‘The Last Of Us’ Episode 3: Who Is Bill, And What Does His Letter Mean For Joel’s Ongoing Journey?

What makes someone lose their neatly crafted, hardened exterior, signaling detachment, and apathy? Is it the right person in the worst of times? Or is it the pent-up feelings waiting for an outlet after years of hiding one’s true self? Perhaps both, as Bill’s journey during his lifetime in the post-pandemic world as showcased in the third episode “Long, Long Time” of HBO’s “The Last of Us” would suggest. The adventures of the fated pair, Joel and Ellie, take a backseat in the third chapter as the central theme of the series – what does it mean to be alive? – Is explored through the couple Bill and Frank during their sixteen years of togetherness. Showrunner Craig Mazin and creator Neil Druckmann have stated that they opted to deviate from the source material to properly flesh out the story of the couple through time, as opposed to the game, where action-oriented gameplay made it impossible to explore. Nick Offerman delivers one of the best performances of his career to portray the emotionally conflicted Bill, which goes on to show the importance of his and Frank’s stories in the context of the larger narrative.

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Spoilers Ahead


Bill And His Gradual Transformation

As we get to know from Joel and Ellie’s conversation earlier in the episode, days after the outbreak hit the country, small towns were vacated by the FEDRA in order to contain the infection. Most of the people were taken to quarantine zones, and in the case of the shelters being overcrowded, they were butchered by the military. In one such small town of Lincoln, the surviving population gets escorted by FEDRA, and we meet the character Bill observing the surveillance footage of the outside world in his attached monitor setup from the safety of his basement. Even before the pandemic became an alarming catastrophe, Bill had been a doomsday prepper, as hinted by a view of his basement, neatly arranged with firearms, ammo, and sulphuric acid. An average American conspiracy theorist adorning his “man cave” with cheesy tough-guy posters, Bill believes in conspiracies that 9/11 being an inside job, and the government being run by Nazis. He would have been a wonderful addition to the so-called “truth-seeking” Redditors in real life. The gruff, paranoid middle-aged man nearly found bliss in having the entire town to himself—a situation that would have made him utter “told you so” boastfully had a soul been present to listen. An expert in foraging, crafting, and other essential survival skills, Bill creates a self-sustaining habitat all by himself. The loner life doesn’t seem to bother him that much as we see him enjoying the sight of infected intruders getting taken down by his traps while relishing a perfectly cooked filet mignon sitting alone at his round table.

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The course of Bill’s life takes a turn after the arrival of Frank, the sole survivor among a group of refugees from Baltimore QZ, who gets caught in one of Bill’s traps. Impressed by Frank’s honesty and also probably by his resplendent smile that didn’t fade even after going through the harshness of survivor life, Bill allows Frank to enter his guarded abode – by extension, his closeted life. Bill surprises Frank with his hospitality and with the finesse he arranges a warm gourmet meal and gets surprised himself by the way Frank unshackles Bill and sees through him. While trying his hand at Bill’s vintage piano, Frank nearly butchers Linda Ronstadt’s “Long, Long Time,” something that prompts Bill to show him how it’s done by singing the composition with a personal note imbued. As Frank finds himself brought to tears by the soulful rendition of Bill, he senses the sensitive, tender self-lying in the core of his anxious, insecure exterior. As the couple kisses each other, passion gives way to years of longing.

Several more years pass by as the bittersweet relationship between the lovers grows. It’s quite fitting that Frank is a painter, as he fills Bill’s humdrum, grayish way of survival with all the colors of life. In the sequence where a younger Tess and Joel attend a garden party after being invited by Frank via radio, the anxiety of the outbreak is nowhere to be found. But Bill finds it difficult to let go of his apprehension as he keeps a cocked gun at their lunch table, pointing at Joel. However, Bill still manages to find common ground with Joel, who is quick to point out Bill’s weak spot being concerned about security. Frank helped Bill to connect with his softer side—that one that giggles while tasting the strawberries in the garden that his partner grew and immediately gets worried about losing him.

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One night, Joel’s warning about raiders invading them comes true, and Bill gets wounded while holding them off. Lying at the table, being treated by Frank, Bill’s priority is to see to the safety of Frank’s life over his own. Despite his initial reservations about Joel, Bill depends on him to safeguard Frank’s life, even in the worst-case scenario. As the years pass in the present timeline, old age has caught up to Frank, who has become paraplegic. To put an end to his suffering, he requests that Bill allow him to die with dignity, embraced in the arms of the person he loves. Bill looks at Frank with emotions ranging from hurt, disbelief, complaint, and pleading running down his face, giving away his guarded demeanor, and later starts whimpering as he agrees to give Frank a chance to have one last good day—a moment that will traumatize viewers forever. The couple gets married, and they have their last dinner together, with Bill cooking the same meal they had on their first date, only this time not at the opposite ends of the table, as Frank got Bill right by his side. Always the prepper, Bill lets Frank know he has made sure they go to their eternal sleep together. The bed they share becomes the final resting place for the couple, the house becoming their mausoleum.


What Does Bill’s Last Letter Mean For Joel’s Ongoing Journey?

This chapter on Bill and Frank takes a total departure from the game’s lore and provides a beautifully poignant closure for them, as opposed to the tragic ending for them shown in the game. In the series, Bill finds a purpose in life by having a committed relationship with the person he loves and living a full life. He shares that purpose with Joel in a letter he left for him – another major, hopeful change over the suicide note of Frank found as a letter in the game. As Joel and Ellie reach Bill and Frank’s home, they stumble across the letter. In the letter, Bill acknowledges his respect for Joel and shares that he is willing to confide in him because he considers Joel to be an empathizer. He has saved a life and found purpose in protecting him throughout his lifetime, something he knows Joel was doing too. Bill shares in the letter that he has left all his belongings for Joel to protect Tess, Joel’s recently deceased partner, whose memory Joel was seen honoring by stacking up rocks near a stream. Floodgates of emotions nearly overwhelm Joel as he somehow manages to keep his cold demeanor intact by stepping outside, away from Ellie. The letter is a reminder for him of what he considers to be his failure—his failure to save that one life, not only of Tess but of Sarah too. More determined than ever, he now knows saving Ellie will honor the memories of the departed, and that is worth more than anything. We see Joel softening up even a little bit, his fatherly feelings slowly making space for Ellie as he fastens her seatbelt, and the duo leaves for Wyoming in Billy’s pickup. As Ellie turns on the cassette player in the car, the familiar melancholy tune of Lisa Ronstadt’s “Long, Long Time” reminds us of the lives fulfilled and the promises to be kept.

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See more: ‘The Last Of Us’ Episode 3: How Does The Third Episode Differ From The Video Game?


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Siddhartha Das
Siddhartha Das
An avid fan and voracious reader of comic book literature, Siddhartha thinks the ideals accentuated in the superhero genre should be taken as lessons in real life also. A sucker for everything horror and different art styles, Siddhartha likes to spend his time reading subjects. He's always eager to learn more about world fauna, history, geography, crime fiction, sports, and cultures. He also wishes to abolish human egocentrism, which can make the world a better place.

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