Please note: there are FULL spoilers for the entire third episode of this first season, as well as all preceding episodes. Also worth noting is that I have never played the video game this is based on, and have no idea of any specific plot points, so any speculation of upcoming events is truly just that.
Ten miles west of Boston, Joel and Ellie have stopped by a river. Ellie tries to console Joel about Tess’ sacrifice, but Joel does not want to hear it. The two continue their hike towards Bill and Frank, while Joel keeps a look out: not for infected, but other people. Despite the danger, Joel still won’t give Ellie a gun. At a petrol station along the route, Joel searched for supplies while Ellie finds a hatch in a room. Inside the hatch, she finds an infected trapped under rubble and slices its forehead with her knife, before stabbing it and killing it. After resupplying and stashing his assault rifle due to a lack of ammo, Joel and Ellie continue.
Passing by a crashed aeroplane, Ellie can’t wrap her head around how all the planes fell from the sky all at once, since you have to be bitten to become infected. Joel’s best guess is that it mutated to infect a basic ingredient, such as flour or sugar. Either way, by the time people knew how infection spread, it was too late, and there was nothing that could be done. When Joel insists on crossing through the forest to avoid something up ahead, Ellie presses on and sees what Joel was looking to protect her from: a shallow grave of uncountable skeletons, most likely of uninfected people FEDRA executed to slow the infection.
On September 30th, 2003, doomsday prepper Bill (Nick Offerman) avoids FEDRA soldiers attempting to quarantine the two by hiding in his well stocked basement. Once the soldiers have left Bill leaves and, noticing he is alone in the town, begins his preparations. He heads to a local home improvement store and turns the natural gas station back online. He cuts down trees around the perimeter of the town, and sets up traps and an electrified fence. Eating a home grown and home made meal, Bill hears an alarm trigger and watches on a CCTV screen as an infected steps on a trip line and is shot.
Four years later, another trap alarm triggers and Bill goes to investigate. In a dugout pit, he finds the injured Frank (Murray Bartlett) who he hesitantly allows back to his home, where Bill provides fresh clothes and the two share a meal. Before leaving, Frank plays “Long, Long Time”, but Bill stops him. Frank implores Bill play the song himself, which he does perfectly. When Frank asks who the girl Bill is singing for is, Bill says there isn’t one. The two then share an intimate kiss, and spend the night together.
Over the the next three years, Bill and Frank are living together, and Frank wants to clean up the surroundings of their home, including nearby stores. Eventually, the couple have Joel and Tess around for a meal, and begin a friendship. Thought Bill is initially cold, a discussion with Joel reveals that there is some use in their trading, and helping each other out. The two pairs part as friends, but Joel gives Bill a warning that while the infected won’t be able to get through the makeshift defences, soon raiders will come, and they are more dangerous and unpredictable than infected.
Three years later, Frank surprised Bill with a new garden of strawberries of which he got the seeds form trading with Tess. Bill reveals that he was not sure about allowing Frank into his life, but he was wrong, and he is happy they are together. Soon after, raiders attack at night, and though Bill’s traps ward off many, Bill is badly wounded. Frank performs basic surgery and saves Bill.
Ten years on, Frank requires the use of a wheelchair due to an unspecified illness, and Bill struggles to assist him at his own old age. Though Frank still spends his days painting (mostly portraits of Bill), he makes the decision that it will be his last day, and lays out his plan to end his life to Bill. Despite being obviously upset, Bill agrees. The two get dressed up properly, go and get married, and share one final dinner. Bill crushes up numerous tablets into Frank’s wine, which Frank drinks down quickly. When Bill gulps down his wine the same way, Frank realised that Bill had put pills into the bottle and plans for them to die together. After their one last dinner and a glass of wine, the two head to bed.
Sometime later, Joel and Ellie come across Bill and Frank’s house. As Joel searches for signs of his friends, Ellie finds a letter Bill has written, leaving all of his supplies to Joel as required. While Joel is showering, Ellie finds Frank’s old handgun in his desk, and puts it in her bag. As the duo finish restocking their supplies, they jump in Bill’s old Chevy truck, driving away towards Wyoming, searching for Joel’s brother, Tommy.
+ that line about where the Cordyceps came from was interesting. If it did come from flour, then Joel and his family just dodged it in the first episode because he didn’t buy a cake or pancake mix
+ hot damn, Nick Offerman is going to get every award for this episode and he absolutely deserves it. Every cock of an eyebrow of course reminds us of his role as Ron Swanson on Parks & Rec, but it was the way he softened through each time period that I enjoyed the most.
+ it turns out the radio broadcasts, and the ’80s meaning trouble, was all Frank’s idea. That’s nice to know
+ I loved the moment where Ellie was gazing around the truck as if it was completely foreign to her – because it was (“It’s like a spaceship!”. I also really appreciated the way she stayed in the chair after Joel read the letter; you’d expect her to get off and run around and look at stuff, but she didn’t. She did what she was told, not because she was told to, but because it was the right thing to do
– there was no cold opening. I can’t help but feel responsible for this, after gushing at how fantastic they were in the previous two episodes. That said, the entire episode was the ‘cold opening’ flashback, in a way
– Ellie going alone into the hatch made me so mad, but I guess at least I’m meant to be frustrated with her, unlike Joel and Tess in the previous two episodes. I was also pretty annoyed that Joel would leave the rifle, since it could be used for bluffing other people, which he himself says are more dangerous than the infected
– even as much as I liked the episode, it does frustrate me a bit that we learned so much about characters that Ellie never even gets to interact with. I see Ellie as the main character in this series, more than even Joel, so it felt unfulfilling to get such a detailed backstory, only for the pair to die before Ellie’s story even begins. Maybe that lack of closure/satisfaction is the point, and it’s a sort of commentary on how things don’t always play out how they are ‘supposed to’? Who knows
– I think essentially, aside from the homophobes, I can understand why someone — particularly a fan of the games — might not have liked this episode. All I can say is that from an outside perspective, it was not entirely out of place
Final thoughts: Truthfully, I struggled to think of any positives or negatives to write above. This episode was certainly different to what I was expecting. It was simultaneously beautiful and heart-breaking; both a side-story, and at the same time something entirely necessary to understand Joel and Ellie’s story. If you didn’t like it, then cool. I loved it.