Episode 3 of “The Last of Us” was a bit of a surprise. Whether it was a pleasant one or not depends on how much you like the grumpy-sunshine trope. Do you like it enough that you don’t mind it interrupting what should otherwise be a gritty thriller? Because we cannot deny that dedicating an entire episode to a love story is a stark deviation from the game. We have taken the time to question this creative decision, and we can only come up with one explanation- it is an attempt to set itself apart from others in the genre. Come to think of it, people trying to survive in an apocalyptic world is not a new concept. As popular as “The Last of Us” game was, it is a decade old, and many more movies and series have been made and watched, with the bulk of their storylines being rather similar.
Staying completely true to the narrative of the game would have just been old wine in a not-very-new bottle. We believe that the makers have tried to humanize the life and journeys of the characters in the show and depict them as more than just survivors. In “The Last of Us” Episode 2, we felt that the story was not moving at the pace that it deserved to, but in retrospect, that episode showed how Joel, Ellie, and Tess were coming together as a sort of family before they were ripped apart by circumstances. The episode was not about Ellie’s value as a vaccine; it was about three people being together for each other in a way only a family could. Similarly, “The Last of Us” Episode 3 is also a story of love. Where Tinder didn’t work, an apocalypse did.
When Joel asked Bill what he was before the pandemic, his reply was “survivalist,” which is a person who practices outdoor survival skills as a sport or a hobby. But if that was all Bill was, it meant that he probably never had a proper job. Remember how Frank calls him a “paranoid schizophrenic” later in the episode? The mental health joke aside, we are asking you to shift your perspective for one second. Imagine this man in a normal world where nobody even knows what Cordyceps is. He is the character who is used as comic relief in most movies and series for their over-preparedness for something “that will not happen.” We are not supporting any conspiracy theory here, but who is the one laughing now that the world has actually gone crazy? This is why Nick Offerman was such a genius casting decision. Vince Gilligan understood that a traditionally comic actor was the better choice for this role because of the transition in the audience’s perception of the character from the normal world to the one infected by Cordyceps. He turns from someone we would have laughed at to a person whose shoes we want to be in. This was an instrumental factor in the love story between Bill and Frank.
Bill found Frank the way someone finds a cat stuck in a tree it cannot get down from. He looked helpless, scared, and cute and was honest in a way, Bill had probably never encountered much of. Considering that he had self-admittedly lived a lonely life, we doubt he had ever been in a position of power to help others. We wouldn’t be surprised if this was a person who had been ridiculed and taken advantage of many times. After all, gruff exteriors hide many scars. He did say that he hated everyone. Well, there must have been some cause for it. And here comes a man who is honest about having wanted to lie when they first met. When Bill pulled Frank out of the hole he had fallen into, we had a feeling that he was captivated by his eyes, which seemed to speak before he did.
Bill was the kind of guy who saw the infected and the regular people get caught in his booby traps the way we watch true crime while eating dinner. Yet he couldn’t deny the urge to help Frank. Maybe it was his humor that was unfazed by Bill’s curt replies or just a happy smile at the simple things that Bill was probably not used to seeing. When Frank was taking a shower or even eating food, we couldn’t help but notice the stark contrast between their manners. Frank was used to the company; Bill wasn’t, yet there was no awkwardness between them. It did not escape us that their first meal looked very akin to a date, with a set table and good food, the right wine, and a pretty overall view. When Bill heard Frank’s compliments, it seemed like the first time he was being appreciated. He was clearly attracted to his guest, and we knew it was being reciprocated when we saw the piano scene. Hearing Bill sing clicked something in place for Frank. We don’t doubt that he understood his attraction to him long ago, but the song told Frank exactly what kind of man Bill was, which cemented his decision to give this a shot. Bill had led a lonely life, which was mostly fueled by his anger towards the rest of humanity but seeing that there was love in store for him made him change gears and open himself up to Frank.
Days turned into weeks, which turned into months and years. They were as good as a married couple. We notice this when Frank says that the house belongs to him as much as the areas around it. Bill and Frank having a meal with Joel and Tess as friends is the picture of domestic bliss, which is equal parts sweet and funny.
Frank was the wide-eyed sunshine, and Bill was the grump who took on the role of a protector. We are considering something here. Had it been a normal world, Bill would continue to be perceived as the paranoid guy who people would either ignore or make fun of. Frank strikes us as a bit of a social butterfly. Had they met under normal circumstances, would they still have been together? Would Frank have tired of Bill’s set-in-stone ways, or would they have built a life around them? We would like to think the latter because we detected a quiet strength and a high level of emotional intelligence in Frank, which especially came out when Bill was injured. He took care of the situation and did not panic one bit. We don’t doubt that had Bill really passed on that day, Frank would have continued life as it was without leaning on Joel as Bill wanted him to. What is to say that this strength wouldn’t have shown itself in a normal world when it would have been Frank who would need to protect Bill from the sneers and taunts of the world?
Frank was a person who liked to live his life while soaking in all the adventures it had to offer. He was the one who brought beauty into Bill’s life with friends, smiles, and strawberries. He had found love and lived his life with it, but when he was bound to a wheelchair, we could tell that life had lost some of its luster for him. He was still a happy man, but not as much as he would have liked to be. Maybe if it were a normal world, there would still be some scope for happiness with his needs being taken care of by someone else, letting him have the emotional bandwidth to enjoy his time with Bill. But that wasn’t the case, and Frank realized that while he was still in a position to make decisions for himself, he wanted to say goodbye. That is what he asked of Bill: a final good day, one that would represent their entire time spent together. Bill understood Frank well enough to honor his wishes. He had led a lonely life, one that was centered around the motive of survival. It was Frank who had given it love and joy. Isn’t that what love is anyway—the thing that gives meaning to all our struggles? Without Frank, there was no point in survival because who would he live it with? Who would surprise him with strawberries, and who would get into petty arguments with him? As Bill said, he was satisfied. The apocalypse had given him something regular life hadn’t, and he had treasured it with his body and soul. Going with Frank was the natural end to it—the neatly tied bow on a fulfilled life spent with the one you loved.
Bill and Frank were really meant for each other in ways that make sense only to those in love. We truly don’t care that this was a break from the “zombie action” that everyone was expecting. It was one of the sweetest things we have seen on screen in a long time, and we will stand by the creative team’s decision to give this couple their own episode. Now, we can’t wait to see the other ways in which the writers plan to pull at our heartstrings.