The most anticipated series of the year has already confirmed its position as a blockbuster with a dense horror atmosphere. The adaptation of the video game The Last of Us, which can be seen on HBO Max, but for the first time, surprised significantly with the current third episode. A step from the world of the zombie apocalypse to a tender romance between two gay men introduced the fierce hero Bill and a strange version of a small personal utopia in the middle of hell.
From the beginning, he seemed to enjoy the Earth almost without humans. The overgrown fellow prepared for the end of the world a long time ago, and now in the safety of his mansion he enjoys the pleasures of civilization, of which only the ruins remain.
But when actor Nick Offerman is asked if he has any similarities with Bill, he laughs. “I like to have an overview of how things work. I secured the house against possible earthquakes. I don’t like to call someone to help me replace this or that,” he says in an interview with Aktuálně.cz. And not only that. The fifty-two-year-old American, who became famous as Ron from the TV series Department of Urban Greenery or Karl in the second series of Fargo, owns a wood store in Los Angeles, USA. When he wields a hammer so confidently in Last of Us, it’s almost certain that he didn’t have to train the movement beforehand.
However, there are undoubtedly differences between the role and its representative. “Bill hates people. He’s got a lot of pain in him,” Offerman points out, adding that he himself comes from a loving family and wouldn’t alienate others like that in Bill’s shoes. “But I think once he opens his heart to feelings, we’ll see that seed of vulnerability that he wants to be loved and to love,” she adds.
The seed the actor is talking about is called Frank. A guy who at first is just an unwelcome stranger in the vicinity of Bill’s dwelling full of traps and snares against intruders of all kinds. Eventually, Bill invites him in, for a quick shower, dinner. And then goodbye again. But Frank tastes roast rabbit and delicious red wine, that is, food that would not be common even in our “civilized” environment. Amidst the ruins of a world ruled by parasitic fungi that turn people into strange blood puppets, such a dinner is a miracle.
The creators of the series, Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann, with Monday’s episode, for the first time fundamentally stepped away from the post-apocalyptic line of the popular video game. Mazin has so far convinced the audience that he can create the same evocative atmosphere as in his previous miniseries Chernobyl. And that despite the presence of mushroom zombies, which are terrifying with their appearance and unpleasant clicking sounds, the biggest monsters here are still humans.
The third episode, titled Long Long Time, suddenly changed the tone. Bill and Frank immediately became one of the most talked about TV couples. And their romance has the power to subvert clichés without the fact that it is the love of two men essential to its effect on the audience.
The third episode of The Last of Us is on HBO Max with Czech dubbing and subtitles. | Video: HBO
“It was really refreshing to read a script free of stereotypes in a genre where they are so common,” notes actor Murray Bartlett. The fifty-one-year-old Australian drew attention to himself the year before with the role of a hotel manager in the first series of the White Lotus series. Even though now the representative of Frank is speaking through a video interview screen, with his colleague at a distance across the ocean, he seems a bit like the characters themselves, like a perfectly complementary couple full of opposites.
Bartlett isn’t nearly as confident with hammers or other tools as fellow Offerman. However, they both agree that one of the most valuable things about the series for them was the opportunity to upset long-held, not only gender prejudices.
“I’m often accused of masculinity,” Offerman says, referring to the current social mood. “It surprises me because I often feel more like a big, giggling, dancing rabbit. So I always answer, ‘Why do we have to solve everything through gender?’ What if I can use a tool or sew a button, why can’t I like both?”
Actor and wood shop owner Offerman employs five people, four of whom are women, and all of whom are more skilled than he because they have more experience. Meanwhile, he’s entertaining people, writing books and doing interviews like this one. “The woman in charge of the crew is a petite, strong lesbian, three times as skilled as I am. And yet customers often react with surprise: ‘What? Women working with tools?’ It’s so stupid. It’s just old, worn-out gender stereotypes,” she says.
Bill’s representative points out that this is exactly why he likes to send messages like: Women can swing a hammer to the world. Or: Men can bake cookies.
Nick Offerman as Bill and Murray Bartlett as Frank. | Photo: Liane Hentscher
But the episode Long Long Time is not an agitation for breaking fixed ideas. It is above all a gentle love story, a story about love, but also about dying. The creators use the strange contrast of the post-apocalyptic world and the almost idyllic place that Bill created and to which he invited Frank, giving meaning to this small paradise.
“That episode tells about the possibilities in the middle of hell. It really resembles a place where birds sing and roses bloom, it tells about hope, about the possibility of finding closeness to another person. But it will not be without complications,” Murray Bartlett carefully searches for words.
And Nick Offerman adds: “What good is all the luxury if there’s no one to share it with? It’s almost a Dantean observation. Does the place where Bill and Frank live resemble heaven? The answer is yes, but with a small taste of hell. The whole episode it’s that if there’s no one you care about, everything else is irrelevant.”
The Last of Us is not a revolution in its genre. Similar moments of closeness and tenderness in the midst of zombie madness were shown, for example, in some episodes of the Living Dead series, the motif of finding hope in the midst of a broken world was portrayed with similar intensity by director Alfonso Cuarón in the 2006 film Descendants of Men.
Still, creators are at least breaking the curse of computer game adaptations. The series sovereignly takes over and conveys the unbearable claustrophobia of the video game world to the audience in its own way. At the same time, he makes it clear that he has bigger ambitions than just being a successful copy of the original work.
“People don’t like change,” Nick Offerman talks about fan expectations and the differences between the game and the show. He himself does not like how the Internet reinforces some natural reactions, but does not offer space for reconciliation. The actor gives a personal example. “If you pronounce the names of Tolkien characters differently than I chose to pronounce them on the first reading, I will at first want to punch you. But then I will think: why can’t both be correct?” muses a man who, judging by his visage, could easily play one of Tolkien’s warriors, whether human or dwarven.
In the series The Last of Us, smuggler Joel played by Pedro Pascal and fourteen-year-old Ellie played by Bella Ramsey travel the world after the apocalypse. | Photo: HBO
According to the reactions of the audience, the story of Bill and Frank has more power to unite than to divide. One of the proofs is the fact that the song Long Long Time from 1970, which the heroes play on the piano, became an instant hit on the Spotify platform. After the episode airs within an hour grew up among American users of the service, interest in this song by Linda Ronstadt at 4900 percent. A similar thing happened last year with Kate Bush’s song, which was heard in Stranger Things.
The Last of Us is a series that is talked about. HBO has already announced a sequel thanks to an extraordinary increase in viewership between episodes, with over 22 million people watching the first one so far. And like Stranger Things, the new has the power to revive old fashions. Already with the third volume, it proves that it is at least something more than just another skillfully mastered genre variation.