Throughout the debut season of “1883,” Isabel May’s character Elsa Dutton serves as one of the show’s biggest cornerstones. Not only does the young Dutton ancestor quickly establish herself as a key protagonist in the “Yellowstone” prequel spin-off, but she also provides the narration for the Taylor Sheridan-created show. One of the most intriguing qualities about Elsa is her hardiness and her independence — traits handed down from her parents, James (Tim McGraw) and Margaret Dutton (Faith Hill). Throughout Season 1 of “1883,” Elsa often finds herself in some of the show’s toughest situations as she, her family, and other settlers made their way from Texas to Oregon in hopes of a new life. Through every potentially disastrous or fatal encounter, the Duttons pulled through as a family unit, with Elsa providing audiences a unique window in their mental and emotional headspace.
Looking back, it’s easy to pick out several different instances and moments from “1883” where fans were genuinely upset or affected by what Elsa was going through. However, there’s one scene in particular that firmly stands out above the rest, with some viewers calling it “almost unbearable” to watch. The scene in question comes in the final moments of the show’s season finale. Elsa, who fans see shot with an arrow in the opening of Episode 1, is preparing to say her final goodbyes as her condition has become increasingly worse. What happens next is a moment that “1883” and “Yellowstone” fans will likely never forget.
Elsa Dutton dies in her father’s arms
The opening scene of “1883” Season 1, wherein we see Elsa shot through her side with an arrow, proves to be an ominous sign of what awaits her in the Season 1 finale, “This Is Not Your Heaven.” A majority of the finale episode is spent trying to get her the medical care she desperately needs, even though it’s clear the wound is too severe; she’s not long for this world. A heartbreaking decision is made: James Dutton will travel with Elsa and wherever the pair stop to rest is the place where the Dutton patriarch will lay down roots for his family’s new homestead.
During Elsa’s final moments, James takes his daughter to an open area and they rest by a very specific tree — a tree that “Yellowstone” fans quickly recognized (via Twitter). “This is the spot,” she tells her father. “Let’s just sit here. Rest for a bit.” It’s a poignant moment and one that’s also extremely heartbreaking, to the point where viewers were genuinely upset and angry with Paramount for airing it.
Elsa’s death helps set up the backstory for how the Dutton family ranch came to settle in Paradise Valley, Montana, the location where the present-day Dutton family lives, works, and schemes. The untimely passing of James’ eldest child is unexpected and perhaps not the kind of finale plot twist fans were hoping to see. It feels like a cruel misdirect, having Elsa taking on such an important position as a narrator and becoming a central figure, only to be wiped off the board by something as treatable (even by “1883” standards) as an arrow wound. And yet, there is something poignant in knowing that it is Elsa, a character audiences spend so much time with in Season 1, will be the metaphorical foundation on which Dutton Yellowstone Ranch is built.
Fans are fuming over Elsa’s death
Although it’s clear to see how Elsa’s death actually served to move the plot of “1883,” as well as the saga of the Dutton family, forward, fans were not pleased to see the beloved character (or Isabel May) exit the show, especially in such a tragic manner.
“Since Elsa died, I canceled,” tweeted @BenjieBenjammin. “I can’t live without her,” Twitter user @atonygcpa expressed, posting a petition online to request that Paramount Network bring May’s character back somehow. Their disgust flowed over into a second tweet, which included this observation: “Elsa had to die because it explains how they end up in Montana? How stupid!”
Elsewhere on Twitter, one fan explained, “It’s just too heartbreaking,” and another said simply, “So many tears.” Over on YouTube, viewers were just as upset. “That final scene was heartbreaking and almost unbearable,” commented one user. “Won’t be the same without [Elsa],” remarked another YouTuber. “I can now cancel Paramount+.”
The death of Elsa was a moment that not only weighed heavy on viewers but the actors as well. “1883” star Tim McGraw told Variety, “We literally couldn’t read [the final scripts] to each other because we [he and Faith Hill] were crying so much.” He continued, “I mean, ugly, boo-hoo crying. I was a blubbering idiot.”