Please note: there are FULL spoilers for the entire first episode of this new season. Also worth noting is that I have never played the video game this is based on, and have no idea of any specific plot points, so any speculation of upcoming events is truly just that.
In 1963, epidemiologists Dr. Schoenheiss and Dr. Neuman (guest stars Christopher Heyerdahl and John Hannah, respectively) discuss the possibility of a fungal infection being the thing to destroy the world, not a virus or bacteria. Neuman argues the world would only need to increase by a few degrees for a fungus to adapt, and become able to survive in humans.
In 2003, Joel Miller (Pedro Pascal) wakes up late on his birthday, where his daughter Sarah (Nico Parker) is making breakfast. Joel’s younger brother Tommy (Diego Luna) soon arrives, and he and Joel discuss working late to ensure a delivery runs smoothly. Joel promises to be home as early as possible, and he’ll bring a cake to share. The three discuss some turmoil in Jakarta, which Sarah has to remind Joel and Tommy is the capital of Indonesia. As the brothers get ready to leave for work and to drop Sarah at school, Sarah takes some money from a drawer in Joel’s room, as well as a broken watch. Outside, Sarah speaks with her neighbours, The Adlers, and makes plans to visit them after school.
Once school has finished, Sarah visits a watch repair shop, and has the broken watch fixed, as numerous police cars, along with a fire engine and SWAT van, go past. At the insistence of the repairman’s partner, Sarah is ushered out of the store, and told to go home. Sarah later arrived at The Adler’s house, where she and Connie bake some cookies as Sarah does her homework. While Sarah inspects some DVDs on a shelf, Connie’s elderly, wheelchair bound mother convulses and reacts to something unseen. Asking if she can borrow a DVD, Sarah returns home, noting the reaction of the Adlers’ dog, Mercy, to the elderly woman. Sarah sees jets flying overhead.
That night, Joel returns home later than expected, and without a cake. Upon being promised a cake the next day, Sarah gifts Joel the repaired watch, and the two watch the DVD. Sarah soon falls asleep, and Joel receives a call from Tommy, claiming that he is in prison for defending a waitress from a violent man at a bar. Joel begrudingly leaves to bail him out and pick him up. Waking alone to explosions and flashing lights, Sarah finds Mercy at her front door and attempts to return the dog to the Adler’s house. There, she sees Mr Adler bleeding with a bite mark on his neck, and the formerly wheelchair bound mother leaning over Connie, with tendrils protruding from her mouth. Sarah flees.
Outside, Joel returns with Tommy, and Joel is forced to kill the elderly Mrs Adler to save Sarah as Connie and her husband come outside, having transformed into something else. The three get in Joel’s truck and make plans to escape town, but find the freeway blocked. As a plane crashes into the street behind them, the truck is destroyed and Joel and Sarah are separated from Tommy. Making plans to meet at the river, Joel and Sarah escape some more infected townspeople but are held at gunpoint by a mask-wearing soldier. Upon confirming his orders on a radio, the soldier opens fire on Joel and Sarah, until Tommy is forced to kill the soldier. While Joel is wounded, Sarah is badly injured, and dies.
Twenty years later, Joel is living in a Federal Disaster Response Agency (FEDRA) Quarantine Zone, performing menial jobs for ration dockets. Joel has formed a relationship with a guard, wherein he trades drugs from monetary credits, as well as access to a vehicle. The guard suggests Joel stay off the streets past curfew, as the terrorist group known as The Fireflies has been more active lately. Elsewhere, Tess (Anna Torv), another survivor, has been beaten and captured as she attempted to buy a car battery. An explosion frees her from her captives, but she is apprehended by the FEDRA soldiers.
Somewhere else in the city, a young girl calling herself Veronica (Bella Ramsay) is chains to a radiator in a run down apartment. She periodically has her speech tested by Marlene (Merle Dandridge), the leader of the Fireflies, but shows no signs of infection. Soon after, Marlene reaffirms the other Fireflies, including Kim (Natasha Mumba), that they are doing the right thing. Marlene reveals to ‘Veronica’ that Marlene knows her real name is Ellie, and that she is leaving soon. Marlene hands Kim a note, to which Kim is shocked.
