Warning: This article contains spoilers for The Last of Us episode 3, “Long Long Time.”
The Last of Us handily proved it could tug at our collective heartstrings in its first three episodes. But it’s Sunday night’s outing, the mostly standalone episode “Long Long Time,” that dealt us a collective gut punch thanks to a love story brought to life with help from a 1970 song.
The episode follows Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett), who stumble upon each other and fall in love in the wake of the fungal outbreak and spend years together before their tragic end. Part of what facilitated their getting together in the first place was a serenade of the Linda Ronstadt song “Long Long Time” (which doubles as the episode title) after Frank discovers a book of sheet music called the Best of Linda Ronstadt.
“Oh my God, this is my favorite,” Frank says after guessing that the book matched his impression of Bill. He sits down to play the song, and while he can play the piano fine enough, Frank cannot sing to save his life. Bill gets him to stop, but he’s goaded into playing if only to get Frank to leave his home. He then plays a slower rendition of the song before they share their first kiss.
At the end of the episode, Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) hear the song—the original version by Ronstadt—on a mix tape Frank made for Bill that Joel initially wanted to turn off. Joel recognizes Ronstadt’s voice, but Ellie has no idea who she is.
It might not have been a song every viewer would have recognized right away, but according to co-creator Craig Mazin, that was by design.
“I had the thought that this would happen, that there was a song that would be played, and that we would be surprised by who was good at it and who was bad at it,” Mazin told IndieWire in a postmortem interview. “I remember saying to Neil, ‘I’m not sure what the song is, I just know that it has to be this incredibly sad song about yearning for love, and never getting love, and just making your peace with the fact that you will always be alone. But it can’t be on the nose. And it can’t be a song that we all know.’”
In a way, the use of “Long Long Time” in The Last of Us is comparable to how Stranger Things implemented Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” last year: A needle drop that, no matter how familiar you were with the song before, delivers. It’s not just a great song on its own, but it resonates. And it’s not even the only time it happens: The Last of Us uses Max Richter’s “On the Nature of Daylight” (an instrumental piece previously featured in Arrival) later in the episode to great effect.
“How many people do you think learned about Linda Ronstadt for the first time last night?” @alex_b82 tweeted. “Excited for them.”
On TikTok, many videos using audio from “Long Long Time” were dedicated to Bill and Frank or chronicled how emotionally devastated the episode made them to the tune of thousands of views. While we might not have renditions or many elaborate fan videos quite yet, it’s only a matter of time.
@anntokkii the way I was sobbing hysterically || #thelastofus #thelastofusshow #tlou #tloushow #lindaronstadt #longlongtime #pedropascal #bellaramsey #hbo #hbomax #joelmiller #fypシ ♬ Long Long Time – Remastered – Linda Ronstadt
@aloe.beans I love how they changed this little story for us #fyp #tlouhbo #tlouhboepisode3 #billandfrank ♬ Long Long Time – Remastered – Linda Ronstadt
Some people even imagined Ronstadt’s reaction to seeing the uptick in interest in the decades-old song.
And there was a lot of interest in the song. According to Spotify, just a couple of hours after “Long Long Time” aired, there was a 4,900% increase in streams of the Ronstadt song compared to streams last week. Given the interest in The Last of Us and its use of music, it’s probably not the last time we’ll see that bump in effect.