The third episode of HBO’s The Last of Us hits pause on Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie’s (Bella Ramsey) trek through the zombie wasteland of Massachusetts to tell us a brief, devastating love story. It’s a stark departure from the video game source material, and, perhaps, one of the more beautiful episodes of television we’ve seen this year.
The episode focuses on Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett), two characters who were only briefly mentioned in the original video game. Bill is a conspiracy theory survivalist who avoids being taken away by the government operation FEDRA by hiding in his bunker. He makes himself a self-sufficient fortress with booby traps to catch zombies and enough wine to last him for years. But then Frank, an interloper, falls into his trap, and Bill reluctantly offers him a shower and feeds him a gourmet meal. This is the start of a decades-long love story that concludes in beautiful but devastating fashion when they both take their lives, having grown old in a world where age and time spent with loved ones are rare gifts.
For co-creator Craig Mazin, writing this episode was about showing a relationship that thrives in the darkness of this dystopia and also presenting the different kinds of love that can exist in this world. “What it came out of was just trying to illuminate the basic theme of what I think this entire show is about,” Mazin says, “which is this dichotomy of people that love to nurture and people whose love is manifested through protection.”
Mazin wanted to bring a moment of respite after the first two acts and plot-heavy episodes. He wanted to give the audience a glimpse of the time between outbreak day and the present day in the show but through the lens of relationships. While Bill and Frank appear in the video game, their roles are different. In the game, Bill interacts with Joel and Ellie, while Frank is only referred to as Bill’s partner who grew frustrated with confinement, left Bill, and killed himself after learning he was infected. In the series, Bill and Frank’s relationship provides insight into Ellie and Joel’s relationship, showing how two different people can need each other.
Frank, in Mazin’s mind, was someone who was always “at peace with who he was.” Bill, on the other hand, was not only closeted in terms of his sexuality but also in terms of his humanity. Frank brings art into Bill’s world, showing how paying attention to things is how we show love. “In a world where you can just get caught up in the value of galvanized wire and gunpowder and all that, here’s somebody saying, ‘I want to make this street look good. I want to paint you. I want to improve the world around us,’” says Mazin.
Mazin knows that altering the plot of a beloved video game might have fans up in arms, but he hopes that this leap is big enough to defy nitpicking. “It’s beyond nit,” he says. “It’s so big and so different. It’s its own thing, let’s just hopefully evaluate it and enjoy it on that basis.”
Nick Offerman was cast as Bill, having played similar anti-establishment characters before. Initially, Craig Mazin was in talks with English