The Last of Us – Episode 3 Recap – ‘Long, Long Time’

Episode 3 of HBO’s adaptation The Last of Us takes a significant sidebar to explore the post-apocalyptic love story of Bill and Frank.
The Last of Us HBO - Episode 3 Recap - 'Long, Long Time'

After following the events of the video game faithfully in its first two episodes, HBO’s TV series adaptation of The Last of Us takes the time to explore a brand-new story in Episode 3, in the biggest divergence and reinterpretation of the narrative yet.

As Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) come to terms with their new situation and begin to open up to each other, The Last of Us explores the story of another duo, with similar thematic parallels. Life, love, and finding a reason to keep going when all hope is lost are the major ideas Episode 3 plays with, as it tells the story of survivalists Bill and Frank over two decades.

It’s a strong episode – very strong – and one that certainly helps the show to carve out its own unique and worthwhile identity, separate from the source material. In our review of Season One of The Last of Us, we remarked that this episode alone made the entire adaptation worthwhile – and we don’t expect this to be an outlier opinion.

For further analysis and reading on the HBO adaptation of The Last of Us, you can check out the following articles: 

Episode recaps and analysis: 

Behind-the-scenes podcast recaps:

The Last of Us is now streaming on HBO Max in the US, and Binge in Australia.

The Last of Us HBO – Episode 3 Recap – ‘Long, Long Time’

The episode was written by Craig Mazin and directed by Peter Hoar (It’s A Sin).

The episode opens on Joel’s battered knuckles, still raw after assaulting the guard at the end of Episode 1 – ‘When You’re Lost in the Darkness‘. In the aftermath of Tess’ sacrifice, Joel and Ellie have continued their journey, and are now 10 miles west of Boston, camping out in the wilderness.

Ellie displays her emotional strength by not allowing Joel to make her the scapegoat for Tess’ death: ‘Don’t blame me for something that isn’t my fault.’

Joel stoically acknowledges this comment.

Image: HBO / Binge

As the two continue their trek, Ellie pursues small talk, which Joel reluctantly responds to. One of the subjects is a visible scar on Joel’s head, which is supposedly the result of someone shooting at him and missing. Joel says he never caught the assailant.

Whatever the truth, what’s interesting is that the episode opens by showing the various ways in which Joel is vulnerable. He’s wounded both physically and emotionally, and not quite the superhuman murder machine he is in the game. At least, not yet. In response to Ellie’s joking question about whether he sucks at shooting or just sucks in general, he responds with the latter. 

Ellie once again tries to ask Joel for a gun, but he continues to deny her.

The two arrive at one of Joel’s stash houses – a convenience store. Ellie discovers an arcade cabinet featuring the one-on-one fighting game Mortal Kombat II (a real-world replacement for the game’s fictional title, The Turning), which she longs to play, as someone born after the apocalypse.

As Joel tries to remember where he put his stash, Ellie goes exploring, discovering a dangerous-looking trap door in the store’s office. In the basement, she finds a box of tampons (which she’s excited by) but she also discovers a live infected human, pinned by the debris of a collapse.

Image: HBO / Binge

Ellie examines the infected with a morbid sense of curiosity, and we get a much closer look at the grotesque creature, a tendril-laden mushroom formation sprouting out of its eye. Ellie slowly slices open the infected’s forehead. It doesn’t react, feeling no pain, and Ellie musters the courage – or perhaps anger – to stab it in the head, killing it. 

Joel stashes the assault rifle he obtained from the FEDRA guard in Episode One, and Ellie tries to protest, wanting a weapon for herself. Joel once again denies the request, which annoys her. 

As the two continue, they come across a crashed passenger jet in the distance. Joel recounts the experience of flying in economy class with some disdain, but to Ellie, it’s magic – people in the past got to go up in the sky

The conversation leads Ellie to try to clarify whether everything in civilization came crashing down in a single day, and how the virus began to spread if you need to get bitten to become infected. She explains that her ‘shitty government’ school didn’t divulge the details of how it failed to prevent a pandemic. 

Image: HBO / Binge

Joel posits only what he assumes: that the cordyceps mutated and infiltrated the food supply – probably through a basic ingredient like flour or sugar. Certain brands of food made with those ingredients like bread, cereal, or pancake mix would’ve been sold all around the world.

There’s a pause after pancake mix – perhaps recalling the fact that Joel, his brother Tommy (Gabriel Luna) and his daughter Sarah (Nico Parker) miraculously managed to avoid eating flour-based foods when the outbreak occurred, as shown in Episode 1, thanks to Joel’s forgetfulness.

