‘The Last of Us’ Creators Explain Episode 3’s Heartbreak Twists, Changes From Game

‘The Last of Us’ Creators Explain Episode 3’s Heartbreak Twists, Changes From Game

Updated: 1 month, 29 days, 21 hours, 2 minutes, 19 seconds ago

The Last of Us had its biggest deviation from its videogame source material yet with a glorious detour that told the 20-year tale of apocalypse survivors Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett).

In The Last of Us game, journeying heroes Joel (Pedro Pascal in the show) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey in the show) team with hardcore survivalist Bill on a dangerous mission to find a car battery. Bill’s partner Frank is only seen as a corpse in the game, having already passed away, and Bill’s romantic feelings for Frank are merely hinted at.

In the HBO version, Bill is shown from the early days of the cordyceps outbreak. Frank falls into a trap on Bill’s property and the two strike up an alliance. Their romantic relationship is chronicled over the course of two decades and they become allies with Joel and Tess (Anna Torv). When Frank becomes disabled with illness, he decides to take his own life – and Bill decides to do the same. Those are the broad strokes, which don’t do justice to the nuanced and heartbreaking work by all those involved in the episode, titled “Long Long Time.”

“How much we deviate [from the game] has to be proportional to how good it is,” said Neil Druckmann, who created the PlayStation game and serves as showrunner on the HBO drama along with Craig Mazin. “Frank was mentioned [in the game] but offhandedly. Here we get to kind of explore this relationship and obviously make some changes. And [the idea] was so good, I didn’t mind that it was different.”

“In the game, the way you build the relationship with Bill is fighting alongside him,” Druckmann noted. “There’s set piece where Joel hoisted up in this snare trap and Ellie has to cut him down. It’s exciting and one of the most memorable parts from the game. I think a lesser adaptation would be like, ‘This action sequence has to go in the show.’ Whereas [Mazin was] like, ‘No, don’t focus on that, there’s this interesting thing happening over with this survivor and this partner that he had. What’s that story? Let’s explore that. Let’s flesh that out.’ So it was easy not to be precious about that when you got these really wonderful ideas that I felt broadened the world and broadened these characters.”

In the game, Bill’s romantic feelings for Frank “went over a lot of people’s heads,” Druckmann said. “At the time, [the subtlety is] what helped get it in. It’s sad to say, but it would have been controversial otherwise.”

Said Mazin: “That was a section of the game that I loved. I loved the character of Bill. But a lot of that section is about gameplay – we gotta get here, we gotta get there. And Neil had designed Bill to reflect something that I thought we had a chance to do differently; he reflected the worst possible outcome for Joel, which is to close himself off from people entirely. There was somebody Bill could have loved. He chose not to and now that guy’s dead and he’s gonna be alone for the rest of his life.”

“When writing television, we don’t have gameplay and I’m looking for time to spend with characters doing something different than what I just saw,” Mazin continued. “And we’ve just seen people who are scared, who are in a dangerous place, who are hiding or running or worried or being hurt or being killed [in the first two episodes]. I need something different now. Here’s a man who’s in safety. Now let’s talk about this Frank guy. And I said, ‘I think we have an opportunity to do a lot of things at once.'”

“We can show the passage of time – which we didn’t see in the show,” Mazin added. “But we can also explore the basic theme of these two kinds of love. There’s what I call ‘Frank love.’ It’s very nurturing, it’s outgoing. He literally says it: ‘Paying attention to things is how we show love.’ That’s great. Thank you. And then there’s Bill’s love, which is violent – because it’s protective. And so much of what this show is about is how love pushes us in these different directions and that it can backfire in dramatic ways. This story doesn’t. Their story is actually happy. Even if it’s sad, it’s happy. They win.”

Noted Druckmann: “I’m really curious to see what the reception will be because this is quite different. But what was important to us was the underlying theme. The takeaway when you’re playing that sequence is that Bill – obviously there’s interesting action – but it’s like a warning for Joel, right? Every relationship that happens in the story somehow reflects back on Joel and Ellie because everything is about them. So that was about making Joel feel the danger of what could happen to your partner. This is where, in the game, Joel really makes the choice that he has to take care of this girl, and the same thing happens here. We deviate and go on this detour, but then we come back to what the underlying story is about.”

One line in the episode almost didn’t make it into the show, however, but was added after Nick Offerman spotted some description in the script about what Bill was thinking early in the episode and insisted on saying it aloud. “Nick Offerman was like…” said Mazin, and he broke into a rather good Offerman impression: “One thing about the script. There’s no way I’m not saying, ‘Not today you new world order jack-booted fucks.’ I’m saying it, and that’s that.'”

“Then Nick did such a beautiful job of playing a man get cracked open by love,” he added. “Which is also what happens to [several characters in the show], and some react with beauty and some react with violence.”

Offerman and Murray also spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about this episode and their experiences making it in a story to be published shortly.