one infected to another, and like fungus does, it could become a network that is interconnected. It became very scary to think that they’re all working against us in this unified way, which was a concept that I really liked, that got developed in the show.
Image via HBO
How long do you see this TV series playing out? Is this a series that you feel could go on for five or 10 seasons, or something in between there, or does it feel more finite than that?
MAZIN: Oh, yeah, it’s finite. I don’t have much narrative interest in writing a show that is designed to perpetually continue until the network finally puts it out of its misery somewhere. I write to endings. Endings are everything to me. I don’t know how to write, if I don’t know how it ends. And also, if the show doesn’t have an ending, it means nothing ultimately is truly purposeful. All the stakes become empty because, if the network renews you, everything’s fine, and I don’t know how to do that. I don’t mind watching those shows. I like watching those shows. I just can’t write them. So, I have the benefit of the first game, which we have encompassed with this season, which has a real beginning and middle and end. And then, the story that remains, that continues forth in the work that Naughty Dog’s done on the second game, is a lot. Probably the amount of remaining story would take us more than a season to tell. But definitely, I don’t see this as something that runs on and on and on. We don’t have that ambition. Our ambition is to tell the story that exists, as best as we can, in a different medium.
DRUCKMANN: Yeah, I remember, early on, I asked Craig and HBO, “How many episodes does this season need to be” And the answer was, “As many as the story requires, and no more.” And likewise, that would be our approach for future seasons to say, “Okay, this will be as many seasons as required to reach that ending, and no more.”
The Last of Us airs on HBO and is available to stream at HBO Max.
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