The Last of Us S1E3 “Long Long Time”

After the end of “Infected,” episode two, concluded last week, it was quickly cemented that The Last of Us was striving to do more for fans of the game than deliver the same experience they had already been through. The cold open flashback of an epidemiologist confirming the ambiguous game-inspired theory of fungal grain exposure and instantaneously blew all our minds that what saved Joel (Pedro Pascal) on his birthday in 2003 was his forgetting to get himself a birthday cake. As this week’s episode started, I was focused and ready to take notes on what connections these flashbacks to the past would bring me. What else are the writers willing to dish out about this world and allow us to learn more about? Well, the joke was on me in episode three, “Long Long Time,” because we didn’t get a cold open, and nearly the entire episode was a flashback. The episode’s title is beyond apropos, as it may also be the most beautiful eighty minutes of television I’ve seen in a long, long time.  


Ellie holds a flashlight toward something off camera right in The Last of Us S1E3 "Long Long Time"
Photograph by Liane Hentscher/HBO

Watching through the episode trailer at the end of “Infected,” it was clear we would meet Bill in this week’s episode. However, the trailer was very good about distancing its audience from how Bill’s story would unfold, especially in relation to Frank.  

In The Last of Us video game, Joel and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) encounter Bill after disabling the traps he’s set around his town, which subsequently alerts a horde of infected to their whereabouts. This didn’t happen in the tv series’ episode, which was almost entirely free of infected and yet still an enthralling hour of television. Where Bill’s town in the game is surrounded by a massive population of infected, in the show, the infected seem more reserved to fallen cities than the outskirts of a small town like Lincoln, Massachusetts. Joel and Ellie are almost as absent from “Long Long Time,” showing up at the start and concluding the story, which is quite possibly more tragic than anything we’ve seen so far. 

After a quick stop at Cumby’s (and me wondering how much that advertising cost them), The Last of Us transitions from our present 2023 back to day zero via a baby’s blanket amid a skeletal pit at the base of a crashed jetliner. Though the cinematic backdrop disagrees with the setting (there are no mountains that close to Boston), the scene underscores the grim reality of what happened to evacuees when the quarantine zones were filled. Despite not seeing the military in the state house last episode, we’re learning a lot about the new government in The Last of Us, and it is pretty easy to see they are on the side of containment and not the side of humanity. The fade-in shows the baby and their mother sitting in the back of a military pickup unit, never to be seen again. Bill (Nick Offerman) sits in a bunker monitoring the military presence.  

Bill looks concerned as he points a shotgun at the ground in The Last of Us S1E3 "Long Long Time"
Photograph by Liane Hentscher/HBO

Bill is a paranoid doomsday prepper who “thinks 9/11 is an inside job” and that “nazis run the government.” Still, even a broken clock is bound to be right on occasion, and, in the world of The Last of Us at least, Bill’s fears are realized as cordyceps infections grow and the military turns fascist. Much detail goes into Bill’s backstory, from the cabinet attached to the bunker’s ladder to his use of a boat for a trailer to haul the necessary accouterments from his local Home Depot (Two advertising tie-ins for those counting). As if working backward, the writers have envisioned a starting point for Bill that we were never privy to, a man suffocated by isolation. Even Ralph Waldo Emerson, who defines Self-Reliance the same way Bill might, visited his neighbor Henry David Thoreau and wasn’t above a long walk into town. Bill has none of that, preparing his meals for one and enjoying them beside an empty chair at a small table. The effect helps director Peter Hoar nail home his point. Yet, the airy days Bill spends walking around his empty little village under the atmospheric hush of absent people signifies the one thing Emerson fails to mention in his essay: it gets uncomfortably lonely. 

We fast forward to four years later, 2007, and while he’s managed to avoid the infected and any twisted individuals who look to take what he’s preserved, those threats may be the closest he’s been to genuine company and conversation. So, when an alarm is tripped, and he leaves his workshop to check on the threat, his response is seemingly unlikely, considering the four-year veteran of the apocalypse protocols. However, in choosing to let his guard down, he meets the love of his life. 

Frank, played tenderly by The White Lotus Murray Bartlett, is rescued from Bill’s pitfall trap and provided a shower, clothes, and a meal in a one-of-a-kind meet cute, without much fuss and little suspicion from Bill. Frank’s distress touches Bill in a way where he chooses empathy for Frank after he opens up about being the last of ten survivors fleeing a collapsed Baltimore Quarantine Zone (QZ). Pointing a gun at Frank, Bill takes precautions, but as Frank continues to double down by asking for a meal, Bill becomes intrigued by his boldness. Hell, it’s not like Frank has much to lose after all he’s been through anyway.  

