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Yellowstone season 4 release date, cast, and plot - What we know so far

Yellowstone season 3 came and went like a bucking horse, and that gruesome final episode has left fans on the edge of their seats, waiting for season 4 to come around and resolve some of those deadly cliffhangers. When you drop a finale like "The World is Purple" on a fanbase as rabid as Yellowstone's, you have to expect that the off season will be full of feverish speculation.

Yellowstone is the Paramount Network's flagship series. It's a stylish neo-Western about the family-owned Yellowstone Ranch and the Dutton family who works to protect their land through violence, intimidation, and a corrupt hold on the mechanisms of state in Montana. The series blends elements of family drama, crime drama, soap opera, and Shakespearean tragedy into a delightful cocktail with a cowboy hat for a garnish.

Not only is Yellowstone the Paramount Network's first experiment with an expensive, scripted prestige drama, it's also a runaway hit. Season 3 pulled in the series' strongest ratings yet, premiering to 4.2 million viewers, more than doubling the audience of its closest Sunday night competition. As a result, the season 4 renewal was all but a foregone conclusion, which means the only part left is the waiting. Here's everything we know so far about Yellowstone's next act.

When is the release date of Yellowstone season 4?

Season 3 of Yellowstone aired its final episode on August 24, 2020. Paramount Network had already ordered a fourth season way back in February — months before the season 3 premiere in June — allowing the creative team to prepare for some longer story arcs. We don't yet have an official release date, but we can infer a few things from the state of the industry in general and the timing of previous seasons.

Given all the production delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, there was some concern that Yellowstone might lapse into an extended hiatus despite the early renewal. While the series, which shoots primarily on location in Utah and Montana, did meet with a few delays as a result of the industry-wide shutdown, filming resumed shortly before the season 3 finale aired and appears to be back on track. The first three seasons all premiered in June, and we expect the same will be true of season 4. Look for new episodes to start airing on schedule, some time in June 2021

Who is in the cast of Yellowstone season 4?

Spoilers for season 3 of Yellowstone from here on out

Well ... that season 3 finale really threw us a curve ball. Yellowstone spared both of the characters we were the most worried about, and instead opted to dangle some very unlikely candidates over some very high cliffs. After that coordinated hit against the Duttons went off without a hitch in the last five minutes of "The World is Purple," we can't say for certain whether we'll be seeing more of Kevin Costner as John Dutton, Kelly Reilly as Beth Dutton, or Luke Grimes as Kayce Dutton. Those are some big names to lose, so we'd be shocked if the writers followed through and finished all three off in one fell swoop. That said, Costner's wounds looked pretty serious.

All but certain to return are the characters who made it out of season 3 (largely) unscathed. Kelsey Asbille, Brecken Merrill, Wes Bentley, Cole Hauser, Wendy Moniz-Grillo, Gil Birmingham, Jefferson White, Denim Richards, Forrie Smith, and rising fan favorite Jen Landon are all overwhelmingly likely to reprise their roles. Newcomer Eden Brolin, who played Jimmy's love interest, Mia, also seems like she's got a bigger role to play, which means the likely return of her fellow "buckle bunny," Laramie (Hassie Harrison), as well. And, of course, season 3 paved the way for us to see much more of Lost alum Josh Holloway as the nefarious hedge fund manager, Roarke Morris. 

One open question is whether or not we'll see the inevitable return of Katherine Cunningham in the role of Christina, Jamie's former campaign manager and current baby momma. That's one ticking time bomb of drama that the series has yet to explode.

What is the plot of Yellowstone season 4?

Season 3 was less a self-contained story, and more a prelude to the mounting conflict over the massive Dutton land trust. Just as season 1 set up the conflict between John Dutton, Dan Jenkins (Danny Huston), and Chairman Rainwater to be resolved by force in season 2, season 3 opened up a new front in the Montana land war, and this one implicates a too-big-to-fail hedge fund with the backing of Governor Perry. Season 4 will have to resolve all the shorter lines of dramatic tension left over from that brutal season 3 finale before engaging with the longer lines of tension: Roarke Morris' big airport plans, Jamie's betrayal of the family, the future of the reservation, and the fate of John Dutton's prized estate.

If season 4 follows the pattern, we will likely see the introduction of a new player — or players — who alters the terms of the conflict and shuffles the current state of play. As it stands, the Duttons' interests are aligned with Chairman Rainwater's. John and Rainwater make unlikely bedfellows as they fight with pistols and paperwork to preserve the sanctity of the valley they both aspire to own in perpetuity. If John is truly dead, and his surviving children inherit his estate, will they fight with the same fervor to preserve the family legacy? Before John's murder, it seemed like most of his children favored taking the buy out. How will their father's murder change their disposition? Beth, in particular, is a savvy businesswoman, but she puts at least as much stock in revenge as she does in profits.

We'll keep you updated as more details become available.