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The Last of Us’ biggest Easter egg is its smallest shot

[Bella voice] How long have you been Dawn of the Wolf Part 2?

Riley (Storm Reid) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) stand and look at lingerie in a store window Photo: Liane Hentscher/HBO
Zosha Millman (she/her) manages TV coverage at Polygon as TV editor, but will happily write about movies, too. She’s been working as a journalist for more than 10 years.

2003 was a helluva time, both for our world and the world of The Last of Us. Reality got The Return of the King, the Iraq War, and the completion of the Human Genome Project. The Last of Us-verse got a zombie pandemic and the second installment in a Twilight ripoff. You might miss the latter for the former in all the hubbub, but episode 7, “Left Behind,” certainly nods to the in-universe lore of the (we’re guessing) great franchise Dawn of the Wolf with a tiny blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Easter egg.

As Ellie (Bella Ramsey) and her friend and would-be paramour Riley (Storm Reid) go on their tipsy escapade that Riley has prepared for them, there’s plenty of details to admire around the Boston mall they’re wandering in. That includes a movie poster and marquee for Dawn of the Wolf Part 2, a movie that — like any piece of media referenced in just about any piece of media — feels important. But also important to this story: It’s not a real movie.

Dawn of the Wolf Part 2 (and probably Part 1, if I had to guess) is a totally in-universe movie for the world of The Last of Us, seen in glimpses of the poster or billboard. In the game Ellie and Joel have a short discussion about one of the billboards, with Ellie skeptical of the movie, and Joel waving it off as a “dumb teen movie.”

When The Last of Us was in development at Naughty Dog back in the late 2000s, the biggest “dumb teen movie” in the world would have been the Twilight franchise. And the film series’ final installment, Breaking Dawn - Part 2, opened in theaters in 2012, the year before Sony released The Last of Us. Though the connection doesn’t amount to much — the title, a nod to the vampire/werewolf fever sweeping the nation; the implied YA melodrama; etc. — it’s certainly one fans latched onto at the time the game came out.

And who can blame them? Look, we all miss the halcyon days of having another Twilight movie to look forward to. The film franchise is a rich text of everything from young, eternal and chaste love to werewolves carrying pants around for when they transform. Each new chapter is its own manic masterpiece, and I, for one, would gladly soak up more.

In one way, this Easter egg is just another small nod to a larger universe beyond the bounds of this show. But in another, it’s an incredibly representative one, one that tells us (as players or viewers) something about almost every element of The Last of Us: To Ellie, it means very little, a relic from a bygone era she’ll never be able to know. To Joel, it’s a memory of his time with Sarah (who, in the game, had a poster for the first movie in her room) and the life totally lost to him. Put together, that poster feels evocative of the ending coming up on them really fast.

In the time period of the game, it’s both an easy potshot at a 2013-era heavy hitter and a visual nod to the bond between our protagonists. As a relic from HBO’s The Last of Us’ 2003 pop culture, it’s a bit of an anomaly (the first Twilight book wouldn’t be released until 2005, at least barring a Cordyceps-driven zombie plague), but not outside the bounds of reason. Like so many details on the show, it communicates so much with so little. And ultimately it’s all just another way that normalcy — within their world or ours — feels so off as to be unrecognizable.

Imagine if we only had the first two Twilight movies — who would play the Batman then?

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