By Jackson Hare, Education & Enrichment Coordinator
Since the release of its first episode on Jan. 15 on HBO Max, The Last of Us has left its hundreds of thousands of viewers’ mouths ajar and eyes teary by the end of nearly every episode. Episode three, “Long, Long Time,” stole hearts with a memorable and poignant post-apocalyptic gay romance.
Based on the video game released in 2013, The Last of Us details the fallout after billions of people were infected with a fungal virus causing them to mutate into grotesque fungal zombies shattering civilization. The show follows Joel (Pedro Pascal) as he takes care of Ellie (Bella Ramsey), a young girl believed to be immune to the virus, in hopes that she may be humanity’s only salvation.
However, episode three diverts from Joel and Ellie’s journey to give viewers a beautiful performance from Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett, who portray two men named Bill and Frank, respectively. Bill is someone who can be best described as a doomsday prepper, with a secret shelter underneath his house full of weapons and supplies. Once his neighborhood is completely abandoned, Bill quickly prepares the ultimate apocalypse survival base with a garden and traps surrounding his home to ensure he could comfortably survive drinking wine and dining fine.
Although, in a turn of events, a lone traveler, Frank, falls into one of Bill’s traps and subsequently sparks a romance that makes you completely forget about the horrors of the apocalypse they were surviving. Their relationship was incredibly heartwarming and exhibited nothing short of pure and divine love, but I wouldn’t say that’s what made the episode so phenomenal.
When I was watching Bill and Frank’s relationship come together and later witnessing its tragic and heartbreaking end as the two grew older and Frank’s health declined, I couldn’t help but feel like I had seen this narrative before. I thought maybe I was projecting my recent exposure to books and stories I have been reading about the AIDS epidemic, but upon further research, I discovered I was right to think the episode was reminiscent of the experience of gay men during the AIDS crisis in the ‘80s.
This episode was directed by Peter Hoar, who also directed HBO’s It’s a Sin, which follows the lives of five gay men experiencing the AIDS crisis in the U.K. The connections are uncanny: A gay couple finding love with one another despite the threat of a deadly virus that shattered the surrounding community and watching your partner’s health decline helplessly, unable to stop the progression of what will eventually lead to their life ending in a heartbreaking and gut wrenching course of events.
Aside from the romantic narrative being beautifully executed, the representation was what makes me love and appreciate this episode so much. After The Last of Us had captured a significant fan base eagerly waiting for each episode to release every Sunday night, they deviated almost entirely from the main storyline in order to highlight a gay romance that was only hinted at in the game.
Moreover, they brought in Hoar, a gay man, to direct, whose previous directing experience enriched the episode that shares such an important narrative experience that would have otherwise remained obscured by ignorance and intolerance for the queer community. Nonetheless, this representation was not perfect either, considering the issue of the queer narratives being represented primarily by White gay men, but I particularly enjoyed seeing queer representation outside of your typical gay love story between two young, skinny, fit men.
Of course, there were people who reacted poorly to seeing something diverse on their TV screen, but I think Bella Ramsey said it best: “If you don’t want to watch because it has gay storylines, because it has a trans character, that’s on you, and you’re missing out.”