Let's discuss The Last of Us episode three
King of the Bill.
Episode three of The Last of Us is remarkable. Remarkable because, despite giving us a look at moments that aren't actually in the game, it still manages to capture the tone and feel of it all perfectly. It embellishes on the show's theme of love in a world that is crumbling. In all honesty, it took my breath away.
That's not to say that episode three won't be controversial. While it does expand on the series' story in its own way, there are elements from the game that those who have played will likely miss, and I'm confident there will be plenty of discourse on this episode.
So, without further ado, let's dive on in and take a closer look at the third episode of HBO's The Last of Us adaptation, 'Long, long time'.
THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR BOTH THE SHOW AND THE GAME SERIES IT IS BASED ON. ADDITIONALLY, THERE ARE DISCUSSIONS OF SUICIDE BELOW. PLEASE READ ON AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION.
The first thing we should talk about is just how different episode three of The Last of Us is compared to the game. Unlike previous recaps, this article will not have as many direct comparisons. While there are still scenes with Joel and Ellie, showing them both making their way to Bill's, and coming to terms with Tess' death (Joel blames Ellie and gives her the cold shoulder, Ellie defends herself and stresses that nobody forced Joel and Tess to take her out of the QZ), they are not the main focus of this episode.
The people we spend most of our time with here are Bill and Frank, two largely overlooked characters in the game. And this big move away from the pre-existing plot provides us with some truly beautiful television that further expands the world of The Last of Us.
In the show, Bill and Frank's story is told over 20 years.
We first meet Bill a few days after the outbreak began. His town, Lincoln, has managed to avoid the infection and is in the process of being evacuated by FEDRA. This is something that happened in the lore of the game as well, with Joel and Ellie coming across old signs for the evacuation process when they make their way to Bill's.
Bill being Bill, however, is not going to see himself carted off to the QZ (or, at least, that is where people are being told they are going - more on that later). So, as FEDRA bangs on doors and loads people into trucks, Bill hides in his dark and fortified basement, watching the process unfold on CCTV until the coast is clear.
When the coast is clear, we get a better look at the extent of Bill's abode - and his already impressive survivalist prepping.
I love this next montage. As the world outside of Lincoln is falling into disarray, the cantankerous Bill, who openly does not like other people, is excited by the prospect of his future alone.
He loads up barrels with petrol, he raids the hardware store for supplies, he pops to the winery and freely adds to his collection. He then sets about making traps - something those who have played the game will be very aware of - and secures Lincoln off from the rest of the world.
Bill's hometown is now his fortress of solitude, complete with white picket fences, vegetable patches and chicken coops. Unlike in the game, it remains free of infected and most of the general commotion for the rest of the episode.
After we get to see one of Bill's perimeter traps in action (an infected receives a swift shot to the head after walking through a tripwire), the scene then fast forwards four years to 2007. As Bill is working away in his house, he hears one of his traps being triggered, and looks to his cameras to see that something has fallen into one of his hidden pits. He goes to investigate, and we, along with Bill, meet the very bad at lying but charming Frank.
As Bill keeps Frank at a distance, and at gunpoint, Frank explains he was heading to Boston from the Baltimore QZ, a place that is now "gone" (like some QZs in the game). He is alone, having started out in a group of 10. After Bill clarifies that Frank is not infected (he has managed to get his hands on a cordyceps scanner), Frank manages to convince a dour Bill to give him a meal. And thus begins their love story.
Where Bill is closed and always on the alert, Frank is warm and open. He has an almost boyish charm in these first moments at Bill's house, remaining wide-eyed at his new surroundings.
Bill, meanwhile, clearly isn't sure of how to act around his new guest - he fumbles and makes slightly awkward conversation. He is nervous. Despite being the guest, it's Frank who puts Bill at ease in his own home, and allows him to gradually open up.
After a moving moment shared over the piano, where both Frank and Bill play Linda Ronstadt's "Long, Long Time" with varying degrees of success, Frank asks Bill "who the girl" is. To this, Bill reveals there "is no girl", and Frank says he knows. The two then share their first, tender, kiss.
Clearly aware that despite Bill being gay he has had very little experience, Frank takes the lead, and tells Bill to have a shower. When Bill is done, the two spend their first night together, with Frank stating he will "start with the simple things". Before he does, however, he tells Bill he is not a "whore" who has "sex for lunches", so he will be staying for a few days.
It is a really beautiful and very pure moment between two people. In this moment, Bill's gruff and closed off demeanour is gone, with an innocent and much softer presence replacing it.
We never get to see this side of Bill in the game, and while he does tell Joel there was a time in his life when "[he] had somebody [he] cared about", this topic never gets the chance to be explored fully.
