The creators of The Last of Us explain why they have made such big changes to the story of Bill and Frank in the series


Warning: This article contains spoilers for the third episode of The Last of Us, now available on HBO Max, and for The Last of Us video game up to the same point.

The third episode of the HBO Max series The Last of Us was its biggest departure from the original video game material to dategiving a standalone installment to supporting characters Bill and Frank and changing their story in the most drastic and painfully romantic way.

In-game, Bill and Frank referred to each other as “buddies”, although it was never made clear whether they were just partners to survive the apocalypse together or romantic partners. Tired of Bill’s ways, Frank leaves him and Lincoln, the town where they spent 20 years together. Frank’s story has a tragic endingas he takes his own life after becoming infected and leaves a note for Bill that reads, “I guess you were right. Trying to get out of this town will kill me. It’s still better than spending another day with you.”

But the series changes that almost completely., leaving Ellie and Joel for a moment to offer us an episode dedicated to telling the love story of Bill and Frank. Their relationship is traced from beginning to end, beginning after Bill (played here by Nick Offerman) finds Frank (Murray Bartlett) caught in one of his traps, and ending with Frank deciding to end his own life. . But it’s not because he was infected, but because he is succumbing to a terminal illness, and chooses to go his way. He asks Bill to put sleeping pills in his glass of wine, and Bill does as he’s told… fixing himself a glass of wine with sleeping pills, since he can’t imagine life without his mistress.

Before all that happens, the series offers us a look at their relationship over the years, including their most romantic moments and the realistic frustrations of any couple living 20 years together in the apocalypse. Series director Craig Mazin and game creator and series executive producer Neil Druckmann spoke to IGN about the heartbreaking episode and explained why they decided to tell a story about two people who found love in a hopeless place.

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“When we got to this part of the season, Craig raised a very interesting point, which is that… there are a lot of examples of things that don’t go well for people, and they are often reflections and cautionary tales for Joel of ‘this. it’s what you stand to lose,'” says Druckmann. “How about we show you what you can earn?

“But in a way, it’s also a red flag for Joel, especially after he lost Tess at the end of episode 2. In the TV series we were able to get out of our main character’s perspective, as in the game we are very attached purely to Joel or purely to Ellie. Here, we got to see what happened to Bill in the outbreak. And then what it was like to meet Frank and fall in love with Frank and grow old with Frank, and then the whole cycle of loving and living with someone and experiencing loss, but the loss is tinged with the happiness of having lived a full life filled with love. “.

“It’s also still a red flag for Joel, especially after he lost Tess.

I think it’s a happy ending“, adds Mazin. “I think we tend to see death as a failure, especially when we talk about a video game. It is literally a failure. And for our series so far, there have been some brutal moments where Joel has failed or at least perceives himself to have failed: he’s failed his daughter, he’s failed Tess, and he certainly feels that weight both at the beginning and at the end. of this episode.”

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Notably Joel and Ellie do find a note when they arrive at Bill and Frank’s house in Lincoln. after the latter two have died, but it’s not like Frank’s seen in the game. Instead, she is Bill’s, and she motivates Joel in a way that is crucial to the course of the series.

“I’m especially happy with the way that Bill…has managed to inspire Joel to take Ellie west,” says Mazin. “He has given Joel this posthumous instruction that men like you and me are here for a reason., protect the people we love, and God help any son of a bitch that gets in our way. And it’s hard for Joel to say, ‘Well, it didn’t work out with Tess, but now what am I supposed to do? Stop being who I am? This is legitimately why I’m here.’ And it’s the happy ending and Bill’s realization of who he was as a human being that inspires Joel to do the right thing. The question is if he’s always going to inspire Joel to do the right thing. We’ll have to wait and see”.

As well as being an unusually hopeful look into the grim world of The Last of Us, Episode 3 is significant for another reason: is, without a doubt, the biggest change from the source material. It’s not the only change, of course (for example, the series has swapped spores for tendrils as a way for the infected to spread the pandemic), but it gives us almost an entire episode of story that wasn’t in the game.

Druckmann explains that they never approach their changes from the perspective of “okay, it’s time to really surprise people familiar with the game”. “It’s more like, where are we with the story and what’s the best chapter we can tell right now that talks about the themes of love and helps raise the stakes for what Joel and Ellie stand to gain or lose if they have succeed or fail on their journey? That was the starting point.”

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“And then we had some initial conversations about want to see Frank because we had a chance to go backbut then Craig came to me with a pretty comprehensive proposal for what this story could be like, and I fell in love with it,” he continues.

“I think it speaks to the kind of process that Craig and I have, which was to always be open to new ideas.

Druckmann admits that a few years ago he might have said “fuck no” to these kinds of character changesbut “I think it speaks to the kind of process that Craig and I have, which is to always be open to new ideas and then evaluate and then do the math homework. Doing the math: what does this give us? How does it affect the rest of the the story? Are we better at this version of the story, in this other medium, or are we worse? If we’re better, we should fully embrace it. And this was such a beautiful story. It was so easy for me to say, ‘Let’s do it. It sounds amazing.’ “.

Mazin praises Druckmann for his openness when it comes to making changes to his beloved source material: As far as I’m concerned, it’s complicated, broad, interesting, and philosophical enough to be flexible enough to change its adaptation to a different medium.”

“I hope fans of the game see how much love we put into it and also feel what we feel, which is that It is still within the DNA of The Last of Us. It’s a parallel universe, but it’s also a shared universe.”

Here you can read our review of the first season of The Last of Us in full and without spoilers.