Why in the world is everyone in the first episode of The Last of Us so obsessed with baked goods?
Sarah Miller (Nico Parker) wanted her father Joel (Pedro Pascal) to buy pancake mix for his birthday breakfast. The Millers’ next-door neighbors, the Adlers, are hell-bent on giving them biscuits. Later, cookies and cakes get mentioned as well. This is a survival show with mushroom zombies, not The Great British Bake Off, so why does food get so much airtime?
There are a few reasons. On the one hand, it establishes a sense of normalcy and serves as character development. Since Joel is incredibly busy at work and doesn’t seem to care about making his birthday special, he forgets the pancake mix and cake.
But behind that character work lies a more sinister possibility: the possibility that contaminated food caused the deadly cordyceps outbreak.
We never see Joel or Sarah eat any baked goods.
Credit: Shane Harvey / HBO
Time and time again, The Last of Us draws attention to what Joel, Sarah, and Tommy (Gabriel Luna) do or don’t eat. They do eat eggs and drink orange juice, but they don’t celebrate Joel’s birthday with pancakes or a cake. They refuse the Adlers’ offer of homemade biscuits, and Sarah is too disappointed by the prospect of Mrs. Adler’s raisin cookies to actually partake. Throughout the first act of the episode, Joel and his family are dodging treats like their lives depend on it. And honestly? Maybe they do.
Because you know who does eat a biscuit? Mrs. Adler’s mother, the first cordyceps-infected person we meet on the show. And while there are a lot of differences between the Millers and the Adlers, the one The Last of Us keeps coming back to is what they’ve eaten on the day of the outbreak. The Adlers eat things like biscuits and end up infected. The Millers avoid these and remain healthy.
The logical conclusion is that cordyceps began spreading as a result of food containing a contaminated ingredient. A shared ingredient between pancakes, cookies, cakes, and biscuits — like flour — could be a likely culprit. Move over, spinach and Popeye: The new transformative foodstuff is anything with flour in it. Only instead of giving you super strength, it turns you into a cordyceps host full of tendrils of fungus. Yummy.
So… was forgetting pancake mix a good thing?
Credit: Liane Hentscher / HBO
As sad as Sarah was that Joel couldn’t celebrate his birthday with pancakes or an actual cake, perhaps his forgetfulness was for the best. Joel may have prevented his family from enjoying a sweet breakfast, but he also saved them from cordyceps exposure.
It’s little near-misses like simply not eating a biscuit that make The Last of Us‘s apocalyptic outbreak so terrifying. In this world, just a small change in routine could mean the difference between life and death, between normalcy and parasitic infection. With that in mind, these opening scenes and their hints about the true cause of the cordyceps pandemic raise the stakes for The Last of Us going forward. Any little thing can snowball into catastrophe for our heroes. Danger lurks around every corner… or sometimes, it’s just nestled in your biscuit.