The Last of Us’ widely-acclaimed third episode was originally two hours long, according to co-creator and co-writer Craig Mazin.

Titled ‘Long Long Time’, the episode shifts focus from series protagonists Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) to chronicle the love story between paranoid survivalist Bill (Nick Offerman) and his partner Frank (Murray Bartlett).

Written by Mazin, who helms the series alongside the original game’s creator Neil Druckmann, Long Long Time was met with overwhelming praise for the script, Offerman and Bartlett’s performances and its subversion of harmful LGBTQ+ tropes.

It has since been hailed as one of the best episodes of television ever broadcast.

Speaking with Deadline, Mazin said he “knew” the episode was special once he saw the director’s cut, which was “almost two hours”.

“I was like, oh, that’s probably not good. And I sat down, but I’m like, “OK, I’ll watch the two-hour version of this episode.” And I cried so hard that at one point, I actually said out loud, “Ow.” I mean, it hurt. I cried so hard; it hurt,” he revealed.

“And I thought,” Well, if these guys can do this to me and I wrote this f**king thing, then I think it might work pretty well on other people.” Now, we did work really hard to, but we knew we couldn’t put a two-hour version of this thing out there.”

Mazin continued to explain that the crew “didn’t quite have the luxury” of keeping the episode at its original length, “but HBO was kind enough to let us go a bit long”.

“And look, I never want to overstay my welcome,” he added.

“I always want to leave people wanting more. But this is a longer episode, and what’s really interesting is, even though I think it’s like 73 minutes long, so many people who have seen it have said that hour flew by.

“And I’m like; it wasn’t just an hour. It was 1 hour and 12 minutes. And so that’s, I think, a real achievement. But it was really when I saw Peter and Tim’s cut that I just thought like, “Wow, this one got me right here.””

In his interview with GAY TIMES, Bartlett said Long Long Time is “beautifully surprising” because of how “unexpected” it is in the genre.

“Not only that, it’s not a stereotypical queer relationship. The relationship itself is surprising and dismantles a lot of those stereotypes. It doesn’t even entertain the stereotypes,” he shared.

“This is starting to sound grand – I do have a great love for this episode so it’s hard not to talk about it in grand terms sometimes – but I think in terms of queer relationships in film and TV, this is unique.”

In an action-packed, CGI-filled show such as The Last of Us, Bartlett commended how “humanity never gets lost, and these beautiful human stories get as much attention as all the bigger stuff”.

On how the episode will – or should – blaze a new trail for queer characters in the hetero-dominated action and horror genres, Offerman told us: “Anytime we can promote with our storytelling the idea that girls can swing a hammer and men can bake cookies and every possible combination and permutation, I love that.

“Hopefully, in action and horror, which are very populist genres, if we can continue to break down those walls, the better. That’s a much more medicinal way of doing what we do for a living than just telling or ripping good yarn.”

You can read our full interview with Bartlett, Offerman and director Peter Hoar here.