In the game, the section based in Bill's hometown is really nothing more than a stop in the road for Joel and Ellie. We chat both about and with Bill as we play as Joel, and understand he is a survivor who can help us get supplies and upgrades, but his character development is all relatively base level. After all, in the game, our main focus is always on Joel and Ellie, and their nascent relationship.
Meanwhile, we never spend any time at all with Frank in the game. As Joel and Ellie make thier way through the town, there are a few clues that there is someone else in Lincoln other than Bill, with things like the car battery being missing from the truck Joel and Bill search at the high school, but he is never specifically named. In fact, Frank's connection to Bill is only properly revealed when Bill and Joel happen upon Frank's dead body.
Here it transpires that Frank was bitten after parting ways with Bill. In order to avoid succumbing to the cordyceps, Frank hung himself, leaving a note stating he had grown tired of Bill's ways and that he "hated [Bill's] guts".
"I wanted more from life than this and you could never get that," Frank wrote in his suicide note. In the game, players can choose to give this note to Bill. If they do, Bill will try to show a certain amount of bravado, but he is clearly hurt by Frank's final words to him.
The show plays this entire relationship very differently, and, in my opinion, tells a much better story. The rest of the episode continues following Bill and Frank over the years, and it is a wonderful depiction of a very real couple. They squabble about isolation and decor, they surprise each other (there is one moment where Frank surprises Bill with a fresh strawberry harvest and oh, my heart), they worry about each other, they laugh, they joke, they cry.
Over these years, they meet Joel and Tess, after Frank (much to Bill's annoyance) reveals he has been chatting with a nice lady on the radio and has invited her to Lincoln. We then have a rather wonderful scene of the four enjoying lunch in the afternoon sun. And yes, this means we get to see Anna Torv as Tess again.
Frank in the show is the perfect antidote to Bill's paranoia and distrusting nature. When Joel and Tess visit, it is Frank that comes up with the idea of a radio code (something we saw in the first episode), Frank that agrees to a partnership with Joel and Tess, and Frank that lets Tess inside their house. Bill, on the other hand, remains feeling very on edge at the table, with a gun beside his plate.
However, while Bill does not want to form a connection with either Joel or Tess, he eventually realises a partnership could benefit him as much as it would benefit them. Joel points out he can get medical supplies from the QZ, and wire to help upgrade Bill's fortifications: things that prove to be life-saving after raiders attempt to storm Lincoln one night, leaving Bill with a gunshot wound in the abdomen.
Perhaps the show's biggest change to Bill and Frank's story, however, is how it is wrapped up. As I have already mentioned, in the game their story does not have a happy ending. In the show, however, they have a beautiful one.
In our final moments with Bill and Frank in episode three, it is shown that Frank has a degenerative disease. He is in a wheelchair, with Bill caring for him. Eventually, Frank reveals to Bill that he will take his own life, and asks Bill to help him do it.
Together, they share one last day in Lincoln, walking around its streets, going to the boutique and getting a new outfit, and making wedding vows to each other in their home. Then, after one last meal together, with this scene incredibly reminiscent of their very first meal together, Bill stirs crushed up pills into Frank's wine, which he drinks. It's after this that Bill reveals he also added enough pills "to kill a horse" into the wine bottle he had been drinking from.
"This isn't the tragic suicide at the end of the play. I'm old, I'm satisfied. You were my purpose," Bill tells Frank. Bill then takes Frank to the bedroom, so they can die peacefully together in each other's arms.
We are then reunited with Joel and Ellie as they enter Lincoln. Of course, when they arrive at Bill and Frank's, they do not find the couple, with Joel clearly sensing something has changed.
When they enter Bill and Frank's house, Ellie comes across a note addressed to "whoever, but probably Joel" and a car key. This note from Bill tells Joel he can have all of the weapons and supplies he needs, but asks him not to come into the bedroom, saying while the window has been left open it would "probably be a sight".
In addition to this gesture, Bill shares the following words with Joel in his note:
"I used to hate the world, and I was happy when everybody died. But, I was wrong, because there was one person worth saving. That's what I did. I saved him. Then I protected him. That's why men like you and me are here. We have a job to do. And God help any motherfuckers that stand in our way."
The note specifically mentions Joel protecting Tess, and Joel leaves the house to collect himself. In this moment, Joel believes he has failed - that he has failed Sarah, and failed Tess. It is also, of course, foreshadowing for the lengths Joel will go to to protect Ellie.
Joel then sets about getting the car ready for his and Ellie's journey, with the two also showering and stocking up on supplies from the house. In a nice nod for fans, Ellie and Joel change into their tops from the game before the two make their way from Lincoln, and begin heading in the direction of Tommy's.
