Experience a Powerful Message Through the Wine and Whiskey in “The Last of Us”

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Warning: This story contains spoilers.

If you haven’t contemplated Beaujolais lately, you’re not watching enough television. The wine is one of several drinks that gets screen time in The Last of Us, an HBO limited series. When they’re not fighting authoritarian corruption, gang violence or zombie-like creatures called “the infected,” characters in The Last of Us are seen raising glasses of Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages, stockpiling Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon and shooting whiskey.

The series, which debuted in January 2023 and aired its finale on March 12, is based on a 2013 video game. The show features Bella Ramsey and Pedro Pascal as survivors of a global pandemic that wreaks mass destruction. And, clearly, alcohol plays a pivotal role.

But their drinking is less about inebriation than human connection, and it makes even the most fantastical dystopian scenarios uncannily relatable. There may be monsters, but there’s also someone opening a sentimental bottle of wine with a loved one, swigging liquid courage to kiss a crush or catching up with an errant sibling over a dram. Rather than blurring the edges of an experience with alcohol, these drinks mark it as significant.

The “Heartbreak” Bottle of Wine

A scene from HBO's The Last of Us - close up on a bottle of wineImage Courtesy of HBO / Liane Hentscher

No one needs wine or whiskey to survive, but sharing a drink can remind us we’re alive.

This is especially evident in the show’s third episode, “Long, Long Time.” It stars Nick Offerman as Bill, a self-described survivalist; Murray Bartlett as Frank, his soul mate; and Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages 2002 as the wine that brings them together. When Frank first happens upon his Massachusetts homestead, Bill serves him a home-cooked rabbit paired with Beaujolais Villages. Soon thereafter, they fall and love and build a life together. At the end of the episode, on their deathbed, Bill and Frank open another bottle of the same wine.

 

While some viewers sniffed at the idea of such an uncomplicated, $15 wine cosplaying as a special occasion bottle, others appreciated its accessibility. In January, after the episode aired, TikTokers nicknamed Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages “the heartbreak wine” and spiked sales. “When you realize Target has the heartbreak wine #thelastofus,” posted one user. In four weeks, her video was viewed 93,600 times.

Besides, as Frank and the San Francisco Chronicle’s Senior Wine Critic, Esther Mobley, note, rabbit pairs well with Beaujolais. That vintage of Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages had a solid industry reputation, too. Wine Enthusiast called it “fresh and charming” in an 87-point review, and ranked it among the year’s best buys.

Then again, the actual bottle is hardly the point. Drinks can be sentimental. You might sip the same outdated cocktail each time you see your college friends, or pour an otherwise forgettable Prosecco on your anniversary because it’s what was served at your wedding.

That’s what makes the wine in “Long, Long Time” so meaningful, says Stephen Schmitz, a principal at communications firm Lagniappe, who secured winery product placements in Netflix’s 2019 film Wine Country, among others. “That episode gets at something central to why we all love wine. It’s more than an alcoholic beverage. It’s home. It’s culture. It’s how you show love and familiarity.”

It’s not the only bottle in the episode, either. At the start of the pandemic, as Bill raids local retailers for supplies, he picks up cases of Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon from his small-town wine shop. A pricey, big-name brand can be a source of comfort to someone trying to exert control or enjoy a sense of stability, says Schmitz.

The Courage of Whiskey

A scene from HBO's The Last of UsImage Courtesy of HBO

While the liquor in The Last of Us isn’t as prominently branded, it accompanies pivotal moments in the characters’ lives. In episode six, when Pedro Pascal’s character, Joel, reunites with his long-lost brother, Tommy, they reconnect over glasses of whiskey. Even if you’ve never been estranged from a sibling for years due to zombie warfare, it’s pretty compelling that you both might start to open up once you’re on opposite sides of a bar.

Additionally, in episode seven, Bella Ramsey’s character, Ellie, finds a half-full bottle of Hamblen Whiskey, a fictional brand. Ellie and her best friend Riley, played by Storm Reid, take shots as they explore an abandoned mall and their romantic feelings. The awkward boldness as they pass their stolen bottle back and forth is recognizable to anyone who ever rode the mall merry-go-round or shared discovery with a budding crush.

The Real World Connection

A scene from HBO's The Last of UsImage Courtesy of HBO / Liane Hentscher

There are all sorts of reasons to enjoy wine or whiskey that have nothing to do with navigating interpersonal relationships, and any qualified mental health professional will tell you that using alcohol to feel closer to loved ones is a terrible idea.

The wine and whiskey in The Last of Us aren’t about enabling behavior, however, so much as they are a portal to normalcy. In 2020, at the start of our own, real-world pandemic, many of us engaged in Zoom happy hours and couchside mixology for that same reason.

Who we are is much more complicated than what is or isn’t in our glass. But, sometimes, a Beaujolais by another name wouldn’t smell as sweet.

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