Editor’s note: The below contains spoilers for Episode 3 of The Last of Us.
So far, HBO’s The Last of Us has focused more on the darkness of despair than on the light of hope. The first episode shows us how 20 years into the apocalypse have shaped Joel (Pedro Pascal) into a hard and violent man. Then, in Episode 2, we wander through the destroyed streets of a collapsing city, witnessing the horrors unleashed both by the cordyceps infection and the human bomb trying to contain the outbreak.
Episode 3 begins similarly, following Joel and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) through the desolate landscapes of the post-apocalyptic United States and showing how they struggle to survive. It also gets dark when Joel begins to share the story of military personnel shooting civilians in cold blood for the sake of following orders. Episode 3 also unveils the darkness inside Ellie’s heart, showing fans how she, too, can become a killer like Joel. Yet, Episode 3, “Long Long Time,” will be remembered as one of the most tender and touching love stories ever to come to TV. And by exploring the romance between Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett), HBO’s The Last of Us revealed the blueprint of love and companionship that can be used to rebuild civilization.
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With a runtime almost as long as the feature-length season premiere, Episode 3 of The Last of Us mostly focuses on Bill and Frank’s journey through two decades of the cordyceps pandemic. At first, fans of the show might not be too sympathetic towards Bill, a survivalist who despises humanity and uses the outbreak as an excuse to build his own isolated paradise. Bill gathers resources and turns his neighborhood into a fortress, setting traps against infected and invaders. Bill would never get the chance to be a protagonist in other stories due to his misanthropic behavior. However, The Last of Us uses Bill to explore the complex morality of a decaying world since even unlikable people can have knowledge and skills that are useful for everyone’s survival. Episode 3 also underlines how there’s redemption for everyone, even those we don’t like right away.
In Bill’s case, his redemption comes when Frank falls into one of his pit traps. After begging for help, Frank gets a hot shower, a warm meal, and a fresh change of clothes. The dinner they share also eventually leads Bill and Frank to fall in love with each other. Even though Bill has prepared his whole life to survive alone, years of isolation have shown him he does need other people’s company. So, with tenderness, Frank invites Bill to share a life together, one day at a time.
By exploring Bill and Frank’s relationship, The Last of Us allows us to see how they grow closer together and share their passions with each other. Bill’s pragmatic mind helps Frank to learn how to survive in the apocalypse and keep their sanctuary safe. Frank’s love for beauty and human contact eventually rubs off on Bill, who starts to tailor the neighborhood to their liking, not only according to what they need. And eventually, Frank even convinces Bill to reach out to the world and meet Joel and Tess (Anna Torv). Bill and Frank also become each other’s support through all sorts of trouble, including Frank’s eventual illness, and by the episode’s ending, they decide to sleep side by side forever. It’s a beautiful moment where Bill and Frank realize a life worth living is one we share with those we love. That lesson is what makes Episode 3 so impactful while also showing how The Last of Us’ society can be rebuilt.
Bill and Frank’s neighborhood is the perfect outline for a happy life in the apocalypse. By working together, Bill and Frank remained safe from the Infected while also prospering. There’s hot water, gas to cook, and plenty of space to grow food. And once everything is set, Bill and Frank have time to enjoy each other’s company and invest in hobbies. Bill and Frank’s lifestyle contrast with the harsh life of territories disputed by FEDRA and the Fireflies, showing how everything could be better if people worried more about their material needs than about investing time and resources fighting for control.
That message is also complemented by how, even in the worst possible world, Bill and Frank had a long, fulfilling, and happy life by loving with all their hearts. As Frank tells Bill, not every day is good. Still, their love made it possible to have hope and dream about a better future despite the cordyceps, the looters, and the constant threat of military attacks. Life can never be the same as it was before the cordyceps outbreak, and that’s given. But as humans, we are extremely resilient and capable of surviving the harshest conditions. Bill and Frank, though, exemplify how people can do more than survive if they put their hearts and mind into working together.
By the end of Episode 3, Joel and Ellie reach Bill and Frank’s outpost, only to find out they are dead. The couple’s departure is not tragic, though. They leave the world just like they spent almost two decades — together, well aware that their existence was only made meaningful by each other’s company. Bill and Frank’s farewell sets an example for Joel and Ellie, showing love is more powerful than anger. It also shows Joel how even the hardest man can still find someone worth softening up for, even when the whole world is falling apart. Finally, as Bill and Frank’s heir, Joel now has a safe place where he and Ellie can go back if they fail to find the Fireflies lab they are looking for. Even if Ellie becomes the source of a cure by the end of the season, Bill and Frank’s neighborhood will remain a beacon of hope that should be expanded everywhere if humanity hopes to be saved.
New episodes of The Last of Us come to HBO and HBO Max every Sunday.