Long, Long Time: The Last of Us, Episode Three

Long, Long Time: The Last of Us, Episode Three

And we’re back with the next episode of The Last of Us. As I outline this piece, the episode has aired a few days ago (vastly different from when this article will be published, I know), and the internet is absolutely buzzing. Most of the chatter I hear is about how devastatingly wonderful this episode is, which makes for a nice change. I’ve curated my social media well.

Let’s get into it, shall we?

We open up more or less where we left off in episode two. It begins with Joel stacking rocks, in what I can only assume is a small tribute to Tess. I remember seeing in the chatter that this was a Jewish tradition, and that Joel Miller is canonically Jewish. I did not know this prior to the show, and it’s a nice touch.

There are some more nice touches in the beginning of the episode that harken to the game — Ellie putting Joel (rightly) in his place speaks to her character very well. The mention of Ellie’s friend who knows all the ins and outs of the Mortal Kombat arcade game is another one that should make the gamers smile, though I believe in the game they had a made-up PvP. I imagine getting the rights to Mortal Kombat would have been a little too pricey for Naughty Dog.

That’s where the similarities to the game end, more or less. They manage to maintain some neat parallels, though. I’ll go more into that later. First, I want to talk about the episode itself.

One of the major changes made me incredibly happy was Ellie finding a box of tampons in the show. It is the first time in media of the apocalyptic nature that there is any mention of how women cope with their very specific needs. As a woman who isn’t likely to give up the minute something hits, it’s nice to see.

Ellie also never encounters a trapped stalker in the game. I’m not sure why they included it in the show, but it does provide some insight into Ellie’s nature that will probably become very important in Season Two. The encounter’s purpose has not been answered this episode.

I also appreciate that we get some insight into how the outbreak happened. We don’t really get that in the game. In the show, the leading theory is the mutated cordyceps got into the food supply; likely flour or sugar. If you pay attention to the delivery, you realize the Joel realizes just how close he came to becoming one of the infected. It’s all in Episode One. If he hadn’t run out of pancake mix for the birthday pancakes his daughter was going to make, if he hadn’t forgotten to bring home the cake after work like he promised, he might have lost the survival lottery without ever knowing it.

We also learn what Fedra did to perfectly healthy folks they took from their homes to relocate to a quarantine zone… only the zone was full (spoilers: they killed them all).

Joel explaining what Fedra did when Ellie comes across the kill site. The dead can’t get infected.

And from that history lesson, we meet Bill; who most in his town likely would have considered a doomsday prepper type (sorry, “survivalist”). He has a basement full of guns, accessible by a hidden trap door (which enables him to escape the previously mentioned Fedra roundup), and a seriously impressive surveillance set-up.

Following the emptying of his town by Fedra, Bill is just out there living his best post-apocalyptic life. He turns his tiny town into a gated community of one, surrounded by booby traps. Honestly, I feel like Bill has it figured out.

Then, like all good romance stories Frank falls into his life. Almost literally. The man falls into one of the pits Bill creates, and Bill rescues him. Like all good Romance stories, Bill is wildly reluctant to let Frank near. He points him in the direction of Boston, before Frank manages to wheedle his way into the gates for a hot shower and a good meal.

A really good meal. With wine.

So… Beaujolais goes with rabbit, does it? *takes notes*

Like I said, Bill is living his best post-apocalyptic life.

At first, everything is tense and awkward, but in a sweet sort of way. They bond over music. As it happens, Bill is not only an incredible cook, but also a fair piano player. And this is where we learn that Bill and Frank are both gay. What follows is a surprisingly bold, extraordinarily tender connection.

I have to commend Nick Offerman here, who managed to portray Bill in a such a beautiful, vulnerable way. From this one scene, you understand that Bill has been alone longer than the outbreak, that he’s spent his whole life being isolated, as is too often the case for people in the LGBTQA+ spectrum living in places where they are not accepted.

The experience we get with Bill and Frank is as human as any other human story in this series. In a humorous mood-whiplash we run from tender and vulnerable to a couples fight three years later. And it is here we learn the Frank has been speaking with Tess over the radio.

Bill was less than impressed.

At Frank’s insistence, he and Bill form something of a friendship with a younger Tess and Joel.

I cannot tell you how tickled I was by the garden party in the town in the middle of the apocalypse. It was such a weirdly joyous juxtaposition to the gravity of the situation the whole world finds itself it.

The romance continues with the loveliest scene in which Frank shows Bill his strawberry patch. We discover Frank traded a gun for a packet of seeds, and I wonder if it’s the handgun Joel has currently strapped to his belt. We hear one of the best lines of the episode, I think: “I was never afraid until you showed up.”

We learn that the friendship Frank fostered, however reluctant on Bill’s end, is true. When Bill gets injured in a firefight with raiders, he tells Frank to call Joel. That Joel would take care of him. I was worried that Bill would be killed here. They have changed so much from the game, that I wasn’t sure where they would take it.

