Warning: Contains the below full spoilers for Episode 3 of The Last of Us, which aired January 29 on HBO. If you haven’t been caught up, check out our spoiler-free review of the first first season here.
The third episode of HBO’s The Last of Us marked the biggest departure from the video game’s source material to date, featuring a standalone installment for minor characters Bill and Frank and having their story altered in the most drastic — and most achingly romantic — way.
In the game, Bill and Frank were defined as “partners,” though it was never made clear whether they might just be partners surviving the apocalypse together or romantic partners. After growing tired of Bill’s manners, Frank leaves him and Lincoln, the town where they spent 20 years together. Frank’s story has a tragic ending, when he commits suicide after becoming infected and leaves a note for Bill that reads, “I think you were right. Trying to leave this town will kill me. Still better than another one.” to spend the day with you.”
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But the show almost completely changes that, leaving Ellie and Joel for a while to give us an episode dedicated to telling Bill and Frank’s love story. It charts their relationship from start to finish, which begins after Bill (here played by Nick Offerman) finds Frank (Murray Bartlett) trapped in one of his traps, and still ends with Frank deciding to end his own life. But it’s not because he was infected; it’s because he succumbs to a terminal illness and chooses to go out on his own terms. He asks Bill to put sleeping pills in his glass of wine, and Bill does as he’s told… he also makes a glass of wine with wine, because he can’t imagine life without his lover.
Before all that happens, the series gives us a glimpse of their relationship over the years, including their most romantic highs and the realistic frustrations of each romantic partnership living 20 years together in the apocalypse. Showrunner Craig Mazin and the show’s game creator and executive producer Neil Druckmann spoke to IGN about the heartbreaking episode and explained why they chose to tell a story about two people who found love in a hopeless place.
“As we got to this part of the season, Craig brought up a really interesting point, which is… there are a lot of examples of things that don’t end well for people, and a lot of times those are reflections and cautionary tales for Joel from ‘here’s what you have to lose,” Druckmann says. “It was, what if we showed them what you could gain?
But in a way it’s also still a warning to Joel, especially on the heels of losing Tess at the end of [Episode 2]. In the TV show, we were able to move away from our main character’s perspective, which in the game we’re very much sticking to pure Joel or pure Ellie. Here we could see what happened to Bill during the outbreak. And then what was it like to meet Frank and fall in love with Frank and grow old with Frank, and then go through the full cycle of love and living with someone and experience loss, but loss is tinged with the happiness of living a full life full of life? have lived with love.”
“I think it’s a happy ending,” Mazin adds. “I think we usually think of death as a failure, especially when you’re talking about playing a video game. It’s literally a failure. And for our show so far, there have been some brutal moments where Joel has failed or that he’s failed: he’s failed his daughter, he’s failed Tess, and he certainly feels that weight both at the beginning and at the end of this episode.
Notably, Joel and Ellie find a note when they make Bill and Frank’s home in Lincoln after the latter two die, but it’s not like Frank’s revenge in the game. Instead, it’s Bill’s, and it motivates Joel in a way that’s critical to the running of the show.
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“I’m especially pleased with the way Bill… inspired Joel to take Ellie west,” says Mazin. “He gave Joel this posthumous instruction that men like you and me are here for one reason, to protect the people we love, and God help all the assholes that get in our way. And it’s hard for Joel to saying, “Well, it’s not “I’m not working with Tess, but what am I supposed to do now? Stop being who I am? This is the legitimate reason I’m here.” And so it’s the happy ending and Bill’s understanding of who he was as a human being that inspires Joel to do the right thing here. The question is, will it always inspire Joel to do the right thing? do? We’ll have to wait and see.”
Episode 3 is not only an unusually hopeful look at the bleak world of The Last of Us, but it’s also significant for another reason: Arguably the biggest change from the source material yet. It’s not the only change, of course – the series has swapped spores for tendrils as how the infected spread the pandemic, for example – but it does give us about an entire episode of story that wasn’t in the game.
Druckmann explains that they never approach their changes from the perspective of “okay, it’s time to really surprise people who are familiar with the game.” “It’s more like, where are we with the story and what’s the best chapter we can tell right now that will address the themes of love and help raise the stakes for what Joel and Ellie have to gain or lose if do they succeed or fail? on their journey? That was the starting point.”
“And then we had an early conversation about wanting to see Frank because we had a chance to go back, but then Craig came to me with a pretty full pitch of what this story could look like, and I became in love with it,” he continues.
Druckmann admits he may have said “fuck no” to this kind of change in his characters a few years ago, but “I think it speaks to the kind of process that Craig and I have, which was always open to new ideas.” and then grade and then do math homework. Do the math, what does this get us? How does it affect the rest of the story? Are we better at this version of the story, in this other medium, or are we worse? When we are better, we must embrace it fully. And this was such a beautiful story. It was very easy for me to say, ‘Let’s do it. Sounds amazing.'”
Mazin praises Druckmann for being open about making changes to his beloved source material: “He, it seemed to me, always understood that this would be great to see on television and the world he created with the script he created for the game wrote… As far as I’m concerned it’s complicated enough and it’s broad enough and interesting enough and philosophical enough to be flexible enough to turn into [how] it has been adapted into another medium.
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“I hope fans of the game see how much love we put into it and also feel what we feel, which is that it’s still in the DNA of The Last of Us. It’s a parallel universe, but it’s also a shared universe.”
For more on last night’s heartbreaking episode of The Last of Us, check out IGN’s review, which praises it as a 10/10 masterpiece.
Alex Stedman is a news editor for IGN and oversees entertainment reporting. When she’s not writing or editing, you can find her reading fantasy novels or playing Dungeons & Dragons.