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‘The Last of Us’: Why the Change to SPOILER Works So Well

Murray Bartlett as Frank in episode 3 of 'The Last of Us

TW: Mentions of self-harm and suicide.

HBO’s The Last of Us has proven time and time again, in its first few episodes, that it knows how to adapt a video game for a live-action audience. It does it by bringing us into the lives of the characters and exploring their arcs in ways we couldn’t in the original game, and one of those characters added to its ever-growing roster is Frank.

Played by Murray Bartlett in HBO’s series, Frank is someone we barely see in the game, and we know little about him. Other than that he’s angry at Bill and leaves his partner, we don’t know who he is or what he’s like, and so when we see him dead from suicide, the game is designed to make us care more about Bill in that situation than Frank—mainly because we don’t know him, but we do see Bill and his reaction to it. But the show does a great job of including Frank as a character and exploring him.

What works about the show, though, is that we actually have time with Frank. Like I said before, we don’t really know him in the game. So, the casting of Murray Bartlett was the first flag, for me. Why cast a big actor if we weren’t going to spend time with Frank? But I know that I, along with other fans, was shocked by how the show makes changes to both Bill and Frank’s story, but it works so well within the context of the show.

If they did keep Bill as he was in the game, it would have made the heart-wrenching nature of the show as a whole feel cheapened, but instead, we got to see a small look into their love story together, and it just worked to completely wreck us.

How did HBO’s ‘The Last of Us’ change Frank?

Murray Bartlett and Nick Offerman in 'The Last of Us' as Bill and Frank

For those who have played the game, they know Frank as someone from Bill’s past who leaves him a letter. The letter is vicious, painful, and reads like a breakup. And then we see Frank’s death by his own hand. That’s the extent of Frank. So, the show had a lot of work to do to bring him up to Murray Bartlett’s calibre of character. What they did, though, was fantastic.

The most recent episode is, for the most part, about Bill and Frank. We see a little bit of the aftermath of Tess and Joel and Ellie moving on together towards Bill’s town, but then we’re spending the apocalypse with Frank and Bill.

The changes to Frank’s character are simply that he … has one now! And instead of a tragic story about a man who can’t stand his partner anymore, we get a love story about two people who don’t want to live in this post-apocalyptic world without each other. Frank’s decision to end his life comes with Bill choosing to do the same, and it gives these two characters a different kind of tragic ending. Frank calls it poetic, but it is still upsetting to see.

Giving Frank an actual character in ‘The Last of Us’

Murray Bartlett as Frank in episode 3 of 'The Last of Us

This episode works because Frank is a character. I feel like, if the show had followed suit from the game, it would have been more of the same feelings therein. We would have felt bad for Bill and carried on. Instead, we get to see how much these two men love each other and their struggle to come to terms with Frank’s fate. Frank gets sick 20 years into the apocalypse and uses a wheelchair. He wakes up and makes the decision that it is his last day, and Bill joins him in that.

He’d rather die with Frank than live alone, and the two make the choice together. If the series had stuck with Frank’s determination to get away from Bill because he hates him in the end, it would have still had that feeling where you both understand Frank’s need to leave and pity Bill. Instead, the show gives us their love story, and I love it for both Bill and Frank.

(featured image: HBO)

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She/Her. A writer who loves all things movies, TV, and classic rock. Resident Spider-Man expert, official Leslie Knope, actually Yelena Belova. Wanda Maximoff has never done anything wrong in her life. Star Wars makes her very happy. New York writer with a passion for all things nerdy. Yes, she has a Pedro Pascal podcast. And also a Harrison Ford one.