By Ben Konuch
“Because there was one person worth saving. That’s what I did: I saved him. And I protected him. That’s why men like you and me are here: We have a job to do. And God help any[one] who stand[s] in our way.”
Episodes three and four of “The Last of Us” continue to prove that this series is one of the best adaptations of a video game we’ve seen yet, even while it makes some unexpected and bold departures from the source material that mostly pays off.
These episodes have slowed down the pace of the story. If you’re only watching the series for its action you may feel mildly let down, but if “The Last of Us” appealed to you because of its complex characters and fascinating personal dynamics, these episodes won’t disappoint.
Episode three builds off of the emotional cliffhanger of episode two, but instead of directly continuing the story, it makes a bold decision to slow down the plot in order to tell the side story of Bill and Frank, two survivors who create a life of happiness together despite the tragedy of the world around them. We see Bill fortify his town into a personal safe zone after FEDRA evacuate the area and leave him behind, which works until he finds a survivor that has fallen into one of his traps. When he offers this survivor a meal and a brief stay, a romance quickly blooms. Most of the episode depicts this relationship between Frank and Bill and shows how the two balance each other out and help create a safe, peaceful existence together in a world trying to tear them apart – even if they sometimes have to fight to keep it.
We watch Bill and Frank grow old together and feel the heartbreak as Frank struggles through a degenerative neuromuscular disorder, until one day Frank decides he wants to end things on his terms. With an emotional gut punch we see Bill treat Frank to everything he asks, giving him the “perfect day” that ends with both of them passing away together. The perspective then changes to Joel and Ellie as they enter Bill’s Town, now abandoned for months, and Joel finds a note left for him by Bill explaining what happened and why people like him and Joel are meant to protect others.
From an artistic point, I can’t deny that episode three is a beautifully crafted, emotional piece of storytelling. In terms of a Christian worldview, however, it creates an uncomfortable moral dilemma. The show and its emotional weight asks you to invest into its depiction of love in spite of loss, but it’s a tricky position for a Christian viewer to find themselves in light of Biblical views on what true marriage is and what it represents.
In terms of the story of “The Last of Us’, I’m also conflicted. The world building in this episode alone is fantastic and shows a valued glimpse into the lives of other survivors, but in so drastically changing the events of the game’s depictions of Bill and his town, we lose a bit of the harshness of the world. The series is tragic, but the game showed both tragedy and danger.
In the series’ version we don’t see the infected, we don’t have to struggle against raiders, we just see love and loss. Plus, the twist in its depictions of Bill and Frank changes the moral for Joel. The game shows Bill as a man so stuck in his ways and resentful of the world that he pushes his own partner, the only thing good in his life, away. He’s a cautionary warning right after Tess’s death for what Joel can’t allow himself to become. But in this version of events Bill serves as a hallmark of who Joel needs to be, someone selfless who allows love to overcome hatred and someone who is willing to do whatever it takes to protect others. These aren’t necessarily bad changes, but they are substantial and at this point of Joel’s journey, I believe the harsh warning of the game’s events makes more narrative sense.
Episode four takes place right after Joel and Ellie leave Bill’s town, and shows their journey to Kansas City, where they eventually get derailed and ambushed by raiders. This is a slower episode as well, but it does well in fleshing out much more of Ellie and Joel’s relationship. We see Ellie attempt to kill someone for the first time, see Joel brutally murder another man without remorse and understand more about his past. Joel opens up about his relationship with his brother, including the period of time when he, Tommy and Tess all survived as raiders like the ones trying to destroy them in Kansas, and we see the guilt and the toll that the violence has done to Joel.
Episode four also shows the first signs of Joel thawing out to Ellie. Episode three shows his coldness and resentment toward her for Tess’s death, but we see the first signs of growing affection and care in episode four. In one scene when they camp by the road at night, Joel stays up to keep watch over her despite telling her there was nothing to fear. He also protects her from seeing him kill the raider and even ends up laughing at one of her bad puns toward the end of the episode. He isn’t seeing her as family yet, which he has made abundantly clear, but the seeds have taken root.
Unfortunately, having such a long amount of runtime spent with Bill and Frank does hurt this episode in feeling like we’ve lost valuable time and focus on this dynamic to let those shifts properly sink in, and the way that important emotional moments like Ellie’s first kill have been changed from the games, it does feel like a slightly anticlimactic version of events.
I give episode three a 9/10, and episode four an 8/10.
“The Last of Us” is now streaming on HBO Max
Ben Konuch is a sophomore Strategic Communication student and an A&E writer for Cedars. He enjoys getting sucked into good stories, playing video games and hanging out with crazy MuKappa friends.
Images courtesy of HBO Max