It’s the end of the world. The things that matter most to you don’t exist anymore. Your sense of safety and normalcy, your sources of entertainment, your family and friends. How easy it’d be to lose hope—especially if you throw in an external threat like disease or zombies. There isn’t much to live for in an apocalypse and the thought of romance is certainly not at the top of your priorities.
But what if you met a person—even an unsuspecting one—who renewed your sense of purpose? Someone you never would have spoken to in the before times. Maybe someone who’s fate drops in your lap right when you’re ready to give into the hysteria and chaos? The third episode of HBO’s The Last of Us gave us such a story.
“Long, Long Time” introduced us to Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett), two men brought together by circumstance who find tender love in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. The episode became a hit with Bill and Frank entering the pantheon of great TV love stories. And the fact that their romance is a queer romance is all the more lovely. So rarely do we get such tender, beautiful representation in the middle of a story about grit, survival, and monsters.
If “Long, Long Time” pulled at your heartstrings, here are five more hopeful apocalyptic love stories on the small screen. Hopefully, they will remind you that there is still purpose to be found and joy to be had, even at the end of all things.
Rick and Michonne (The Walking Dead)
The Walking Dead shares plenty of DNA with The Last of Us. Both shows are hit adaptations of pre-existing IP taking place in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. The Last of Us will likely have limits in terms of season and story; however, The Walking Dead went on and on—for eleven seasons, to be exact. And yet, even when storylines stalled and quality ebbed, the show was capable of pleasant surprises.
This was especially true when the hardened Rick Grimes and Michonne Hawthorne began an apocalypse romance in season six. And their relationship that brought out the best of The Walking Dead. Survival stories aren’t much without a reason to keep fighting. Yes, Rick already had kids to protect and a righteous sense of duty to uphold. But it wasn’t until Michonne that he learned the value of partnership—one built on trust, understanding, and even, occasionally, humor.
Though Rick appeared to die in season nine after sacrificing himself to save the Hilltop community, a devastated Michonne wasn’t so sure. The final two seasons of the show saw her following clues that point to his survival. A spinoff series about the couple and Michonne’s continued search will debut in 2024. Hopefully this couple’s love will continue to endure even after their show ends. And that’s something special.
Kevin and Nora (The Leftovers)
The Leftovers is a different kind of apocalypse story, if you can even call it that. It’s not about a pandemic or zombie outbreak or catastrophe, but something far more nebulous: a supernatural event where 2% of the world’s population suddenly disappears. The series chronicles those left behind, who attempt to understand a world that suddenly makes no sense, where normalcy evaporates, religious fanaticism takes hold, and nihilism reigns.
We find Kevin Garvey and Nora Durst in the throes of despair in season one of the show. He’s a small-town cop who struggles with his sanity in the aftermath of the Sudden Departure. She’s similarly unmoored, fighting for the will to live after losing her husband and children in the event. But they eventually come together, finding love, family, and community together—something they thought they’d lost forever. Their love story spans enormous time and distance. But the series finale puts them back where they began: at a dance, surrounded by others, a moment of peace and union in a world still scarred by inexplicable loss.
Sawyer and Juliet (Lost)
This romance might sound like a cheat, because Lost isn’t in an apocalypse. But the fifth season of the show is absolutely apocalyptic. After a handful of crash survivors are rescued, those left behind contend with an island jumping through time. They’re eventually stranded in the 1970s, in a timeline they know ends in something called “The Incident,” which involves the detonation of a nuclear bomb. That’s pretty damn apocalyptic, if you ask me.
The stakes are high and the emotions bleak, but that’s right when Sawyer and Juliet—both left behind, both without purpose—start seeing one another in a new light. A once contentious relationship turns first towards mutual respect and eventually to romance. They know they have limited time, but they commit to one another all the same. And though their island romance is of the tragic variety, it endures beyond conventional time, with the two reuniting in the afterlife in a scene that will never not make us sob.
Sarah and Rasmus (The Rain)
Netflix’s The Rain is less well-known stateside than the others on this list, but this is your plea to tune in. The Danish series happens in a post-apocalyptic future, after a virus in rainfall kills most of the population of Scandinavia. It follows two siblings who survive in a bunker and later emerge to look for their father. They team up with other survivors along the way, looking for answers in a devastated world they no longer recognize.
In the show’s second season, one of the siblings, Rasmus, becomes infected with the virus. He hides his new affliction from the others, but another apocalypse survivor, a girl named Sarah, knows his secret and the two eventually develop and lovely romance. Like the other couples on this list, their connection brings a pure and pleasant sort of happiness into their lives. But impending tragedy tinges it. Still, they’re able to conjure magic together in the time they do have. And isn’t that what all of us should hope for—at least one good day?
Peter and Olivia (Fringe)
Fringe has a major The Last of Us connection: Anna Torv. Though her time as Tess was short lived, we got plenty of the Australian actress on the beloved sci-fi series Fringe, where she played the heroic and haunted FBI agent Olivia Dunham. Olivia’s romance with Peter Bishop doesn’t fit the exact same mold as the others on this list. It spans more seasons and had quite a few tangles along the way—including alternate universes, timelines, and era skips. But the final season of the show went full post-apocalypse, but just before it—knowing hope might soon be lost—we see Olivia and Peter set aside the troubles chasing them and choose love and family.
The last season is full of universe-shaking developments, but ultimately, Fringe stayed true to itself, anchoring all of its shenanigans in moments of human connection—and ultimately, happiness. Peter and Olivia, and their love for one another and their daughter, defies the odds. They’re reunited and transported back into a timeline where the apocalypse never came to be and they can have a less stressful romance.
Not every couple gets such a tidy resolution, but it’s the hope for this sort of outcome—or some quainter version of it—that keeps the flame lit.