The following article features spoilers for episode three of The Last Of Us. Consider yourself warned.
This week’s episode of The Last Of Us breathed life into a relationship that previously took place off-screen.
Starting off shortly after Outbreak Day in 2003, we got to know Bill (Nick Offerman) and the man who would come to be his partner, Frank (Murray Bartlett).
It was a deeply moving standalone outing, not least due to how it brought to life a character we never get to know within the game.
Whilst Bill is a close confidant of Joel in the games, we never were given the chance to know Frank.
This episode changes things for both characters resulting in the biggest shake-up of the source material’s narrative, but the show is all the better for it.
Here’s how the series breathes new life into a relationship which previously took place entirely off-screen, before the events of the game itself.
The Story In The Games
In the games we never encounter Frank whilst he’s alive – we only ever see a brief glimpse of his corpse. For the most part, the character’s backstory matches much of what we see in this episode in how the earlier stages of his relationship with Bill is described.
The pair survived together in an isolated town for nearly twenty years, although in the source material’s lore, Frank grew tired of Bill’s survivalism and left him for his own personal hideout.
It was there where he was immediately attacked by a hoard of Infected and opted to die by suicide rather than let the virus transform him.
In his suicide note, later discovered by Joel and given to Bill, the message doesn’t share the affection for his partner as his counterpart in the TV series did during his dying moments.
Frank’s Final Message
Whether or not Bill and Frank were boyfriends in the game is ambiguous, as we never see them together. The term “partner” is used vaguely by Bill here, with the gay porn magazines Ellie discovers at his place being the only sign.
The note Joel discovers by Frank’s corpse doesn’t help with this ambiguity, due to how much Frank hated Bill by the time of his death:
“Well Bill, I doubt you’d ever find this note cause you were too scared to ever make it to this part of town. But if for some reason you did, I want you to know I hated your guts.
“I grew tired of this sh*tty town and your set-in-your-ways attitude. I wanted more from life than this and you could never get that.”
“And that stupid battery you kept moaning about – I got it. But I guess you were right. Trying to leave this town will kill me. Still better than spending another day with you.”
The battery is referencing the car battery he stole when making his grand escape from their Lincoln hideout.
How Does The Series Rewrite Their Story?
The major difference in the TV adaptation is that – even though Frank’s eventual irritation with Bill’s survivalist ways still factors into the plot – their relationship remains loving until the end. This transforms the story in several major ways.
Firstly the show builds up Frank’s pet peeve, with his annoyance at being kept in an isolated town and told to trust nobody else being the driving force behind Bill meeting Joel for the first time – the two, of course, then become associates.
If it wasn’t for Frank speaking to Tess on the radio, reaching out for connection, the pair would have never met and started smuggling each other goods.
They also wouldn’t have developed their specific radio signals, warning each other of danger.
But the most significant change is that Frank’s death is transformed into a suicide pact, with Bill opting to take his own life alongside his husband (we see them marry each other in the show).
In the game, Joel and Ellie visit Bill after Frank’s death, and they never see him again due to his cranky insistence that they stay away, leaving the rest of his story up in the air – it’s been the source of fan speculation for years.
Did his devastation at being given Frank’s note in the game lead him to make the same decision here?
The other major change is that here Bill writes the note for Joel, which gently reveals the pair had a closer, far less complicated relationship than their console counterparts.
It all makes for a much more resonant episode, revealing how the outbreak altered people’s lives in the most unexpected of ways.
The Last Of Us airs Sunday nights on HBO.