“The Last of Us” Episode 102 & 103 Recap: Alone Together

Episode 103: “Long, Long Time”

JOEL & ELLIE WALK TO LINCOLN

The Last of Us: Ellie sits against a tree in the forest with Joel's jacket on her lap, looking sassily up at her travel companion.

The Lyanna Mormont jumped out.

Nic:There’s no cold open this week, so we start in the woods outside of Boston, with Joel and Ellie still reeling from Tess’s death. Ellie starts to talk to Joel about what happened, not to apologize, but to remind Joel that he and Tess are both grownups who made the grown up choice to take Ellie, so he can’t blame her for what happened. She’s right, and Joel both knows and respects it.

As they continue their walk to Bill and Frank’s, Joel and Ellie discuss one of my favorite apocalyptic tropes: acknowledging that being on the lookout for people is as important as being on the lookout for infected, because sometimes the living can be more dangerous than the dead. But they can also be the key to survival, and this episode underscores that beautifully.

The running joke of Ellie asking for a gun and Joel immediately saying “no” continues as they get to an abandoned farm where Joel apparently stashed some supplies a few years earlier. This scene is for the gamers and you’ll never be able to tell me otherwise. Watching Joel attempt to loot loot loot and repeatedly come up empty is RELATABLE AF. Meanwhile, Ellie finds a secret door leading to a room where she finds some precious tampons…and also an infected trapped beneath the rubble. Which, let me just say, I love the tampon detail. Of course menstruation wouldn’t just STOP during the apocalypse.

Valerie: I just saw a Tiktok about how they don’t usually address this in shows like this and someone commented that they always just assumed everyone was so malnourished that their period stops and I would like to say that some people’s periods are PERSISTENT and mine wouldn’t care how much nourishment I was or was not getting. I will say that even though there are 93 reasons I’d never survive a zombie apocalypse (asthma, poor vision, snoring), I do have reusable pads now so. I could make those work for me out in nature.

Nic: Anyway, Ellie approaches the infected slowly and cautiously, never breaking eye contact with them, presumably remembering the conversation she and Joel had about whether knowing they were people made it difficult to put them down. Eventually, she stabs them and heads back to Joel.

One of my favorite aspects of the game is when Ellie reminds us that she was born after Outbreak Day, just with her lack of knowledge about things we consider obvious or commonplace. Here, it happens when they come across the debris from a plane crash and while Joel reminisces about the annoyances of air travel, Ellie stops him to marvel at the sheer fact that he got to go up in the sky. I love this perspective shift!

As they get closer to their destination, Joel explains exactly what went down on Outbreak Day. Ellie thinks it was monkeys (*snort*), but what actually happened is that the cordyceps mutated and got into the food supply, tainting the most basic ingredients found in most foods. Ya know, like the pancake mix that he and Sarah narrowly avoided eating on the morning of his birthday…ahem. So the infection started on a Thursday and Friday once shelves were stocked, on the night of Friday September 26, 2023 the mass biting started spreading, and by Monday, everything was gone.

Valerie: I would like to point out that the scientist was called in on September 24th, which means the government knew about it at least one day before that, likely more based on the soldier’s explanation, and could have at least been like “heyyy everyone, maybe don’t bake cookies or buy pancake mix or do anything else that would make you breathe in flour this week just in casies.” Just saying.

Nic:Joel might act like Ellie is just cargo to him, but when they’re almost at Bill and Frank’s he audibles their path to attempt to shield her from seeing what ends up being a mass grave of people executed by soldiers when there wasn’t enough room in Quarantine Zones.

BILL & FRANK 2003 + 2007

The Last of Us: Frank lies on top of Bill in bed, backlit by a setting sun through the window

If you know me and my recaps you know I don’t usually include men in my screenshot. In fact I can count on one hand how many times I’ve done it in my 10 years of recapping, at least without blurring them out. But here we are, you and me, Bill and Frank.

