Warning: This article obviously contains a lot of spoilers for the third episode of The Last of Us.
The latest episode of HBO’s zombie fungus pandemic show gave us what can only be described as one of the greatest love stories of all time. Fans of the video game (on which the series is based) kind of knew what was coming—but I ended my weekend in a pool of tears and snot, desperately scrolling through Twitter so I could laugh at some silly tweets in an attempt to stave off a full-blown emotional breakdown.
Sunday night’s episode, titled “Long, Long Time,” introduces us to Bill (Nick Offerman), a doomsday prepper who believes the government is made up of Nazis and who evades his small town’s military-mandated evacuation by hiding out in a bunker he’s constructed beneath his basement. Once the town is empty, we’re treated to a montage of Bill calmly and confidently stocking up on end-of-the-world supplies, including barrels of gas and cases of wine. He boobytraps his entire property. He raises chickens. He’s a big, masculine, self-described survivalist who owns about 400 guns and has seemingly been waiting his whole life for the collapse of society.
Watching this facade both strengthen and crumble the second he meets Frank (Murray Bartlett) was just a drop in the bucket of why this is one of the best-ever episodes of television. (Another drop being that it was a gorgeous blend of rom-com meet cute and Shakespearean tragedy, all starring an older gay couple.) But during their first day together, one moment, in particular, was so silly that I had to keep thinking about it during the rest of the episode so that I didn’t just throw myself out a window: Bill’s flirty little hair flip.
Bill and Frank meet after Frank stumbles onto Bill’s property (four years after the start of the pandemic) and falls into one of his booby traps. He’s alone, starving, and the only survivor of a group that left a Baltimore quarantine zone to try and make it to Boston. Bill eventually, hesitantly invites Frank into his home, lets him shower, and cooks him an elaborate meal. Bill is elated, commenting that Frank is “a man who knows to pair rabbit with a Beaujolais.” “I know I don’t seem like the type,” Bill says—to which Frank responds, “No, you do.”
Bill sits at the other end of the table with an awkwardness that comes at the exact moment it dawns on anyone ever when they realize they’ve developed a crush. Bill has a full beard; his hair is knotted, unwashed, and falls to his chin; he’s lived without any human contact for four years; he called the soldiers who evacuated his town “new world order jackboot fucks.” He’s every right-wing, Second Amendment loving, anti-govermentista’s wet dream. But in this moment, he pours himself a glass of wine and delicately but sensually brushes a piece of hair away from his face. It’s the exact gesture that humans have used for centuries to wordlessly say, “Hey, you’re cute and I hope you think I’m cute too.”
After the meal, Bill and Frank finally kiss. They eventually fuck. And we’re catapulted into their 15-year epic love story that is so beautiful, so touching, so devastating, I question if I’ve ever even known a love story before this. One Twitter user wrote that “it is a queer story that is tragic but not traumatic, which is something so few LGBTQ characters in media get.” The viewers might be traumatized, but yes, Bill and Frank are not.
The episode is filled with similar tiny and heartwarming moments, with Linda Ronstadt’s “Long, Long Time” as the soundtrack throughout. Bill is brought to happy tears when Frank surprises him with a strawberry garden (a fruit that represents love and luck); they bicker over Frank wanting some paint to spruce up the outside of the house. I’ll refrain from any more specific spoilers or any of the other lines that made me want to rip out my heart so that I’d never have to feel this type of pain ever again. (But if you haven’t started watching the show yet, this is your sign to start!)
Still, the hair flip sticks out. The moment is blink-and-you-miss-it brief but it’s flirty. It’s pure. It’s fun! It’s watching someone feeling safe and curious enough to gently peek above their carefully constructed walls. I loved it so much. As the rest of the episode did everything it could to shred my heart into ribbons and question if I’ll ever stop crying, I would remember this moment and giggle. After the world ends, and society has crumbled, even the toughest, roughest, most survivalist-minded won’t be able to protect themselves from a crush.