Frank stares intently, his t-shirt is soaked through and his hair is sopping wet in The Last of Us S1E3 "Long Long Time"
Photograph by Liane Hentscher/HBO

Many comparisons are being made to The Walking Dead in these last few weeks of The Last of Us, and there are similarities in the show’s dramatic aspects, especially regarding personal relationships. But while the former makes a solid case to fear the living, the latter depicts relationships in a light that resonates more human, or at least so far. While there were many character-based departure episodes throughout The Walking Dead, few resonate the way The Last of Us’ first side story does. Maybe it’s just that after eleven seasons, the crew from The Walking Dead had more resiliency when learning who they could trust. While there will be characters and people along the way who position themselves through opportunistic motives, I contend that The Last of Us strives higher in delivering a narrative of interconnectivity. The metaphor of the cordyceps and the indescribable need for others we’re all bound to.  

There’s an indescribable connection between Bill and Frank thanks to Neil Druckmann and Craig Manzin’s brilliant script, which lets Offerman and Bartlett employ dizzying chemistry on-screen together, allowing a beautifully relatable love story to blossom. Frank is charming and quickly at ease with Bill, and his ability to understand and decipher the stoic and cryptic fortress of an individual such as Bill is nothing short of magical, and it even takes Bill by surprise. The audience’s heart beats full as Frank sees Bill in a way no one else ever had. Pulling out the piano music to Linda Ronstadt’s “Long Long Time,” the tune that provides the episode’s title, is a striking moment, and the audience feels it. Music is a huge part of the game and helps us fall for these characters and root for them. However, as with every episode of the series so far, tragedy is never far behind. 

Frank isn’t present in the game, or at least not in any way where we get to know him as a character. Everything we know about Frank in The Last of Us game is told through Bill and the subsequent tragic circumstances in which Joel, Ellie, and Bill find Frank. Bill talks about him often, but his macho demeanor doesn’t allow him to mention what Frank truly means to him, referring to Frank as his partner of the last twenty years but downplaying his feelings by saying he had to look after him. This is why that awkwardness between Bill and Joel exists in the episodes’ garden party sequence. Regardless, there’s no mistaking the love Bill has for Frank in the game, especially when Frank’s fate reveals Bill’s inconsolable side.  

Bill watches Frank play the piano
Photograph by Liane Hentscher/HBO

In “Long Long Time,” Bill and Frank’s story plays differently, with Frank being less of a myth and more appropriately as the highly regarded object of Bill’s affection. For a moment, the episode, as we fast forward another three years to 2010, has us wondering whether or not it will deviate from the game’s story as Frank charges out of the house in the middle of a fight with Bill, arguing that he wants more than Bill alone can give him, wanting to revitalize Bill’s town and invite friends over. This leads Joel and Tess (Anna Torv) to their first meeting with Bill and Frank as smugglers and traders.  

While the fight between Bill and Frank could have easily become the turning point that allows for the events of the video game to play forth without deviation, the digression from the game results in a perfect episode for the new series. It was likely a surprise to fans of the game that, instead, we continued to watch the romance between Bill and Frank grow like the strawberries in their garden. Where prior to Joel and Ellie arriving on Bill’s doorstep in the game would have seen Frank spit vitriol and curses toward Bill before abandoning him for the Boston QZ. 

I imagine Neil Druckmann pitching “Long Long Time” like Venessa Redgrave’s confession at the end of Atonement, desperate to finish this story in a way that brings the characters the peace he couldn’t give them in the game, attempting to right some horrible wrong in the process. In the game, Frank storms off, leaving Bill with a capricious tongue of “I hate you’s” before being bitten multiple times, and is found hanging from the rafters in the church. The hate for Bill continues in his suicide note, and Joel is tasked with a decision to provide Bill with Frank’s final written words or keep them secret. The show instead decides to examine the life they could have had if Frank had stayed—and it makes all the difference in the world! 

Joel and Bill talk in the foreground while Tess and Frank talk in the background in The Last of Us S1E3 "Long Long Time"
Photograph by Liane Hentscher/HBO

Watching Bill and Frank grow old together is more important to the story than I think many will understand. The Last of Us shows us the impermanence of life, giving and taking in equal measure. In the game, Bill speaks so devotedly toward Frank that, even though he decidedly refrains from outing himself to Joel, his love for Frank is never in doubt, and you’re made to feel for the character, even if he is a difficult one to feel for at times. Those people exist in my life and possibly in yours too. But Frank gets a reprieve from the game and seen beyond a hanging corpse and deserting lover. The two grow old together in “Long Long Time,” and while it still ends in a sort of tragedy, it ends with much more love than hate. Like the song says, love will abide.

During the only action scene in Bill’s town, Bill gets struck by a bullet. And for a moment, the audience believes that Bill may die on that dining room table where he first shared a meal with Frank. The moment feels cyclical, a beginning and an ending, but “Long Long Time” brings us up to the present year and shows us just a little more. Frank, now in a wheelchair, is dying of something that can’t be diagnosed in this new normal, at least not without an MRI, but Bill remains both a caretaker and companion.  

