HBO’s The Last of Us is pushing all the right buttons by telling new stories

HBO’s The Last of Us has been very careful to stick largely to its source material – a smart but also quite logical choice given how cinematic the original game was. The painstakingly crafted similarities between Naughty Dog’s survival shooter – which was already great – and the HBO show were a big part of why people were quick to call The Last of Us the best video game adaptation ever. But it’s in moving away from the game and telling new stories that The Last of Us has really blossomed as in “Long Long Time,” the third installment of the series where Nick Offerman’s Bill and Murray Bartlett’s Frank become introduced. .

As it introduces two of The Last of Us’ most memorable supporting characters, “Long Long Time” adds so much new depth and dimension to them that they almost start to feel like different people. But the real magic of “Long Long Time,” and the reason it’s one of the strongest episodes of The Last of Us yet, lies in how spiritually faithful to the game it feels, even as it does its own particular thing. .

After focusing mostly on Joel and Ellie in the first two episodes, The Last of Us turns things around in “Long Long Time” by jumping into the past to tell the story of how antisocial, paranoid prepper Bill (Offerman ) and hapless survivor Frank (Bartlett) met in the apocalypse. In the early days of the cordyceps outbreak, when there was little understanding of what was happening, countless uninfected people lost their lives as the U.S. government began rounding up and executing civilians en masse in an effort to contain the spread of the mutated fungus. to contain.

While dozens of his trusted neighbors were unwittingly carted off to their doom, Frank made sure to stay in their small town until he was absolutely sure the whole thing was completely abandoned and ready to be converted into a fortified compound for one person. Being the antisocial person that he was, the idea of ​​spending the rest of his zombie-filled days in solitude and Ron Swanson-esque self-sufficiency appealed to Bill. All things considered, that lifestyle seemed to suit him well. But that changed the day Frank wandered into Bill’s property looking for safety and instead got caught in one of Bill’s traps.

It’s only apparent once you’ve played the games how much more content there is in HBO’s take on Bill and Frank, as “Long Long Time” shows how their first, tense meeting sparked the beginning of a friendship that grew into a passionate romance-fueled to the music of Linda Ronstadt. When you meet Bill in the game, he’s a bouncy, hard-boiled survivor who’s lost so much over the years that he’s almost out of touch with anyone, and it’s hard to understand how he and Joel got to know each other . All of those things certainly still hold true for Bill’s character in HBO’s The Last of Us, but instead of letting you deduce important details about Bill’s inwardness from his sparse dialogue, the show explains much of it by giving Frank a voice and presence. to give. in a way the game never did.

The Last of Us certainly isn’t the first apocalyptic story to wonder what it would feel like to find love in the end times, or even the first zombie show where a pair of gay men passionately love each other when they’re not busy. mow ghosts. But as a take on an established story, “Long Long Ago” brings so much more texture and emotional power to Bill and Frank that it’s fair to call the episode a major upgrade on how they’re treated in the game.

“Long Long Ago” shows how Frank and Bill saved each other by giving each other reasons to live, thus ensuring they were both close to becoming allies of Joel and Tess. Being so wrapped up in Frank and Bill’s lives, it’s justifiably surprising when you realize that one of the fights they end up having is about Frank hooking up with someone who turns out to be Tess. It’s lovely to watch the two couples become friends, and it’s easy to imagine how their collective bond played a major role in keeping them all grounded. It also makes it much easier to understand why Tess’ death had such a big impact on Joel.

Because it zooms in on pivotal moments during Frank and Bill’s year-long relationship, “Long Long Time” also deftly encourages you to step back and appreciate the larger world they exist in for what it is: a lonely, violent place where people die and happiness is hard to come by. Those are some of the biggest takeaways from the much, much bleaker way Bill and Frank are treated in the game during a series of missions to access a working car.

It is only implied in that story that Bill and Frank were once lovers, and by the time Ellie and Joel arrive in their town, Frank has committed suicide after becoming disillusioned with Bill, trying to leave and being attacked by clickers in the process. . However, by showing you the arc of their relationship, “Long Long Time” prepares you to be devastated by the way things play out for the couple and to understand something of what their time together might look like in the future. game before things turned sour. between them.

However, by showing you the arc of their relationship, “Long Long Time” prepares you to be devastated by the way things play out for the couple and to understand something of what their time together might look like in the future. game before things turned sour. between them. Obviously Bill and Frank spend many happy years as a couple before deciding to end their lives together as old men as they do in “Long Long Time” is very different from Frank turning on Bill and Bill eventually turning to Frank survives as in the game. But the essence of both scenarios isn’t so different as to feel completely separate from each other, which is exactly the kind of vibe you want to get from a “faithful” video game adaptation that strays off the beaten track.

The Last of Us’ ability to faithfully recreate things is impressive, true. But it’s the show’s ability to build new bits of lore that feel like they were always there that holds the most promise, especially with characters like Storm Reid’s Riley and Melanie Lynskey’s Kathleen on the horizon.