Episode three of The Last of Us had absolutely no right.
I went into the latest edition of the series naively hoping there would be more flesh-eating, fungi-headed zombies than in the previous two. The devastatingly beautiful love story that followed was nowhere near what I had wished for, but it was undeniably so much better. Emotionally, I was not ready, but maybe that’s what The Last of Us writers were counting on.
Created by Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann, the series follows Joel and his young sidekick Ellie as they make their way across a zombie-riddle American landscape. As I’m sure we all know by now, it’s based on the game of the same name. I still believe it’s the best game I’ve ever played, which is largely thanks to its gripping narrative – and did I mention that there are mushroom zombies?
Despite what the Rotten Tomatoes reviews say, The Last of Us series has been up and down so far. While the initial 30 minutes of the first episode was one of the best zombie outbreak scenes I have ever witnessed (I genuinely stood up out of my seat when that plane crashed), the following 50 minutes was a little too talky-talky and not enough bitey-zombies. Episode two made up for much of that damp second half, but it still failed to fill me with too much excitement for the third installment.
Therefore, as I sat through the HBO logo that always takes me back to the golden days of Game of Thrones, I wasn’t expecting too much for the third episode. Boy, was I wrong.
Although bookended by Joel and Ellie’s story, episode three mainly follows Bill and Frank. Bill, played by Nick Offerman, is a survivalist who relishes the end of civilization. That is until he stumbles upon Frank, played by Murray Bartlett, stuck in one of his many zombie traps. After a brief will-they-won’t-they, the two fall for each other in spectacular fashion and end up spending the rest of their lives together, creating an oasis of happiness among the apocalyptic wasteland.
Eventually, Frank becomes debilitated in older age and decides to end his life. Now, I do not exaggerate when I say that final day they spend together is the most heartbreaking sequence I have ever witnessed on television. It is perfectly paced from start to finish, slowly building to a moment you and they hope will never arrive. When it does, Bill’s decision to take the final journey into darkness with Frank makes it even more moving than you could have ever imagined.
While the writing is absolutely exquisite, Offerman and Bartlett deserve heaps of praise for their performance in the episode. Despite the fact that one of them has been happily married to a woman for the past 20 years, their portrayal of a same-sex love story is so convincing that it makes you invest completely in their relationship; so much so that you end the episode in a pool of tears over two characters that you only just met.
Its a level of devastating emotion that only the opening of Pixar’s Up can equate to, and like that sequence it’s truly uncalled for from everyone involved. All I wanted was some mindless zombie-action and I ended up soaked in my own tears, contemplating my very existence and whether I will ever find a love so true. But, I guess that’s what fantastic TV will do to you.
It might be early days, but I think we already have a strong contender for the best TV episode of 2023.