In the previous review, we discussed the love story of Bill and Frank, and how it must’ve only been written to appease the critics because, while it stirred some controversy, it contributed nothing to the plot. We started out following Joel and Ellie across the countryside, but then, we were unexpectedly forced to watch an approximately forty-minute flashback that literally showed Bill and Frank’s entire cliché and boring life together. And before we can return to the real story, we must see how the two meet their untimely end.
This final sequence starts out with Bill getting into a gunfight with some raiders who are all dying horribly at the hands of Bill’s various traps. At first, Bill seems to be holding his own, but then, Frank emerges and starts shouting. This distracts poor Bill, and he gets shot in the side, which forces Frank to actually do something.
He takes Bill into the house and tends to his wound. Strangely, the scene fades to black, and in the next shot, we see an old man sitting in a wheelchair. We are led to believe this is Bill, but it’s not. It’s Frank. I’m not sure why the writers chose to present this fake-out to the audience. It just felt like a way to kill time, which was hilarious to me because it’s essentially filler for an episode that has no point to begin with.
Subversive Advocacy for Euthanasia?
We learn that Frank is dying, but as far as we can tell, he is in no great pain. He just grunts with minor annoyance every time he’s lifted from his wheelchair. I’m harping on this minor detail because in order to decipher the theme the writers wish to communicate, we must understand the tone of the sequence. The writers don’t want you to see Frank as ugly or truly sick. They want you to see him as a dashing, old man, despite being in a wheelchair. Nor do they want you to see him in real pain because that might shift the characters’ situation to one of desperation, rather than the poetic, Romeo-and-Juliet-like end the writers want the critics to swoon over.
In short, the writers are advocating for the murder-suicide, not just showing the tragic consequences of living in a post-apocalyptic world. Remember, this show is airing on HBO. Gratuity is HBO’s shtick, their bread and butter, so when they refrain from showing the gritty details of life—especially in a situation like this—there’s a good chance a subversive subtext is involved.
Frank finally tells Bill this is his last day on earth, and he has a list of things he wants Bill to do for him. Bill tries to get Frank to let him search for a doctor, which only makes sense considering Frank isn’t in terrible condition, all things considered. However, Frank insists that there was no cure for whatever he has, even before the zombie outbreak began. He wants Bill to fill his wine with pills and put an end to it, and Bill agrees.
We go through a montage that shows Bill fulfilling all of Frank’s various desires, then we reach the moment where Bill poisons the wine, and they have a final toast. Then Bill tells Frank he’s poisoned his own wine, and surprise, they’re going out together.
I cannot stress enough how badly the writers want the viewer to see this as a good thing. There’s sweet music playing in the background, candles casting a low light throughout the room, and when discussing Bill’s own suicide, Frank goes as far as to say, “But from an objective point of view, it’s incredibly romantic.” Because everyone knows there’s nothing as romantic as offing yourself in the name of love. There are other lines of this sort. Bill tells Frank that he’s old and he’s satisfied and that protecting Frank was his purpose.
Throughout this entire sequence, I couldn’t help but get the impression that the writers were advocating for euthanasia. Given the context of the show, this murder-suicide is a decision that could be justified, narratively speaking. The characters could’ve done this as an act of desperation, and they could’ve left the moral implications open-ended, but that’s not what the writers did. The serene music, the soft lighting, and the goofy smiles on the old men’s faces when they should be sick as dogs given the number of pills they swallowed, all amount to something that is supposed to be seen as sweet. They wanted to create the impression that these two would just pass away peaceably in their sleep, and more to the point, that this final act was fine and—disturbingly—romantic.
The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet (Emphasis on Tragedy)
People forget that Romeo and Juliet was a tragedy, that a series of unfortunate events led the two lovers to a point of desperation, and the horrible nature of their demise forced their two families to put their grievances aside. Shakespeare wasn’t advocating for lovers offing themselves. He was warning against the dangers of irrational and passionate youth and of entertaining petty squabbles. But the writers honestly thought they were telling a love story, and they not only chose every cliché in the book to carry their character’s relationship, but they also chose to end with one of the darkest motifs in romance and tried to pass it off as a positive thing.
And to make matters worse, it amazes me how self-important writers never can sense irony whenever it sneaks into their own work. At the beginning of this sordid tale, Frank falls into a pit, and I can’t think of a better allegory for the poor man’s relationship. He winds up with Bill, who never lets Frank go out and explore and only grudgingly lets him fix up the neighborhood, then only lets Frank have dinner with Joel and Tess as long as he’s allowed to hold the couple at gunpoint. I guess, one man’s romantic fantasy is another man’s hostage situation, as was implied by the game.
There is also an ironic inconsistency in the plot that I’m amazed the writers didn’t catch. Bill prattles on about having no purpose now that Frank has chosen to sever his mortal coil, but not two minutes after these characters complete their foul deed, Joel and Ellie show up. Joel needs to get Ellie to some secret lab halfway across the country. It seems to me that the skills of a survivalist like Bill would’ve come in pretty handy. If he’d waited, he could’ve found a new purpose, protecting the next generation, which of course, undermines the justification behind their actions because no one knows what’s going to happen in the future. The writers couldn’t justify the idea of murder-suicide even when they tried.
Then, at the end of the episode, when Joel and Ellie take Bill’s truck—which turns out to be the main reason the writers had them show up to the house at all—a final song is playing on the Chevy’s radio. One of the last lines sung is “Living in a memory of a love that never was.” I can’t think of a more ironic and perfect way to summarize this waste of an episode.
In case you missed it, read parts I and II of Gary Varner’s three-part review of this episode: