By Maia Venuti
Zombies are making a massive comeback with “The Last of Us,” which is an HBO Max original series starring Pedro Pascal, Bella Ramsey, Gabriel Luna and Anna Torv.
Based on the iconic video game of the same name, “The Last of Us'' takes place following a global pandemic that destroyed civilization. We follow Joel, a deadened survivor, and a 14-year-old girl called Ellie who he is tasked with caring for her in the hopes that she might save civilization. The unlikely duo travel across the country with the goal of getting to the west, while encountering people and mushroom zombies along their journey.
Television shows about the zombie apocalypse are not new, with shows like “The Walking Dead,” Netflix’s “Kingdom,” “Black Summer” and “Z Nation” being revered by fans for years. There is a massive distinguishing factor between a show like “The Walking Dead” and “The Last of Us,” however, and that is relationships. In comparison, “The Walking Dead” shows years-long relationships quickly deteriorate due to the apocalypse, yet in “The Last of Us,” we see the beginning of years-long relationships, and love unexpectedly blossoms.
The focus of episode three, titled “Long Long Time,” is not on Joel and Ellie, but on Joel’s friends Bill and Frank (portrayed by Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett, respectively). Prior to the pandemic’s outbreak in 2003, Bill was a hardcore survivalist who spent years preparing in case something like this happened. He fortified his entire neighborhood with a chain-linked fence surrounded with trip wires and flamethrowers to prevent both zombies and outsiders from infiltrating. Early on, a man named Frank finds Bill’s compound and asks Bill for food and shelter. Despite his apprehension, Bill lets Frank in. The two men quickly fall for one another, and what was supposed to be Frank staying with Bill for a few days turns into a beautiful, decades-long love.
In this single episode, we see Bill and Frank’s relationship from 2003 to the present and how strong their love had grown despite the circumstances.
Unlike shows like “The Walking Dead,” where infidelity and the deterioration of romantic relationships following the zombie apocalypse are prevalent themes, this is the opposite in “The Last of Us.” The stress from the zombie apocalypse does not drive them apart. Rather, it brings Bill and Frank together, and their love grows stronger as the years go by.
Arguably, one of the most emotional aspects of this episode is seeing Bill and Frank grow old together, while still in the same house that Bill lived in before the outbreak. Bill’s skills as a survivalist were what allowed them comfort they needed to not just survive, but to truly live. They spend every single day together for 17 years, and Bill finds a love he never would have found before. He is able to come to terms with his sexuality after hiding it his entire life, and with that, overcome his hatred towards the world and other people that he harbored before the apocalypse broke out.
A sharp contrast to the relationship between Bill and Frank is Rick and Lori Grimes and their marriage in “The Walking Dead.” From the minute we meet Rick and Lori, we immediately know that their relationship is on the rocks, to say the least. Even prior to the zombie apocalypse, their relationship was very strained and the love was lost. After the outbreak, Lori begins sleeping with Rick’s best friend, Shane, as she believes her husband is dead. Rick quickly reunites with Lori and his son, which leaves Lori feeling very guilty and conflicted, because she now depends on both Rick and Shane.
Rick and Lori had been together since high school and got married quickly after graduating, and were presumably in their mid-to-late 30s at the time of the outbreak. They have probably been together for between 16-20 years, which is ironically the same amount of time that Bill and Frank were together. They met in very different circumstances where they were free to do whatever they wanted together and were not constantly worried about protecting themselves and their family. It is obvious that their problems preceded the apocalypse, but the outbreak did nothing to help mend what was broken.
Comparisons between Bill and Frank’s relationship as opposed to Rick and Lori’s relationship is a very interesting rabbit hole to fall into and also shows how the show’s respective creators treated love in the apocalypse. Seeing a show where love grows in such an unusual and unconventional environment is a breath of fresh air. Episode three of “The Last of Us” will make you smile as much as it will make you sob. This unique and unconventional portrayal of relationships in the apocalypse has given me a new perspective on love, showing that love can and will grow anywhere at any time.