Something unexpected occurred during HBO’s post-apocalyptic ‘zombie’ series, The Last of Us. Instead of terrifying viewers, a challenge the series had little problem meeting, it moved them in a way that stirred up a response unlike any I have seen in years. In the age of streaming, appointment viewing seems to have become a thing of the past. But on the night episode three of The Last of Us,“Long, Long Time,” premiered, there was a collective reaction across living rooms, text threads and social media platforms that we just witnessed something very special.
The episode, directed by Peter Hoar, essentially put a pause to the story of Joel and Ellie (Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey) – the two lone survivors at the center of the series. Instead we witnessed what turned out to be one of the most beautiful love stories in recent memory and well beyond. It focused on rugged and guarded survivalist Bill (Nick Offerman) and the stranger who happened to get caught in one of Bill’s many traps, Frank (Murray Bartlett).
The pair spend time in the fortress that is Bill’s home. It begins with a shared appreciation for food, wine, and music and ends with a decades long romance for the ages. The setting of the budding love story is a vital part of what makes it land so deeply. Surrounding Bill and Frank is a world gone to hell after a fungus, powered by the earth’s shifting climate has infected the population of the world, turning them into zombie-like creatures. In the middle of the madness these two man find a reason to live. It is beautiful pause from the chaos which taps into the core of what it means to be human, even surrounded with millions of reasons to give up.
Peter sat down with Awards Radar for a fascinating conversation about what went into making this unforgettable episode. Here are some excerpts from that conversation. It is highly recommend you listen to the complete interview we discuss MUCH more all revolving around Hoar’s dedication to delivering a story that would touch millions in addition to hopefully change hearts and minds along the way.
On his reaction to reading the script the first time:
“I mean, utterly overwhelmed, really. It was so beautifully written and Murray and Nick have done many interviews, since for the same episode. And I remember always asking, ‘What did you do? How do you do it? What was your process?’ And he said, ‘Well, in some ways, the roadmap of that script was so good, and was so beautifully written, conceived – the details were all there. It was just a gift.’ It was an utter gift from an incredible writer. It was more of a pressure of don’t screw it up, because that is possible. I’ve been sent a lot of scripts in my career and thought, ‘Aww, I really, really want that really, really’d like that,’ and then I don’t get it. Then when I see it come out, I’m like, ‘What happened? That was one of the best scripts I’ve ever read.’ I couldn’t see how it could have gone so wrong, but so that was in my head. It was just a beautiful, beautiful script. So effortless, no big bangs and crashes and screaming, it’s just great.
On the casting of Bill and Frank:
Murray was attached at that point, but Nick wasn’t. So we went looking for Nick. And that was, obviously, we know Nick was wonderful. But it was still one of those things like, ‘Nick is perfect for this role, but we’ve just never seen him do anything like this.’ We all went, ‘Well, it’s got to be him if he will do it. And and and we’ll take the rest on as it comes. He’s such a big hearted man, that once he and Murray spend any time with each other you were like, ‘Okay, yeah, they get it, they understand.’
On the small moments that make us feel:
“It’s always the little moments that need the most. And I think feeling things generally, anything we watch, any entertainment, any media, any creative product, it’s endeavor is to make us feel something. I feel like with the amount of content that’s out there, sometimes we can get a bit numb to it. I think that the big successes of recent times are the ones that just that flick that switch, and make us suddenly go, ‘I needed that and really needed that. I needed that cry, or I needed that laugh or I need my brain to be given a good workout… or whatever.” I think people were so ready for The Last of Us to affect them, but also not expecting it because it’s zombies. And they thought it would be a lot of fighting, a lot of battling, ‘ a lot of some “Endure and Survive” as one of the later episodes was called – so they would be fine with that, too. They would have been quite happy because it would have been big scale HBO stuff.”
On what the series is about at it’s core:
“It’s about why we survived not just about survival. It’s about why we survived – what’s the point? What is it that you’re surviving for? If you lose that then you’ve lost everything. That’s where we find Joel of course, because he feels that there’s a point where Joel is really bitter – bitter and lost. He loses his daughter then he endures that the remaining years. He’s tried to kill himself and he sees that a very uncomfortable future for himself. So then Ellie comes along, and that gives him that reason again. So it’s really simple and beautiful father daughter story. From the brutal start to the to the beautiful end, which has also been brutal, to be quite honest. But when he says, ‘Baby girl, it’s me.’ It’s had people crying.”
These excerpts have been edited to clarity and brevity.
Watch Peter’s breathtaking work and all of The Last of Us season one, now streaming on Max.