Goodness gracious, what a spectacular episode of TV. The Last of Us Episode 3 took a detour in a completely surprising and unexpected way, and it absolutely blew everyone away. Bill and Frank’s love story, in the most improbable and darkest of times, started off with a single song. So, what song were Bill and Frank playing on the piano in The Last of Us?
The song that Bill and Frank played and sang on the piano and that Joel and Ellie later played on the radio in the car is called Long Long Time by Linda Ronstadt. Not only was it a beautiful song that brought the two men together, but it has a much deeper meaning in the context of the show.
For those who don’t know, Linda Ronstadt was an absolute smash hit during her career, winning a staggering eleven Grammy awards, along with countless huge hits just like Long Long Time. Why this particular song for the show, though? And were Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett really playing the piano and singing? Here’s everything you want – and need – to know.
Who are Bill and Frank in The Last of Us?
WARNING: Major spoilers for The Last of Us Tv series Episode 3 and The Last of Us video game! If you don’t want the characters and plot spoiled to you, stop reading right here!
For those who don’t know – or knew but now forgot – Bill and Frank appear in The Last of Us video game as well. Granted, their storyline is quite tiny in the context of the entire game, but it’s very beautifully expanded – and pretty much changed – in the show. Let’s focus on Bill and Frank in the show first and then talk about their relationship in the game.
We first meet Bill, a prepper (or a survivalist, as he tells Joel later in the episode), who turned his small town into a private quarantine zone almost immediately after the apocalypse struck. He gathered supplies, built a fence, booby traps, and holes, and essentially created a self-sustaining safe haven where he lived alone for about four years.
That is until Frank – a wandering survivor trying to get to Boston – fell into one of Bill’s holes. Eventually, Bill reluctantly keeps Frank alive and allows him to take a shower. He even makes him a beautiful meal before sending him on his way. But, before leaving, Frank notices a piano, and the two play a single song together.
That one song absolutely opens them up, and they decide to stay together. Over the course of the next two decades, Bill and Frank live in their quarantine, taking care of each other. Bill is still stuck in his ways and closed off, while Frank wants to live more freely and meet friends. That’s how they met Joel and Tess.
Long story short, in 2023, we see that Frank is terminally ill, likely from some type of sclerosis. He asks Bill to marry him, cook a nice dinner, and then lace his wine with a ton of pills and take him to bed to just fall asleep in his arms. Bill does so but drinks the laced wine as well, and the two die together next to an open window in their bedroom.
In the video game, however, their story has a much darker ending. They were never explicitly stated to be romantic partners but just – partners. However, numerous hints pointed at the couple being romantically involved – like the stack of gay magazines found underneath Bill’s car seat.
Eventually, Frank grows tired of Bill and decides to leave him. He goes to a different part of town, where he, unfortunately, gets infected. Frank leaves Bill an incredibly spiteful message, saying he hated him before hanging himself before the cordyceps kicks in.
I love that the show took a different route, especially with that insanely emotional piano scene. The performances of both Murray Bartlett and Nick Offerman – were just outstanding.
The way Bill – a tough guy with seemingly no emotion – starts to crack as they start playing the song, and how Frank’s tear rolls won his face – it was the start of something special and an absolute highlight of an episode that The Last of Us fans were totally unprepared for.
What song were Bill and Frank playing on the piano in The Last of Us?
Just like that song on the radion in Episode 1, which was Depeche Mode’s Never Let Me Down Again, Episode 3 featured a brilliant old hit throughout the entire episode – starting with the scene where Bill and Frank first met and played it on Bill’s vintage piano. So, what was that song’s name?
The song they play is called Long Long Time by Linda Ronstadt. The song was one of the greatest hits released in 1970, but it was far from the only hit the famous singer had ever produced. Ronstadt is one of the greatest stars of her generation, with countless hits and eleven Grammies.
But this particular song isn’t just a beautiful song the writers chose. It has such a deep meaning, both for Frank and Bill and for the show’s future. I promise I’ll get to that in a moment. The bigger question that you probably want to be answered is right below.
