Warning: The following contains full spoilers for The Last of Us Episode 3, which aired on HBO on January 29. If you’re not in the know, check out our spoiler-free review of the first season. here.
The third episode of HBO’s The Last of Us marked its biggest departure from the video game’s source material yet, providing a standalone installment for supporting characters Bill and Frank and changing their story in the most drastic and painfully romantic way.
In the game, Bill and Frank were defined as “partners”, although it was never made clear if they could just be partners in surviving the apocalypse together or romantic partners. After growing tired of Bill’s ways, Frank leaves him and Lincoln, the town where they spent 20 years together. Frank’s story has a tragic ending, as he takes his own life after becoming infected, leaving Bill a note that reads, “I guess you were right. Trying to leave this town will kill me. Even better than spending another day with you.” .”
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But the show changes that almost completely, leaving Ellie and Joel for a moment to give us an episode dedicated to telling Bill and Frank’s love story. It traces their relationship from start to finish, beginning after Bill (played here by Nick Offerman) finds Frank (Murray Bartlett) caught in one of his traps, and still ending when Frank decides to end his own life. . But it’s not because he was infected; it’s because he’s succumbing to a terminal illness and choosing to come out of it on his own terms. He asks Bill to fill his wine glass with sleeping pills, and Bill does as he says… fixing himself a glass of wine, as he can’t imagine life without his mistress.
Before all of that happens, the series gives us a glimpse into their relationship over the years, including their most romantic moments and the realistic frustrations of any romantic couple living 20 years together in the apocalypse. Showrunner Craig Mazin and game creator and show’s executive producer Neil Druckmann spoke to IGN about the heartbreaking episode, explaining why they chose to tell a story about two people who found love in a hopeless place.
“When 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 not going well for people and often it’s reflections and warnings to Joel of ‘here it is. you stand to lose,” says Druckmann. “It was, what if we showed them what you could take to win?
“But in a way, it’s also still a red flag for Joel, especially after losing Tess at the end of [Episode 2]. In the TV show we could leave the perspective of our main character, which in the game we stick very much to pure Joel or pure Ellie. Here, we got to see what happened to Bill in the outbreak. And then what it was like to meet Frank and fall in love with Frank and grow old with Frank, and then the whole cycle of loving and living with someone and experiencing loss, but the loss is tinged with happiness to have lived a full life filled with love.”
“I think it’s a happy ending,” Mazin adds. “I think we tend to view death as failure, particularly when you’re talking about playing a video game. It’s literally failure. And for our show thus far, there have been some brutal moments where Joel has failed or at least perceived to have failed. failed: he failed his daughter, he 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 arrive at Bill and Frank’s house in Lincoln after the latter two have died, but it’s not like Frank’s vengeance in the game. Instead, it’s Bill’s and motivates Joel in a way that’s crucial to the course of the show.
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“I’m particularly happy with the way that Bill…has managed to inspire Joel to take Ellie west,” says Mazin. “He’s given Joel this posthumous instruction that men like you and me are here for a reason, to protect the people we love, and God help any son of a bitch who gets in our way. And it’s hard for Joel to say, ‘Well, he didn’t. “I don’t work with Tess, but now what am I supposed to do? Stop being who I am? This is the legitimate reason I’m here.” So it’s the happy ending and Bill’s realization of who he was as a human being that inspires Joel to do the right thing here. The question is: will he always inspire Joel to do the right thing? We will have to wait. and see.”
As well as being an unusually hopeful look into the grim world of The Last of Us, Episode 3 is important for another reason: It’s, hands down, the biggest change from the source material yet. It’s not the only change, of course – for example, the series has swapped out spores for tendrils as the infected spread the pandemic – but it gives us almost a whole 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 familiar with the game.” “It’s more about where we are with the story and what is the best chapter we could tell right now that will address the themes of love and help raise the stakes on what Joel and Ellie stand to gain or lose if they succeed or they fail. on his journey? That was the starting point”.
“And then we had an early conversation about wanting to see Frank because we had a chance to come back, but then Craig came to me with a pretty complete idea of what this story could be like, and I fell in love with it.” he follows
Druckmann admits that he might have said “fuck no” to these kinds of changes to his characters a few years ago, but “I think it speaks to the kind of process Craig and I have that was always open to new ideas.” and then evaluate and then do the math homework. Do the math of, what does this give us? How does it affect the rest of the story? Are we better in this version of the story, in this other medium, or are we worse? If we are better, we should fully embrace it. And this was such a beautiful story. It was very easy for me to say, ‘Let’s do it. It sounds amazing.'”
Mazin praises Druckmann for his candor in making changes to his beloved source material: “He, it seemed to me, always understood that it would be great to see him on TV and the world he created with the script he wrote for the game… Until now as far as I’m concerned it’s complicated enough and broad enough, interesting enough and philosophical enough to be flexible to change in [how] adapts to a different 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 hails it as a 10/10 masterpiece.
Alex Stedman is IGN’s news editor and oversees entertainment reporting. When she’s not writing or editing, you can find her reading fantasy novels or playing Dungeons & Dragons.
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