Building That Jaw-Dropping Cul-de-Sac Climax in The Last of Us Episode 5

Building That Jaw-Dropping Cul-de-Sac Climax in The Last of Us Episode 5 ...

The ground beneath Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) is constantly cracked — and spoiler alert sometimes conceals a cavern full of Cordyceps-infected zombies like the one that erupts in Kansas City near the end of Episode 5, "Endure and Survive." And it's awesome in both the modern and old-fashioned sense of the word that "The Last of Us" constructed its Cordyceps cul-de-sac

“We planned on constructing 16 houses and a road and everything from scratch,” production designer John Paino told IndieWire of the deadly cul-de-sac. From there, modelers created to-scale versions of the post-apocalyptic Kansas City based on LIDAR scans.

Paino noted that as part of our set design team, he created a to-scale model of the [cul-de-sac neighborhood] in Episode 5 and [translated the designs] into practical sets. And we find serendipity when we look at this wonderful structure and say, 'Oh my God, please do something with it.'

"The Last of Us"

Liane Hentscher/HBO

The demolition of a salvaged snow plow triggers the eruption of a horde of infected, including a terrifying "bloater" for Kathleen (Lynskey) and Perry (Jeffrey Price). "There's just so much happening in that scene."

Paino said that it was one of the few scenes in the series that was storyboarded "because of all the things that are going on, pyrotechnics effects, VFX, all of the danger involved, and getting it right." "We built a three-story house that Joel is in, shooting down at them."

Ellie and Joel encounter different kinds of damage on their journey west from Boston. Paino felt it was important to emphasize the visual differences and how urban structures can decay and rewilde. Sometimes we're like, 'Let's have the walls undulate,' like when Ellie discovers the Cordyceps beneath the gas station in Episode 3.

"The Last of Us"

Liane Hentscher/HBO

The small main street Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett) call home in Episode 3 was built in a different part of Canada, although it also was completely rebuilt from scratch. “It's all built, the lawns, everything,” Paino said.

Paino explained that there was an A to Z procedure for getting the set builds appropriately aged and dismantled. “They'd go to our scene shop and they'd get distressed and rusted,” said the cars. Then our construction department would remove the blisters that indicate there's buckling in the road. Then greens would scrape soil and debris into the cracks.

Kathleen's childhood bedroom is an example of a production design team able to add character nuance through visual storytelling, according to Paino. "We always tried as much as we could, where it made sense, to have the chroma of those colors shine through, showing that this is the color of the Before Time."

"The Last of Us" is a film directed by René LaPorte.

Liane Hentscher/HBO

Paino used color to guide his planning of time details for early-aughts sequences at the outbreak of the infection. "We tried to put in as much neon as we can because we're not going to have those colors [in the story's present day]," Paino said. "We don't always have that sense of loss [of what's lost]."

Viewers who have already played the first "The Last of Us" game may be able to guess a few spots where color may be used again as the program progresses, harkening back to Joel's daughter Sara (Nico) who certainly missed out on those moments of respite from aging roadways, devastation, and crumbling cinder blocks.

“One of the things that appeals to me about 'The Last of Us,' and it becomes obvious in Episode 3, is that the show is not about killing. [It] asks] how does humanity create an existence in a world that no longer exists, such as in Bill and Frank's street? Kathleen's childhood bedroom is located in the Kansas City QZ, according to Paino, demonstrating that even under FEDRA's authoritarian rule, space was free of the power that made it safe.