They don’t, thank goodness, but cut to years later, and Frank, the previously fit, healthy one of the pair, is in a wheelchair. They never really discuss what it is that Frank suffers from, but from the paintings he makes, it appears degenerative. Very sweetly, it’s Bill that has taken over watering the flowers and caring for the house; a sort of frivolous, unnecessary to survival thing that he had previously castigated Frank for. Bill isn’t just a survivalist here. He’s a partner. He’s nurturing.

What follows is one of the most heart wrenching, romantic endings of a story I can think of. Unable to be cured, Frank decides to end his life. Unable to live without his partner, Bill decides to join him. Frank was, after all, Bill’s purpose. And so together, they have one last glorious day, overdose on Frank’s medication, and fall asleep together, never to wake up.

When I tell you I sobbed, I mean I cried so hard the chair shook.

A frighteningly accurate reenactment of me after that scene.

And this is how Joel and Ellie find them; or rather the note left by Bill, warning them not to go to the bedroom. In that note Bill relates to Joel that they are the same kind of person, that they exist to protect others. Bill refers specifically to Tess, striking a nerve with Joel, but despite Tess’ death, we know that Bill is right. Joel is protective. And he still has someone to protect. There is some decent foreshadowing in that note, particularly when Bill writes “God help any motherfuckers who stand in our way.”

We learn that Bill and Frank were likely already dead when Joel, Tess and Ellie escaped the Boston QZ, thanks to the automatic transmission Bill set on his radio that broadcasts the code for trouble (80s music, which plays on Joel’s radio right before the ending credits in the first episode), should he not be around to stop it.

I could write and entire dissertation on this episode alone, but that’s not why I’m here.

This Bill was exactly the same and vastly different from the Bill we meet in the game. The Bill we meet in the game is still gay, still very much a loner, still creates boobytraps, and hates the world. But in the game he is embittered, alone, and still very much alive. He meets Ellie, which provides for some hilarious banter. I’m a little sad we missed that wonderful interaction, but what we got more than makes up for it.

Bill from the show vs Bill from the game. Great casting, in my opinion. Courtesy of IGN

Frank is not alive. Frank, we learn through the gameplay, tried to escape the life he had with Bill, got himself bitten, and then hanged himself rather than turn.

This particular sequence in the game is, as the rest of the game, action-packed. We pick up Bill as a temporary companion in the quest for the truck battery that Frank stole in his escape attempt. We fight and sneak our way past countless infected, most of them clickers. It’s also with Bill that we encounter our first Bloater (in the school gym). At least, that’s my recollection. It has been many years.

He’s a big boy.

We don’t see any of the love story presented to us in the television show. All indications from the game point to something less than the beautiful tale we saw unfold on the screen.

However, for all the changes they made to the story, Bill still serves as a sort of mirror for Joel. It’s spelled out in the show by way of Bill’s letter, but the parallels are plain to see in game. He serves to reflect aspects of Joel. In the game, those aspects are less lovely; the tendency to become cold and withdrawn, to become embittered. It a warning, of a kind. A look at Joel’s potential future. That’s not what happens to Joel in the game, thanks in no small part to Ellie. But it very easily could have.

In the show, Bill undergoes the same transformation Joel will. The hardcore survivalist is replaced by a competent, but also nurturing and more open person. This isn’t to say that they’re any less dangerous. They’re absolutely not. Joel will take on a bloater with a baseball bat if it even turns Ellie’s way. Bill will take out any and all raiders that tests the integrity of his fence (and booby traps).

I can see why this episode was the talk of the town for so long. The story was terribly, tragically sweet, and one we don’t really see enough of in mainstream media. I loved it so much.

Aaaaannd here come the tears again.

What a beautiful love letter to love. I may never recover.

Articles in this series:

When You’re Lost in the Darkness: The Last of Us, Episode One
Infected: The Last of Us, Episode Two
Long, Long Time: The Last of Us, Episode Three
Please Hold My Hand: The Last of Us, Episode Four

When S.M. Carrière isn’t brutally killing your favourite characters, she spends her time teaching martial arts, live streaming video games, occasionally teaching at the University of Ottawa, and cuddling her cat. In other words, she spends her time teaching others to kill, streaming her digital kills, teaching about historical death, and cuddling a furry murderer. Her latest novels are SkylarkDaughters of Britain, and Human.

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Eugene R

Another example of how the show is succeeding in bringing the story to life, with only some of the video game effects brought in (the night-time raid with regular “fired up” booby traps) to enhance and not replace the character interaction. Note to self: remember to have a working power plant nearby during the post-apocalypse!

Shame that a vocal minority of viewers were upset by the same-sex romance.

S.M. Carrière

I am very fortunate indeed that that vocal minority is not in any of my social media feeds. I did take the time to curate them, though.

This departure from the game here in order to provide a fuller look at a minor character from the game was just brilliantly done. And that it was so beautifully written and acted was an added bonus.

The Last of Us is getting an awful lot right without being a complete carbon copy of the game. That’s how an adaptation ought to be done, in my opinion.

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