He continues: The tainted food hits shelves around the world at roughly the same time, and people who consumed it began to get sick, and started infecting others. It all went down on a Friday night, and everything was gone by Monday. The two share a sombre moment of bonding.

Joel suddenly wants to change paths, explaining that there’s something on the road up ahead that Ellie shouldn’t see. Naturally, this only makes Ellie more curious. 

Eventually, Ellie stumbles upon an open mass grave, full of human skeletal remains, along with their worldly possessions. She looks to Joel for an explanation. 

Joel explains that a week after the outbreak occurred, soldiers went through the country, evacuating small towns by convincing people they were being taken to a Quarantine Zone. If the Quarantine Zones were full, however, people would be executed. Dead people can’t be infected, after all.

The Last of Us HBO - Episode 3 Recap - 'Long, Long Time'
Image: HBO / Binge

The camera closes in on skeletal remains adorned in a rainbow blanket and green dress, and the scene cuts back in time to depict the owners of those remains: a mother and her child, getting ready to leave the nearby small town. FEDRA officers are loading people onto trucks, marking houses as evacuated, and checking IDs.

In an underground panic room, a figure watches the action through security cameras. He hears a soldier enter his house up above and he arms himself, but the soldiers soon leave. ‘Not today, you new world order jackboot fucks,’ he says. 

As the town is vacated, the figure slowly emerges from the house, armed to the teeth. He pulls off his gas mask to reveal himself – it’s Bill (Nick Offerman), and a raucous montage begins depicting him stockpiling petrol, raiding hardware stores, extracting natural gas from a refinery, loading up on fine wines, and getting an industrial generator into working order.

The montage continues past the first day – Bill is chopping down trees, erecting wire mesh fences, and digging pitfall traps, as well as growing vegetables, raising chickens, butchering his own meat, and cooking a gourmet meal in his meticulously-kept dining room.

Image: HBO / Binge

While enjoying his email, he’s alerted by a buzz, and he tunes into one of several security monitors he has set up. On it, we see a solitary infected human roaming around the outskirts of Bill’s town. It stumbles over a tripwire, and a shotgun trap blows it away. Bill chuckles, eats a bite of steak, and says to himself, ‘it doesn’t get old.’

White Room’ by Cream scores the next scene, as Bill drives back into his town through a remote-controlled security gate, four years later. He’s fixing up something in his workshop, when he’s alerted by another buzz – something has fallen into one of the pit traps just outside his fence. Annoyed, he arms himself with a shotgun and goes to investigate.

As he approaches the hole, a voice claims that he’s not infected. A tense standoff occurs when Bill asks if the man is armed – and he seemingly hesitates for no real good reason. The man was part of a group of 10 people trying to make it to Boston from the Baltimore Quarantine Zone, which had fallen. 

The man fears for himself, but Bill brings a ladder. As he emerges, Bill holds him at gunpoint and uses a FEDRA scanner to test him. The man, Frank (Murray Bartlett), is surprised that he has one. Upon discovering that Frank isn’t infected, Bill tries to send him on his way, but the man pleads for food. 

The Last of Us HBO - Episode 3 Recap - 'Long, Long Time'
Image: HBO / Binge

Bill initially refuses, reasoning that if he feeds Frank, more will come looking for a free lunch. ‘This is not an Arby’s,’ he says. Frank jokes – ‘Arby’s didn’t have a free lunch, it was a restaurant’ – and promises that he’ll never tell anyone. Bill considers him for a long time.

Back at Bill’s house, he brings a showering – and grateful – Frank a fresh set of clothes. Bill’s demeanour has softened significantly. 

We cut to Frank sitting at the end of Bill’s long dining table, admiring the house, and noticing a grand piano. Bill bursts in with two plates of food and a bottle of wine, catching Frank measuring the dust on the nearby fireplace. Bill is once again cautious, wary.

Bill puts down an immaculately-presented plate of roasted rabbit and vegetables, which Frank is absolutely astonished by – his mouth is agape in an enormous smile. He takes his first bite, sighs in joy, and the first words out of his mouth are ‘what the fuck!’

Image: HBO / Binge

Bill cracks open a bottle of wine and deftly pours it into a crystal glass. Frank remarks at Bill’s pairing of Beaujolais wine with rabbit, to which Bill admits that he doesn’t seem like the type to know things like that. Frank sincerely remarks, ‘No, you do.’ Bill moves to his side of the table, flustered, clumsily bumping his holstered pistol as tries to sit down and keep his cool. He brushes his hair out of his face.

