High Notes: Zombie Compositions

The Last of Us soundtrack by Academy Award–winning composer Gustavo Santaolalla and composer David Fleming

Surely by now you’ve jumped on The Last of Us train, HBO’s latest zombie-crazed breakout drama. Even though it may seem as if the show’s popularity came out of the woodwork, its fame began long before its days on HBO. The Last of Us is based on the original critically acclaimed video game of the same name developed by Naughty Dog for the PlayStation platforms. Written and executive produced by co-creators Craig Mazin (executive producer of HBO’s Emmy Award-winning Chernobyl) and Neil Druckmann (creator and writer of the multi-award-winning The Last of Us franchise and Naughty Dog co-president), the show is now seven episodes into the first season, and its cult-like followers, and even newcomers to the post-apocalyptic world such as myself, have given their stamp of approval with myriad praises. In light of the show’s success, Milan Records has released the full soundtrack, featuring the hauntingly beautiful score music written by two-time Academy Award–winning composer Gustavo Santaolalla and David Fleming, composer for Hillbilly Elegy and Blue Planet II.

While Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey dazzle in their leading roles, the score also feels like a main character. Having scored both the original video game and its 2020 sequel, Santaolalla builds on his previous work. “Creating the music for the HBO series based on the video game The Last Of Us was, in a way, an expansion of what we have developed and recorded for the first installment of the game,” Santaolalla says of the soundtrack. “Once again, the emotion at the heart of the score this time driven by the vision of Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin and by the power of this amazing story.”


Composer Gustavo Santaolalla. Photo by Piper Ferguson.


It seems paradoxical to explain a show riddled with infectious disease, murder, and a shattered civilization as beautiful, but through sound, the show becomes recontextualized into an evocative depiction of dystopia. The sonic universe of The Last of Us is filled with layers of madness. “Even at its most aggressive, I wanted the music to feel derived from the real world—bowed steel, cracking wood—these are sounds for a civilization that has rusted and warped,” Fleming says. “I hope the fans have as much fun diving into this world as I have.”

The Last of Us airs on Sunday nights at 9 p.m. EST/PST on HBO and is available to stream on Crave.