The Last of Us Episode 3 Review: The HBO Series Isn’t Just Copying the Video Game

Games

This Last of Us review contains spoilers.

Whatever your expectations were going into HBO’s The Last of Us, they were likely far exceeded, if not completely blown away, by episode 3, titled “Long Long Time.” Simply put, this is one of the best episodes of television in recent memory and acts as irrevocable proof that this show may be, only three episodes in, the best video game adaptation ever made.

But let’s walk back the grandiosity for a moment and acknowledge that Bill and Frank’s story is actually quite small, intimate, and largely devoid of the bloody genre trappings some may have mistakenly assumed would define the show. And let’s also recognize that virtually nothing we see in this episode transpired in the game. Nick Offerman’s portrayal of Bill bears only a surface-level resemblance to his game counterpart, and to call Murray Bartlett’s turn as Frank a departure from the original story would be a serious understatement.

Does all of this mean that the show is unfaithful to the source material? Hell no. The show builds upon the game’s story, giving Bill and Frank’s relationship, which was only alluded to in the game, a powerful and emotionally charged episode that fleshes out these characters in a way that feels natural for the series.

Bill and Frank’s years-long, post-apocalyptic romance unfolds chapter by chapter, in breathtakingly beautiful fashion. From their first, nervous encounter on Bill’s farm, to their ugly cry-inducing final meal as a married couple, the story of their life together is told elegantly, and with the level of dignity it deserves.

The heroes of the piece are of course Offerman and Bartlett, whose performance as a pair is pitch-perfect. Their physicality tells much of the story here. When Bill brings Frank his first meal after freeing him from one of his infamous traps, he’s turtled up and tense. And when they move to the piano to exchange songs, he comes out of his shell a bit thanks to Frank’s disarming warmth, conveyed with a gentle hand on the shoulder and two simple, liberating words of love and recognition: “I know.”

As the subsequent chapters of their romance play out, we see different shades and colors of the relationship, glimpsing moments of friction, peril, and bliss. From the first time they make love, to their double date with Joel and Tess (miss you already, Anna Torv!), to Bill’s scrape with death during the raider invasion, to Frank surprising Bill with a plot of ripe strawberries, every slice of life we see is equal parts moving and heart wrenching, especially when it becomes clear their life of bliss is coming to an end.

There are little poetic touches everywhere. Early on, we see Frank arguing with Bill over wanting to spruce up their little town with a new coat of paint (Bill considers it a “resource management” issue). Years later, as Frank’s health is deteriorating, we find Frank surrounded by beautiful paintings he’s done in their house’s dedicated art room. Booby Trap Bill was a softie all along—he just needed Frank to help him embrace his true self.

The final chapter of Bill and Frank’s life together is overwhelming to watch, which is impressive considering we’ve only spent one episode getting to know them and their story. This is a testament to the incredible work put in by Offerman, Bartlett, and the creative partnership between showrunner Craig Mazin, Last of Us creator Neil Druckmann, and the writers. Despite the fact that we come to love Bill and Frank so much by the end of their story, when they make that final walk to their bedroom together, yes, it’s heartbreaking, but it also feels like a natural, fitting conclusion to their tale. The Last of Us series has always been a story about love at its core but wrapped up in a tragedy and “Long Long Time” is exemplary of both of those elements.

The nice thing about the episode’s epilogue with Joel and Ellie is that it seamlessly transfers all of the emotional heft built up in the ballad of Bill and Frank to the main storyline. Bill’s letter to Joel reminds him that men like he and Joel “have a job to do,” and that is to protect those close to them at all costs. “God help any motherf*clerks who stand in our way,” Bill writes. Those who have played the game will know just how dark the implications of these words are.

The Last of Us had already impressed audiences and critics alike with its first two episodes, but “Long Long Time” blows everything wide open. This isn’t a show about monsters—it’s a show about relationships. And if the writers, cast, and crew are able to make us cry over characters we meet and say farewell to all in one episode, all without the support of genre tropes or the source material, then one shudders to think how great this show could be down the line.

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