Since first premiering in 2018, Yellowstone has only managed to add to its herd of devoted viewers. The neo-Western drama follows the Dutton family, a seven-generation dynasty of Montana ranchers, as they attempt to maintain control of the 50 acres of land that make up the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch.
At the helm is John Dutton III (Kevin Costner), the father of Jamie (Wes Bentley), Beth (Kelly Reilly), Kayce (Luke Grimes), and the late Lee (Dave Annable), whose death kicks off the entire series. The show is as much about the family and their adversaries as it is about the wranglers and farmhands, including fan favorites Rip (Cole Hauser) and Jimmy (Jefferson White). Premiering among a spate of stories about family dynasties and generational wealth (the show first aired just weeks after the Succession pilot), Yellowstone has carved out its own niche as a modern day cowboy epic.
Created by Taylor Sheridan, the Paramount Network's flagship series has launched an empire of its own, including the Dutton family Paramount+ prequels 1883 and 1923 (with more reportedly coming our way). While the spin-offs have found their own audiences (thanks in no small part to starring turns from Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren), nothing has come quite as close to the acclaim of the original. Despite its seemingly endless viewership success, the show will come to a conclusion late next year with a final slew of Season 5 episodes.
With the end in sight, we thought that it might be time to take a hard look at the best that the show has to offer. From the Duttons' land wars to their interpersonal turmoil, we've ranked the 10 best episodes of Yellowstone so far.
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While Yellowstone spends half of the first season figuring itself out (and determining what it wants to do with Kayce), "No Good Horses" is a rare early standout. The episode is essential viewing, since it reveals the details of Evelyn Dutton's death, an event tip-toed around in previous episodes. In a cold open flashback, it's shown that Evelyn was crushed to death by her horse while out on a ride with a young Beth and Kayce. It becomes clear that Evelyn favored Kayce over Beth and that Beth blames herself for her mother's death, explaining some of her adulthood self-hatred. In the present, each of the family members grapple with the anniversary of Evelyn's death in their own way: John shacks up with the governor, Beth and Kayce get into their own respective brands of trouble, and Jamie forgets.
In Season 3, Yellowstone once again spends its first half meandering without any clear arc, but it's "Cowboys and Dreamers" that sets the season on its path. While Kayce's first big case as livestock commissioner presents him with an ethical conundrum, John sets Beth loose on the family's latest adversary, Roarke Morris (Josh Holloway). But the most interesting moments come once again in flashbacks, wherein viewers finally learn the genesis of Beth's animosity towards Jamie. After a pregnant teen Beth asks Jamie for help getting an abortion, he brings her to a clinic on the reservation, where sterilization is a mandated part of the procedure. Jamie sends her in without telling her about this mandate, proving a horrific origin for Beth's hatred towards her brother and also providing a glimpse at some of the archaic practices surrounding the forced sterilization of Indigenous women.
Although Season 4 starts out incredibly strong (more on that later), it struggles to find its footing as the season wears on. After several subpar episodes, "Grass on the Streets and Weeds on the Rooftops" wraps up the season as best as it can and attempts to pave a way forward. The episode offers a conclusion to the question of who orchestrated the attack on the Duttons, with Jamie's biological father proving to be the culprit (and Jamie in the know). Beth, fresh off a lovely, last-minute ranch wedding ceremony with Rip, forces Jamie at gunpoint to fix the issue. Jamie is once again left with blood on his hands and Beth has enough proof to effectively leverage her estranged brother — for now.
While Yellowstone likes to pretend it's a battle between the Duttons and the rest of the world, the series has always been heading for a Dutton family civil war. Although "A Knife and No Coin" finally brings some peace for Kayce and Monica (Kelsey Asbille), who agree to stay and run the ranch while John works his gubernatorial role and half of the crew moves the herd to Texas, Jamie and Beth have never been more lethal. The pair's animosity comes to a Shakespearean head as they both essentially realize that the only way forward is if the other is dead. The tumultuous episode is by far the best of Season 5 and sets up a promising, deadly finale for the series as a whole.
