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The Saddest Yellowstone Moments So Far

"Yellowstone" exists in the tough, unforgiving world of Montana ranching, one steeped in American cowboy mythology. In many respects, it's paradigmatic of the Western genre. Its story offers a unique twist by pitting the legendary Wild West of yesteryear against modern infiltrators. This framing brings a new type of sadness unknown to John Dutton's ancestors. When asked what's killing her father, Beth Dutton replies, "The 20th Century."

The series is rife with flashbacks, and many sad moments pop up there to explain who the Duttons are and why they are that way. There are also some terrors in the present, from death and abuse to longtime friendships being tested in the worst way. There are also bittersweet, heartwarming moments, but this isn't a show about happy-go-lucky people with easy lives. The series explores conflict not just between cowboys and Indians but also between a violent, unscrupulous modern world and the equally violent, yet principled past. 

The show might be renewed for Season 5, meaning there will be more sorrow to share. For now, though, here are the saddest moments on Yellowstone thus far. 

Lee's death

The darkness that lies just beneath the surface is present right from the start of the series. Lee is the eldest Dutton, and the one who's seemingly the most at peace with himself, the world, and his place in it. He probably smiles more in the pilot than Kayce does in the whole series. He loves the ranch and the cattle and appears to be untouched by the corruption necessary to keep both. In many ways, he seems to be John's favorite.

That's a huge part of why his death in the pilot is so tragic. It comes as the result of a media stunt perpetrated by the new head of the Standing Rock tribe, Chief Rainwater. The tribe keeps a large chunk of the Dutton herd that had broken loose and refuses to return them. What should have been a chest-puffing show of bravado ends up in Lee's death. Kayce, who had sided with the tribe, finds his brother shot by his wife's brother. Kayce feels he must kill his brother-in-law in revenge. 

When Kayce returns home with his dead brother slung over his horse, you can feel the pain. While it does bring the family together, it's still a painful opening.

Terrified Tate

Another hauntingly sad face is that of Tate Dutton when he's finally recovered from the militia that had kidnapped him at the behest of the Beck brothers. Tate had been kept in a house that looks like a meth den, with death metal blaring and the dregs of humanity surrounding him. His head had been shaven. The look on his face is truly haunting, to the point that Kayce is told he shouldn't see how the boy was held.

Of all the Duttons, Tate is the only one who could be called an innocent (except Monica, though she's only a Dutton by marriage and the argument can be made that she chose to marry into the family). To see him endure such a horrible experience is simply tragic. It sticks with him until he finally goes camping with his grandfather, his father, and the cowboys to rediscover the beauty of the outdoors.

Beth's assistant gets killed

The Beck brothers really did a number on everybody, which is why their deaths were some of the most satisfying in the series. When they go in to attack Beth, they find her and her poor hapless assistant, Jason, who had moved up there from the Salt Lake City office and didn't even know what to wear for the Montana cold. To prove how serious they are, the Beck brothers kill the kid. It gets glossed over when Rip rescues Beth and their love becomes stronger. Yet the fact remains that her poor assistant, just a 20-something kid with dreams of making it big in the world of agribusiness, gets cut down in his prime. Beth survives, albeit with some serious facial scars. 

Jason isn't the only person to pay the ultimate price simply for signing on as an assistant to a successful American businesswoman. At the end of Season 3, a package arrives for Beth and her new assistant opens it. Of course, that young woman bears the brunt of the explosion. Beth survives, accruing more scars. So the lesson is, don't be Beth's assistant.

Rip's house gets torched

Rip has never had anything. As a kid he saw his father butcher his family, so he killed the old man and ran off. He was discovered in the Dutton barn, a kid full of fear, sadness, and anger. Instead of turning him in to the law, John offers him a job. 

Rip becomes been the most loyal person in John's life, his only indiscretion being his affair with John's daughter Beth, which eventually becomes seemingly the only good thing in her life. He never asks John for anything, eventually telling Finn that a person should never believe they deserve the chance they have. Rip pushes himself hard, running John's ranch and doing his dirty work. 

When John gives Rip the cabin on his property, the stoic Rip comes the closest to melting that we will ever see. It's more than just a house; it's a symbol of how much he means to the man who has meant everything to him. Rip's love of his gift is so intense that Lloyd says he doesn't even want to tell Rip that, in the Season-3-ending attack on the ranch, the militia burned down his house — the only thing that was ever his, filled with what few possessions he'd accumulated. Like always, Rip handles this impassively, while the rest of us collapsed into our own sadness.

Rip fights Lloyd

Rip is a lone wolf. He has no family and no friends, or so it seems. Lloyd, the ranch's token old-timer, is the only person in the bunkhouse who has meant almost as much to the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch as Rip. He's a fixture of the modern Dutton operation, as essential as the buildings and the livestock. By default, their lives have by the time of "Yellowstone" become intertwined. Rip even asks Lloyd to be his best man after he and Beth finally decide to get married.

That's what makes it so sad when Rip has to beat up Lloyd for fighting Walker in the bunkhouse. Of course, Lloyd is sore over the fact that Walker took his sweetheart buckle bunny. And Walker certainly isn't the most enthusiastic member of the Dutton Ranch. Still, there's no fighting in the bunkhouse. So Rip has to enforce the rule on his only friend. 

The complex mix of emotions, history, lifelong loyalties makes this fight possibly the saddest thing to happen in the bunkhouse.

