The Story Change That Made 'The Last of Us' Episode 3 One of the Best Things on TV Ever

'The Last of Us'Credit: HBO
This only further demonstrates how Craig Mazin is a masterful writer.

We're loving The Last of Us on HBO and can confidently say it's set to be the best video game adaptation of all time. There are a lot of reasons why—the original PlayStation game was already pretty genius under the direction of Neil Druckmann. Then you add Chernobyl scribe Craig Mazin, whose writing is always character-driven and extremely emotional.

As great as the game is, the show has already made some key changes, including losing spores for creepy fungal tendrils instead and (in this episode) adding some important backstory to the outbreak.

Episode three departs pretty significantly from the game, and we'd like to discuss this change and what it does to the plot.

Spoiler warning: this story contains details from episode three of The Last of Us. Also, trigger warning: this story contains content about suicide.

Bill and Frank in The Last of Us had a contentious relationship

One big thing is pretty obvious if you've seen any promo materials for the episode—and it's that one character is alive, rather than dead.

In the game, after Ellie and Joel leave Tess behind and escape the quarantine zone, they head for a small suburb, where Joel hopes to find a colleague, Bill, who can get them a car.

Bill is a prepper. He's grumpy, mean, and seemingly a loner (played by W. Earl Brown). He's covered the town in booby traps to keep himself safe. He agrees to help Joel, reluctantly. But as the characters interact and start toward their mission, you'll hear Bill talk to himself about a guy named "Frank," who has seemingly gone missing.

As time passes and Bill helps the characters navigate the infested town, you get a sense that Frank was very important to Bill, and they had some disagreement or a falling out. He calls Frank his "partner" but he doesn't know where Frank is.

Until, however, the characters escape into one house and find Frank's body.

Frank died by suicide after being infected. Bill is obviously upset to find him dead, but puts on a brave face, moving on. It's revealed Frank stole the car battery they were searching for, along with more of Bill's stuff.

If the player explores a bit more, they'll find Frank's suicide note, which is addressed to Bill.

'The Last of Us'Credit: Naughty Dog

"I hated your guts," it reads. "I grew tired of this shitty town and of your set-in-your-ways attitude." He gloats about getting the battery and how Bill was too afraid of this part of the town. The note concludes, "But I guess you were right. Trying to leave this town will kill me. Still better than spending another day with you."

It's clear these men were cooperating to survive, and Frank got fed up. But in a later cutscene, more context is given when Ellie finds one of Bill's magazines, which is full of gay pornography. So it's heavily implied that Bill and Frank were a couple at some point, but it's left to the player to fill in those gaps.

Pretty grim stuff, right? Compelling, but so dark.

How is The Last of Us episode three different from the game?

Fans of the game will come into this episode bracing for tragedy. But it's not the one we expect.

The episode tells Bill's (Nick Offerman) story more fully, showing us what his town was like during its evacuation and how he was able to stay behind. The character is pretty self-satisfied as he raids home improvement stores and supplies himself with electricity, setting those traps mentioned above and walling himself off. He thinks he has everything he needs.

But viewers also get the first meeting between Bill and Frank (Murray Bartlett), whom Bill finds caught in a trap. We see Bill decide to let Frank in, in more ways than are immediately obvious.

'The Last of Us'Credit: HBO
There are so many beautiful character moments in their interactions—how Bill pours wine like a pro, how Frank notices the dusty cabinet, how Bill is keeping some of his mother's old things. And the piano scene! Be still my heart. We see a love story in its earliest stages as these two characters get to know each other.

All right, you might think. We know this happened. So the breakup has to come at some point, and we'll see Frank meet his untimely end.

It really is a looming feeling as the episode continues, because the romance is so compelling and full. We don't want that breakup to happen.

Another change is that, in the game, Joel has no idea who Frank is. But the show has Frank tear down even more of Bill's walls.

Frank reaches out to Tess via their radio. Joel and Tess even visit the men for dinner, which answers the question of how Joel knows Bill at all. It also is just a beautiful way to show that these kinds of moments of humanity in a devastated world can still have so much impact.

'The Last of Us'Credit: HBO
And then, the biggest change—Bill and Frank's story goes on. They grow old together.

There's no blow-up, no moment where Frank decides to leave Bill because he hates his guts. Just two men making a wonderful life, fighting for each other, and keeping a home together. No heartbreaking moment when Bill has to discover Frank's body. Only a miraculous relationship during the apocalypse.

In the final act, Frank develops a debilitating and incurable sickness. Joel and Tess have been supplying them with medicine, but he decides he would like to die peacefully. After spending a "last day" together, he asks Bill to allow him to die using the pills. Bill decides to join him, and the two men die in each other's arms off-screen.

Why do the story changes in The Last of Us matter?

Look, there is a lot of horrible suffering in this universe. Everyone is at risk of death. Druckmann and the game developers did a great job of being inclusive in this first game (and in the second game even more so), and the hints of the relationship are great. But Mazin and HBO decided to take it in a new and surprising direction while adding to the characters and their backstories. 

One big issue is that, in mainstream media, LGBTQ characters are often used for their tragedies. They meet untimely or sometimes violent ends. They don't end up with the people they love, just because of who they are. And sometimes they don't get to be well-rounded characters.

With just a few simple changes and additional character development here, Mazin creates a beautiful but heartbreaking love story from what were just a few throwaway lines in the original game. The show allows Bill and Frank to have a complete romance and go out on their own terms. Frank is able to bring love and humanity into Bill's cold life. And Bill becomes a better person in the end because of it.

I don't know the last time I cried so much during an episode of TV.

The lessons here? Make your characters whole people. Give them room to grow. Take a survivalist loner and make him fall in love. Let him change his ways. Your characters can take stories in fascinating directions if you don't rely on stereotypes. And, maybe, if you're adapting something? You can take the story a step further and give viewers a twist on the original.

Let us know your thoughts on the episode down below!     

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