Column | ‘The Last of Us’ delivers refreshing queer love storylines

By Kiran Bond and Caroline Sweeney

*  This review may contain spoilers. *

“The Last of Us” is a game published in 2013 by Sony Computer Entertainment and it has phenomenal representation of queer characters.

Recently, the game was adapted into an HBO Max show. “Narcos” actor Pedro Pascal plays Joel Miller and “Game of Thrones” actor Bella Ramsey plays Ellie Williams.

In this post-apocalyptic world, a fungus called “cordyceps” infects humans and makes them mindless monsters. After being bit by an infected human, Ellie realizes she is immune to the fungus.

Early in the storyline, Ellie is captured in Boston by a rebel group called the Fireflies, who become aware of her immunity and give smuggler Joel the task of taking her to doctors in Utah who can study her to hopefully find a cure.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

As the plot progresses, players meet Riley, someone Ellie used to know. Riley, played by “Euphoria” actress Storm Reid, has been missing from the quarantine zone for almost a month because she joined a rebel group called the Fireflies.

After returning to the quarantine zone, Riley takes Ellie to an abandoned mall and the two of them have a romantic night and they share a kiss.

Ellie asks Riley to stay in Boston, and she agrees to stay — though a few moments later an infected man attacks them and bites both Riley and Ellie.

Ellie later admits to Joel that Riley became infected and was the first person that Ellie ever killed.

Another queer love storyline is introduced in the TV adaption of “The Last of Us” that wasn’t heavily featured in the video game.

In episode three, viewers are introduced to Bill, played by University alum and “Parks and Recreation” star Nick Offerman, and Frank, played by actor Murray Bartlett. The episode takes viewers through how they met, fell in love and eventually died together.

Bill is a doomsday prepper and managed to stay relatively safe during the apocalypse, being the sole inhabitant of an otherwise abandoned town. One day, a trespasser named Frank gets caught in one of Bill’s traps.

Despite all his previous trepidations and isolationist mindsets when it came to helping others, Bill takes Frank in. He tells Frank that he can only stay for a meal, though after they eat, they share a kiss and Frank ends up moving in with Bill.

As they get older, Frank develops an unnamed disease that creates an undesirable quality of life. Frank asks Bill to help him end his life by slipping crushed sleeping pills into his glass of wine.

Bill reluctantly agrees, but when it comes time to drink the wine, Frank realizes that Bill has put the pills in his own glass of wine as well. Moments later, they walk into their bedroom to fall asleep together for one last time. It’s a hard-hitting and devastatingly romantic ending to their storyline.

Their story was briefly mentioned in the video game, but Bill had only called Frank a partner. They had a fight and Frank left him, only to be bitten and later end his life to avoid turning into an infected.

Their relationship was not nearly as emotional or satisfying in the video games as it was in the television series. It was refreshing to see a more in-depth adaptation of their relationship, especially because queer stories between older adults are not often told in media.

In “The Last of Us Part II” video game, Ellie is given another chance at romance with a character named Dina, though it does not work out.
To many, the LGBTQ+ representation in “The Last of Us” is refreshing. Unfortunately, not everyone found it to be that way.

When the episode aired, many people were upset online, arguing that a gay love storyline was too much of a departure from the apocalypse plot that viewers were expecting. Ramsey, who is genderfluid and therefore a part of the LGBTQ+ community, voiced their thoughts in an interview with Sky News, calling the backlash “bizarre.”

“It’s in the game, like the Ellie and Riley stories (are) in the game and Bill and Frank is hinted at in the game,” Ramsey said. “I think it’s really cool. Just because of the apocalypse doesn’t mean that gay people don’t exist.”

It’s exciting to see such heavy representation in both the video game and the television series. It shows exactly how normal it is for queer people to exist even in the most extreme of cases, like a post-apocalyptic world. And it reminds us that being queer in any environment, whether it be on a college campus or in an apocalypse, is valid and normal and should be accepted.


[email protected]
[email protected]