The Last of Us Episode 3 Changed Bill's Story, but His Impact is the Same
The harsh survivalist was transformed into a surprising romantic, but the lesson he teaches to Joel and Ellie is stronger than ever.
The effect of The Last of Us Episode 3 was, surprisingly, divisive. While newbies to the Joel and Ellie saga were surprised to see a story that didn’t center entirely around them, many game fans were disappointed. The episode, which told a haunting tale of survivalist Bill and his longtime partner Frank, with whom he falls in love and devotes his life to protecting.
There were two main reasons why game fans didn’t like the Bill and Frank storyline: one was simply homophobia, even though Bill and Frank were romantic partners in the game. The other is that replacing the cynical ending of the game with something more “happy” removes the thematic significance for Joel. But really, those themes are still there, just in a different form.
Spoilers for The Last of Us Episode 3.
In the game, Joel and Ellie encounter Bill after his partner Frank ran off with his truck battery, something Joel and Ellie desperately need to get west. “Once upon a time, I had somebody that I cared about. It was a partner. Somebody I had to look after," he tells them. "And in this world, that sort of shit's good for one thing: getting you killed."
It’s an important moment for Joel: he sees where his cynical outlook will eventually lead and what would happen if he let anyone in with the way he’s acting now. It’s a turning point for the dynamic between Joel and Ellie as he slowly realizes he needs to soften the side of him he’s built as a survival tactic.
Many people claimed this is ruined in the show, essentially wasting Bill’s character. We only see him and Joel interact in flashbacks, and we never see him talk to Ellie at all. We see him live his life as a survivalist, meet Frank, fall in love, and choose to die happy with him. Instead of Bill being a cautionary tale, the argument is his story now has no stakes, except to show a one-off story that has no effect on the main storyline.
But that’s not quite true. In fact, Bill does have some interaction with Ellie, even though it’s not direct. Ellie is the one who reads Bill’s post-mortem letter to Joel. Ellie is the one who reads him Bill’s eulogy for Frank and his final words: “I saved him. Then I protected him. That’s why men like you and me are here. We have a job to do.”
In the series, Bill is still showing Joel what could happen in the future, but instead of being the worst-case scenario, he’s the best-case scenario. He represents what could happen to Joel if he lets himself get attached to someone after losing so many people in his life. Yes, maybe he’ll allow himself to be vulnerable, but he’s got a job to do: he’s gotta protect those around him, even if he doesn’t succeed.
The thematic elements of Bill’s story are not ruined by his new ending in the series. He’s just serving a different role — he’s not Joel’s cautionary tale but a role model. Joel saw the skepticism in Bill, but he also saw how Frank gave him something to live for. Now that his daughter and his supposed partner of 15 years is gone, he may feel like never letting anyone in again. But he could die happy like Bill, if only he could find it in himself to protect those around him no matter his past.
The Last of Us Episode 3 is now streaming on HBO Max.