HBO's The Last Of Us Showcases The Real Queer Agenda: To Live Long And Happily
HBO's The Last of Us gives Frank and Bill the character development--and life--they deserve.
What was buried in 2013's The Last of Us was not forgotten--not entirely anyway. Instead, the bitter end to Bill and Frank's relationship in Naughty Dog's original game bloomed into one of the most beautiful love stories to unfold on screen. And while a lack of queer love stories in media no doubt contributed to some of the standalone episode's success, what makes the story of Bill and Frank in the third episode of HBO's live-action The Last of Us so powerful is how much we needed its unwavering optimism.
Warning: The following contains spoilers for the third episode of HBO's The Last of Us. If you're not caught up, head over to HBO Max to do so.
To see Bill and Frank's relationship blossom the way it does would be meaningful during any time in history, but to see it now is crucial. Witnessing a story of pure, unwavering queer love when so much of the world seems so desperately set against the LGBTQIA+ community, showcases exactly what queer love is capable of, even when it feels like everything is crashing down around us.
"Long, Long Time" tells the story of two men who would still be fighting for the right to love without compromise in our reality, which remains plagued by bigotry today. But in the post-apocalyptic world Bill and Frank find themselves in, there is no fascist state seeking to turn their time together into firewood for more power--to contort their love into a political debate.
In their own safe haven from fungal outbreaks, many of the neighbors of and strangers to Bill and Frank, around their home and all over the country, wouldn’t have allowed the two to live such a full and uncompromising life. Beyond the stares and glares the two would no doubt receive, gay marriage remained illegal in the United States on a federal level until June 2015, nearly twelve years after The Last of Us' "outbreak day" in 2003. Even on the state level, though, it wasn't until 2004 that the state of Massachusetts, where Bill and Frank live, legalized same-sex marriage.
However, in an ironic and bittersweet twist, the end of the world became the start of theirs. An even bigger hurdle than the legalities was removed with the start of The Last of Us' pandemic: the masked inhibitions, tethered to political machinations and culture wars, that lived inside of Bill, who had never been with a man or really loved until it was just him and one other.
Bill's story begins as a doomsday prepper, whose paranoia paid off when the apocalypse came in 2003. He watched his wall of security camera monitors with bated breath while the military evacuated his entire town. And then he stopped holding his breath for the first time and started actually embracing life.
Cut to Frank, who fell into one of the many traps Bill set up around the mostly abandoned town of Lincoln, Massachusetts to keep it secure from anyone foolish enough to stop by. He intended to just send him on his way, but after a hot meal, some wine, and two interpretations of Linda Ronstadt's "Long, Long Time," it became clear there was something deeper between the two of them.
And it's then that we learn why Bill let out such a big sigh of relief when the world ended. He was a queer man living in a world that would assuredly reject him for that reason alone. But now, in his quiet town with just him and the man he loves, Bill was free to love Frank without ridicule. Every single marginalized person knows the safety they would enjoy in a town like Bill's. It's something so many of us have dreamed about.
An empty town gave Bill and Frank the freedom to live in a world that didn’t define them by their sexuality--to love each other and create the world they longed for. The two enjoyed 16 years together outside the judgmental glares of neighbors, allowing them to walk and love freely. While bandits and infected might sometimes lurk outside their sturdy perimeter, Bill seemed especially equipped to deal with such threats. His pre-apocalypse pains were of a different nature, and no longer relevant when he and Frank were given the latitude and relative peace to live as themselves.
It’s hard to imagine Bill giggling with Frank in a garden in the world as it was. But in a world without homophobic bills and the blare of mainstream media talking points, Bill can be found playfully falling on top of Frank, before enjoying the freshly ripened strawberries next to him. In this world, people like Bill and Frank are allowed to grow old together. As a queer trans woman who would sooner end my own life before socially or medically de-transitioning, something that my state and country seem hellbent on, the story of Bill and Frank resonated with me greatly. The two share decades together, experiencing a full, uncompromising life. It doesn't mean their relationship or lives are perfect. There are still disagreements and arguments, but they work through it together until the very end.
After watching their love story unfold, bearing witness to broad and fine strokes from Bill and Frank's enduring relationship, we move forward to present day, where a terminally ill Frank tells the love of his life that he'd like today to be his last day.
In their final day together the two reflect on the time they’ve shared. Frank tells Bill that he’s had more good days with him than anyone else, despite the bad days the two have also shared. We see the two share their last meal together before voluntarily ending their lives.
Only when the world's repressive regimes fell apart and the zombies in congress were removed could Frank and Bill's "queer agenda" be seen for what it really is: two people expressing love without anxieties, inhibitions, or criticism. For so many people, this is already how they express love, but for Bill and Frank, foundational systems of oppression and cruel judgments had to crumble away to allow them to find each other and for their relationship to blossom in the remade soil.
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