As they drive off, with this being Ellie's first time in a car (a change from the game), Ellie finds a cassette in the glove compartment, and puts it on. The two leave Lincoln with Linda Ronstadt's "Long, Long Time" playing, as the scene pans to Bill and Frank's open bedroom window, with the curtains blowing in the breeze.
"And I've done everything I know, To try and make you mine. And I think I'm gonna love you, For a long, long time" - Linda Ronstadt
Once again, I ended this episode in tears, and immediately went to hug my husband.
Before I finish this piece, there are a few other things from this episode that deserve to be discussed.
Firstly, unlike the last two episodes, episode three does not start with a cold open. Rather we are presented with its haunting opening credits, before cutting straight to Joel in the woods, 10 miles beyond Boston.
He is having a rather reflective moment by a river, stacking stones on its bank. Stone stacking, or balancing, is often said to provide meditative benefits, and help with anxiety. In this moment, Joel is thinking about Tess, and the little moments like this furhter develop Joel's character in the show.
Secondly, this episode confirms the much-discussed bread theory. When Ellie asks how the infection started, Joel explains the Cordyceps mutated and got into the food supply, contaminating everyday products like flour and sugar. Then people started biting, and here we are.
In the game, players can find a newspaper clipping in Joel and Sarah's house that reveals the infection began spreading after a series of crops became infected in South America. This article reads:
"The Food and Drug Administration's investigation of crops potentially tainted with mould continues across the country. Initial lists distributed to vendors nationwide warned against crops imported from South America, but now the scope has extended to include Central America and Mexico. Several companies have already voluntarily recalled their food products from the shelves."
So, the same, but different.
I mentioned earlier that the people being evacuated from Lincoln were under the impression they were going to a QZ. Sadly, this only turned out to be partly true. As Joel and Ellie are making their way through the country, Joel tries to divert their path off the track they are on. Ellie continues on despite Joel's protestations, and discovers a pit of human remains.
It is then revealed the families leaving Lincoln with FEDRA were executed when the QZs became full, despite not being infected. These were the lengths the government would go to to try and ease the spread of infection. This is also something the military did in the game, with Joel and Ellie talking about it in Pittsburgh.
Something more lighthearted, now.
In a great nod to the game, specifically from the area around Bill's home, when Joel and Ellie enter an abandoned Cumberland Farms convenience store, Ellie discovers an arcade cabinet (it obviously does not work).
While the one she finds in this area from the game is known as The Turning and features a character named Angel Knives, in the show Ellie happens upon a Mortal Kombat 2 cabinet, and waxes lyrical about Mileena.
Another similarity between the show and the game is Ellie's eagerness for a gun and Joel's constant refusal to give her one. In the show, Ellie finds one in Bill and Frank's house, and hides it in her backpack before Joel notices.
There are also several cases of lines being taken straight from the game, even if they are not said in the same time and place. One example of this is when Joel lays out his rules for Ellie, and she replies to him "what you say, goes".
The last thing I want to talk about is the infected themselves, which don't really make a showing at all in episode three. There is no bloater, something many who know the game may have expected. In fact, the only infected we see (other than the one that triggers Bill's trap) is found by Ellie underneath the convenience store.
When Joel is preoccupied, Ellie explores further into the store and comes across a basement area. She jumps down, and finds an infected pinned beneath fallen stonework. In the game, when players come across an alive but stuck infected, they are usually snarling and clearly still vicious. However, the trapped infected Ellie comes across in the show is very passive.
Ellie, realising the infected isn't a threat, walks over to them and pulls out her knife. She then cuts its head, revealing the cordyceps fungus within. All this time, the infected is just watching Ellie with a slight look of fear in its eyes. Ellie then violently stabs the infected in the neck, killing it with no signs of remorse.
I will admit, I am still trying to wrap my head around this moment, because it almost feels like the showrunners are trying to 'humanise' the infected. Meanwhile, they are showing that Ellie has a sadisitic side. Are we meant to wonder if what Ellie did here was right?
Last week, we saw the infamous 'kiss' between Tess and an infected. Following some very loud fan reactions, the showrunners shared their reasonings for this particular decision:
"We were already talking about tendrils coming out and we were asking these philosophical questions, 'Why are infected people violent? If the point is to spread the fungus, why do they need to be violent?'
"We landed on that, they don't. They're violent because we resist, but what if you don't? What does it look like if you just stand perfectly still and let them do this to you?" Mazin posed.
I am curious to see how these ideas continue to develop in further episodes, but in the meantime I'd love to hear your thoughts on episode three, and how you feel about the changes to the game's story.