Love and loss haunt Joel and Ellie’s entire journey through a fallen, alternate United States. On the very first day of the Cordyceps outbreak, Joel lost his daughter, Sarah (Nico Parker). Meanwhile, 14-year-old Ellie, orphaned in the middle of the apocalypse, has lost everyone she’s ever cared about. Throughout this whole season, we’ve watched the father/daughter duo slowly come together and fill the void in each other’s hearts while their story intersects with other forms of love. Despite all his attempts to shut her out, Joel’s love for Ellie blossoms into something complex and powerful. Druckmann shared he wanted every thread in the series to go back to Joel and Ellie’s relationship:

“Sometimes, when you love something unconditionally, logic goes out the window and you will do really horrible things to protect the ones you love. And there’s a lot of examples worldwide of this happening all the time. So for us, it was just like, ‘Okay, here are all the different pieces that we have, the tools that we have, within this story. How can we, with each episode, thematically touch on that in some way?’ Both the [beauty] and the joy that can come out of, like, a story like Bill and Frank, and a fate worse than death when a man has to kill his own brother because he’s turned. And then, ultimately, the greater and greater sacrifices Joel has to make for Ellie. And likewise, what she’s going through to protect him.”

For the HBO series, Druckmann seized a wonderful opportunity to go deeper into these side characters than ever before. Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank’s (Murray Bartlett) tragic love story, for example, adds dimension to Joel and Ellie’s quest as much as it stands alone.