HBO’s The Last of Us has been emotionally devastating us with each new episode released, but nothing could have quite prepared fans for the beautiful storyline following Bill (Parks and Recreations’ Nick Offerman) and Frank (The White Lotus’ Murray Bartlett).
As to be expected, this article will contain spoilers for Bill and Frank’s relationship in The Last of Us. So look away now if you’ve not watched the latest episode on HBO.
Cast your mind back to when the original game released back in 2013, the story of Bill and Frank wasn’t exactly what anyone would call a Taylor Swift-esque ‘love story’. Naughty Dog’s Bill, disgruntled, angry and entrapped in a town full of traps of his own making, was the person necessary to help Joel and Ellie get a working battery to start their car. But was he likeable? Not really. So it wasn’t hard for players to find out that his partner, a man named Frank who Joel and Ellie find dead after killing himself, would have rather died than stay another day inside the hellhole of their own making with Bill.
It has been widely debated if Bill and Frank being ‘partners’ in-game was romantic or not, particularly with how toxic they seemed to be, but HBO’s third episode makes it clear: not only were they in love, but their love saved each other from the darkness that’s part of the world of The Last of Us.
For those viewers who have played the game, HBO’s adaptation of Bill and Frank’s relationship in The Last of Us may come as a shock. Bill and Frank’s relationship starts antagonistic enough, as one would expect when someone falls into a trap you’ve made, but as they begin to live together and their love blooms, the adaptation moves away from following the game’s take on their story completely. Instead of their relationship falling into something toxic and abrasive, viewers are treated to a life where they play piano, eat dinner together, and kiss and hold one another. It’s tender and warm, a far-cry from the post-apocalyptic agony that our protagonists, Joel and Ellie, have been going through since the very beginning.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t hardship. Not only does the show move away from what’s been established by the game, but it changes the ending for Bill completely. As the two’s life together continues and we watch our couple grow older, we find out that Frank is dying from a terminal illness and his last wish is for Bill to give him a perfect day. The perfect day is go shopping, get married, eat a nice meal and then for Bill to crush up some pills in Frank’s wine, and then hold him as he goes to sleep. It is a scene full of equal amounts of love and devastation.
However, what plays out is a little different. The couple get married, but Bill does not want to be without Frank and takes his own portion of pills. It’s a stark change, but it’s clear that it isn’t one done out of malice by the showrunners, Craig Mazin and creator of the original game, Neil Druckmann. Instead of a Bill that is left behind, angry at the world and emotionally scarred by Frank’s loss and betrayal, the two choose the option that they would rather be dead and together than alone and apart. It’s nothing short of beautiful.
Now there could be an argument that the show could have easily written an ending that had both of them still alive, and instead chose the ‘bury your gays’ route. I personally disagree, and I’m glad Mazin acknowledges why when he spoke to GQ about the third episode. “My feeling about that trope is that it’s really about gay characters dying so that straight characters can mourn them and improve their lives and move on,” Mazin tells GQ. “In other words, gay people are just an instrument for straight people. And this is certainly not the case here. Their relationship is self-contained.”
And he is right. Frank and Bill’s ending together is tragic and it’ll bring a tear to your eye (as it did mine) each time you watch it. Hell, people are even comparing it to the introductory scenes of Pixar’s Up, a huge compliment in itself. But the couple’s relationship doesn’t exist to prove a point to the heterosexual characters in The Last of Us. The only point proven is that they love one another, and isn’t that beautiful, something worth celebrating?