Beth's unknowing sterilization

For the first few seasons of "Yellowstone," you couldn't help but wonder why Beth hates Jamie so much. She never misses an opportunity to insult or bully him. At first gloss, it seems like little more than sibling rivalry taken too far by a bitter, unstable mess of a woman.

In Season 3, though, we discover the horrible truth in a flashback. As a young teenager, Beth gets pregnant with Rip's child. Jamie, the older brother, takes her to get an abortion, the one big thing she's ever asked him for help with. He takes her to a clinic on the reservation to keep it hidden. When he checks her in, he's told that the clinic requires the woman to get sterilized as part of the abortion procedure. Jamie gives them the go-ahead without discussing it with Beth, who unwittingly gives up her ability to ever have a baby. She later learns the truth. Her sorrow over this loss is partly why she's so self-destructive and why she hates Jamie so much. To be dealt such a sentence at such a young age by the very brother she thought she could trust is truly devastating.

John's last moment with his dad

There don't seem to be any happy flashbacks in "Yellowstone" and this one is no exception. John is out riding with his father, John Sr., an old man nearing the end of his life. When John tells his father he'll miss him, John Sr. replies that he won't.

"You'll miss what I was a long time ago... And when you get to my age, only thing you miss is being young. The chance to do it all over. See the look of wonder in your grandchildren's eyes. The look in your eyes when you were a kid. I'm gonna miss all this. I miss—I miss your mother. And your brother ... Guess I miss more than I thought... I'm tired of talking, son."

Having that profound last talk with Dad is always sad. But it hurts especially when Dad, who had always been so strong, sounds so broken-down and tired. The scene also explains why John fights so hard for the ranch: In that last talk, Pops made him promise not to lose "a god****ed inch" of the ranch.

Only those Beth loves die

Early in the series, Rip asks Beth to go with him to a music festival. She tells him to take her on a date that better fits her. He suggests they get drunk and watch wolves take down an elk in the Park and she gets her keys.

When she's good and plastered, she charges at the wolves, screaming. Rip jumps to attention and asks her why would she do something crazy like that. She replies, "It's only the things I love that die," adding that she's surprised Rip is still alive.

Later we see another tragic flashback, where Beth accidentally is the cause of her mother's death while out riding. She has also explained that part of her dad died when her mom died, so she feels doubly guilty. 

Carter telling off his dead junkie father

Carter is rapidly becoming the newest addition to the Dutton family, even if his adoptive parents Rip and Beth certainly aren't giving him an easy time of it. 

The scene where Beth becomes his guardian is truly tragic. The boy is sitting outside the hospital on a bench when Beth sits down next to him. He tells her that his dad is in a coma due to heroin and his mom is gone. A nurse comes out to tell Carter it's time to say goodbye. Carter, who realizes he will soon be orphaned, gives his unresponsive father a heartbreaking message: "F*** you for leaving me in this place with nothing and nobody." Obviously, the ever-hard, always-angry Beth can appreciate the sentiment and his ability to actually say how he feels.

Carter's future on the ranch has yet to be revealed, but there are probably fewer things sadder than watching your father die because of his drug addiction.

Monica and the predator

Life out West isn't easy for anybody, but Native American women have it especially hard. The epidemic of missing native women has been documented for years, and the public is finally paying attention to it and demanding that something be done. Monica Dutton, wanting to do just that, agrees to act as bait for a suspected predator who had been abducting, torturing, and killing women. 

This whole arc is painful. She gets picked up by a man who pretends to be kind, but really wants to rape and murder her. The terror she feels as she discovers that she's now on the way to his private killing grounds is hard to watch. Luckily, she's part of a sting, and he gets shot in the head before he can grievously harm her. Still, she ends up covered in his blood. The location he took her to turns out to be full of remains. While it brings closure to the families of the deceased, it's still haunting to consider how those women spent their last minutes alive.

Though she did the right thing, Monica collapses in endless tears.

Samantha Long kills herself

Samantha Long has a brief appearance on "Yellowstone." She's Monica's sister-in-law, the widow of her brother, whom her husband had killed in vengeance for his own brother. With no man to support them and therefore little hope, Long kills herself so her kids can have a better life.

It's tough to imagine having to make that choice — to know your future is so bleak that ending your own life is the only way to give your kids a shot. This is a commentary on the state of America's tribal reservations, where the lack of opportunities and money makes life hopeless for many citizens.

While the series starts with John Dutton and Chief Rainwater as rivals and their eventual alliance against the encroaching developers is uneasy at best, one can't help but feel at least a little that the Chief and his tribe are right that the Duttons have so much while they have so little. Given the brief interaction between native and Dutton ancestors shown in the tie-in to the new spinoff series "1883," one can only hope that the Dutton Ranch eventually does something for the natives with whom they have more in common than the white transplants arriving in droves.

John opens the series by shooting his horse

The "Yellowstone" pilot is full of moments and details that reverberate throughout the series. The opening scene may be the most poignant. John Dutton is injured in a car accident on the side of the road caused by a trencher, likely for Dan Jenkins' new development. He finds his horse badly injured and says, "The best I can offer you is peace," before shooting the animal to put it out of its misery.

Anybody who has had a pet knows how difficult this loss is. It leads John to remark to his cows, "The things we lose to keep you fed." It's a somber and symbolic moment, with John and the horse touching heads before he pulls the trigger. The legendary Kevin Costner acts the heck out of this scene, really making the audience feel his character's pain. 

This happens within the first few minutes of the show. At least the series gave us fair warning from the beginning that it would present us with a lot of sad moments along the way.