‘1883’: How Brutal Episode 9 Seals Elsa Dutton’s Fate

by Jon D. B.

As 1883 moves towards the Season 1 finale, the Duttons are becoming more and more the family we saw in Yellowstone Season 4’s flashbacks. And those flashbacks, of course, were missing one key character: Elsa Dutton. Be warned of major spoilers for 1883 ahead.

After the way 1883 opened back in 2021, audiences have been dreading the fate of Elsa Dutton (Isabel May). In the premiere episode’s opening minutes, the Dutton daughter takes an Indigenous arrow to her stomach as a wagon burns behind her. For eight episodes, we’ve known it was coming. And with Episode 9, “Racing Clouds,” it has arrived in the plot’s real-time.

Sunday’s episode would show how, and why, Elsa winds up at the mercy of Indigenous warriors. Tragic as it was brutal, flashes of Elsa’s horrifying Episode 1 opening came true right before our eyes. It wasn’t the Dutton wagon burning, but Cookie’s – who dies at the hands of the warriors. Then, they came for Elsa, shooting her through the stomach with an arrow meant to kill its target.

Back at camp, her mother, Margaret (Faith Hill) and Wade (James Landry Hebert) tend to her wounds. But her father, James (Tim McGraw) knows its too late to save her.

As she comes to in her family’s wagon, he watches over her. There, he tells her it will be an infection that kills her if anything does. And the light leaves his eyes.

Walking with Margaret, James wants to see the arrow that pierced his daughter. It went through her liver; something they both know the outcome of. Margaret hands her husband the arrow, and it’s filthy. They knows how this ends. And they’re utterly gutted.

‘1883’: Through Elsa, The Duttons Will Settle Montana

“She’s the light of my life. And she’s my soul. But she’s going to die,” James sobs to his wife.

“How f*cking dare you!? I will not lose a child!” Margaret shouts as she slaps him.

“She is going to die. And it’s going to cut us in two,” James sobs. “If we don’t accept it now, she’s going to die in some fort, with some doctor, who’s gonna cut her open so bad she can’t see straight. And we will have robbed her. She needs to see every sunrise. And every sunset. And we will lie to her. We will tell her she’s fine. And we will let her look at this world with those big dreamer eyes… Until they can’t see no more.”

“Then what’re we gonna do?” Margaret cries. “She’s gonna be another cross on a trail that we don’t visit. Ten years from now, it’s just gone!”

But it is here that James makes a decision that will change the fate of the Duttons forever. They won’t move on without her. They will never leave their only daughter behind. “Where we bury her is where we stay. That is our home,” James tells his wife.

“Not here. Not in this place,” she replies.

“No. Not this place. I will find a place. By God I will find a place,” the patriarch promises. Together, they accept Elsa’s fate. And their own. A fate we know will land them in Montana, where the Dutton empire will blossom beneath further tragedy and perseverance.

Are James and Margaret Mourning Their Daughter Prematurely?

As Elsa comes to the next morning, she looks like death. Yet her parents are determined to treat her like nothing is wrong. They want her to live her remaining days alive, not dying. But Elsa sees straight through it.

“I looked at my father, looked past his smile. Saw his worry. Saw something deeper. As if he were already in mourning. As if I were already gone. I felt different, too. Felt as though my soul had been dislodged from… Whatever cavern in our chest the soul is lodged to. It felt loose; disconnected. I looked out at the sagebrush, the colors looked different. Sharper. Looked up at the sky, the clouds seemed to race above us as if new laws applied to time and space above me,” Elsa narrates.

“I looked back at my father, and I studied his eyes. Looked deep into them. That’s when I knew… I was going to die.”

At first, it seems as though James and Margaret are mourning their daughter prematurely. There is no trace of her in Yellowstone Season 4’s flashbacks to their family in the years post 1883, however. And Elsa’s fate seems all but sealed as a result.

We’ll find out whether this holds true or not as 1883 returns for the Season 1 finale next Sunday, February 27 exclusively on Paramount Plus.