The Last of Us Game Creator on Changing Bill and Frank's Fates

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from The Last of Us episode 3 and the video game.] Neil Druckmann, co-creator of The Last of Us video game and HBO's television adaptation, weighed whether to deviate from the game to tell a "totally different" story: an apocalyptic love story. Sunday's episode — titled "Long Long Time" after the Linda Ronstadt song that features heavily — flashes back to 2007, four years post-outbreak of the Cordyceps infection. Self-sufficient survivalist Bill (Nick Offerman) is the lone inhabitant of Lincoln, Massachusetts, a town he's fortified and rigged with booby-traps to keep away outsiders, both dead and living. 

That is until he meets Frank (Murray Bartlett), a weary traveler who happens across Bill's town while making the trek from the fallen Baltimore quarantine zone to the Boston QZ. What follows is a years-long relationship that endures the apocalypse until present-day 2023, when Bill and Frank decide to die together rather than live one more day without the other.

By the time Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) reach the Lincoln bunker, they find a letter stating the couple interred themselves in their bedroom. "I used to hate the world, and I was happy when everyone died. But I was wrong because there was one person worth saving," Bill's letter to Joel reads in part. "That's what I did. I saved him. Then I protected him. That's why men like you and me are here. We have a job to do."

The letter — written before Joel's partner, Tess (Anna Torv), died saving Joel and Ellie from an Infected swarm — ends with Bill bequeathing his weapons and equipment to Joel: "Use them to keep Tess safe." With Tess gone, it's Joel's mission to get the bitten-but-immune Ellie to Tommy (Gabriel Luna) in Wyoming, their only hope of finding the Firefly doctors working on a CBI cure.

What Happens to Bill and Frank in the Game?

That's a big change from the video game, where Joel, Ellie, and Bill work together to fight off different types of Infected to retrieve a truck battery from inside the ghost town's high school. The trio finds Frank's corpse, learning he died by suicide to prevent from turning after an Infected's bite.

"I want you to know I hated your guts," reads Frank's letter to Bill. "... I guess you were right. Trying to leave this town will kill me. Still better than spending another day with you." The player only ever sees Frank's corpse, and the game refers to Bill's former "partner" without much reverence.

"Once upon a time, I had somebody that I cared about. It was a partner. Somebody I had to look after," game Bill (voiced by W. Earl Brown) says. "And in this world, that sort of sh*t's good for one thing: getting you killed." Game Bill lives, but it's a lonelier life than his TV counterpart, who tells his husband: "This isn't the tragic suicide at the end of the play. I'm old. I'm satisfied. And you were my purpose."

"In the game, that section is about how, even though you can survive by yourself, what are you surviving for? What's left?" Druckmann, who wrote and co-directed the video game, said on HBO's The Last of Us podcast. "In the game, they have a very different fate where they have a big falling out. Bill sticks to his ways, Frank says, 'I can't live with you anymore,' and tries to escape, and ends up dying. That's the exploration of, 'This guy had a partner that wanted more than just surviving day-to-day. You have to live your life.'"

Love Will Abide: Changing Bill and Frank's Fates

The show's version, written by series co-creator and showrunner Craig Mazin, was a way to "take those themes and approach them with a totally different story," Druckmann explained. "Now let's approach it as a sweet romantic story where these characters can struggle with that idea of, 'What is this life for? We're here for a limited amount of time — how do we best live it?'"

After Mazin pitched Druckmann on telling Bill and Frank's 16-year love story in support of Joel's journey with Ellie, it became clear that the deviation from the source material made for a richer narrative and a deeper exploration of the show's wider themes.

"The thing I get nervous the most about changes is changing the fate of a character. And here we have a very different fate for Bill than we do in the game," Druckmann said. "Then I try to do the math of weighing it: 'How much do we gain?' To me, when you deviate that much, there's a certain cost to it. It was such a beautiful story that explores the themes of love and the complexity that comes with love, and the happiness, and pain."

Druckmann continued: "Even though this Bill dies, and Bill doesn't die in the game, it's a happier ending, much happier, because he lived a full life. We're demonstrating — because, eventually, where some of the story goes [in upcoming episodes] — there's a demonstration of, 'Here's what you stand to lose when you love someone. You can feel this immense loss. But here's what you gain.' The contrast of those two things in this episode I feel really elevates Joel and Ellie's journey through the telling of a bottle episode."

New episodes of The Last of Us premiere Sundays on HBO and HBO Max. Follow for more The Last of Us on ComicBook.