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The Last Of Us' third episode is a triumphant departure from the games

The Last Of Us' third episode is a triumphant departure from the games

One of the best hours of TV you'll watch this year

HBO’s The Last Of Us is, for the most part, a fiercely loyal adaptation. Co-showrunners Neil Druckmann (who created the original game) and Craig Mazin (the man behind quirky comedy hit Chernobyl) recognise that The Last Of Us’ core story beats are universally acclaimed for a reason. And why mess with a good thing?

The show chooses to expand on the world not by completely changing what came before, but by adding to it organically. We see Sarah’s last day before the outbreak truly takes hold, the creeping realisation that something is wrong as shops close early and military planes fly overhead. We flash back to scientists realising with horror that an uncontrollable virus is about to kill everyone they love and the only way out is to bomb the shit out of everything.

These are moments that weren’t in the game, true, but they also do nothing to drastically alter the source material. It’s a smart approach that serves the show well… right up until a gut-wrenching third episode that completely rips up everything we’ve come to know about one of The Last Of Us’ more forgotten relationships. And it’s all in service of a far superior story.

Major spoilers for The Last Of Us game and show follow.

Fans of The Last Of Us, the original game that is, will be familiar with Bill, a grumpy survivalist that lives in a small town on the outskirts of Boston. Bill has rigged the town’s perimeter to ensure that stray infected and unwanted human guests are swiftly and violently dealt with, and appears to live out his days in complete solitude.

When Joel and Ellie meet Bill, he’s an acerbic and deeply paranoid individual who has clearly been burned by putting his trust in a partner. A partner called Frank. It’s hinted at - though never explicitly stated - that Bill and Frank had a romantic relationship for a time.

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As Joel, Ellie, and Bill face hordes of infected in an attempt to find a car battery so that our leading duo can continue their journey across America, they discover Frank’s body. It transpires that, in attempting to steal the car battery for himself so that he could leave Bill, he was infected. Rather than turn into a monster, he hanged himself; but not before leaving a note for Bill that bitterly explained how much he couldn’t stand his partner, and that dying was preferable to spending another day with him. Yikes.

Going into the third episode of the HBO show knowing we were about to meet Bill (played here by Parks And Recreation’s Nick Offerman), I thought I knew what to expect. Given how close to the source material the show had decided to stick up to this point, I assumed we’d join Joel, Ellie, and Bill on a harrowing adventure to retrieve a car battery from a school full of infected. And that would have been excellent! But what we got instead was a beautifully written, expertly performed two-hander that completely subverted my expectations to deliver one of the finest hours of TV so far this decade. And I mean that without a whiff of hyperbole.

The Last Of Us’ third episode slams on the brakes and pulls us away from Joel and Ellie’s quest to deliver a standalone story that recounts Bill’s surprisingly pleasant existence in the apocalypse. Yes, almost everyone who has watched the show in advance is saying episode three is the best of the bunch. But the thing is… they’re right. This is a sweet, tender, and heartbreaking exploration of love at the end of the world anchored by its stellar leading men. It deserves to be celebrated for a long time to come.

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After a brief catchup with Joel and Ellie at the start of the episode we flash back and spend the vast majority of our time with Bill. In the weeks following the original outbreak we see that the grizzled survivalist has been preparing for the end of the world for quite some time. Hiding out in his basement as he waits for the military to force the residents of his small town onto trucks destined for Quarantine Zones (or open graves), Bill soon emerges and has the run of the place. He gets a generator up and running, grabs all the food, fuel, and supplies from the nearby stores, and sets up an impenetrable series of fences and traps around his home. For the first couple of years Bill is content to live out his days alone, eating steak dinners and laughing as he watches stray infected wander into his traps on the monitors he’s set up. If you’d told me this was Ron Swanson taking on the apocalypse, I’d have believed you.

Eventually, some years into the end of the world, Bill meets Frank (played by Murray Bartlett). Frank has wandered into one of Bill’s many traps - though fortunately not one of the fatal ones - and Bill reluctantly agrees to let him come for dinner. Offerman puts in an incredible performance as Bill here; the tough facade fizzling into boyish nerves as he spends an evening with another human being for the first time in a long time.

Bartlett is no slouch either, playing his feelings for Bill as genuinely complex, his true intentions hard to fully gauge. I’ll admit: knowing what I knew about Bill and Frank from the game, I was wary of the relationship at first. Part of me feared Frank was merely doing what he needed to do to survive, certainly during their first night together. Not that I could blame him, mind you. Bill had warm food, hot water, and security, after all. Maybe I’m just a cynical bastard. My colleague certainly read that first encounter differently, so I am by no means saying mine is the definitive take here.

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Even so, as I watched the two fight, bond, and bicker over the following years I found myself waiting for things to go wrong. Except… they didn’t. Not really. The pair survive raiders and infected and, by the episode’s end, a much older - and terminally ill - Frank comes to Bill with a request: to share one last, perfect day with him. Frank wants to go shopping. He wants to get married to the love of his life. He wants a beautiful meal. And, at the end of the day, he wants Bill to crush up some pills in his wine, allowing him to go out the way he chooses rather than wither away any further from his illness.

There can be no doubt in anyone’s mind as Bill gently agrees to his lover’s devastating request that the two truly loved each other. If you aren’t in floods of tears by the time the two sit down for their final meal together, I fear there is a fundamental part of your soul missing. If Offerman doesn’t win every award going for the look on his face as he pours Frank that last glass of wine, I will riot.

And yet, even in this most heartbreaking of moments, there is light from a certain angle: Bill reveals that he’s slipped a little something into his own wine, too, content that he’s lived a perfect life and seeing no reason to go on alone as an old man at the end of all things. Frank says he should be outraged, but chooses to see the romantic side of it and smiles. Bill takes his husband in his arms, and the two go to bed.

If you know anything about The Last Of Us, you know that happy endings are hard to come by. Those that don’t die are eventually consumed by rage or revenge. Heck, in the game it’s Frank’s hatred of Bill that drives him to his grim death. That’s what makes episode three such a breath of fresh air. It’s not just because we pause the action to explore a touching love story, or because we’ll be talking about Offerman and Bartlett’s easy chemistry for years to come. It’s because, perhaps for the first time ever in this harrowing universe, we learn that happy endings are possible. Bill and Frank shared a joyful life together and, when they were ready, went out on their own terms. The next six episodes have their share of misery in store, so cherish episode three for what it is: a reminder that, sometimes, love really is all you need.

Featured Image Credit: HBO

Topics: The Last Of Us, TV And Film, Sony, Naughty Dog