No./18 Inside an apocalyptic masterpiece
The team behind THE LAST OF US’ stand-out third episode describe its journey to the small screen
IT’S ALREADY BEING hailed as one of the best episodes of television in years. ‘Long, Long Time’, the third episode of zombie video-game adaptation The Last Of Us, stunned viewers by moving away from the main Joel-and-ellie storyline (led by Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey) to tell the story of Nick Offerman’s Bill and Murray Bartlett’s Frank in an unusually romantic, largely standalone subplot. Here, the people behind the episode explain to Empire how they did it.
The original game saw Bill as a minor character who reluctantly helps Joel and Ellie. Weaved into the game are subtle hints about Bill’s relationship with Frank, whom he describes as “somebody I cared about”. Nick Offerman: I’m not a gamer. I had literally never heard of the game.
Craig Mazin (co-creator/writer): I’ve played through The Last Of Us maybe seven times.
I have a sense memory of fighting through Bill’s town. But what I really remember are the moments where Bill talks about his “partner” — and that just felt like something I wanted to know more about.
Peter Hoar (director): I’m a big gamer. My director of photography dug out the cutscenes from Youtube. I’d forgotten some of the subtleties of it — the pornography under the seat, the letter... I just thought that was a really clever piece of storytelling for a game.
Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann, the showrunners of the TV adaptation, saw Bill and Frank’s story as an opportunity to deviate sharply from the game. Offerman: It was just the best script I’ve ever been handed.
Hoar: I got sent the script. It was beautiful. I’d worked on It’s A Sin, so I understood why this particular episode had come to me. Offerman: To take this incredibly tough survivalist, this trope you see ad nauseam in Western stories, and flip it on its head and tell this love story... it’s like a Sundance movie plunked into the middle of the series.
The White Lotus’ Murray Bartlett was cast first as Frank, after an audition that moved Druckmann to tears. As Bill, Offerman was a harder nut to crack.
Offerman: I’ve known Craig [Mazin] for a long time, socially. My woodshop sponsored his son’s Little League baseball team; Craig was just one of my baseball dads. Then, at some point, the penny dropped. I was like, “Wait a second. Craig is the Chernobyl guy?”
Hoar: With big stars like Nick, you don’t get to meet them beforehand. You have a good conversation about who you think it could be, and then you offer, and you hope they say yes.
Offerman: Craig sent me a script. The month they needed me was already full. I didn’t even want to read it, because I knew I couldn’t do it. I said to Megan [Mullally, Offerman’s wife], “Just read this and tell me what to do.” She read it and said, “Buddy, you’re going to Calgary.” The script was just so undeniable.
Filming took four weeks, in September 2021, on location in Calgary, Canada. Offerman: On set, there was a sense of, “Oh boy, this show is beautiful.” Everyone understood there was this reverence for the script. I had a healthy level of insecurity — like, “I think we’re up to this task, but I really hope I don’t fuck this up.” Hoar: Nick is Bill. There were so many times on set, he would be fixing things because all of Bill’s tools were everywhere.
Offerman: Everything had been handcrafted to the highest degree. And then Murray shows up. That was another crazy cherry on the cake because we had just seen Season 1 of The White Lotus. It’s like we had just seen Star Wars and they said, “Alright, now we want you to work with Han Solo.”
The episode aired in January 2023, to universal acclaim — and a lot of tears. Offerman: I’m not a terribly ambitious artist. I’ve already far surpassed anything I ever hoped to do with the good fortune that has come my way. So the fact that the world is allowing me to do work like this makes me really grateful. Hoar: As I left the set on the last day, Craig said, “This is going to be great! You better get ready [for the reaction]!” I love Craig. An effusive American often says these things. But he isn’t wrong. Offerman: There’s been a lot of generous things said about the episode. All the signals are telling us that we didn’t screw it up. THE LAST OF US IS ON SKY ATLANTIC AND NOW NOW