What’s more, few shows have ever treated the revelation of first love as something that’s as pure and fragile at middle age as it would be at any other. Frank is, we learn, the first man Bill’s been with, and Frank treats that fact not with judgment, but with tremendous warmth and respect. The pair share the kind of emotional nakedness that, for some people, could only come at the end of the world. They also eventually share tough conversations about aging, mental health, quality of life, and Frank’s autonomy over his own body as his health declines. All of this feels exceedingly rare to witness, and “The Last of Us” executes all of it with care in an episode that completely rewrites the narrative we know — as “The Last of Us” fans and TV viewers alike.
Just as the video game version of “The Last Of Us” took genres that are typically about spectacle and turned them inward with character-driven stories, episode three of the HBO series subverts our expectations about what romance on-screen typically looks like. Instead of telling a familiar story, it tells one that feels remarkably true for its characters, tailored to their ages and unspoken histories, their fears and desires, and the ways they bring each other to life over the course of a meal and a song and, eventually, years spent together. The result is television at its best — and most touching.