As the two finish their meals, Frank offers his sincere gratitude and moves to take his leave, but not before remarking on the grand piano – an antique, 1948 Steinway. Frank rushes in to raid the piano stool for sheet music, remarking that the classical pieces he’s seeing are not Bill’s. He finally pulls out a book: The Best of Linda Ronstadt, flips to his favourite piece, sits down, and proceeds to butcher a rendition of Long Long Time, much to Bill’s pain.

Bill abruptly stops Frank – ‘Not this song’ – and Frank encourages Bill to sit down and play instead. After some hesitation, he does so, beautifully, and with feeling. The lyrics: 

Love will abide, take things in stride
Sounds like good advice but there’s no one at my side
And time washes clean love’s wounds unseen
That’s what someone told me but I don’t know what it means
‘Cause I’ve done everything I know to try and make you mine
And I think I’m gonna love you for a long long time

Image: HBO / Binge

Frank is shocked and moved. He asks Bill who the girl he’s singing about is, to which he responds, ‘There is no girl’. Frank puts his hand on Bill’s shoulder, says ‘I know,’ and kisses him. They embrace.

Upstairs, Frank is waiting for Bill in bed, unrobed, as he comes out of the shower. He pulls off Bill’s towel, and begins to guide him through his first intimate experience with a man. However, he requests that he be able to stay for a few more days in return. Bill agrees.

Suddenly, it’s three years later, and Frank is bursting out of Bill’s front door as they argue. Frank is fed up with the cloistered lifestyle and the dishevelled nature of the town around them, requesting some supplies to fix up the town – the wine shop, the furniture store, and the clothing boutique. Bill doesn’t quite see the point. 

Frank explains that paying attention to things is how they show love, and that sooner or later the two are going to have friends who are going to visit. Bill scoffs at the idea – there are no friends to be had. But Frank reveals that he’s been talking to someone on the radio. Bill has an outburst.

The Last of Us HBO - Episode 3 Recap - 'Long, Long Time'
Image: HBO / Binge

We cut forward in time again, to a well-groomed Bill and Frank having a garden lunch with a similarly well-groomed Joel and Tess (Anna Torv). Frank asks Bill to put down his pistol as he refills everyone’s wine, but Joel sympathises. It comes to light that Tess and Frank have been arranging to work together in some kind of smuggling arrangement, as we know from the first episode. Frank and Tess clink wine glasses in agreement and they leave to tour the house, much to Bill’s disdain. 

Bill is left along with Joel, and he cocks his pistol. Joel remarks that he understands Bill’s feelings on the arrangement, but attempts to convince him that the things they can smuggle out of the Quarantine Zone are of great value to them – books, medicine, and machine parts. 

Bill argues that he doesn’t need anything, but Joel’s leans on his own building expertise to critique the longevity of Bill’s fence, offering to obtain something that will last him the rest of his life – or rather, Bill and Frank’s lives. Bill ponders this.

As they move to leave, Joel continues to try and convince Bill – even though they’re protected against FEDRA and stray infected, they’re still at risk from raiders that may circumvent his defences. Bill remarks that they’ll be fine.

Three years later, Bill’s Town is now more fortified than ever with walls of rusted cars. Bill and Frank are out on a run around town, with Bill struggling to keep up. Frank playfully blindfolds Bill, and reveals a patch of ripe strawberries as a surprise for him – Frank had traded one of Bill’s guns for a pack of strawberry seeds. The two enjoy a strawberry as the sun sets, and Bill weeps with joy at the taste of it.

Bill apologises to Frank for getting older faster than him. ‘Older means we’re still here,’ remarks Frank.

‘I was never afraid before you showed up,’ laments Bill. They embrace, almost crushing the strawberries in the process.

The Last of Us HBO - Episode 3 Recap - 'Long, Long Time'
Image: HBO / Binge

Jumping ahead once more, we see Bill’s town at night, with a group of raiders slowly converging on the gates. They trip one of the proximity defences, setting off a series of buzzsaws and flamethrowers. The nose wakes up a sleeping Frank, who pulls a pistol from a downstairs drawer, and rushes outside to find Bill fending off attackers in the rain with a rifle – though his flamethrowers and electric fences seem to be doing a great job. 

Bill is suddenly shot in the gut, and Frank rushes out to rescue him and pull him inside. Believing that his time is nigh, Bill begins trying to explain the best course of action to defend the town, and recounts his succession plan as Frank rushes to tend to his wound. He urges Frank to call Joel to come and protect him – he doesn’t want Frank there alone. Bill passes out.

Image: HBO / Binge

10 years later, to the soundtrack of gentle classical piano music, Frank is now in a wheelchair. Both he and Bill are old and grey, and Frank has seemingly taken up painting – he’s pretty good too, though he’s very visibly afflicted by a condition that prevents him from keeping a steady hand. His skin is pale, and his eyes are bloodshot. Bill winks at him as he waters the garden. The two are still in love.

