What Is The Timeline For ‘The Last Of Us?’

The Last of Us has finally arrived on HBO, and three episodes in, it’s killed the sour reputation of video game adaptations, and it’s just as good as everything else from the Home Box Office. The series, which takes place twenty years after a global pandemic, has already gone back in the past starting with the first twenty minutes of the first episode, which documented the day everything changed. Since The Last of Us is following different timelines, here is your ultimate guide to what is going on when: human beings are required to retain eniugh information as it is, so we can all use a little help remembering what’s going on on a television show.

Here’s a breakdown of the timeline: The Last of Us takes place in 2023 (our present year), with the outbreak happening twenty years prior in 2003, the year that Finding Nemo and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl came out. This differs from the source material. In the video game of the same name, the present is 2033, with the outbreak day occurring in 2013 (the year the game came out).


The Last of Us decades in the past with a rather harrowing television segment about the spread of viruses and how modern air travel helps spread viruses faster. “A new virus in Madagascar, says, could be in Chicago in a matter of weeks.” While the scene is not directly related to the events of The Last of Us, it established how quickly these things can spread and why. We’ll likely never return to the 1968 timeline, but it would be nice to see Big Head from Silicon Valley again, wouldn’t it?


The Cordyceps outbreak occurred worldwide on September 26, 2003, just a few months before The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King was supposed to hit theaters. In an interview with Inverse, co-creator Craig Mazin explained his reasoning behind changing the years around.

“I have this thing about jumping into the future,” he said. “I feel like, if I’m watching a show and the year is 2023, and the show takes place in 2043, it’s just a little less real. Even if I’m watching a show in 2023 and it takes place in 2016, it’s a little less real.” He added, “I thought it might be interesting to just say, ‘Hey, look, in this parallel universe, this is happening right now. This is happening this year.”


2023 in The Last of Us universe really puts things into perspective. Sure, 2023 is pretty bad in the real world for many reasons, but at least we’re not living under a fascist regime that forces people to live in limited quarantine zones with execution being the punishment for leaving. In The Last of Us, 2023 is the present timeline, two decades after the outbreak day and the world is not the same and does not appear anywhere close to recovery.

In between

Episode three takes place over the two-decade span in the years between the infection day and the present. The surprisingly heartwarming and gutwrenching episode follows Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett), two men who meet and fall in love under dire circumstances. They live a somewhat peaceful, isolated life. The pair meets following the outbreak in 2003, and the episode follows how their relationship unfolds over the years until 2023 when they choose to die together. Given that the show is this experimental with its storytelling so early on, it’s likely that the show will continue to bounce back and forth between the past and the present and in unexpected ways.