I’d be lying if I didn’t say I fought back tears through the episode’s ending. An open window has never said so much on screen. The question posed in “Long Long Time” is about whether it is better to have experienced love or let it pass you by. To live for the experience or remain shut off. Bill and Frank are the personifications of the best life the world has to offer when we open our hearts. Yes, violence exists in this world, and Bill was more than prepared. But you have to wonder how long he would have made it without Frank. Even with all his paranoia, Bill took a chance by providing a meal for someone and found a lifelong companion. Love and trust triumph again when Bill doesn’t get mad at Frank for choosing strawberries over guns.  

Frank and Bill hold hands at the dining table in The Last of Us episode 3 "Long Long Time"
Photograph by Liane Hentscher/HBO

Frank tells Bill that today is his last day, and it’s poetic and poignant. A sharp shift occurs with Bill in tears while Frank displays assured strength in their opposite personality traits. The camera pans over the places in Bill’s town that have meant something throughout “Long Long Time,” and we see the ring ceremony between the two men after they’ve gone to the town’s boutique to pick out appropriate formal wear for the occasion. 

At the table, they first enjoyed a meal, the table where Frank saw beyond Bill’s exterior, and the table where Bill nearly perished, Frank asks for a final glass of wine containing the mashed-up remnants of his medication bag. I think of what that table means to this home. Before Frank, this table wasn’t used. Bill sits at a small table in the kitchen by himself. A bottle of wine is also present in that scene, but it isn’t the Beaujolais he introduces to Frank. This is a family table. This table hasn’t been empty in twenty years. It has harvested good food, laughter, and conversations. It’s where tears were almost wrought, and prayers were answered. And since this is where it began for the couple, this is also where it ends. Frank notices that the Beaujolais bottle is full of extra pills because, for Bill, there’s no going back to the loneliness of the small table after every memory made here. The table will also be where Joel finds Ellie reading Bill’s final note. 

Bill’s note conjures all the snark and sarcasm of Bill from The Last of Us game. Though he never gets to meet Ellie, strong comparisons are made between their similar loaner characters. Here we don’t get that as much outside of Bill’s confession that he never much liked Joel, yet in the end, it doesn’t matter. Bill met the person he was meant to save, and there’s a bond he feels with Joel, with whom he leaves his arsenal as a means to keep Tess safe. The note strikes a chord with Joel, who struggles with losing Tess and so badly wants to blame Ellie for her death. We remember another table as Joel walks outside to the front lawn, standing where Bill and Frank held their garden party to meet Tess and Joel. It’s a harmonious interweaving between the tragedies, but Joel is undermined by his failure to protect Tess and the reminder that he failed to protect his daughter, also. He perseveres for Ellie now because it is Tess’ final wish. 

Bill and Frank hold hands and gaze into each other's eyes while sitting at a piano in The Last of Us episode 3 "Long Long Time"
Photograph by Liane Hentscher/HBO

As Joel and Ellie stumble around Bill’s house, they find a car battery (Bill was really prepared for everything), and they discover the source of the 80’s song that played at the end of “When You’re Lost in the Darkness.” This discovery proves that Ellie and Joel had only missed Bill and Frank by a few weeks because the playlist hadn’t been reset. Leaving Bill’s town Ellie finds a cassette tape playing “Long Long Time” by Linda Ronstadt as she experiences her first ride in a car. The camera pans back as the Chevy S-10 leaves Bill’s town and lingers on the open window of Bill and Frank’s undisturbed final resting place, where they will remain embraced and unfound.  

My final thoughts on the episode are these: If nothing in this episode moved you, you’re a cold-hearted, soulless bastard. Through three episodes, we’ve seen love and tragedy play out, and while I can admit that The Last of Us has emotionally wrecked me a few times already, “Long Long Time” has devastated me each time I’ve watched it. I loved every beautiful and bleak moment in this episode. 

The Last of Us episode 3, “Long Long Time,” is now streaming on HBOMax.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Written by Sean Parker

Living just outside of Boston, Sean has always been facinated by what horror can tell us about contemporary society. He started writing music reviews for a local newspaper in his twenties and found a love for the art of thematic and symbolic analysis. Sean joined Horror Obsessive at it's inception, and is currently the site's Creative Director. He produces and edits the weekly Horror Obsessive podcast for the site as well as his interviews with guests. He has recently started his foray into feature film production as well, his credits include Alice Maio Mackay's Bad Girl Boogey, Michelle Iannantuono's Livescreamers, and Ricky Glore's upcoming Troma picture, Sweet Meats.

Blood Puts a Cool New Spin on Vampires

An upside down shot of a bloodied person getting up from the arid desert ground in a cloudless sky

The Outwaters: A Slow Roll Straight to Hell