Valerie: We use a shot of a little rainbow baby blanket in the mass grave (which now is…almost funny in a twisted way) to transition back to 2003, where we see soldiers rounding the people of Lincoln up, marking infected houses, doing sweeps. A man watches security camera footage from his bunker, hears the soldiers stomping above him, but evades them in his little room full of guns, and doesn’t get evacuated. (Shout out to secret doors, the real MVPs of this episode.) He bursts outside armed to the teeth to find that he’s alone in Lincoln. Just one Nick Offerman-shaped man with an entire town to himself.

Nic: I’ve never been more excited to yell “SECRET DOOR!”

Valerie: He makes the best of it, looting the gas station, the home depot, the gas plant, the liquor store. He gardens and farms, he builds fences and sets traps. He cooks himself gourmet meals and is content in his self-sufficient solitude. One night he’s eating dinner and sees on his security camera that one of the infected walked directly into one of his traps. He giggles as it explodes and keeps eating his steak, pleased as punch.

Nic: This delighted me to no end. And his delivery is one of many reasons I think Nick Offerman was the perfect choice for this role.

Valerie: Four years later, looking a little scruffier but no worse for wear, he gets a trap alert and goes to check his pit, where he hears a voice call out that he’s not infected. The man in the pit says he’s just trying to get to Boston, he started with a group of 10 people but he’s alone now; they had left from the Baltimore QZ because it’s gone now. They don’t introduce themselves until a bit later but to avoid the wlw fanfic problem of having to describe one as “the bearded one” and other creative descriptors, I’m just going to tell you that the first man is Bill and the man in the pit is Frank. Bill lowers a ladder for Frank and he immediately uses a FEDRA-grade tester on him and confirms he’s clean of the infection.

Bill points Frank in the direction of Boston but Frank asks if perhaps Bill can share some food first. Bill doesn’t want to feed everyone Frank meets but Frank promises he won’t tell, so Bill invites him in. Frank can’t believe his luck as he showers and changes and gets served a beautifully plated, delicious meal with a perfect wine pairing. He starts to leave but first wants to try the piano; he sifts through music books until he finds one he knows must be Bill’s and starts hammering out a Linda Ronstadt song. Bill stops him from butchering his favorite song and takes over, singing it much more softly and sweetly than Frank was.

Frank asks who the girl is, and Bill says there is no girl, and Frank says he knows, which is not how I would have gone about asking if he was gay, but you do you, Frank. Frank goes in for a kiss, and kiss they do. Frank tells Bill to shower, and when he gets out, Frank is waiting for him in bed. Before they have sex though, Frank says he wants to stay a few more days, and Bill agrees to let him. (I’m going to use this episode as an example next time my mother says “you know, a girlfriend isn’t going to just show up at your door someday.” MAYBE ONE WILL, MOTHER. FRANK FELL INTO BILL’S HOLE.)

Nic: I just FULL BELLY laughed at this.

Valerie: Though I won’t lie, this moment in bed made me a wee bit nervous. Maybe it’s because I know how Bill and Frank’s story went in the game, maybe I’ve been watching too many other post-apocalyptic shows where you can’t trust a dang soul, but I worried Frank was using Bill for his resources, and I’m not sure I could have blamed him for it if he was. Luckily that fear was quickly assuaged.

BILL & FRANK 2010

The Last of Us: 2010 Tess sits outside at a table and smiles at Frank during their garden party

“I agree, there IS such a thing as too much shiplap.”

Nic: It’s 3 years later, and we have transitioned to HGTV: Apocalypse Edition. Bill and Frank are arguing over the fact that Frank just wants to live his gayest DIY life, while Bill is still in his doomsday prepper mindset that causes his first instinct to be to conserve resources. It’s just cute and sweet and…normal, and I love them, okay?! Frank tells Bill that “paying attention to things, it’s how we show love” and taking care of the neighborhood where he lives is how he wants to love. Oh, and also he’s going to fix up key buildings in town: the wine shop, furniture store, and clothing boutique; none of the STUPID shops, Bill!

