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The Great Love Story of "The Last of Us"

Lauren Bell

Last month, I brought up a few TV shows featuring queer characters that I’m looking forward to watching in 2023. One of those shows, The Last of US, is already airing and episode 3 featured one of its explicitly queer storylines. Spoilers ahead for episode 3 (“Long, Long Time”) so if you haven’t watched it yet, put this post on hold and watch it right now. If you’re on the fence about starting the show or haven’t been interested in it previously, I hope this post will convince you to watch The Last of Us. Because “Long, Long Time” was not only one of the best queer stories I have ever seen on television, but it was probably one of the best episodes of television I have ever seen. 

The episode’s story begins as the world is falling apart, with the doomsday prepper Bill as he lives in his abandoned Massachusetts town that he rigged with fencing and traps to keep the outside world away. Seemingly content with this solitary lifestyle, he relishes in his success whenever an Infected “zombie” gets caught in his traps - that is, until a man gets stuck in one of these traps. He goes to rescue this stranger, who introduces himself as Frank. Frank notices something about Bill as soon as he lays eyes on him, and asks to stay for a meal before he goes on his way. Bill reluctantly agrees, and the two share a quiet meal and a gentle moment on the piano. As Bill plays Linda Rondstadt’s “Long, Long Time” on the piano, Frank’s suspicions of Bill reveal to be true. The two share a tender kiss and go up to Bill’s room. The episode jumps through the years, revealing details in Bill and Frank’s relationship as it is tested in their solitary existences. Yet despite the dangers of the outside world and the trials of their relationship, their love survives. It flourishes for about 15 years, until we see Frank in his old age, wheelchair-bound and apparently suffering from some kind of muscular degenerative disease. Bill is taking care of him as always, but Frank finally decides that enough is enough and asks Bill for one last great day to do whatever he wants, and to end it with Bill crushing all of his pills into Frank’s wine glass. Bill obliges and gives his lover the day he desires, going to the abandoned shops in town to pick out new outfits, getting married in the church, having a dinner that is a parallel to their first meal together, and ending with a glass of wine for each of them. Frank downs his poison, and Bill follows suit. As Frank realizes what Bill has done and Bill reveals that he put pills in the bottle itself, he tells Frank that he was his purpose, and the two go off to their room to hold each other as they fall asleep forever. 

One of the most important lines of this episode for me was after Bill downs his own poison and says to Frank, “this is not the tragic suicide at the end of the play.” I’ve read and seen a lot - and I mean a LOT - of plays, musicals, movies, and TV shows telling queer stories. So many of them result in the extreme assault or death of the queer character, whether it’s from AIDS, suicide, or a hate crime. While these stories are important and significant, it’s so hard and exhausting to see the queer character end up the same way over and over again. For Bill to say these words, he’s making sure that Frank knows that they are not going with this trope. They are taking their lives into their own hands, choosing how their story ends on their own terms. They are not letting the world make a tragedy of them, because their lives were not tragic. They found love, they found each other and more of themselves, and they didn’t just survive in this post-apocalyptic world but they lived. And that is so important. Bill says that Frank was his purpose, that Frank enabled him to become more of who he truly was inside, and he never wants to let that go. These gay men rewrote their own narrative to ensure that they wouldn’t become just another tragedy in the mix of it all, and it’s so incredibly beautiful. They did what they wouldn’t have been able to do before the world fell apart: they fell in love freely and got married. In the TV show, the outbreak of the fungal infection takes place in autumn 2003; in our world, the first state to legalize same-sex marriage was Massachusetts in the spring of 2004. Bill and Frank created their own great love story when they wouldn’t have been able to have one in their own time. Their love is tender, dynamic, imperfect, strong, and true. Their story will endure and survive not because they died, but because they lived so fully and truly and with love. The whole series is about love in all of its forms and how it does or doesn’t withstand the ultimate tests, and I believe that Bill and Frank’s love story will last beyond this television show.

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