Will there be a better TV episode in 2023? Should it rank among the greatest of all-time? Only time will truly allow us to answer those questions properly, but the fact that we can ask those questions with a straight face is a testament to the power and impact of The Last of Us episode 3.
A beautiful love story between Murray Bartlett and Nick Offerman wasn’t what we were expecting from a TV series about a fungal apocalypse, but this is a TV episode that we’ll watch over and over again.
After the loss of Tess (Anna Torv) last week, we only briefly caught up with Ellie (Bella Ramsey) and a grieving Joel (Pedro Pascal) at the start of the episode, before we took a detour into the story of Bill (Offerman) and Frank (Bartlett). Tweaking events from the game and creating a whole new backstory for these characters, elevated The Last of Us beyond a gripping blockbuster into an emotional and gut-wrenching exploration of love.
Here are five talking points, Easter Eggs and things you might not have spotted in The Last of Us episode 3, Long, Long Time…
Will we ever be able to listen to this song and not think about Bill and Frank? The hit track from 1970 sang by the couple and heard playing over the closing sequence was the suggestion of Broadway legend Seth Rudestsky.
He was challenged to come up with a song about “lifelong loss and longing” by Craig Mazin and immediately replied with Long, Long Time.
Talking on the HBO Last of Us podcast, Mazin said: "I’d forgotten this song existed, but it couldn’t have been more perfect.
"The lyrics are someone saying, everyone says it will okay. Love will find me. Pain and heartache and loss and disconnection will heal. No it doesn’t. No it’s not. The person that I longed for from afar, I will love them forever in the most unrequited manner.”
Mazin added: "What a beautiful notion, that you can’t ever get there. That the closer you get, the further the light gets away."
Sarah and Joel. Tess and Joel. Ellie and Joel. And now Bill and Frank. The Last of Us loves to give us a beautiful, messy and complicated relationship and rip our hearts out.
But for all the brilliance of creators Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin, this episode wouldn’t have been the same without Offerman and Bartlett’s tender and nuanced performances.
The giggling over strawberries, the line about Arby’s, their declarations of happiness and joy in their final day – the duo sparkled and made every line feel special.
It was also apparently Offerman who insisted on using the “New World Order” opening line for Bill, which was originally just part of his character description and not in the script.
Neil Druckmann admits on the Last of Us podcast that he did wrestle with any changes in the TV show from the game and that the question he always came back to was, ‘how much do we gain?’
It probably wans’t a difficult decision to make when the final scripts were finished for episode 3 .
“[It is such a beautiful story that explores the complexity of love, the happiness and pain,” said Druckmann.
It’s a happier ending and it’s also one that elevates Ellie and Joel’s story, he concludes. Not only do we witness the parallels between Bill and Frank and Joel and Ellie, we see how Bill’s letter shakes and inspires Joel to take a chance on Ellie.
“This isn’t the tragic ending at the end of the play” says Bill. He is talking about the joy and fullness of his life with Frank, but there is a double meaning. His actions and words will also move Joel to continue his mission.
It was the perfect way to close the episode and end Bill and Frank’s story. Long, Long Time playing out, an open window, the wind blowing, sunshine breaking into their home. The darkness and shadows we saw at the start with Bill in is basement, replaced by love and optimism. Bill and Frank are at peace.
But the creators admit that they came to that final shot in an unusual stroke of fortune.
They revealed that their had been a plan to start every episode with a window and a curtain blowing. The idea was to have a ‘Press Play’ button alongside it, inspired by the menu screen on the computer game.
Mazin and Druckmann said it was a “misfire” of an idea, but it did give them this beautiful ending.
Although this was Bill and Frank’s episode, it was also the episode that truly begins Joel and Ellie’s relationship and journey together.
The playfulness of Ellie on the Mortal Kombat arcade machine and getting in a car for the very first time. The little dad jokes in Cumberland Farms (“Is there anything bad in here?” “Just you”). That look from Pedro Pascal when Ellie responds to his list of rules going forward.
Their lives are now entwined like Bill and Frank, but will they get the same happy ending?
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