Frank’s a simple man; all he wants is a manicured lawn and some apocalypse friends! People to invite over for a meal or to commiserate over the fact that, I don’t know, the world as they knew it no longer exists. *shrug*

We quickly find out who won the argument, because the next thing we see is a lovely dinner setup on the front lawn with none other than Joel and Tess as the guests of honor, and Bill’s gun as a reminder of the state of the world. While Frank and Tess head inside, Bill and Joel discuss the possibility of working together and sharing resources; including the ones that Bill amassed during his time as a self-described Survivalist. Before Joel and Tess head back to the QZ, Frank tells Tess his idea about using codes on the radio, and Joel warns Bill that even though they’re well-protected from the infected, they still need to watch out for raiders.

Valerie: Seeing Tess again made my heart hurt but in a good way? All sweet and fresh-faced and smiling. The more Anna Torv the better, I always say.

BILL & FRANK 2013

The Last of Us: Frank and Bill toast strawberries together

Strawberries are gay now, sorry not sorry.

Valerie: Cut to three years later, when Frank proves to Bill the value of their relationship with Joel and Tess. He traded a gun for seeds, and now: they have strawberries! Fresh, ripe strawberries they share with glee.

Nic: I can’t believe I’m going to cry every time I eat strawberries going forward.

Valerie: Bill apologizes that he’s getting older faster than Frank, but Frank doesn’t mind. “Older means we’re still here,” he says.

One night, just as Joel warned, under the cover of a thunderstorm, raiders come. The traps hold them back and Bill tries to shoot them off, but he does get shot in the process. Frank drags him inside and tends to his wound but as he loses consciousness, he tells Frank to call Joel, that Joel will take care of him.

And then Bill passes out.

BILL & FRANK 2023

The Last of Us: Bill and Frank lean in toward each other as they say their wedding vows

“My eyes don’t shed tears, but boy they pour when I’m thinking ‘bout you.”

Nic: There was a split second where I was terrified that the showrunners did the unthinkable and buried a gay, but worry not dear reader, it’s ten years later, just about present day in show time, and Bill and Frank are alive and as well as could be expected. They’re older and grayer, slower and more weathered, and Frank now uses a wheelchair. We see images of the couple’s lives together to this point; Frank’s paintings take up much of their free space, Bill’s plants and flowers thrive in the sunshine. And in a familiar sight, the two sit down to dinner, only now their dinner involves reminders of pills. As Bill helps Frank into bed, a decision settles on the latter’s face.

The next morning Frank is already up and in his chair, and despite Bill’s insistence otherwise, Frank doesn’t need to lie down because he’s decided that today will be his last day. Bill tries one last time to change Frank’s mind, but it’s Frank’s turn to remind his partner of their grim reality. There are no hospitals or specialists in the apocalypse, so Frank wants to have one last good day on his terms with the man he loves.

And what a beautiful day it is. They walk in the sunshine, find formal wear at the boutique, and they get themselves good and gay married; something that wasn’t yet legal when the game was released in 2013.

Valerie: This was lovely and also I would just like to say how much I appreciate it when shows montage over vows and/or the wedding ceremony language. I don’t need to hear them, I get it. This was done perfectly.

Nic: They’re back in the dining room and Bill walks through the door as he has so many times before; two plates in hand, and his guy waiting patiently for him. He pours Frank wine on their last day together as he did on their first. And then Bill does what his husband asked; he puts Frank’s crushed up pills in his wine glass and he downs it. It’s only when Bill immediately follows suit that Frank realizes what he’s done. But Bill reminds Frank, and us, that this isn’t some kind of tragic end that we’re used to. The gays aren’t being buried; they get to write their ending. And after 20 years with the love of his life, Bill says, “I’m old. I’m satisfied. And you were my purpose.” He then wheels Frank into their bedroom, where they spend their last moments together.

Valerie: This whole episode reminds me a lot of that one episode of The Magicians where Eliot and Quentin end up in a pocket dimension and live a whole lifetime together. This was just a little slice of life episode that has minimal bearing on the story as a whole but at the same time is such an important part of the story. Because Bill and Frank were among the last of us. I’m always here for gays getting a bittersweet but happy ending. Bill and Frank found love in a hopeless place, and I love that for them.

JOEL & ELLIE GET TO LINCOLN

The Last of Us: Ellie sits, reading a letter to Joel

I saw in an interview that Nick Offerman thinks Bill and Ellie’s interactions would have been a bit like Ron Swanson and April Ludgate’s and I support this notion.