Meanwhile, Joel attempts to contact Tommy via a radio operator, but has received no word back for weeks. The operator tells Joel the radio tower where Tommy was last seen is in Wyoming, a far cry from Joel in Boston. Returning home, Joel retrieves a hidden map and begins planning his route. Tess joins Joel soon after, revealing they are a couple, and the two make plans to retrieve the battery from the man who double crossed them, Robert (Brendan Fletcher). Joel and Tess travel through the abandoned subway tunnels, coming across a recently-dead infected man, moulded to the wall. As they exit through an elevator shaft, they find Robert dead and hear voices.
The voices belong to Marlene and Kim, who Joel and Tess have a respectiful but tense standoff with. Ellie attempts to attack Joel, but he disarms her, and keeps her at bay. Marlene suggests that since Robert failed to get her a car battery — Tess realising that Marlene was the other buyer — than Joel and Tess should take Ellie with them to the Boston State House. Though initially apprehensive, Joel and Tess agree, and Ellie leaves the Firefly hideout with them. As Joel naps, Ellie deciphers a code Joel has used to determine whether Boston is safe to travel to. Soon after, Tess, Joel, and Ellie leave Joel’s house.
Sneaking through the streets, the trio avoid the FEDRA soldiers and escape the outer walls. However, they are caught by the same guard Joel sold drugs to earlier, who insists on testing the three by official means, as well as checking for infection. Both Joel and Tess pass, but the guard notices that neither Joel nor Tess have an official notice to leave the quarantine zone. Before he can finish testing Ellie, she attacks him, causing the guard to raise his gun against her. Joel has a flashback of Sarah, and beats the guard to death. Tess sees that Ellie is infected, but she reveals she was bitten several weeks earlier, and must be immune. Though uneasy, the trio leave, into the destroyed Boston city.
At Joel’s apartment, the radio begins to play “Don’t Let Me Down” by Depeche Mode. A song from the 80s can only mean one thing: trouble.
+ the first 33 minutes, from the beginning of the epidemiologists’ discussion to the death of Sarah, is just fantastic. It reminded me of that incredible intro to the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, which I gush over a lot. ‘Post-apocalyptic fiction’ is common, but it’s rare to get to see that opening moment when shit really hits the fan
+ these fungus monsters are fresh take on ‘zombies’ which I think we can all agree as a genre is a bit overdone by this point. Though I can admit that thus far at least the monsters are more like 28 Days rage zombies. The way that the old lady transformed in the background of Sarah looking at the DVDs was really well done, and reminded me of a similar scene in It: Chapter Two
+ Pedro Pascal has a real knack for playing these father figures caring for a ward, though in this episode, I don’t mean Ellie; his scenes with Sarah were believable and realistic, which is surely all you could ask for to make that emotional punch so much more painful
+ I loved those opening credits. Like Game of Thrones, Peacemaker, Daredevil, Westworld, Severance and others, I’m sure I’ll never get tired of watching them
+ I have heard second hand that there are lots of changes from the game already in just this first episode, but I counter that argument with this: I know nothing about the game plot/setting/characters, and I followed the episode story fully. Unless the changes have an untenable effect on the plot going forward, and they are not just gameplay things, expect them to be dropped
+ in researching the cast names, I learned that Nico Parker (Sarah) is the daughter of Thandiwe Newton. Now that I know that, it’s so obvious just to look at her
– the episode dragged a bit in the middle. It’s understandable that the first episode of a series would need to set things up, but I did find myself checking the running time at about the midway point
– I don’t like running monsters. It seems unfair. But maybe that’s the point
– I’m not entirely sold on Bella Ramsay just yet. The fact she doesn’t look like video game Ellie is only highlighted by the way that Pedro Pascal really does look like Joel. I’m more than willing to give this a few more episodes at minimum, but I can’t promise a switch will magically be flipped
– how did Joel, Tess and Ellie not see the guard peeing on the wall? I think it was a poorly framed shot, because it looked far too obvious for us as viewers, and ruined my immersion in that moment. Actually, Tess was keen to walk backwards into an unchecked room before seeing the wall mounted zombie thing, so maybe that is just her problem. I imagine it doesn’t bode well for her in future episodes
> I’ve never done these recap and review posts for something with an outcome we know about (WandaVision and Game of Thrones each could have gone literally anywhere by their ends) so I can’t imagine there will be too much forward thinking for these. I’ll review each episode based solely on the show itself
Final thoughts: This started incredibly strongly, and that entire opening half hour was some of the best stuff I have seen in a long time. I did think it ran a bit long, and I’d be interested to know how much of the game this episode was, but for now I can’t think of a better way to have started this series. I eagerly await more going forward, and it might even make me play the game by the time it’s over.