Love at the End of the World

“The Last of Us” Director Looks Back on the Iconic Bill and Frank Episode

Earlier this year, The Last of Us became one of HBO’s most-watched series—not a particularly surprising feat for big-budget, post-apocalyptic fare. But it was actually the series’ penchant for subtlety and heart, on full display in the third episode “Long, Long Time,” that won the acclaim of viewers and critics. While that single episode holds a special place for queer viewers, pulling at our heartstrings was the furthest thing from director Peter Hoar’s mind.

“I didn’t certainly set out to tell a story that would make the world cry uncontrollably,” Hoar explained in a new interview with Deadline, “but I did.”

“Long, Long Time” largely takes place outside of the main plot, following the decades-long romance between Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett). The two survivors meet during the onset of the pandemic, throwing in their lot together in a shelter, and in isolation at the end of the world, the two fall in love. Even as their romance is destined for tragedy—the apocalyptic world of The Last of Us is a cruel one—the episode is filled with quiet, touching moments.

That is to say—it is far from what you’d expect from a post-apocalyptic video game adaptation. But for Hoar, directing one of the more grounded stories was an important contribution. “I did think to myself, as a gaming fan, ‘Oh, I hope I can get to do one of the big set pieces and big explosions and swarming of the infected and whatever,’” Hoar recalled. “But honestly, I would not change anything for the world. This was the best outcome.”

Bill and Frank’s story was not only out of the norm for the zombie fiction genre, it was out of the norm for gay stories on TV. “There’s a straightness to this gay love story,” Hoar said. “It’s not flamboyant. It’s genuine and it’s authentic.”

Even with a talented director and a well-written script, the story would not have worked without the performances by Offerman and Bartlett. “Those two men were just divine and full of love and understanding and had a clear passion for this script and the story,” Hoar said. “Lots of people have said it’s a great middle-aged love story, as well as it was a male love story.”

Spoilers for the third episode of The Last of Us below

There was one important change (among many) to Bill and Frank’s storyline from the 2013 game. The aftermath of their suicides is shown in a throwaway scene that was subsequently criticized for perpetuating the “bury your gays” trope. The series adaptation not only manages to avoid that shock value, it makes their complicated choice to end things (now as the result of terminal illness) the emotional core of the episode.
In keeping with this idea, the team elected not to show Bill and Frank’s bodies. “That was always on the page, never to show the dead bodies,” Hoar recalled. “It’s also something we discussed as a group at the very beginning. It’s not gratuitous. I think what EP Neil Druckmann would probably say is that the world of The Last of Us is a very brutal one. And in a brutal world, people are gonna get hurt and people are gonna experience horrendous trauma to their bodies and their minds. I think Craig thought we just didn’t need it. It wasn’t necessary.”

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