Is Nick Offerman really playing the piano and singing in The Last of Us?
So, the scene where Frank plays the piano so badly, and then Bill takes over, was insanely iconic. It felt so real, so emotional, and so deep, you had to wonder – is this really Nick Offerman singing and playing the piano here? The answer – is a resounding ‘yes.’
In a recent interview, Peter Hoar – the director of this particular episode of The Last of Us, shared that it was not just real – it was performed live:
“We did some training if that’s the right word. Some singing training. [Murray] was very good, but he had to be bad. And Nick was worried about not being good enough. That [singing] is real, by the way, that’s live. It wasn’t about perfection. It was about heart, it was all about digging into that.”
He then went a step further with the explanation when talking to Esquire:
“We shot [Bill singing to Frank] live, so that’s his voice recorded live. Craig was quite particular about the cadences in the song, why he picked that song, and why it had to sound the way it should sound. Because, of course, we had Murray doing it badly and then Nick doing it well. And Nick’s not a singer. I think some of the requests regarding cadence were quite complicated.
They were for me. And I just thought, Nick, just do it with your heart and love it and just be relaxed. And he did. And we shot it with three cameras, so we didn’t have to re-shoot angles. I was worried because I was facing away from the windows— and that meant visually, it wasn’t as pretty as if we’d have gone the other way.
But of course, if I had, you wouldn’t have seen anything. It worked really well. You’ve got the sun in Murray’s eyes and the little tear that comes out. He’s so soft.”
So, both of them actually sang their parts in the scene. But what about playing the piano? Well, as it seems, both of them actually played the piano as well. Nick Offerman is known as a quite musically-gifted actor, as he grew up playing the saxophone and the piano.
Murray Bartlett, however, seemed to have learned to play for this particular role – or, at least, practiced a bit. In 2021, he told The Guardian he had an anxiety-filled dream about producers critiquing his piano playing. In hindsight, that probably came while practicing for this particular role in The Last of Us. Don’t worry, Murray, you did a great job, too – just sloppy enough to work!
Why is that song so important for the show?
I know I’ve been rambling for a while now, but I just wanted to hit the nail on the head for those who just thought this was a filler episode and had no particular significance for the show. You’d be very wrong because – oh yes, it’s significant. That song, in particular, holds so much meaning, both for Bill and Frank and for Joel, Ellie, and their relationship going forward.
Firstly, Bill sings the lyrics that go: “‘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.” Frank then realizes Bill wasn’t singing about a girl but a man – he was hiding his true self his entire life and never got to experience a relationship with another man.
That is until he found Frank in the most unimaginable, improbable time and place possible. And, the lyrics, saying ‘I’m gonna love you for a long, long time,’ proved to be just that – the couple stayed together for over twenty years, instead of a couple of hours, as Bill intended in the first place.
The song became a symbol of Bill opening his heart and finally letting somebody in despite him being so protective, closed off, and stuck in his ‘survivalist’ ways. Had he not done it, he would’ve never met Frank – the love of his life – and would probably live a lonely, miserable life.
But, the song appears yet again – in the car, as Joel and Ellie drive off. Joel lost everything – he lost Sarah in the first episode, then Tess in the next chapter. Naturally, he’s completely shut off emotionally. But, after reading Bill’s suicide note left for him, saying that’s not the way to live a life, Joel realizes he has to let someone in.
That someone will be Ellie, as he will grow fond of the girl. He’ll open himself up to love and friendship, and that song they played on the radio, Long Long Time, will be the start of a beautiful relationship between Joel and Ellie (not romantic, but pure, platonic love), just like it was for Bill and Frank.
And, that final scene of the episode – the one where we see the opened window of Bill and Franks’ bedroom, overlooking the road with a car riding off into the sunset while Long Long Time plays in the background? It’s not just a nod to the start screen in the game – it’s a precognition of a new beginning for Joel and Ellie.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to sob uncontrollably in the corner under a blanket, waiting for February 5, when The Last of Us Episode 4 hits HBO Max.
*All images used in the article are property of HBO