Every great series needs a strong foundation. "Daybreak," the two-part pilot, provides just that from the very first high-octane scene. The episode seamlessly introduces all of the key players, including the Duttons' modern adversaries: a land development project headed up by Dan Jenkins (Danny Huston) and the Broken Rock Reservation helmed by Chief Thomas Rainwater (Gil Birmingham). While land is the name of the game, the politics of "Daybreak" come down to cattle, which have wandered from the ranch to the reservation and caused quite a community-wide stir over ownership rights. The power play comes to a series-defining head late at night, as the Duttons and their wranglers attempt to steal back the cattle from the reservation. The night ends in devastating bloodshed on both sides, with Kayce caught in the middle between his origins on the ranch and his family on the reservation.
Every time the series feels like it's slowing to a slump, an action-packed episode usually breaks up the monotony. In "Resurrection Day," the Duttons' battle against the nefarious Beck brothers reaches a critical point when masked gunmen break into Beth's office and beat her within an inch of her life, ultimately killing her assistant. They almost kill her, too, but a hastily sent text to Rip has the cowboy soaring in and killing the assailants, solidifying his lifelong bond with Beth. The episode, which also sees Jamie contend with the fact that he murdered someone and Tate get his own horse, serves as a defining point for the true life-or-death stakes of the show and sets up some of the best episodes to come.
After John, Dan Jenkins, and Chief Rainwater decide to put aside their differences and team up against the nefarious, casino-building Beck brothers, Kayce puts his ex-Navy SEAL skills to work. While the Duttons put up a good fight, the Beck brothers know what everyone treasures most — Tate (Brecken Merrill) — and have him kidnapped in the night. Surprisingly, the strongest moment in the episode comes not amidst covert operations but during a simple shopping trip, wherein Monica is racially profiled by a clothing store owner and accused of stealing. She calls Beth, who is recovering from her beating and looking for a fight, and Beth gives the store owner a lesson to remember.
Dan Jenkins' murder kicks off the non-stop action of the episode, paving way for the Duttons to face far deadlier enemies in the future. As the family works to take out the Beck brothers and ascertain the whereabouts of Tate, they utilize their law enforcement credentials as livestock agents to warrant their way through the operation (something which will catch up with them later). While the dramatic stakes of the episode easily land it on this list, it's a scene between Rip and John (or, rather, a note that John wrote) that makes "Sins of the Father" one of the top three episodes of the series. The touching note, which Beth reads to Rip, recognizes Rip as a son capable of looking after the ranch. While the gesture also comes with a house on the property, it's the term "son" and acknowledgment of his undying commitment to the Duttons that moves Rip to tears.
While the latter half of Season 2 put the Duttons through the ringer, it's the final scenes of Season 3 that prove this might be a losing game for the family. As the group attempts to fight off the land-hungry Roarke Morris and co. by playing dirty (mainly at the hands of a recently fired Beth), they're hit on all sides by an equally lethal force. The episode, which features an epic meeting with John and Beth on one side of the attorney general's desk and Jamie on the other, ultimately culminates in tragedy. In the last moments, armed gunmen go after Kayce, a bomb goes off in Beth's office, and John is gunned down on the side of the road. No one's fate is known, but one thing is clear: The Duttons are under attack.
There is a palpable shift for the series during the end of Season 3 and the Season 4 premiere. "Half the Money" picks up right where the last episode left off, showing that the entire ranch is under violent attack, and then utilizes a time jump that leaves viewers as in the dark as the recently comatose John Dutton. Everyone has somehow survived the attack — with a few healed gunshot wounds, burn marks, and Costner's amazing beard to show for their efforts — but the Duttons are left changed, weary people. It's the type of TV that's impossible to look away from and helps keep the show from falling back into its usual status quo, two components that the series is sometimes missing. The episode also feeds into Yellowstone's interesting perspective shift of the Dutton family, which has begun to paint them less as all-powerful beacons of wealth and more as salt of the Earth people simply fighting for their family business.
Yellowstone returns for its final episodes in late 2024 on Paramount Network. Past seasons are streaming on Peacock, and CBS is currently airing earlier seasons on Sunday nights.