In the zombie hell of The Last of Us, same-sex love is a must – now for real life

Love finds many expressions, but its only certainty is that it always ends. This inescapable reality underpins much of human culture: what is art, music, theatre, film and television but an attempt to cope with the resulting emotional turmoil?

A new work destructive to this artistic tradition is unlikely to feature prominently in episode three of the new HBO series The Last of Us. Not likely, because it is based on a popular video game, which is set in an alternate apocalyptic universe where most of humanity has been reduced to zombie-like cannibals. What’s left of our species is confined to total quarantine zones and desperate rocking parties. This is not normally fruitful for love.

But – beware, lots of spoilers here – it’s the setting for an unusual, weird love story that defies cultural precedent. Bill is a conspiracy survivor who finds himself pitifully protected when civilization collapses. When Frank – a survivor trying to make his way to Boston – falls into one of the many traps at Bill’s fortified compound, Bill reluctantly takes him in for a shower and a meal. They fall in love and spend almost two decades of happiness together: growing fresh strawberries, playing music, making up the house, protected from the violent ruin of human civilization. Mortality eventually interferes. Frank develops a degenerative illness and insists on taking his own life, but Bill decides that they will die together, and they do, in each other’s arms in a locked bedroom.

Queer representation has undoubtedly improved in recent years. Traditionally, pious men in popular culture have often appeared as desexualized, one-dimensional like clowns, or as tragedies. Bill and Frank’s story ends in tragedy, but not because of their sexual orientation: their lives and deaths are, in fact, far more dignified than most in the world. Netflix’s star-studded high school romcom Heartstopper was obviously very different, but it similarly placed queer youth and offered them the possibility of happiness, rather than just tragedy.

Related: The Last of Us sums up episode three – all magical television

In his suicide note, Bill writes: “I hated the world and was happy when everyone died. But I was wrong, because there was one person worth saving.” In the ancient civilized world, life had no meaning; it took the apocalypse to find him, thanks to the love of another man.

Why is this story so important and powerful for wise people? When a young person comes to terms with their sexuality, they are often struck with panic because the simple roadmap provided to their peers – find someone, settle down, have kids, grow old together – seems to have disappeared. in league Images of loneliness fill the void. So when popular culture offers space for same-sex love – with all its complications – it matters. This episode could be seen as a cultural test: can a deep love affair with sexual orientation in the background hums, rather than the aforementioned mood music, make it? If the zombie apocalypse isn’t about same-sex love, a normalization milestone has passed.

There’s something exciting, too, about how the middle-aged men – and, no disrespect to the actor playing Bill – aren’t blessed with traditional good looks. But they grow old happily together. Gay male culture is often guilty of glorifying youthful and unrealistic body images. Most gay men don’t see themselves in such a conventional portrayal – it’s amazing how rare this portrayal of a virtuous community is in old age.

The director of the episode suggests that he lured the audience into watching a romantic love story by not immediately making its same-sex nature clear, drawing the audience in so that they would later realize “it’s the same love” they believe as heterosexual. Of course, love is felt as powerfully among same-sex couples as it is among straight people. However, it often expresses itself in a different way. And that truth should be reflected in a stronger display of love in the mainstream media. For some gay men, cultural acceptance meant more than achieving respect. Others were of the opinion that if we were banished from heterosexuality, we could abandon its norms and start over.

For example, gay men are much more likely to be in open relationships and have multiple sexual partners. Because redundancy has such negative connotations among gay men, there is a fear – among straight and queer artists alike – that the presentation of this other reality will invite hypocrisy. But these non-monogamous relationships are often full of love and emotional commitment, no less than Bill and Frank, and are fully worth exploring.

Likewise, watching a gay man push his dying partner in a wheelchair evokes another singular, but tragic, experience of love: the HIV/AIDS pandemic, where lovers have become caregivers. and where tortured deaths were awaited, all in the context of a society that was very proud of it. . Bill and Frank build their own world free from the judgment of others – even if that world is as doomed as any other.

One universal aspect of love, regardless of sexual orientation, is explored in this remarkable episode, and that is fear. Bill tells Frank that before he came along, he didn’t feel fear: but now with something to lose, he did. That kind of fear defines the human experience more than we care to admit. But for many queere people, there is always more horror lurking: what happens if life is defined by rejection and loneliness, a sleepless night in empty beds?

In truth, there is no shortage of Bill and Franks, condemned to love each other, living lives of joy, tenderness, fear and sadness, just like everyone else.

  • Owen Jones is a Guardian columnist

  • In the UK and Ireland, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123, or email or In the US, it is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the Lifeline crisis support service is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at

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