As season 5, part 2 has continuously been delayed by WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, the question of John Dutton's death in the show's final installment has been up in the air, but now, even the specific way in which the series' patriarch could die is now a subject of speculation. Although Kevin Costner has portrayed the role of John Dutton for five seasons of his involvement in the final part of the series is currently unclear, leading many to theorize that his character will be killed. However, a recent finding in Costner's contract puts a unique wrench in this theory.
When journalist Matt Belloni recently wrote in his newsletter about Kevin Costner's recent struggles with theteam, he revealed that the actor has a provision in his contract called a "moral death" clause. This type of negotiation means that the creators cannot subject Costner's character to a death that would be considered embarrassing or shameful. Belloni noted that moral death clauses are considered "." More than that though, Costner's moral death provision means that is much more limited than it was before.
When it comes to an "embarrassing" death that would break the moral death clause in Kevin Costner's contract, the possibilities are seemingly endless. The term "embarrassing" is fairly subjective, so there is the chance that a death that seems innocuous would be upsetting to the actor, and as a result, break the clause. However, there are definitely some paths that the creators could go down that would undoubtedly be considered shameful by both Costner and audiences alike. Overall, these would likely be deaths that are considered easily avoidable or could only occur due to Dutton's lack of ability or intelligence, such as him tripping on a pebble and dying.
Deaths that are more likely to be embarrassing for John Dutton, and in turn, Kevin Costner, are demises that have personal ties to the character. For example, it wouldn't look very good if John Dutton died after being trampled by a horse because he has spent his entire life handling animals. Similarly, if Dutton was beat in a fight, this could be considered embarrassing because of how strong the character is typically made out to be. The same goes for illness, if it is handled incorrectly. Overall, the best way to avoid breaking the moral death clause is for John Dutton to go out in a blaze of glory.
Despite the moral death provision, it isn't impossible for to kill off John Dutton. Though there are definitely guidelines for how the show can handle it, these are not rules that will be very difficult to follow. For the most part, the series will just have to give John Dutton a death that is fitting for his character: something heroic, cowboy-esque, and respectful. This type of death could look like Dutton getting into a fight, and although he wins the conflict, he is badly wounded and dies from his injuries. Additionally, Dutton could sacrifice himself to save one of his family members.
On the other hand, if a blaze-of-glory death seems too melodramatic, the team could also just give John Dutton a quiet and respectable end. Considering his age, it wouldn't be too out of pocket for John Dutton to get sick and pass away via that route, and that could offer a satisfying end. Though illness can come with some undesirable aspects, the show could portray Dutton as strong until the very end. The show could also simply have Dutton die off-screen. This way, the character wouldn't have to show much vulnerability, and he could be remembered for how he was alive rather than dying.
If Kevin Costner truly does not come back for , then killing John Dutton may very well be the best option for the series. Although death can sometimes be embarrassing for a character, usually it is seen as honorable, and killing John Dutton would likely look much better than writing him off as being on a trip or conveniently indisposed. Overall, if Costner does decide to return to then his death probably wouldn't be entirely necessary, however, if the actor turns his back on the series, then his fictional death seems like the ideal solution to his absence.