The Last of Us Episode 2: Tess’ death and zombie kiss explained
Towards the end of the second episode of “The Last of Us”, it is revealed that Tess, Joel’s partner in crime, has been injured. To make matters worse, a horde of zombies is on its way to the trio’s location. While Joel and Ellie, the series’ protagonists, make a break for him, Tess stays behind to slow the zombies down by tipping over a few barrels of gasoline and setting off a bunch of grenades left behind by a group of smugglers and freedom fighters. But before she can lift her trap, a still human-looking zombie approaches her, kissing her on the mouth – with jellyfish-like tendrils sticking out of its mouth and wriggling in her mouth.
My first reaction was disgust. Secondly, why did the creators of the show really do that?
The sequence in the show plays out differently than it does in the game, as Tess is murdered by agents of FEDRA, the authoritarian pseudo-government that was propped up in the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse. Here’s how showrunner Craig Mazin explained the change to Elise FavesMy ex-colleague He recently interviewed him For The Washington Post.
So I’d like to ask Neil [Druckmann, co-creator of “The Last of Us”] “A thousand annoying questions, especially early on,” said Mazen. And I remember one of the nagging questions I asked was, Why are FEDRA soldiers all the way here? If an open city is really dangerous, they seem to be going out of their way to find Tess and Joel. They might say, ‘Hey, they did a terrible thing, but they’re going to kill’ There. So what do we care? We’re definitely not going to let them in again. If we see their faces again, we’ll have it. And [Druckmann] He was like, “Okay, that’s fair.”
Instead, the creative team chose to use the episode as an opportunity to set some ground rules – for Ellie and viewers alike.
“One of our needs was to show how the infected take over a city,” said Mazen. How do they work? How do they get infected? How many of them are there? What types [are there]? And that naturally led to what made sense for that ending, which was to be an Infected instead of a FEDRA trooper. But you will see FEDRA soldiers again, not just in Boston.”
That might explain why zombies kill Tess instead of FEDRA, but beyond the benefit the show provides, it’s worth considering what the updated scene symbolically does, and what the change means in the context of the story. What does kiss mean? We can free partner here. Kisses can be romantic. They can symbolize love. It can be incompatible. There is the kiss of Judas, the kiss of death, the “kiss of a rose.” He remembers “Cat person?” Kisses can be mushy, wet, nasty, sloppy, boring. There’s bisous, a playful French greeting that includes light kisses on the cheeks. Throughout history, kisses have meant a lot of things. So what does zombie kiss mean here?
There are some explanations that I think a reasonable good faith person could come up with. The presenters of this horror TV drama show probably wanted a thrilling, body-wrenching horror scene. Scratching the surface a bit, however, the kiss and tendrils give the sense that Tess is welcome to a new “community” of sufferers. There is something reminiscent of the Kiss of Judas in it, too; This could indicate that if Tess fails to detonate the explosives around her, she will eventually transform into a monster and continue to infect other people – going from someone trying to save humanity by smuggling Ellie, to someone who betrays her.
Another possible meaning has to do with Tess’s relationship with Joel. Before dying, Tess tells Joel that she never asked him to feel what she felt (meaning: to reciprocate her love). The zombie kiss is a grotesque reflection of what Tess seemed to desperately want from Joel: intimacy, closeness, and unity. But this closeness comes at a price: the loss of both her identity and her humanity.
There is a final explanation, a less charitable explanation. The kiss is clearly non-sensual, a grim fantasy of rape culture and the kind of brutal behavior that many people suffer from even in our current unseen. (You can read this as considered critique or ill-conceived remake.) And the show’s creators, who are men, may not have considered whether it was cruel or sending an outlandish message to subject one of the show’s (so far) most prominent female characters to a fate worse than what she suffered. In the game, and a way more dangerous one at that.
These different interpretations can, of course, overlap. The meaning is messy, and you can choose to believe several of these at once. I would also like to warn that there is probably no file right Interpretation, even if Mazen and Druckmann are preferred. A good way to think about these readings is to stop on the subway line. You have your destination, other people have their destination, and at any time, you can go straight back to the line and go somewhere else. And if, say, later in the season, Mazen and Druckmann choose to kill the other female characters off with abandon and in similarly bizarre ways, you can jump from one interpretation to the next.
An attempt to analyze the meaning of a kiss raises the question of how you watch television. In the case of “The Last of Us,” I think there are roughly two types of viewers. There are those who buy into the fantasy of the show and interpret the things that happen on screen as vividly as a story. Then there are those who watch the show and see it as the product of the work of hundreds of people, and see the proceedings as the making of choices made by the creators. It’s the difference between saying “I can’t believe Joel did X” and “Why did Mazin and Druckmann create an episode where Joel did X?”
Since The Last of Us franchise has been around for nearly 10 years, a lot of people instinctively fall into the latter camp, having seen Druckmann in particular rise from random gamemaster to popular figure within video game culture. And my first reaction (heck!) went awry that way, too. I wondered why these two authors chose what appears to be just a file More disgusting The televised death of Tess? Having spent some time with the scene while working on summarizing the episode – and trying to think of it on its own terms – I think the way the show plays the scene is the second interpretation, which centers on Joel and Tess’s relationship. The entire episode revolves around their dynamic, and how Tess and Joel differ in their relationship with Ellie.
With this spin, the scene reads as more than just scandalous. However, I can’t help but feel disappointed. Searching for a deeper meaning was as much fun as spending a few hours, but an explanation that seems right isn’t that Lively or interesting, which is why it seems at first glance Just A shocking and mysterious sexual death of a main female character.
We already knew Tess wanted more from Joel than she got. We already are Get The horrors of this end of the world. But beyond that, for all its looks and mischief, the show is light on meaningful characterization. Which makes settling on an interpretation so difficult – and reading the scene as an atrocity in itself so easy.