‘The Last of Us’ Diverges From Its Source Material to Tell a Moving Love Story (RECAP)

Nick Offerman as Bill and Murray Bartlett as Frank, The Last of Us
Spoiler Alert
(Credit: HBO)

The Last of Us

Long Long Time

Season 1 • Episode 3

rating: 5.0 stars

[WARNING: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for The Last of Us Season 1 Episode 3.]

Adapting any work for the screen is like walking on a rope stretched between two skyscrapers. It’s a balancing act—knowing which elements of the source material must be kept and, on the other hand, which pieces of that source material won’t work, or need reworked. The Last of Us proved itself proficient at first (seriously, how freaky were the Clickers last week?), and in its third episode, it shows it knows how, where, and why to diverge.

The unexpected (and stellar) remodeling involves Bill and Frank. In the game, Bill and Frank’s story isn’t necessarily one of enduring romance. While they were together before the world ended, things ended badly—like, “Frank hung himself and left a note saying that death was better than remaining with Bill” badly. (Yikes.) We don’t see their romance blossom; we know it existed and went sour. In keeping with its method of finding beauty at the end of the world, that’s not the approach The Last of Us takes.

Nick Offerman as Bill, The Last of Us


The Post-Apocalyptic Meet-Cute

In 2003, Nick Offerman’s Bill was a survivalist/doomsday-prepper living in a small town in Massachusetts. He’s the guy with a passed-down-for-generations farmhouse, shelves, and shelves of guns, plus a “Don’t Tread On Me” flag hanging in his basement. Yeah, it’s no surprise the apocalypse barely rattled him. Having evaded the government’s roundups (and executions) of civilians, Bill spends his days getting supplies from dilapidated stores, putting up elaborate systems of fences and traps around his house, and watching Infected try—and fail—to break through his defenses. It’s not a bad life. He has plenty of food, and heck, he even has wine. It all seems to be going pretty well… and then one day, an alarm goes off.

When Bill ventures out to check the trap, he finds not an Infected but a man. The intruder—Frank (Murray Bartlett)—hurriedly explains that he will not rob Bill or take over his home. Frank was a member of a QZ, but it fell. In fleeing it, he stumbled into Bill’s trap. He makes a sincere plea for Bill’s help, and reluctantly, Bill allows him to come inside, use his shower, and eat the first decent meal Frank had in a very long time. But Bill also insists that in the morning, Frank has to go. It’s a classic romantic setup, and The Last of Us pays it off well.

Before he’s set to leave, Frank notices a piano in Bill’s living room. Excited, he rifles through the songbooks—most of which belonged to Bill’s mother—until he finds a collection of Linda Ronstadt arrangements. With joyous abandon, he begins an upbeat rendition of “Long, Long Time,”… and clearly unsettled, Bill orders him to stop. When he takes over, he plays a mournful, somber take on the piece, and when he’s done, Frank is moved. “So, who’s the girl?” he asks. A beat passes. “There is no girl,” Bill answers, his voice heavy. “I know,” Frank responds. They share a tender first kiss by the piano, and The Last of Us commits to telling Frank and Bill’s love story in full—the good and the bad, the happy and sad.

Nick Offerman as Bill, Pedro Pascal as Joel, The Last of Us


One Perfect Day

Bill and Frank stay together for the next two decades. It’s not all sunshine and roses (although they do plant a lovely garden), but far more often than not, they’re ideally suited to each other. Frank sands down Bill’s rough edges—he fixes up the boutique and a few other stores in town, even though they’re no longer being used—and Bill lends his imaginative, warm-hearted partner a practical side. Frank’s conversations over the radio eventually connect them with Joel and Tess (Anna Torv), and we see them meet to discuss setting up a trading system for guns and medicine. Frank and Tess get along right away, while Bill and Joel are more reserved, if not outright hostile. “I don’t need you or your friend complicating our lives,” Bill tells Joel.

That’s almost true. They’re able to withstand challenges from the outside—raiders, for instance, just as Joel warned—but time presents a far less conquerable obstacle. After a jump forward of several years, Frank, who has grown sickly, relies on Bill to help him get around their home in a wheelchair. He can no longer paint or play the piano with a tremor in his hands. The show never outright names Frank’s condition, although he does say that even before the apocalypse, it ‘wasn’t something [doctors] could cure.”

One morning, Bill awakens to find Frank already out of bed. He’s upset with his partner at first for not asking for help, but it’s nothing compared to what Frank has in store: “Today is my last day,” he tells Bill. Frank has decided he’s done living and only wants one last “perfect day” with his partner before he dies.

Pedro Pascal as Joel, The Last of Us


A Long, Long Time

What follows is a moving, heart-shattering sequence in which Bill and Frank dress in fancy clothes from the boutique and wear wedding rings, thus marrying each other. They spend the whole day together in contentment, but dinner is coming… and Bill knows he’ll need to mix all of Frank’s pills into his wine, as he requested. When the moment comes, however, Bill throws them both for a loop: not only does he adhere to Frank’s wishes and give him the pill-dissolved wine, but he drinks it himself, too. “I’m old,” Bill tells his partner. “I’m satisfied. And you were my purpose.” Various emotions flit across Frank’s face, and he tells Bill that he disapproves of what he’s doing… and then he holds out his hand and smiles. “From an objective point of view, it’s incredibly romantic,” he says. We see them walk together to their bedroom, and it’s implied that they drew their last breaths in each other’s arms.

After traveling through the forest, Ellie (Bella Ramsey) and Joel (Pedro Pascal) arrive at the house after all of this has happened (but not too long after, considering the food from Bill and Frank’s last meal is still sitting on the table). Ellie finds a note from Bill addressed to “Whomever, But Probably Joel.” The note explains that they’re dead, and everything in the house is his to take to “keep Tess safe.” Extra-heartbreaking, considering what happened to Tess in the last episode.

In the end, Joel and Ellie wind up taking some of Bill and Frank’s weapons and supplies and their blue truck. (After asking for one for the past two episodes, Ellie secretly steals a gun—we’re pretty sure that will come back later.) As they drive away, the camera pulls back to the bedroom window where Frank and Bill lay down to eternal rest… and “Long, Long Time” plays to bring their beautifully tragic love story to a close.

The Last of Us, Sundays, 9/8c, HBO