Major spoilers below for the third episode of HBO’s The Last of Us, so be warned if you haven’t yet watched!
With The Last of Us’ first two episodes, co-creators Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann displayed their willingness and eagerness to shake up the video game’s storyline for the jump to live-action, and in doing so have delivered an adaptation that will likely stand out from any other upcoming video game projects. But the third episode really proved how masterfully such alterations could be implemented, as it delivered a fully fleshed-out exploration for the character Bill and his “partner” Frank, with Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett anchoring the surprising and emotionally poignant installment.
Mazin and Druckmann talked with CinemaBlend and other press outlets ahead of The Last of Us’ premiere, where they were asked about the decision to change up and expand Bill’s story for the HBO series, as well as giving audiences a living and breathing version of Frank. Druckmann started the answer, explaining how the video game brings Bill into the story after Joel gets caught in one of the former’s traps, leading to a hectic fight for survival. The game’s director and co-writer continued, saying:
HBO’s The Last of Us added loads of character depth to Bill that the video game couldn’t get into very much, with a hard confirmation about Bill and Frank’s relationship as lovers that was only hinted at in the video game. Not to mention the fact that Frank never uttered a word in the source material, with his only personal input coming through a very final piece of written correspondence. But the show gave the two characters a far bigger and more meaningful story that, as Druckmann put it, can serve as a beacon of hope (albeit a macabre kind of hope) for Joel and Ellie, while also showing that not everyone’s experiences in the post-apocalypse were as wild and unwieldy as others.
Druckmann believes going a more personal and introspective route with Bill’s story was the smart move, as opposed to leaning into the violence, though he doesn’t think that would be the go-to approach for others attempting to adapt such a tale. In his words:
At least everyone bringing the Tetris movie to streaming isn’t trying to make a movie about falling blocks. For now, anyway.
The ‘Simple’ Bill Detail That Inspired Craig Mazin The Most
Craig Mazin was the spearheader when it came to building up Bill and Frank’s story for HBO’s The Last of Us, and explained that it was a rather simple idea that kicked off the train of thought that amounted to Episode 103. Here’s how he put it:
Though some of the ire and irritation that was present in the game’s Bill and Frank was brought into the TV show, it was obviously far more nuanced and tied into their specific characteristics, and was merely a note within their shared symphony, as opposed to being the main factor. And really, considering Bill is presumably one of the rare prepared survivors who was able to live comfortable after cordyceps destroyed the world, it makes sense that Nick Offerman’s iteration wouldn’t be that grumpy. He might not be the most personable Casanova, but he can bring it out when necessary.
Craig Mazin also explained that spending a longer stretch on Bill and Frank’s story allowed the series to give viewers a temorary respite following the heartbreaking deaths in the earlier eps, from the murder of Joel’s daughter Sarah in the premiere to the altered, but still fatal, sacrifice made by Tess in Episode 102. He continued:
While the changes made from The Last of Us‘ critically acclaimed video game likely won’t please everyone who watched, the creative team felt like it was the right move to make, and I’m in agreement with them. Sure, there may have been other ways to expand Bill and Frank’s history through the A+ acting talents of Offerman and Bartlett, but those ideas didn’t make it past the finish line.
To that end, Neil Druckmann capped off that point by speaking quite highly about how he felt about Mazin’s ideas for these characters, saying:
If this was a more traditional “zombie” show, there’d be a joke to make about everything being a no-brainer in this world. But that’s not the case, so let’s all pretend I didn’t bring it up to begin with. Just like I’m pretending that last shot of the episode wasn’t proof of Bill’s death, and that he was just fine, watching from the window out of the shot.
With more differences and deviations to come throughout the rest of its first season, as well as the recently renewed second season. The Last of Us drops new episodes on HBO every Sunday night at 9:00 p.m. ET, with streaming available at the same time for those with HBO Max subscriptions. Head to our 2023 TV premiere schedule to see what else is hitting the small screen for the rest of the year, assuming we can avoid any and all grain-based outbreaks.