At the dinner table, Frank eats soup and no longer drinks from crystal glassware, but a plastic cup and straw, while Bill cuts meat into tiny pieces for him and reminds him to take his pills, which he struggles with. Frank is fed up. 

In the evening, Bill lifts Frank into bed before climbing in with him and kissing him goodnight. Frank lies awake, staring at the ceiling.

The Last of Us HBO - Episode 3 Recap - 'Long, Long Time'
Image: HBO / Binge

The next morning, Bill is surprised to see Frank already up in his chair – though it apparently took him most of the night. Bill begins chastising Frank and urges him back into bed for a rest, but Frank insists that he’s staying up – because this is his last day. Frank wants to end his life.

In the living room, Bill is tearing up, clutching at any hope that they can find a way to cure whatever affliction he has – likely cancer, given the way Frank remarks that there wasn’t any way to cure it before the world fell apart. Frank is determined to go through with his plan.

Frank gently tells Bill that though they’ve had bad days, he’s had more good days with Bill than with anyone else, in the limited time they’ve had. And all he wants is one more good day before he goes.

Frank’s plan consists of Bill taking him to the clothing boutique, where he’ll pick out clothes for them. They’ll come home and get married, have dinner, and then Bill will crush a large amount of sedatives into Frank’s wine, and he’ll go to bed and fall asleep in Bill’s arms.

Bill bawls his eyes out and attempts to refuse. But Frank asks:

‘Do you love me?’
‘Yes,’ says Bill.
‘Then love me the way I want you to.’

Image: HBO / Binge

A sombre montage follows, as Bill wheels Frank to the boutique, pointing out some of the little improvements they’ve made to the town during their life together. As dusk falls, the two exchange rings by the grand piano. 

At dinner, Frank sits at the long dining table – in the same spot he occupied when he first came to Bill’s town. Bill brings him dinner – the same roast rabbit dinner they had the day they met, featuring the same immaculate presentation, and the same accompanying bottle of Beaujolais wine, to Frank’s amusement.

They clink glasses, Frank drinks, and he has the same overjoyed reaction he did on that first sip 20 years ago. 

Image: HBO / Binge

As they finish, Bill brings out a second bottle of wine – already open – and pours two fresh glasses as Frank looks on. Bill pulls out the packet of sedatives and empties it into Frank’s glass. After some hesitation, Frank drinks, downing the entire glass in one continuous gulp. 

Bill follows suit, and Frank suddenly has a realisation, asking if there were already pills in the wine bottle. ‘Enough to kill a horse,’ says Bill.

Bill explains that this isn’t a tragic double suicide. He himself is also old, but satisfied. Frank, he says, was his purpose. So he’s done too.

Frank vocalises his objection to the plan, but admits that objectively, it’s an incredibly romantic gesture.

They share one last laugh, and head off to bed together.

Image: HBO / Binge

We return to the present day, where Joel and Ellie have arrived at Bill’s town. Joel enters through the security gate – he knows the code, obviously – and they visit Bill and Frank’s place. Joel notices that their flowers are all wilted, and draws his gun. He tells Ellie to stay by the entrance as he explores.

Joel knocks on the bedroom door, and finds it locked. But meanwhile, Ellie has discovered a letter from Bill, with a car key. It’s addressed: ‘To whomever, but probably Joel’. Joel correctly assumes the worst has happened.

Ellie reads the letter to Joel, dated August 29, 2023. It’s a letter from Bill asking Joel not to come into the bedroom – they’ve opened the window so the house wouldn’t smell. Bill invites Joel to take anything he needs.

Image: HBO / Binge

Furthermore, Bill admits that he never liked Joel, but respected him and considered him a friend nonetheless. The letter goes on to explain that Bill used to hate the world, and he was happy that everyone died. But he was wrong, and there was one person worth saving – Frank. So he saved him, and then he protected him.

Bill remarks that men like him and Joel exist because they have a job to do, and god helps anyone who stands in their way.

He invites Joel to use all of his weapons and equipment to keep Tess safe – though Ellie can’t bring herself to read her name out aloud. Joel rushes outside and has an emotional moment, reckoning with his loss, and his inability to do anything about it. He scrunches up the note.

The Last of Us HBO - Episode 3 Recap - 'Long, Long Time'
Image: HBO / Binge

He pulls himself together, and uncovers Bill’s truck in the garage. It has no battery, but the garage fridge has all the components needed to put one together. He smirks at Bill’s ingenuity.