Valerie: When Ellie and Joel get to Lincoln, he punches the code in the gate and lets himself in, but when he sees dead flowers outside the house, he knows something’s off. They go inside and find a layer of dust on everything, Bill and Frank’s final meal rotting on the table. Ellie finds a key and a letter, and reads it to Joel. It’s to whoever finds it, but actually it’s to Joel, because Bill knows realistically he’s the only person who could make it through his traps. Which brought Bill great delight and he expressed as much in the letter, and Ellie reading the “hehehehes” out loud in a perfect Nick Offerman impression was delightful. Bill tells them to take everything they need in the bunker, and says he never liked Joel but he respects him. Bill found one person worth saving, and so that’s what he did. Bill tells Joel to use his loot to keep…then the next line stops Ellie in her tracks so she gives it to Joel, who takes it outside to finish reading on his own. Bill was telling him to keep Tess safe, and with that Joel tears up and so do I, because when Dad cries, I cry. I don’t make the rules.

Nic: The parallel of Bill telling Joel to keep Tess safe and Tess telling Joel to save who you can save is DEVASTATING.

Valerie: Also, this left-behind note was much better than the one Frank left in the game, which I tried my darndest to not give to Bill because it was so RUDE to the point where I even questioned if Bill and Frank were lovers or business partners, but Joel did it anyway.

The key by the note was to the truck, and he’s able to put together a working battery from Bill’s supplies. Joel says since he can’t leave Ellie with Bill and Frank, he’ll take her out west, since he has to go that way to find his brother anyway. But if they’re going to travel across the country together, she has to abide by three rules. 1. No talking about Tess, or their histories. 2. Not letting anyone see her arm or know she’s immune. 3. What Joel says goes.

Ellie agrees to these conditions, trying to mask her delight that she’s not being handed off again just yet. The duo goes down to the bunker and Ellie once again asks for a gun (“there’s a whole wall of them”) but gets denied again.

They clean up literally and metaphorically, and Ellie even finds a secret gun to stash in her bag when Joel isn’t looking.

Nic: I love these little moments between Ellie and Joel where he unknowingly starts to become that parental figure that Ellie longs for. His little “shut up” after she teases him and calls him pretty after showering is just so dang cute.

Valerie: When Ellie gets in and starts looking around with wide eyes, Joel realizes she’s never been in a car before. “It’s like a spaceship,” she says with wonderment. She doesn’t even understand the classic dad command “seatbelt” and he has to help her buckle up. She finds a cassette tape and pops it in, and almost goes to change it but Joel stops her. He likes Linda Ronstadt. And so off they go. Alone. Together.

I loved this episode so, so much. The only thing I wish we saw was some version of the gay head nod. Obviously metaphorical because Ellie never actually meets Bill or Frank but even if she had like, lingered on a painting of Bill and Frank holding hands, or asked Joel if they were in a relationship and watched his face intently for his reaction. Just something small to hint at her queerness. Because while there are little signs I might have picked up on if I hadn’t played the game (the way she flinched when Marlene said Riley’s name, the way she answered Tess’s question about a boyfriend) I might still not KNOW know yet, ya know? I just think it would have been cute. Other than that, no notes.

Nic: Oooo, I hadn’t thought of that, but I agree! A perhaps less obvious version of Waverly Earp’s “Do chicks?” This was a beautifully done episode of television, right up there with LOST’s “The Constant” for me. Surely, we’ve cried all of the tears we’re going to cry, yeah? See you here next week, friend!

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Valerie Anne

Just a TV-loving, Twitter-addicted nerd who loves reading, watching, and writing about stories. One part Kara Danvers, two parts Waverly Earp, a dash of Cosima and an extra helping of my own brand of weirdo.

Valerie has written 566 articles for us.

Nic

Nic is a Senior Product Manager at a major Publisher and lives in Astoria, NY. She is way too attached to queer fictional characters and maintains that buying books and reading books are two very different hobbies. When she's not consuming every form of fiction, you can find her dropping it low on the dance floor. You can find Nic on twitter and instagram.

