A Spotlight on “The Last of Us”


Courtesy of HBO Max

Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett) share a tragic, yet beautiful spotlight in HBO’s “The Last of Us.”

***The following article contains spoilers for episode 3 of “The Last of Us”***
HBO Max’s newest series “The Last of Us” has been an outstanding success, with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 97 percent and 4.7 million viewers tuning in to watch the show’s premiere episode upon release. This comes as no surprise given the popularity of its source material, as well as notable actors Pedro Pascal (“The Mandalorian”) and Bella Ramsey (“Game of Thrones”) starring as the leads. In the show, we follow Pascal’s character Joel as he navigates zombie-infested wastelands in hopes of finding his brother. As the series goes on we watch as Joel and Ramsey’s character Ellie, whom Joel is tasked with protecting, start to bond and eventually form a father-daughter relationship.
With this premise in mind, it is easy to see how viewers were confused that upon tuning into the third episode, they found a beautifully heartbreaking gay love story in the place of their regularly scheduled zombie apocalypse media. “The Last of Us” episode three, titled “Long, Long Time,” departs from the main storyline to follow the story of survivalist Bill (played by Nick Offerman). Having stockpiled guns, ammunition, and survival supplies well before the outbreak occurred, Bill was more than prepared for life in the apocalypse. We watch as Bill lives out his days in his self-made fortress setting up booby-traps to watch happily as the infected stumble into them. That is until one day when our second lead Frank, played by Murray Bartlett, falls into one of the traps, a suiting zombie apocalypse meet-cute if you have ever seen one. After checking to make sure that he is not infected, Bill offers Frank a shower and a meal on the condition that he will leave immediately afterwards. One thing leads to another and the two share an emotional kiss after Bill plays the piano for Frank. The two live happily for many years afterwards, carrying on until Frank inevitably gets ill in his old age. This leads to a bitter-sweet ending where we see Bill and Frank have one last perfect day, including a dinner that mirrors the first one they shared together, before making the decision to end their lives together.
While this might seem like a terrible ending to an otherwise perfectly sweet love story, fans of the game have widely disagreed. In the games, Bill and Frank are very minor characters and play a relatively insignificant role in forwarding our main characters’ storyline. When introduced, Bill is still alive in the present, with Frank having killed himself after getting infected. Another big change from the game to the show was that in the game, the pair’s relationship is not stated and so it is up to the player to infer their romantic relationship. So instead of having Bill and Frank love each other until their last moments when they die in each other’s arms, we are left with a broken and despondent Bill whose fate is left ambiguous.
This is why what the show has decided to do with their storyline is so important, since it subverts the “bury your gays trope” that is prevalent in LGBTQ+ media. The “bury you gays trope” is a phenomenon in which LGBTQ characters are killed off, normally as a way to further the storyline of straight characters. Granted, Bill and Frank do die at the end of the episode, but it is on their own terms and is used to complete their arc. Their love was so strong that they would rather die together than live apart, which is the perfect ending especially considering how solitary Bill was at the beginning of the episode.
Though no one can say that there has not been heaps of progress in regards to representation of the LGBTQ+ community in media, the quality of this representation is still often brought under scrutiny. It is not enough to just be seen, there needs to be true representation that isn’t infused with trauma or death. Which is why it is very important that a major streaming service such as HBO Max has made the effort to showcase such good representation to such a large audience. Bill and Frank’s story might be over, but hopefully their legacy will live on.