So, did you have your tissues ready for this episode? Because, boy, did you ever need them. What’s to come is the most beautifully constructed hour on television in recent memory.
Do you want to share in the hurt? The amazing guys from the Watching Now: The Last of Us podcast, The Rest of Us, have got you! Our very own Lily, Erika, and Nick will be with you weekly to give you breakdowns, insights, and great theories wherever you get your podcasts on Tuesdays and on Youtube on Wednesdays.
The show opens with the credits this week, choosing not to continue with the flashback cold open. There’ll be enough of those within the episode, so this is a good choice. We pick up on Joel (Pedro Pascal), ten miles west of the Boston QZ, building a small pebble cairn to memorialize the dearly departed Tess (Anna Torv). Joel Is clearly suffering from the previous episode.
He joins Ellie (Bella Ramsey), who is not far away, blanketed in his jacket. She starts to try to talk about Tess’ death. Joel shuts her down, assuming that she’ll apologize, but Ellie presses on, telling him it’s not her fault that she died. And she’s right!
They set off to find a stash of supplies that Joel has left nearby, Ellie asking probing questions as they walk. It was like talking to a teenager while they were gaming, Joel giving one-word answers and being visibly annoyed with each query. At last, they come across Joel’s stash house.
Instantly, Ellie finds an old Mortal Kombat arcade machine. She enthusiastically spouts knowledge about Mileena’s fatality animations, which is very similar to a scene in the game where she finds an arcade game called The Turning and talks about a character named Angel Knives. Ellie then explores the back room while Joel tries to remember where he hid the supplies.
In the back room, Ellie finds a door to a basement area which she checks out with her torch before entering. Why, Ellie? There’s gonna be some beasties down there! Why aren’t you terrified? Once down there, she finds an old storage area which (score!) hasn’t been picked clean.
But what’s that butt-clenching clicking sound? Ellie finds an infected trapped under a pile of rubble. Curious, she slices a piece of skin, exposing the… ewww… fungus underneath. She then stabs it through the head. Was that revenge for the demise of Tess? Or was it a mercy, a kindness to free the infected from being puppeteered by the cordyceps? Judging by her expression as she thrust the knife, I predict that it was done with pure rage.
Ellie climbs back to the shop area, Joel stores his machine gun in place of the supplies he takes, and they exit.
On the way to Bill and Frank’s compound, they see the wreckage of a plane crash. It’s picturesque, in a way. Ellie asks about what caused the outbreak, suspecting monkeys. It’s always monkeys, right? 28 Days Later, Outbreak, 12 Monkeys (sort of): monkeys. Joel explains that it started with flour (confirming a theory first presented after episode one and heavily implied in Jakarta sequence in episode two) and took less than four days for the world to fall.
Joel tries to guide Ellie away from the path, explaining that there’s stuff on the way he doesn’t want her to see. So she sets off in the direction he wanted to avoid and finds a mass grave. Classic Ellie. If there wasn’t enough room in a nearby quarantine zone, survivors were evacuated and led to places nearby and executed. Wow. Downer. Ellie focuses on a colorful rag and deteriorating clothing as we transition into a flashback to the beginning of the outbreak.
A mother comforts her baby swaddled inside a blanket, clearly the same material found in the mass grave. Oof, they killed babies too? Savage. Government types are enforcing a mandatory evacuation of the town. But one man (Nick Offerman) isn’t going anywhere, huddled in the basement of a swanky-looking house. I mean, damn, that’s a lovely house you got there; crazy prepper, dude!
Once the government has gone, the grizzled man emerges wearing a gas mask (just in case) and brandishing a shotgun. The man lets out a sigh of relief. First port of call? Shopping. Or, more accurately, looting. Just the everyday essentials: gas, barbed wire, parts for sadistic traps to lay around town to ensure you’re never bothered by a living soul again. You know, the things you have on your weekly shopping list.
He retires to his house and watches on CCTV cameras as an infected walks straight into a trap and takes a shotgun blast to the face. The man chuckles to himself, proud of what he’s accomplished, a compound Kevin McAllister (Home Alone) would be proud of.
Four years later, an alarm alerts the man to one of his traps. He investigates, and to his surprise, a seemingly uninfected man named Frank (Murray Bartlett) is trapped. Our prepper friend weighs his decision before allowing Frank out of the hole following a negative infection test.
Pushing his luck, Frank asks if he can join the man (I know! He’s not said his name yet! Screw it, his name is Bill) for some food. Annoyed but softening, Bill makes a snippy remark about it not being an Arby’s, which Frank wittily rebuts. Bill relents.
Inside, Frank sits at the dining table, awaiting Bill to finish cooking dinner. The dining room, although lavish, is caked in dust. Have a little pride in your home! Bill enters the room with a meal in hand. His hardened demeanor has given way, exposing crippling anxiety. He’s not had guests for at least four years, and I’m assuming he wasn’t a social butterfly pre-outbreak.
However, he does know how to prepare a meal nicely. And he knows how to pair wine with food. High class, Bill! I would never have guessed!
After a lovely dinner, Frank spots a piano in the other room and sifts through sheet music for an appropriate ditty to play. He settles on Linda Ronstadt’s “Long, Long Time,” which he butchers. Bill takes over and emotionally plays it. They share a moment as they realize a mutual attraction, and then they kiss. Frank tells Bill to shower. He stinks.
