[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for The Last of Us, Season 1 Episode 3, “Long, Long Time.”]
Episode 3 of HBO’s The Last of Us took an unexpected beat from its Lone Wolf and Cub story by offering a look into the unlikely romance of self-described “survivalist” Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett), a fellow survivor who unexpectedly stumbles into his life. At the center of their love story is their shared love for Linda Ronstadt’s “Long Long Time,” which plays a crucial part in establishing their relationship.
When the episode begins, Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) attempt to shake off the horrifying death of Tess and start to form a bond when they realize there is at least a five-hour journey to reach Bill, who will know what they should do next. It’s not too long until the show moves back in time and shifts focus over to Bill.
A short time after the fungal infection that ravaged globe, Bill appears to be living his best life. The misanthrope has a whole town to himself thanks to a doomsday bunker and cache of weapons that kept him alive while the world was going to hell. Entirely self-sufficient, Bill grows his own food and enjoys eating gourmet dinners while watching infected get killed in the various traps he’s set around town.
One night, Frank gets caught in one such trap, but is able to convince Bill to give him a hot meal. After being charmed by Bill’s cooking skills and knowledge of wine, Frank sits down at the piano and finds a book of Linda Ronstadt songs. He turns the page and proceeds to butcher “Long Long Time” until Bill can’t take it anymore. With the caveat he isn’t a professional, Bill sits down and performs a bittersweet rendition of the 1970 hit.
Clearly hearing pain in Bill’s voice, Frank asks whether a girl caused the heartbreak. Receiving confirmation there was none, he moves in for a kiss, and the two of them begin a romance that lasts until they are both elderly.
Released as a single from Linda Ronstadt’s 1970 album Silk Purse, “Long, Long Time” spent a dozen weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 and peaked at No. 25 in the chart. It also earned her a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Female Vocal Performance.
On HBO’s official The Last of Us podcast, Mazin shared his interpretation of the song, saying, “Talking with Nick about the lyrics, [I emphasized] how important it was to understand that the lyrics were someone saying everything tells me that it’s okay, that love will find me, that the pain of heartache and loss and disconnection will heal. No, it doesn’t. No, it’s not, and the person that I long for from afar, I’m gonna love them basically forever in the most unrequited manner. To me, I just thought, what a beautiful notion that you can’t get ever get there — the closer you get, the further that light gets away from you.”