In the new episode of The Last of Us, available on HBO and HBO Max, time seems to stop. On the one hand, Joel and Ellie travel through the west of a destroyed country where nature is everything and the trace of civilization has disappeared. On the other hand, the series meditates, with heartrending depth, on what human beings can be, even in the worst conditions, oblivious to time and misfortune.
The production, on this occasion, leaves aside the exploration of disaster and horror to visit more sensitive places. In particular, they seek to make it clear that even in the midst of the rubble of civilization, hope is possible. Also love.
For such a deep point of view, the plot decides to tell Bill’s story. In the original plot of the Naughty Dog game, the character is a reclusive survivor residing in Lincoln, a city besieged by the infected.
For his television version, his singular personality is maintained, but, in addition, the writer Craig Mazin added the trait of fear. Played by Nick Offerman, the first scenes of the script show him obsessed with survival. An observer in the midst of the debacle who recognizes that the traces of the world as he knows it are about to succumb to ashes.
The Last of Us is the premiere of the year and you can only see it on HBO Max
The journey to the end of the world in the third episode of The Last of Us
In fact, that’s the first sentence Bill utters as the city of Lincoln is evacuated. “There will only be ashes”, he mutters to himself as he watches the trucks trying to clear the land. For man, it is evident that whatever is happening is beyond any possibility of salvation.
Standing with a rifle slung over his shoulder or peering closely at the surveillance screens in the fortified basement where he is hiding, he understands the inevitable. In the plot of The Last of Us, Bill is the representation of terror that transforms survival into a primal impulse, while the apocalypse advances rapidly.
It is September 30, 2003. Four days after the explosion, the death of Sarah Miller and the initial riots that herald a cataclysm. Almost a week has passed since the expert professor in mycology, Ibu Ratna, gave her verdict: “Everything must be bombed.”
Bill doesn’t know the scope of what he will have to deal with or how a threat as yet impossible to calculate will manifest itself. But he is ready. “No one understands the end like someone who has always waited for it,” the character murmurs, behind a security fence, alone in the place that will become his territory.
Kindness in small gestures: a silent love story
Frank (Murray Bartlett) escapes as best he can from the catastrophe. In the source material for The Last of Us, the character is a memory. In the small screen version of him, a terrified man. One who could not survive alone in a time filled with threats and nightmarish monsters lurking in wait.
The plot gives Frank a singular vitality. He clings to life with all the might of him. He fights as he can and with all his resources to avoid dying. But he is still just another figure, one of the many who still do not conceive of the end of the world as they knew it.
If The Last of Us uses Bill to narrate what surrounds the paranoia that engenders the creepy, Frank is his reverse. Fragile in their clumsiness, the first meeting between the two occurs in the garden of Lincoln’s house, transformed into a fortified area. The story builds that initial conversation between two symbols of desolation, in a strange reflection of the world that survives.
Both one and the other know that they are isolated in the midst of the infected, which increase in number and voracity. Likewise, they are aware that the loneliness that tragedy engenders is a bond. The complicity between the two will not be that of two equals, much less that of immediate romantic love or attraction, but that of isolation.
The footprint of the human being in the destroyed world of The Last of Us
Despite this, gradually, humanity prevails. If the narrative imagined by Neil Druckmann hinted at a larger story for the duo of characters, The Last of Us series carefully explores it. But not through the urgency of love or the desire impossible to contain. In reality, what ends up uniting Bill and Frank is the chilling awareness of being the last. Of the city they inhabit, of those that surround it. The only living beings among the corpses of men and women that litter the field beyond the property they are on. With a delicacy that amazes and moves, The Last of Us narrates the unique sorrows of time and a feeling born of hopelessness.
Afterwards, it will be the fullness of life “with someone to care for and protect”, as Bill repeats several times, even simple intimacy. The time goes by. Three, ten years. The third chapter of The Last of Us shows the maturity of an experience that is much more peculiar than passion and more powerful than the need for company.
In the background, a window overlooking an empty garden. Through it, the infected can be seen going from one side of the electrified security fence to the other, like specters from a dead world. The days go by. Confinement devours, erodes and also, in its own way, devastates.
Every story has an ending, even when there’s no one left to tell it.
The Last of Us uses the relationship between Bill and Frank as a metaphor for all the hypothetical stories that occurred over the course of two decades. The global debacle is left out and the episode’s attention is focused on two men. In an unlikely couple, broken and, in the end, united by the sour possibility of being destined for tragedy.
The third chapter of The Last of Us is an exploration without immediate urgency of survival. This allows his most powerful moments to be filled with silences, a simple landscape of everyday objects. Little by little, Bill and Frank leave the outside world. What remains is a nostalgic love that sustains each other’s sanity, that allows them to understand their limitations and strengths.
The Last of Us, life and death
Mazin strives to show individual fear. A well-constructed resource that describes life once any hint of normality has disappeared. What happens when there is nothing left but what is remembered, what will never exist again?
“We both know this is the end of what was,” Frank murmurs in the final minutes of the third episode of The Last of Us. Bill just looks at him and between them, the silence is pure understanding. After the tragedy of losing everything, this tragic, simple, and meaningful bond seems to fill the world.
By the time Joel and Ellie arrive at the empty house, they find only the remains of a long, full and, oddly enough, satisfying life. Frank chose to part on his terms. A goodbye to empty tables and a last dinner. For Bill it was the awareness that, despite everything, the apocalypse still held some stories worth listening to. Perhaps the hardest and most moving point of an atypical chapter.