Upstairs, Frank is waiting in bed. Bill has never done this with a man before, and it’s a lovely moment. What happens next is usually accompanied by Barry White music. Frank is going to stay for a while.
Arguments ring out in Bill’s Town. Frank wants to clean up the neighborhood a little. He lives there too, and he wants to like where he lives. A lick of paint here, a refurbishment of a store there, what’s to argue? It may be a waste of limited resources, but it will make Frank happy.
Like having friends! He’s been speaking to a nice lady on the radio (Tess), and they want to start a trade relationship. Bill doesn’t have a say in the matter. Frank’s mind is made up. I never thought I’d see the day when Joel and Tess attended a garden party with Bill, but here we are. It’s the start of a friendship, although Bill is plain about not liking Joel. Joel stresses that they can be helpful to each other, especially when raiders inevitably arrive.
As we know from Zombieland, one of the first rules of the apocalypse is cardio. Bill is failing in that regard. He’s sweating profusely, trying to keep up with Frank jogging. But Frank is excited, and he’s got something to show Bill.
He’s grown strawberries! Holy crap, they look good. And judging by our two cohorts’ giggles of joy, they taste amazing, too! They kiss and start to lean back. NO! NOT THAT WAY! DON’T SQUASH THE STRAWBERRIES! Phew.
At night, Frank is awoken by the sound of screaming, gunfire, and explosions. The raiders have come and have set off some cool-looking flamethrower traps. Bill is trying to pick off the remaining raiders with a rifle in the street. Momentarily distracted by a worried Frank, he gets shot in the stomach.
Frank helps Bill inside and tends to his wounds on the dinner table. Bill spews out what he thinks are his final words to his partner, culminating in telling him to call Joel.
Bill survived, but now Frank is sick with what appears to be a degenerative disease such as MS or ALS. He can no longer eat solid meals, resorting to soup and drinking through a straw. They’ve moved their bedroom downstairs to accommodate their new situation. Bill helps Frank to bed.
The following day, Bill awakes to find Frank already in his wheelchair. He’s decided that it’s time for his final day. Bill isn’t ready for this. I wasn’t ready for this. He tries to convince Frank to wait and see what Joel has on his next run, but it’s no use. Frank has the perfect day planned, and Bill reluctantly accepts his decision.
They get married and then have a lovely dinner with good wine. The very same dinner and paired wine as the first meal they ever shared together all those years ago.
Bill pours a second bottle of wine for Frank and stirs in crushed-up pills, emotionally. Frank drinks the wine before Bill pours himself a glass and chugs it. He’d spiked the wine bottle. Bill has also made his decision, a decision to not live in a world that doesn’t have Frank in it. I’m tearing up just thinking about it. That’s love in the Romeo and Juliet way. They go to bed and lock themselves in whilst a familiar tune plays. This cue borrows from the iconic giraffe scene in the game.
Bill and Frank’s heart-warming tale of love in the apocalypse is over, and they did it on their terms.
They finally made it to the compound, but Joel could sense something was wrong. Entering the house yields no obvious answers… until Ellie finds a letter addressed to “Whoever, but probably Joel.” It details their decision and warns Joel not to enter their bedroom. Bill offers all his remaining supplies, saying he should find one person worth saving in this world. In Bill’s mind, this is Tess, but now, that could be Ellie.
Joel tells Ellie the new plan. They need to find Tommy in Wyoming. He has a history with the Fireflies and might know the location of their base out west. They raid the house for essentials, showered, change their clothes, and find a beat-up truck in the garage.
Oh yeah, and Ellie finds a gun that she hides in her backpack. Is that a good idea, girl?
Ellie and Joel ride out of Bill’s Town in the rusty truck. A Linda Ronstadt cassette plays “Long, Long Time” on the stereo.
I enjoyed the episode. Joel has become even more broken, losing two friends this time. We’re starting to see his and Ellie’s father-daughter-like relationship begin. Bill and Frank’s love story is carefully constructed but superbly done. It’s a fantastic hour of television.
But I have a few issues.
Why is it there? It’s not world-building. It still makes sense if you were to put that story in The Walking Dead. Any post-apocalyptic world makes sense for this story because there’s nothing special in it from The Last of Us. You can argue that it contains the central theme of love, that it’s another mirror you’ll be able to hold up at the ending and say, “wow, I can see loads of parallels!” but that payoff is way down the line.
I don’t think it was all that necessary. All of the relevant information that affects Joel and Ellie can be learned by exploring Bill and Frank’s house and reading the letter. With no actual interaction between the residents and Ellie and Joel, I don’t see why we needed to see their story. Apart from the prominent unforgettable cinematic spectacle, it’s just filler.
If Bill had survived, reverted to a grizzled asshole, and had some interactions with Ellie and Joel, it would be different. But, contrary to the game, Bill isn’t necessary in the grand scheme of the show.
And, ok, I’m a bit salty about the game’s set pieces that we missed in Bill’s Town (the upside-down shooting and the appearance of the bloater being highlights), but I can see why they were cut. We’re not ready to see a bloater. Upside-down shooting is cool but not strictly needed. They needed a car and supplies, and they’ve got them. Job done.
But, as I said, I still enjoyed the episode. Let’s see how they break Joel’s spirit next week, eh?
Soup Rank: 7/10