The Last of Us’ third episode was a triumph unto itself. You could know nothing about the show or its world and Bill and Frank’s romance still works as a moving, self-contained tale about the power of love even in the face of annihilation. But while their time together came to an end just as Joel and Ellie’s is beginning, the couple’s relationship will frame the entire series going forward. Their partnership will serve as the inspiration for Joel to risk everything for a girl he doesn’t even know. And the desire to protect one single person might be what it takes to protect everyone.
Anyway, I never liked you. But still, it’s like we’re friends. Almost. And I respect you, so I’m gonna tell you something because you’re probably the only person who will understand: I used to hate the world and I was happy when everyone died.
With all apologies to Ellie, Bill was not a genius. Bill was a scared man, scared of being who he really was and of everyone around him. He didn’t prep for the apocalypse because he thought it might arrive one day. He prepped for the apocalypse because he hoped it would. And when it did he was content to spend his remaining time in solitude. But then Frank fell into one of his traps.
You could spend thousands and thousands of words talking about what happened during this episode and not come close to discussing everything that made it special. Bill and Frank’s 16 years together, told a lifetime of stories, both about each man and their relationship. With incredible writing, filmmaking, and performances it also explored universal ideas of self-acceptance, personal growth, and opening up our hearts to others. But the most important idea for The Last of Us—the one that will carry forward on a show set in a wasteland so miserable that giving up is not only defensible but possible correct—is one of purpose.
After he downed his own glass of fatal wine, Bill told Frank why he was joining his love on a journey to their next life. “This isn’t the tragic suicide at the end of the play,” Bill said. “I’m old. I’m satisfied. And you were my purpose.”
It was a beautiful ending to a beautiful partnership that served as a powerful reminder that no matter how bad things gets the best of us can still endure. But the duo’s love did not die with them. In fact, it might one day save the world. Without knowing it, Bill’s goodbye letter pushed Joel to do something far bigger and more important than himself.
But I was wrong, because there was one person worth saving. 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, and God help any mother fuckers who stand in our way. I leave all of my weapons and equipment. Use them to keep…
Bill thought he was telling Joel to keep Tess safe. She had been Joel’s purpose, his reason for going on and fighting through the darkness (both his own and the world’s). Now she’s gone, along with his only friends. All that remains for a grieving dad is a brother who left him behind. That is assuming Tommy isn’t dead already.
Joel wants to go looking for Tommy anyway. Tommy is family. But bringing along a little girl who know nothing of the dangers outside Boston’s Quarantine Zone seems exactly like the type of thing Joel would never do. As Tess said about them both, Joel is not a good person. He’s done horrible things he won’t speak of. And it was just a couple days ago when he argued for putting a bullet in Ellie’s head or turning her over to FEDRA who certainly kill her. Yet now he’s going to protect her against unimaginable threats across a country filled with monsters both human and literal. Why? Why is a bad person going to risk that for her?
Because Bill showed him why it’s a job worth doing. It’s really the only purpose any of us have and one we can all do in our own ways. Bill did that the best way he could, just as Frank did the same for Bill in his own way. One kept them fed and safe from danger. The other kept their hearts open when everything around them demanded they close them.
Now Ellie needs protection. If Joel won’t do it who will? Who he even can? He knows the answer. He knows Bill was right about why men like them are here. It’s the same reason people like Frank and Tess exist, because others need them.
But it’s not just Ellie who needs Joel, it’s everyone. She might be humanity’s only chance to save itself. Without the hope she represents for a cure Cordyceps will ultimately win. When that happens no one—not even a prepper who locked himself away from the outside world long before the world ended—will be safe.
The Last of Us’ story of two men who fell in love and saved one another was gorgeous entirely on its own. If they had never met Joel they would still have served a purpose on the show, a reminder that even during the worst of times the best of us can survive. But they did meet Joel, and everything they shared together will carry forward with him and his purpose. Just as they each saved one person, Joel can save Ellie. And if he does, it will mean Bill and Frank’s love saved the entire world even after they left it.
Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.
This post has affiliate links, which means we may earn advertising money if you buy something. This doesn’t cost you anything extra, we just have to give you the heads up for legal reasons. Click away!