“I didn’t want to go.”
'The Last of Us' Episode 3 Director Reveals the Secret Meaning Behind the Last Shot
Peter Hoar reveals what it was like filming 'The Last of Us' Episode 3 and that heartbreaking ending.
The Last of Us Episode 3 was shocking.
Not only was it huge deviation from the previous episode’s commitment to adapting the video game source material, but it’s also the first time someone other than the showrunners Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann directed an episode. The honor fell to It’s a Sin and Umbrella Academy director Peter Hoar, who brought the standalone story of Bill and Frank’s love story to life with stars Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett.
Even in September 2021, when Episode 3 was filmed, British director Hoar knew the importance of the task ahead of him. “I was blessed to be able to do it, I couldn't believe it had come to me,” Hoar told Inverse Friday afternoon, minutes after The Last of Us was renewed for Season 2. “I just didn't want to let anybody down. And of course, there was a huge relationship between the two men.”
A gay man himself, the love story was especially poignant. “I had just come from It’s a Sin, where five boys were experiencing the AIDS crisis in the U.K. I hadn’t realized how much [of] a voice I had, how many people are listening. The community was so wonderful about the whole show. Now, it’s happening again, not just with the LGBTQ community, but The Last of Us community, which I also belong to.”
Hoar spoke with Inverse about directing the heartbreaking love story of Bill and Frank, The Last of Us Season 2, and the secret meaning behind the episode’s final shot.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
WARNING! Spoilers for The Last of Us Episode 3 below!
What was the biggest challenge in directing such a unique episode?
I've been asked if was worried about it being so different from the game. I just read Craig's scripts. They’re so good, so clever and so warm, that I actually forgot that it was so different. It was only really when Bill is shot, and you think, Oh, God. It’s Bill that's gonna go. It's not Frank, it's Bill. And then very next scene is Frank on the porch, in a wheelchair.
You're thinking so hard about what happened and how it happened and what happens next, and then suddenly, they're quite old. I think I forgot that we were in a completely different scenario to the game, and I just went with it. I never worried that it was that different. Neil was the first person that said, not to me, but to the world, “I'm not sure that the fans will like Episode 3 because it's very, very different.” I was like, “Oh no! Don’t say that Neil!”
Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett are both amazing actors, but they’re most famous for their comedic roles. So how did you approach directing them through such an emotional and dramatic storyline?
They were both so keen to do right by it. Murray totally committed but as a gay man playing a gay man, this was not a new idea for him. It was emotionally driven and emotionally taxing for him, but he was playing a character that he understood and he knew.
“It wasn't just about being a man, it was because he was Frank.”
For Nick, it was very much a different person. But at the same time, we didn't get Nick Offerman to not have some of him in it as well. Because that is Bill — Bill is complicated. I would definitely argue that Bill doesn't come across as a gay man. It's a little less binary than that. He is a man who never really discovered himself. He lived in a world of mistrust. He lived with his mother for a certain long number of years, she then died, and he had the house. He pulled himself away from society.
He was never going to naturally discover who he was to fall in love with or who he found attractive until Frank came along. And even then, it wasn't just about being a man, it was because he was Frank. It was because Frank is Frank. I felt like it was about making sure to keep reminding them all of that.
It's not as complicated perhaps as it sounds. It's about heart and love and truth. They are kind and gentle to each other. Middle-aged men falling in love, you don't get that all the time, so I think that was nice. They're just such professionals. They didn't need much help and guidance other than just feeling good every day about what we were doing.
Sometimes you have to sort of trick the rest of the world into watching these things before they're like, “Oh, my God, it was two guys. I just realized.” I think then they might understand that it's all real. It's just the same love.
The last shot of the episode lingers on the window. Was that a reference to the last shot of The Last of Us Part II?
I wouldn't know that, but my director of photography, Eben Bolter, would know because he has played it. Two things were going on with that shot. When you play the original game there was a menu screen, and it was a window with a breeze. That’s where you select “play game” or whatever. There was this discussion with Craig where that might be something that we try and emulate, we would put it at the beginning of every episode. I think it was a gimmick really about if you're on HBO Max, you could see it and click on it, and then you watch that.
Once he described it to me, I thought it was gonna be at the beginning of the episode. And I thought it doesn't work at the beginning of my episode, because they're out and about now, they aren't near a window. But at the end of the episode, we are there.
Obviously, we see Joel and Ellie disappear off into the sunset. But I wanted a last moment with Bill and Frank, and I didn't know how else to do it. But if we pull back through their window, see the flowers that have died, which is also heartbreaking, and one of Frank's pictures on the wall. I just thought that was our last moment. We're actually coming back into the world of Frank and Bill for that one last shot because I didn’t want to go.
What was it like working with Bella and Pedro for the beginning and end of the episode?
Both of them are stunning human beings, but they were finding their way. Episode 2 was shot after Episode 3. They had just really begun to discover their relationship. They hadn't had that experience trying to escape Boston, they hadn't seen Tess give her life, they hadn't done any of that. It was interesting because I think they were still understanding each other, understanding how that relationship was going to work.
Not only did I get to do this fantastic episode, but I also did the shot where they looked out at the plane wreck, which became the first teaser image of the entire series. I'm like, Oh, my God, that's me. And then not only that, I got a shot behind them walking down this road. And he had his gun over his shoulder and the little tiny Ellie next to him wandering along. I was like, this is the game. I'm doing it. This is fantastic.
Do you think Episode 3 will do for Linda Ronstadt what Stranger Things did for Kate Bush?
What a beautiful piece of music. When Ellie says, “I don't know who Linda Ronstadt is,” she's not going to be alone. I think a lot of people are going to be online trying to go “Oh, quick, what's going on here?” She's got a fantastic body of work. So it's all to play for. I should have got shares in Linda Ronstadt.
Did you see all the critics talking about Episode 3 when the reviews were released?
I did get a feeling, yeah. I was very proud of the episode. Craig Mazin, who's already won an Emmy, was saying, “Oh, my God, Paul, this episode is the best.” He wrote it, he deserves all of the credit, but he kept saying, “This is going to be so good. This is just going to be so good. People are gonna love this.”
I hate saying this because it feels very egocentric, but he was like, “I think you'd better get a tuxedo because I think you're gonna be going [to the Emmys].” But that was September 2021, and then we come around to now when the show is being loved and adored and respected. The Guardian over here never give good reviews to video game shows, and they gave it five stars. I am absolutely thrilled. I totally believed in it, and I loved making it.
The Last of Us was just renewed for a Season 2. Would you return if you were asked?
Oh, God, I couldn't not really, could I? I am thrilled [about the news.] I felt like it was a no-brainer. I’m not a TV exec, but I thought that it had to be the case. There’s so much material out there. I haven't played the second game because I found out what happened. And I thought I can't go there just now.
But I do know that it splits and you go follow two characters, and there's another fantastic character that comes into the second game. I don't know whether they'll do two storylines, which might be a bit difficult, or maybe they'll do storyline A as one season and storyline B as another season.
I would love to do it again if my schedule allows. I don't know when they're going to start, maybe it's tomorrow. But it's a big show, I shot this episode in September ‘21. And here we are in nearly February ‘23 talking about it. It's a massive undertaking. They've got to go write it first.
The Last of Us Episode 3 is now streaming on HBO Max.