Nic has written 78 articles for us.

14 Comments

  1. I was just privately screaming about this on our slack to Heather Hogan, so I will publicly scream about it instead: I LOVE THIS RECAP FORMAT AND THAT YOU BOTH ARE COVERING THIS SHOW FOR US!!!! This is so exciting, my brain feels like it will explode.

  2. I agree that a little nod towards Ellie understanding what kind of relationship Bill and Fank had would have been cool, the world wasn’t super accepting of gay people in 2003 and I doubt there had been a lot of social progress since, would have been interesting to see her reaction.

    My only disappointment for this episode was that we didn’t get Ellie finding a adult male gay magazine in the car like in the game, I was waiting for that.

    • Ditto with Ellie and the magazine. The interaction between her and Joel when she pulls it out and he’s like “OH NO SEX STUFF” and she deliberately tried to make him uncomfortable was comedy gold. But I think the tampon thing was a bit similar? Lol

  3. was i the only one left completely cold by the bill/frank plotline? i feel like i’m watching a different show from everybody else. maybe if the dialogue were less meh or the beats less predictable but… i mean, they’re literally enacting a tragic euthanasia story because one of them is disabled. that didn’t bother anybody else??? how do they go from “older means we’re still here :)” to a character deciding to end their life because he has to use a wheelchair and not see any problem with that????

    • I was wondering if I was the only one. I was pretty squicked by it for many reasons, that being one. I’m sick of watching things where people with conservative viewpoints are shown as heroic protagonists (I.e., the “don’t tread on me” flag). I thought the masc/femme rendering of the couple was boring. I was bothered by seeing yet another disabled person portrayed as better off dead, and choosing death over love. It’s hard to articulate but top to bottom, it did nothing for me/made me really uncomfortable (as a disabled person).

      I also read an article about how they completely changed that storyline from the game, which confirmed my feeling that it was melodramatic and cloying.

    • I get where you’re coming from as a person dealing with disability myself, but I think this reaction is a bit short sighted and unrealistic considering the apocalyptic setting.

      It’s clear that they have been managing Frank’s condition. They’ve somehow managed to find pills to help his symptoms, they found a wheelchair, Frank had turned to painting as a pastime, even if it’s ‘frivolous’ to prepper Bill who seems to have come around on the whole thing.

      So I don’t think this is a case of ‘disabled person better off dead’. They’ve adapted and Frank is still living, and frankly in an apocalyptic time where disabled people are at greater risk of getting infected if not torn apart by these zombies and left behind by able – bodied people who are primarily looking out for themselves and looking for every advantage and opportunity they can exploit, Frank would not have survived anywhere but in Bill’s compound with Bill taking care of him.

      Lastly, it seems that Frank might have ALS or some other degenerative neuromuscular disorder. There is no cure for this, and it isn’t clear how fast the progression has been. My father had a similar disorder, and though cancer was what ultimately took him, at the end he was unable to speak, let alone move. If he had lived longer, at some point he would no longer be able to breathe. I can definitely understand making plans to go out on your own terms before reaching a point where you don’t get to decide for yourself. And in the middle of an apocalypse where doctors and treatments are pretty much non existent? Death is coming for you in one way or another. I felt that Frank had a lot of agency here, and he had a partner who was willing to respect his wishes. He had continued living his life until he couldn’t do what he enjoyed anymore, struggling to paint.

      I’m sorry you found it cloying, but do you find all love /romance stories like that? Because I just saw it as a slice of life between a couple.

      In the game, it seems that the two had an argument and Frank left because of Bill’s inability to let go of his pepper mentality. And Frank also chooses his own death, but in this case he was infected. So, the overall outcome is the same.

    • He didn’t die because just because he became disabled, he choose to die because he had ALS or multiple sclerosis. He was chose to die before his disease progressed into what would have been a painful or drawn out death since there was no medical care available.

  4. Oooohhhh! My new favorite zombie apocalypse sub-topic:
    post-apocalyptic periods!

    So, would period blood attract zombies who find prey by smell? And what would period-havers do about it if it did? Would mentrual cups prevent it? What about emptying them?

