It is no longer a spoiler for anyone to say that the third episode of The Last of Us is the one that will most change the story presented in the games. The production of the HBO series had already anticipated this by saying that some plots would be expanded and the promotional images made it clear that the relationship between Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett) was among them. What nobody expected, however, was that this change would make the series much better than the game.
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This week’s chapter of the adaptation touches in a very significant way not only on events within the saga of Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsay) but also changes some dynamics, introduces unprecedented facts and develops concepts that are either approached very superficially in games or even exist. And it’s such welcome news that it shows how much the series is really willing to improve what fans already know.
And it’s not about deprecating games — not least because these changes come from the same Neil Druckmann who introduced this world in video games. However, the greater freedom that the series has to play with the narrative and the very maturity of everyone involved in the adaptation make episode 3 of The Last of Us exceed all expectations.
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let’s go bill
So far, The Last of Us series has been very faithful to the games in terms of events. Joel left the Quarantine Zone with Tess (Anna Torv) to take Ellie to the Fireflies that were in some corner of Boston, but everything goes wrong and her ally ends up contaminated. Thus, he and the girl need to go to another possible point where they hope to find the group.
Up to this point, game and series are on an equal footing. The big difference happens from that moment on.
In the game, Joel and Ellie encounter Bill while trying to dodge infected in a suburban area. When faced with a series of traps installed between the houses, the smuggler realizes that he is close to this old acquaintance and is going to pay a visit in an attempt to get clues about the Fireflies, as well as ammunition and supplies.
It is clear, therefore, that they know each other, especially when Bill shows up and starts to help the duo against his will. He complains about past encounters and there are some dialogues that indicate a backstory, but everything is covered very lightly in lines that happen while the player overcomes some obstacles.
This superficial approach is also present in the relationship between Bill and Frank. At first glance, the paranoid survivor implies that he is a fellow activity that betrayed him and left and you will only understand that they are a couple later on, when you come across a letter that explains this better. Further on, the player finds Frank’s body.
And all of this happens in a very brief stretch of the game, not least because this whole interaction is interrupted by an attack by the infected, which means that Bill is explored very en passant and without much depth. At best, he’s a grouchy ally who comes in quickly and is soon gone.
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How the series changes everything
That’s why The Last of Us adaptation gets it so right to drastically change that entire structure. The game chooses to create a continuous narrative to create a sense of urgency to the gameplay, but the series gives up this in order to better develop these characters and, mainly, use this to further enrich Joel and Ellie’s story.
Proof of this is that, in the third episode of the series, the duo ceases to be the protagonist for a moment and the narrative turns to Bill himself. The chapter is almost a huge flashback that accompanies that the character has survived over these 20 years from the beginning of the cordyceps infestation until the moment Joel arrives there.
We won’t go into spoilers about the various twists and turns this story presents, but HBO’s big hit focuses on building Bill and Frank’s relationship. while he was only mentioned in dialogues and documents in the game — and then killed in some corner —, the series shows how he was instrumental in restoring his boyfriend’s humanity.
And that’s The Last of Us’ biggest asset on TV. The first two episodes show how much the end of the world as we know it caused Joel to become increasingly hardened. With Bill, however, the series presents the opposite logic: he is the paranoid madman who trusts no one and who has a bunker at home even before the fungus spreads, but who starts to soften from the moment he meets Frank.
This inversion is essential to show how, even in this wretched world, love is still light in the midst of darkness. A somewhat corny message, it’s true, but one that will echo in Joel and Ellie’s relationship from here on out. Not by chance, it is from that point on that he begins to fall in love with the girl and walk this new path.
So while Bill is just another character the player encounters in the games to illustrate how the apocalypse screwed the world upside down, the series uses the same story to say something much bigger and illustrate something that will build over the remainder of the series. season. And he does it without mischaracterizing or even changing the essence of what fans already know. in fact, it just enriches it all.
The Last of Us is available on HBO Max.