Right from the start, 1883 embraces the ruthless, harrowing reality of the Westward Expansion. If famine or disease didn’t take half the loved ones in your life, then bandits, rivers, and hopelessness surely would. Such is the case for Taylor Sheridan’s masterful Yellowstone prequel so far. And while Sheridan’s portfolio had fans expecting wild storytelling, audiences could never have been prepared for the toll 1883‘s first season would take.
‘1883’s Most Shocking Deaths: Elsa’s Cousin, Mary Abel, Falls to Bandits
Over the course of the first two episodes, the Dutton’s in-laws, Claire (Dawn Olivieri) and Mary Abel (Emma Malouff) felt set to be main characters throughout. Both provided ample antagonistic behavior as their shrewd nature tore into Elsa Dutton (Isabel May).
Which is why the first shock death of 1883 took audiences by storm. In Episode 2, Claire’s own resentful nature spurs an all-out brawl with invading bandits. The raucous outlaws come upon the Dutton wagon camp while James (Tim McGraw) is away, and Claire isn’t having it.
“Be gone!” she screams at the roughnecks, spurring their laughter. Claire takes the biggest rocks she can find and throws it at the head of the bandits’ leader before they ever strike out against the wagon camp. This issues a full-out gunfight that otherwise may not have happened.
Tragically, her daughter, Mary Abel, is caught in the gunfire as the defenseless pioneers run for cover. She’s shot in the chaos and falls into the grasses of Texas.
Mary Abel dies in her mother’s arms. And it is her loss that drives her mother completely over the edge.
Margaret’s Sister, Claire, Commits Suicide
As shocking as Mary Abel’s death was, nothing could’ve prepared audiences for the end of Episode 2. Claire, already a widow and survivor of seven children, has now lost everything through the death of her last living child.
Margaret (Faith Hill) tries as she might to talk her sister out of despair, but only spurs further anger in Claire. James does the same, but knows there’s no convincing Claire to go on fighting.
As she kneels by the riverside grave of her daughter, Claire pulls out a family revolver out of a keepsake box, places it beside her temple, and pulls the trigger. Her blood splatters onto Mary Abel’s grave, and there she lies beside her.
With the help of Shea Brennan (Sam Elliott), James digs Claire a grave beside her daughter’s. And like so many during the Westward Expansion, Claire and Mary Abel lie forever in unmarked graves.
Perils of ‘1883’: Death by Wagon, Death by River
As Episode 3, “River,” begins, 1883 showcases how deadly even the most mundane of pioneer tasks were. Simply moving to get your wagon unstuck from a hole in the ground could prove fatal.
In the shocking opening, one immigrant traveler’s head and torso are crushed by his own wagon as he attempts push the wheel free of a rut. Elsa and Margaret (Isabel May & Faith Hill) watch as it happens, while Shea yells at the man to not push from the wheel.
Then, Episode 4, “The Crossing” illustrates the perils of river crossing during the Westward Expansion. Several immigrant travelers, unable to swim or fend for themselves, drown in the River Brazos. The most shocking death comes as Margaret attempts to save a woman from the current. The matriarch is left with claw marks from the immigrant’s nails as she drags them both under. Unable to save her, Margaret surfaces, slinking onto the shore as she lets out a visceral scream.
Heartbreak of ‘1883’: Elsa Loses Ennis
But no death on 1883 will ever be as impactful as this most recent entry.
Through the first five episodes, audiences would fall in love with Elsa and Ennis (Eric Nelsen). As did these two with one another. All seems perfect for these two; a pure match born of passion and true love. But the West brings untold perils, and Elsa & Ennis’ worst came in the form of a trailing band of outlaws.
As they watch over the cattle, Ennis tells Elsa to ready her pistol before doing the same. The young cowboy then takes off head-first for the gunfire to protect the woman he loves.
Ennis exchanges gunfire with the bandits in a harrowing sequence. He shoots one off their horse, but the outlaw returns the favor; gunning Ennis down with a bullet to the chest.
“I loved her,” Ennis tells James with his dying breath. There he dies in the Texas dirt, and Elsa’s heart dies with him.
It’s a death 1883 and Yellowstone fans will never forget, one that continues to rock audiences well after Episode 5’s premiere.