Spoilers ahead for season 5, part 1.
A new season 5, part 2 update regarding Kevin Costner's role in the popular series suggests one truly devastating John Dutton theory is now unavoidable. Reportedly, batch, even though previous dispatches from the show suggested the lead actor was heavily involved in deciding (and signing off on) his character's series finale fate. While the news might be upsetting for fans of the neo-Western drama, it's not entirely surprising. After the first half of season 5 aired, stories about an on-set rift between Costner and series creator Taylor Sheridan began cropping up.
Although pay disputes were an element of the falling-out, it seems the crux of the conflict stems from Costner taking issue with the show's creative direction. In the wake of the friction, it was soon reported that the second half of season 5 would also serve as the series finale. Costner's John Dutton, a resilient rancher and strong-willed patriarch, is currently serving as Montana's governor. Wielding more political power than ever before, John's personal troubles may have him in over his head. Not only are the ranch's cattle in jeopardy, but a few members of could ruin John — and his legacy.
Without a doubt, Kevin Costner's reported absence from the show's final outing supports a well-worn theory that John Dutton will die before the series wraps. While has been up for debate, John is often ranked among the most likely deaths. "" John says, sharing some sage cowboy wisdom. It's how he's survived so long — and how the Duttons have held on, building a legacy that stretches across several centuries. If every great Western really does end in a shootout, John might get caught in the cross-hairs.
Fan-created have gained steam in the wake of the season 5, part 1 finale. In "A Knife and No Coin," the series' mid-season finale, Jamie Dutton (Wes Bentley) moves against his sister, Beth (Kelly Reilly), and his father, threatening to reveal John's involvement in several murders (and the Duttons' long-time dumping ground for bodies). That kind of reveal would threaten the ranch's stability, John's position as governor, and the Dutton legacy as a whole. Plus, in the show's prequel series, , a prophecy claimed the Duttons would lose the land after seven generations, and John's death could help tee that up.
It's difficult to imagine any scenario in which the show could satisfyingly explain John Dutton's glaring absence from if he's alive. No matter the odds, John would fight to the death to hold onto the ranch and its stolen land. It would be difficult to accept him simply moving on from the ranch or avoiding his kids' sure-to-be-violent clash. On the other hand, an off-screen death doesn't really do the character justice either. If Jamie moves forward with sending an assassin after his kin, a Costner body double could end up on the wrong end of a rifle.
Still, knowing it's not really Costner's John Dutton in any potential death scene would weaken the overall emotional impact. Crimes like the ones John committed would land him in prison. An incarcerated, impeached John could explain away his absence from the final showdown(s) at the ranch, but it would still feel clunky. It's hard to know the right narrative approach for a Costner-less . But, in all likelihood, an inventive, off-screen death that has bearing on the overall plot of the series might just be the simplest way to handle the situation. No matter what Sheridan chooses, it'll be divisive given John Dutton's impact.
The rise of the anti-hero narrative in television spawned all-time great characters, from ' Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) to 's Walter White (Bryan Cranston). John Dutton, a rancher who isn't afraid to be ruthless for the sake of his family (and legacy), is a lot like TV's most memorable anti-heroes. At times, the most satisfying ending for these types of characters' stories culminates in their long-awaited deaths. Even after the series finale's infamous cut to black. With being rooted in both the Western and anti-hero narrative traditions, it seems like death awaits John Dutton too.
Since he'd do anything for the ranch, John's death might signal the end of the Duttons' reign. With Beth's husband, Rip Wheeler (Cole Hauser), taking the reins at Yellowstone Ranch, the newly minted leader could move the business elsewhere in the wake of John's death. While John's grandson, Tate Dutton (Brecken Merrill), is another potential heir to the ranch (by way of his own father, Kayce), he's also a member of the Indigenous people who first worked and lived on the land. Undoubtedly, is exactly the kind of show that would romanticize this kind of symbolism-laden passing of the torch — but John would first need to die.