How Accurate Were the Survivalist Elements in The Last of Us? A Real Prepper Explains
How Bill’s story works in comparison with the real world — and what you can learn from it.
The Last of Us is a lasting story. A decade after the original video game’s release, it’s garnered a remaster, a remake, a sequel, and an upcoming remaster of that sequel. But its heartbreaking tale of found family in a zombie apocalypse reached an entirely new audience in January 2023 when HBO premiered a big-budget TV adaptation starring Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey.
The most critically acclaimed episode, “Long, Long Time,” took the survivalist character of Bill and made him more than just a doomsday prepper who was proven right. Instead, he was a no-nonsense pragmatist who planned for all eventualities — except for falling in love with an intruder named Frank. Released in January 2023, the episode follows two decades of Bill and Frank’s love story leading up to the present day when the two die, not of the cordyceps infection but on their own terms.
It’s a beautiful story, but how does Bill’s prepper character stack up against the real thing? Is it believable that one man could defend a whole town from zombies and marauders and also live self-sufficiently for so long? To find out, Inverse spoke to Levi W., a prepper who requested anonymity for privacy reasons. To Levi, Bill reacts exactly how a prepper would in a SHTF (prepper lingo for “Shit Hits The Fan”) situation, showing just how important emergency preparedness is even if you’re not hunkering down for the zombie apocalypse.
Levi spoke with Inverse about Bill and Frank’s story, what viewers can learn from it, and the “triumphant moment” he saw as selfish from a survivalist perspective.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
What did you think of The Last of Us as a show? Was “Long, Long Time” your favorite episode? How did you react to the story, especially the ending?
I loved the entire show. I’ve always had a soft spot for the tough, caring, but flawed protagonist. Watching the relationship evolve between Joel and Ellie was awesome.
“Long, Long Time” wasn’t just my favorite of the series; it might be my favorite episode of any show. How much they managed to pack into one episode was incredible. Although I cried at the end of the episode, it was a mix of happy and sad tears. I think it is fair to say that Bill and Frank had the happiest (maybe the only happy) story in the post-infected world. Met, fell in love, grew together, and died old. As sad as many people thought it was, in my opinion, nothing about it was sad.
Regarding the ending of the season, I for the first time felt disconnected from Joel. I know a lot of people took Joel rushing in the save the day as a triumphant moment. But it becomes clear in that scene that Joel is a broken person, with very loose morals, if any at all. He acted with purely selfish intentions, and whether or not you believe a cure was possible at all doesn’t change the choices that Joel made. I’ll just say that while I feel like I understand him better, I am less sympathetic to him.
“Bill was handed everything on a golden platter and then some.”
How was Bill your “typical” prepper character? How was he different?
I think Bill is a typical prepper stereotype. Most preppers aren’t terribly paranoid, neurotic, or untrusting. The modern prepper movement is much more varied than “guns and bunkers.” For the majority of preppers, prepping is simply about ensuring the safety and security of yourself and your loved ones in the event of a predictable disaster. Things like extreme weather or other natural events like earthquakes, sudden and short-lived supply chain disruptions, unplanned power outages, and even simple individual emergencies like changes in health or employment.
For many preppers, their concerns are better summarized by things like first aid, backup fuel, and full pantries than things like flamethrower traps and electric fences for catching zombies. But the latter makes for much better TV.
What did The Last of Us get right about prepping? Are there parts of the prepping elements that you saw as inaccurate or improbable?
I think the little details, like Bill having a wheelchair, pain medications, and leaving the components necessary for Joel to make a battery for the truck, show to an extreme what the prepper “ideal” is. Having thought of every outcome, every possibility. Bill had a significant advantage from the start of having the town emptied of any competition.
In another scenario, where that wasn’t the case, there would naturally be much more risk to scavenging and foraging. But Bill emerges from his bunker to a ghost town, free to drive down the street to the hardware store. Free to spend dozens or even hundreds of hours manually installing a fence. Free to farm and garden outside his house. Bill was handed everything on a golden platter and then some. So in that regard, the show was not very realistic at all. I don’t think an “accurate” prepper story would be very exciting. It would probably be quite mundane.
“Just a few moments of laughter can be enough to distract a person and recharge their battery a bit.”
What’s one thing from the episode that non-preppers should take into account for disaster preparedness?
Just have a plan. Bill certainly had a plan, though most people don’t need to plan like Bill did. Ask your family what would happen in the event of an emergency. If you have to leave in a hurry, is everything you need in one place? Are important things like medical records, IDs, passports, prescriptions, insurance papers, contracts, etc., all in one place? And how quickly can everyone put shoes and coats on and be in the car with seatbelts on?
Whether it is a severe storm, a burst gas pipe, a derailed train, or whatever else, the difference between life and death can sometimes be just minutes. Having a rehearsed plan for yourself and loved ones, so that you can get to safety quickly or otherwise prepare your home is critical. It can be as simple as having a checklist. Flashlight? Check. Spare batteries? Check. Diapers and baby formula? Check. You get the idea.
Were there other elements in The Last of Us that you appreciated as a prepper? Many fans were surprised that menstrual care was addressed, but were there other elements viewers may have missed?
I love that that was addressed! It’s really hard to pick, but Ellie’s joke book I think is a very cool element. The understanding that entertainment still matters. In a SHTF scenario, stress will be high, and having a healthy way to diffuse stress and bring a little peace can certainly go a long way. Just a few moments of laughter can be enough to distract a person and recharge their battery a bit. Being able to find some normalcy is important, as is remembering to seek joy despite the circumstances.
I think my favorite prepper-specific part of the episode was Bill leaving all the components for a battery for Joel. It showed how far forward he thought, even in death. That’s really what I think an ideal prepper does.
What do you hope to see in Season 2, which will pick up after a five-year time gap? What does that version of the apocalypse look like to you?
I don’t even know what to expect for the next season. I haven’t played the games, so I’m going in totally fresh! Seeing as the first season already takes place 20 years after infection, I’m not sure how much five years will change things as far as the apocalypse side of things. I’d imagine more scarcity of things like food, clothing, and supplies. But I really can’t say, maybe things will have improved somehow.