Joel returns to the house, and asks Ellie to show him her arm, and her bite, once more. It’s almost completely healed over. Joel explains that he’s going out west to try and find Tommy, and that Tommy used to be a member of the Firefly resistance group. He’ll take Ellie with him in the hopes that they know where she needs to be.

Ellie tries to bring up Tess once more, but Joel stops her and makes some clear rulings: Ellie is not to bring up Tess ever if they’re travelling together, he wants them to keep their personal histories to themselves, she must never show her bite to anyone, and whatever he says, goes. Ellie politely agrees. 

The duo heads into Bill’s panic room, to discover that the radio broadcast we heard at the end of the first episode – Depeche Mode’s ‘Never Let Me Down Again’, was the result of an automatic loop that triggered if Bill didn’t reset a countdown. Ellie once again asks if she can take a gun – there are plenty on BIll’s wall of firearms – but Joel once again refuses her. 

The Last of Us HBO - Episode 3 Recap - 'Long, Long Time'

The two stock up on supplies like clothes, toilet paper, and take the opportunity to shower while the car battery charges. While exploring downstairs, Ellie discovers a pistol in the drawer – the very same one Frank pulled out that night Bill and Frank were attacked by raiders. She stashes it in her backpack.

As Joel returns from his shower, Ellie makes a gag about his fresh appearance, and he jokingly tells her to shut up as he throws her a bottle of deodorant. Already, the walls are starting to come down, thanks to Ellie’s persistence. 

The two pile into the car, now filled with supplies, and Ellie is fascinated by everything, considering it’s her very first time in a car.

She pulls out a cassette tape from the glovebox and puts it on. Joel initially protests, but when he hears the song, he changes his tune, and gets excited instead. It’s Linda Ronstadt’s ‘Long Long Time’ – Bill and Frank’s favourite song.

Ellie offhandedly remarks that it’s better than nothing, which makes Joel cracks a smile. Ellie is pleased. Just like Bill and Frank, a beautiful new relationship is forming, with Linda Ronstadt as the instigator.

As the camera watches them drive away, it slowly pulls back through the open window of Bill and Frank’s bedroom, and ‘Long Long Time’ plays over the credits.

The Last of Us HBO - Episode 3 Recap - 'Long, Long Time'
Image: HBO / Binge

Stray Observations and Analysis 

  • I’m definitely not alone in thinking that this hour of television is an absolutely fantastic piece of storytelling – and not just within the context of the series. The story of Bill and Frank is a beautiful standalone tale that wonderfully captures the ups and downs of long-term love, despite being set in a (hopefully) unreal post-apocalypse. 
  • Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett really deserve praise for their performances here, as does director, Peter Hoar. The two leads sell the journey of this love story very well, and make the conclusion believable and bittersweet.
  • This episode marks one of the biggest and most satisfying deviations from the original narrative of The Last of Us. In the video game, Bill does help Joel in his quest for a car battery, but the arc is a lot more action-packed. Bill’s still alive, for one, and he’s portrayed as far more paranoid and unhinged. The trio essentially blast their way through a town full of infected from beginning to end.
  • Frank is mentioned in the video game, but the tale between him and Bill is far more tragic. He’s already gone by the time Joel and Ellie meet Bill, though Bill has no idea why he left, and he holds a lot of animosity towards him.
  • Towards the end of the chapter in Bill’s town, the trio hold out in a house, where it’s possible for the player to discover a note if they look hard enough. It’s a suicide note, written by Frank, where he describes his reasons for leaving – he simply couldn’t handle Bill’s shit anymore, and was searching for the car battery to leave him forever. He coldly proclaims that his death will be better than spending another day with Bill.
Frank’s note in The Last of Us video game. Image: Naughty Dog
  • In the same house, a body hanging from the ceiling can be discovered. Presumably, that’s Frank. It’s insinuated that he got bitten by infected trying to leave, and decided to end things. The player has an option to give the suicide note to Bill, which he reads, has mixed emotions about, and discards.
  • Needless to say, the HBO version of Bill and Frank’s story is far more uplifting, despite its conclusion, and far more thematically impactful.
  • Line of the Episode: There are far too many to choose from, and many that hit hard, emotionally. But in the name of lightening things up as we move forward, I’ll have to give it to:
    Frank: ‘You live in a psycho bunker where 9/11 was an inside job and the government are all Nazis!’

What did you think of this episode of HBO’s adaptation of The Last of Us? Tell us on Twitter @GamesHubDotCom, and let us know what you’d like to see for future recaps. Thanks for reading!

Edmond was the founding managing editor of GamesHub. He was also previously at GameSpot for 13 years, where he was the Australian Editor and an award-winning video producer. You can follow him @EdmondTran