How accurate is the mushroom apocalypse in 'The Last of Us'?

Hosted by

More fungus than human, clickers bloom mushrooms from their skull in "The Last of Us." Photo courtesy of HBO.

Survivors in the HBO series "The Last of Us" ward off the infected, humans who have fallen victim to a ophiocordyceps mutation, causing mushrooms to bloom from their skulls, the result of the global food system gone wrong.

Tejal Rao of the New York Times admits to having a penchant for post-apocalyptic media and horror films. She was pleased when Paul Stamets, a world-renowned mycologist, posted about the show following its second episode. Cordyceps mushrooms do attack the brains of insects, ants in particular, and turn them into zombies that eat their own, Stamets says the same result wouldn't occur in humans. Although the show's premise is fictitious, Rao thinks the industrial food system is a plausible vector for a global pandemic.

"Mushrooms are complicated and a lot of people have a fear of mushrooms or tend to find them unsettling," Rao says. Associated with death, thriving in rot, and blooming in decomposition, fungus is also regenerative and vital, she notes.

"It's just a show, don't worry," says Tejal Rao of the fungal zombies in the popular HBO series starring Bella Ramsey. Photo courtesy of HBO.

Fictitious bloaters are the most mature and dangerous stage of the infected. Photo courtesy of HBO.