    Would ppl use reusable pads, as you suggest? Because how would they clean them? Any water clean enough to rinse out a pad would be more valuable as drinking water. Maybe they would just carry a supply of rags and throw them out as they use them. But would zombies be attracted to the pile of used rags at a compound? Or track a group by following the trail of discarded used rags?

    And without running water, there are no more flush toilets, so would ppl who were born with vulvas all use pee devices so they could pee outside and standing up for faster, and therefore safer, urination?

    I know I would scope out all the camping stores to gear up and replace worn out gear.

    I always think of the scene in Walking Dead where the group of good guys is stalking through the woods in a clump with ppl facing out in all directions with weapons ready.

    I think that would be the reality a lot of the time. Ppl would just be nomadic and always ready and basically hiking/hunting at all times and in need of good socks and footwear.

    Sometimes I like to think about what technical clothing and gear I would wear and carry. Basically the same of backpacking but less weight and with weapons…

  5. I want to name that I have not played through either game, and understand this means I have a limited relationship with these characters as they extend beyond their current HBO iteration. I started watching HBO’s TLOU partially because I had heard excitement about this third ep, and partially bc autostraddle is covering it, and partially bc I am aware of its broader importance re queer narratives in video games.

    I so appreciate commenters A and Sola for already addressing the fraught implications of disability and suicide as they are presented in this episode, and issues such as “assisted suicide” this ep’s framing of disability / suicide calls forth.

    I personally feel varyingly disappointed and concerned by this episode. Again I want to say that I have no prior knowledge of Bill or Frank’s character, nor how their relationship or character arcs play out in the game. Still, it is important for me to mention/focus on the Bill/Frank arc as it is presented in this HBO episode, given its employment of disability/suicide in its particular way as I mention above. As previous commenters have mentioned, the Bill/Frank arc rapidly shifts from Frank naming “Older means we’re still here,” to Frank making an executive decision to take his own life.

    To me, this immediately brings to mind our real-world fraught reality medically-assisted dying, also known as medically-assisted suicide and many other names and euphemisms, as well as the violently abelist idea that it is better to or one should want to die/be dead than be disabled (notdeadyet . org/category/better-dead-than-disabled).

    Frank’s choice to die is presented to the audience abruptly, after scant shots of his use of a wheelchair and what seems to be deteriorating muscle/motor control. I do not personally feel that the audience was given enough information about the imminent quality of Frank’s mortality. We are not given information about Frank’s condition except the implication that it is worsening and that there is no cure. Frank’s choice to die, then, is made in an ambiguous context, and the audience is not given enough information to know if Frank is making his choice from a “rather die than be disabled” place.

    I wish there had at least been a line about Frank being “about to die” or some equivalent to remove the possibility that Frank could be making a choice with such ableist and deadly real-world equivalents. Leaving the direnes of Frank’s situation ambiguous seems careless at best, given the intensity of the “better dead than disabled” sentiment its ambiguity leaves it open to be associated with.

    For some context about ppl resisting the “better dead than disabled” sentiment and some existing counterarguments, Not Dead Yet is an organization I have linked to above opposing legalization of assisted suicide in its various forms. I am not part of the disabled community, so I am only aware of the complicated stances, information, and experiences surrounding death, suicide, disability, and ableism that converge in instances like that presented in this episode from an external perspective.

    An argument can be made that within the context of surviving a fungus zombie apocalypse for 20 years, this choice cannot be compared to our real-world equivalent. We are not, however, living in the world of TLOU. This episode has already made significant waves and will continue to draw an audience living in our current reality, in which ableism is interrelated with heterosexism, patriarchy, capitalism, etc. Whether the quality of Bill and Frank’s relationship as presented to us in this episode aside from this significant issue of ableism / “better dead” is worth celebrating or not, I wish autostraddle had caught and considered this episode’s messy/fraught portrayal of disability and its ableist implications (even if purely an accidental result of ambiguity, it still ought to be named and discussed imo).

  6. My straight 15 year old son cried in the Bill and Frank ep due to its depiction of a beautiful love. Broke this lesbo mother’s heart in all the right ways. It’s so fucking good to see queer love on mainstream tv.

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