Home » Why The Last of Us 3’s Infected May Not Evolve So Much

Why The Last of Us 3’s Infected May Not Evolve So Much


The Last of Us 3 hasn’t been officially announced, but fans are eager to see what’s coming next for Ellie based on the ambiguous ending of the most recent installment. There aren’t a lot of certain things about The Last of Us 3, but assuming it is in the works, the one thing players can count on is more Infected. The Last of Us 2 shook things up with the Infected to create more diverse and frightening enemies, but players have yet to see any major changes. That’s probably not going to change in the next game.

The basic reason why the Infected likely won’t evolve much in The Last of Us 3 is that they don’t need to. Evolution is driven by necessity, with those best suited for the environment surviving and passing on their traits. For viruses, evolution tends to happen when something like a vaccine forces it to change, and thus mutations become positive traits that prolong survival. Evolution also takes time, so it might not be the most realistic expectation for The Last of Us 3.

There’s No Need for Infected to Evolve

In The Last of Us, there’s no cure or vaccine for the Cordyceps Brain Infection, and there’s no sign one will ever come. Humanity is still alive, but slowly dying off as the infection spreads all over the globe. People have gotten better at protecting themselves, but the Cordyceps Brain Infection is highly contagious and the only person with immunity to it is Ellie (so far). With that kind of track record, humans are just prolonging the inevitable.

Hopefully The Last of Us 3 will give fans a glimmer of hope for humanity’s future, but it’s not looking great. The Cordyceps is slowly winning, and as a result it doesn’t need to adapt. If a vaccine is successfully manufactured and administered, there could be a different conversation, but otherwise there aren’t many environmental factors pushing the Infected to evolve. The Last of Us 3 will probably introduce new variations, but it wouldn’t make sense to have drastic new forms of Infected.

Infected Haven’t Evolved Much So Far

The major stages of the Cordyceps Brain Infection stayed consistent between The Last of Us and The Last of Us 2. When the infection begins, just a day or two in people become Runners and still look like themselves. Once the fungus begins to cause more extreme physical deformities, the Infected enter the Stalker stage. There aren’t many Stalkers in The Last of Us or The Last of Us 2, which implies it’s a pretty short stage.

The third stage is the Clicker, which happens about a year after being infected. At this point, the fungus has completely taken over and caused the host to become blind, relying only on sound. The fungus has spread all over the body and created a kind of armor, which is why Clickers are so difficult to kill. This is the longest stage of the infection before transitioning into stage four: the Bloater. Bloaters have been infected for 10-15 years, so there aren’t many to be found. Shamblers, a new form of Infected found in The Last of Us 2, appear to be a variant of the Bloater stage.

The possibility of further stages in the infection can’t be ruled out, as the Rat King in The Last of Us 2 proves the Cordyceps Brain Infection is not entirely predictable. However, the four main stages are widely accepted by all human groups, and there isn’t much talk of new variants. The Cordyceps Infection is doing a good job of taking over the world without evolving. There might be some variations in The Last of Us 3 because evolution can be driven by certain environments, but unless the story takes place many years after The Last of Us 2, there shouldn’t be anything crazy.

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Can Infected Evolve Beyond The Last of Us 2’s Rat King?

The Rat King was arguably the most horrifying fight in The Last of Us 2. The Rat King is a massive, grotesque amalgamation of infected bodies that melded together, not unlike the Mind Flayer in Stranger Things season 3. The Rat King was formed in the basement of the Seattle hospital, which served as Ground Zero for the Cordyceps Infection. The first infected were trapped in the basement, unable to escape for 25 years.

As a result of being confined in one space for so long, the Rat King was formed. The exact logistics are unknown, and it would be nice if they stayed that way, but this begs the question of how much crazier The Last of Us 3 could be. Going any further than the Rat King might start to feel like overkill, and there shouldn’t be more than one or two Rat King-scale encounters game. It’s unlikely anyone wants the Rat King to evolve any further, either; it may go down as one of the scariest boss fights in video game history as is.

Despite how scary it is, the Rat King is an incredible boss fight from gameplay and story perspective. The Last of Us doesn’t have many traditional boss fights, and this particular fight with Abby was one of the most intense moments in the game. Infected like the Rat King should be rare in The Last of Us 3 so they make a similar impact. Having the Infected evolve too much would ultimately weaken their impact.

The Rat King made its impact as a difficult enemy and a worldbuilding element; the Rat King cast a light on what Ground Zero looked like in Seattle and what happened to the first Infected. If the Infected do continue to evolve, they should do so in a way that deepens the narrative.

The Last of Us 3 Should Emphasize Human Enemies

The world in The Last of Us is the way it is because of the Cordyceps Brain Infection and the Infected, but zombies are pretty straightforward. There’s always the question of whether a human is still trapped inside the monster, but other than that they’re often mindless creatures. The way humans responded to the virus by breaking off into factions is far more interesting.

The Last of Us showed some different groups like the Fireflies, but The Last of Us 2 took it a step further and created human enemies that were more interesting and compelling than the Infected. Between the WLF, the Seraphites, and the Rattlers, The Last of Us 2 showed just how diverse human factions have become. In The Last of Us 3, Naughty Dog should focus on that element instead of evolving the Infected into bigger and scarier enemies.

The Last of Us 2 leaned into the human element and it paid off. Each group had its own origin story, philosophy, rules, and combat style. The Last of Us 2 also made human enemies more compelling by naming each of them and giving them a story. This is possible with Infected too; information about the people they once were can be found in collectibles. At the end of the day, The Last of Us is about people, not the Infected. That’s what makes it one of the best zombie stories out there, and The Last of Us 3 should keep that focus.

The Last of Us 2 is available now on PS4.