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What Did The Hummingbird Symbolize In The 1883 Season 1 Finale?

The Season 1 finale of "1883," the Paramount+ prequel series to Paramount's "Yellowstone," might just be the most heartbreaking episode in the entire "Yellowstone" franchise. 

First and foremost, there are two major character deaths in the finale, both of whom successfully reach the end of their respective journeys before passing. The first is Elsa Dutton (Isabel May), who, after being gravely wounded by an arrow, makes her father, James (Tim McGraw), promise that she can pick the spot where she will die. She ends up choosing a small tree in the gorgeous Paradise Valley and dies peacefully in her father's arms. The scene is gut-wrenching and tragic, though the episode's second major death is by far the more brutal of the two.

In a time skip forward, we watch as Shea Brennan (Sam Elliott) finally completes his journey to the West Coast, and sits on a beach in Oregon to watch the waves crash against the shore. It was revealed earlier in the series that Shea's only reason for making the journey west was because of a promise he made to his wife, Helen (Melissa Ladd), who desperately wanted to see the ocean. Helen died prior to the series' start, so Shea took it upon himself to let her see the ocean through his eyes. Shea's promise is finally fulfilled, and after staring at the waves for a while, he kills himself so that he can finally be with his wife once more. 

Given how well audiences had gotten to know Shea throughout "1883" Season 1, his death is undeniably sad. Although, there is a silver lining that makes the scene a bit less heartbreaking: the unexpected appearance of a hummingbird on the beach. Here's what fans think the bird symbolizes.

Fans believe the hummingbird is symbolic of Helen

As he watches the waves roll in, Shea quietly says, "Just look at that Helen, isn't it beautiful?" Almost immediately after he says this, a small hummingbird flies right up next to his face and flits around for a moment looking right at him, as if it's trying to get his attention and keep it. It doesn't stay long, though, and when it leaves, a smile widens across Shea's face, who has finally found peace in his final moments. The "1883" Reddit community naturally began speculating on what this scene and the bird itself mean.

A prevalent theory is that the hummingbird symbolizes someone visiting Shea from beyond the grave, with a popular name being Helen. "I'm assuming the hummingbird is his wife," commented u/drawdelove, sharing a theory backed up by the fact that he had spoken about his Helen just moments before, and that his entire journey was really for her. u/Heavy-Office3112 appeared to agree with that theory, writing "The hummingbird was Helen right???" 

It could be that the hummingbird is indeed Shea's wife, who comes to see him at the end of their long journey to Oregon. After all, seeing what was supposed to be their adventure through to the end was Shea's driving purpose all along, so it makes thematic sense. Still, other fans seem to believe that it's actually an entirely different deceased character.

Others think the hummingbird represents Elsa

"It was Elsa," said u/-donttouchthat-. "The symbolism of the hummingbird is the epitome of her... Remember her talking about birds in her final moment?" Other users referenced Elsa's conversation with Shea earlier in the episode, which seems to foreshadow his meeting with the bird. "Elsa did tell him to save a spot for her (at the beach) if she didn't survive," explained u/InflationParking9185, and it seems entirely possible that the hummingbird is meant to symbolize Elsa coming back to visit Shea just like she said she would.

Then there's the third camp, which includes people who just found the whole scene absolutely tear-jerking — symbolism aside. "I know his body and soul were tired and he was ready to be with his wife and daughter," wrote u/Veroniquecouture2001, referring to Shea's last scene as "sad and also beautiful." "The beach with the hummingbird wrecked me," admitted u/thedonjefron69, and u/Hevans5 added, "I loved Shea and Elsa's little connection throughout the show."

Regardless of who the hummingbird really is, its appearance is undeniably heartwarming and makes an incredibly emotional scene even more powerful. Shea Brennan's life was dominated by war, loss, and sadness, which compounded to create the gruff, no-nonsense attitude that became his trademark. At least when he sat on that beach, looked on at the vastness of the ocean, and had the chance to breathe just a little easier, he didn't have to do so alone.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.