If Taylor Sheridan has a motto (and let’s be honest; of course he does) it’s probably some variant of ‘my way or the highway’. The real-life cowboy is a man who does things how he wants, or not at all. He’s so unwilling to compromise, and so singular in his creative designs, that he refuses to use a writers’ room for his most treasured shows. Instead, he crafts the screenplays for every episode of Yellowstone and its spin-offs entirely by himself without oversight, for better and worse.
When Taylor Sheridan received notes from HBO trying to tone down Beth Dutton in an early version of Yellowstone, the series’ creator hung up the call and pulled the plug completely. In subsequent attempts to get the show greenlit by other studios, he was rejected for being so upfront about his unwillingness to relinquish a single inch of creative control. As should be abundantly clear from the many recent Taylor Sheridan TV series and movies, he just doesn’t do things by halves. “I won’t compromise. There is no compromising,” he candidly admitted to The Hollywood Reporter.
Good for him. The result has been a number of the best movies and best TV series of the past decade, and a certified cultural phenomenon with Yellowstone. In a landscape of media seemingly designed by committee, a writer with a vision is invaluable. But, what happens when Sheridan (an unstoppable force) collides with Kevin Costner (an immovable object)? What, precisely, will be the fate of Sheridan’s behemoth Yellowstone if Costner refuses to return to conclude the series as John Dutton, undermining Sheridan’s oh-so-precious creative vision?
The most obvious answer doesn’t make for happy reading for any fan. It could lead to the premature death of Yellowstone, with the series going unfinished.Costner’s exit from Yellowstone, which has forced the series into an early grave (Yellowstone season 5 part 2, if it ever arrives, will abruptly and unexpectedly conclude this iteration for good), has grown increasingly acrimonious. The actor has stated that he’s not under any contract to return to the series (having reportedly turned down many millions to reprise his role for one final time) and that he has no intention of returning either, no matter the broader repercussions for Yellowstone. It’s a stubborn awkwardness that John Dutton himself would be proud of.
It could, theoretically, all be a façade: 3D chess with the goal of securing a more lucrative deal for his final outing. But it doesn’t look that way, and it still places everything else, including the status of the rest of the Yellowstone cast, in purgatory. Taylor Sheridan won’t want to compromise his vision of the Yellowstone ending just to accommodate the obstinate Costner: he’s said he won’t kill him off in a ‘fuck you death’, and that he won’t alter the end of the story. Equally, re-casting the best Yellowstone character would be tantamount to blasphemy; Costner is a god in the role, and genuinely irreplaceable.
So what other options are there then, really? Perhaps the Yellowstone timeline will jump ahead, and season 5 episode 9 will open with John Dutton’s funeral after Jamie Dutton’s hit on Beth goes awry. It’s plausible, and broadly makes sense within the established narrative of the show. But it would undercut Sheridan’s intended arcs, themes, and grand ideas. He’d need to shift his course, and if there’s one thing we know about Sheridan, it’s that he won’t change his own plans simply to suit the circumstances around him. The truth of the matter is, if Costner truly won’t return, it’s near-impossible to see how Yellowstone will continue and come to a satisfying resolution.
Maybe, instead, Yellowstone’s ending is left dangling, unresolved, for good. Maybe it’s simply on to the next project for Sheridan, with the fate of John Dutton being tied up in off-hand references elsewhere.The story of other characters, in the meantime, could easily continue. Rip Wheeler, Beth, and the ranch hands will undoubtedly make their appearances in Jimmy’s 6666 spin-off.
Meanwhile, Kayce Dutton, Monica, and Tate could finally leave Montana behind in order to join in with whatever adventures Matthew McConaughey is destined to have in his sequel series. After realizing he’s gotten in way too deep, Jamie could move abroad, give up his ambitions, and simply seek out peace. We could watch him be the lawyer on some European ranch if such a thing even exists. Imagine that: Yellowstone in Italy.
It would, admittedly, be deeply unsatisfying (albeit somewhat fitting, for a series about eschewing others’ notions of the ‘right way’ to do things) to end with such a whimper; especially with the prospect of such succulent loose ends still teasing, tantalizingly. But here’s a question, and one which I don’t know the answer to: would it be better to have a bad ending, or no ending at all? It’s a no-win scenario.
And yet, what I am certain of is this: Taylor Sheridan would rather take the second option. I know so not because I’m an oracle, or secretly his best friend, but because he’s told us. “I’m one of those people that’s incapable of doing something that’s not tethered to 100 percent of my passion,” he said speaking with THR. “I am going to tell my stories my way, period.”
For more on Yellowstone, see our favorite Beth Dutton quotes and check out our guides to the 6666 release date and 1923 season 2 release date. Or, learn how Sheridan nearly broke a four-decade Hollywood rule for Yellowstone, before seeing our picks for the best Westerns of all time.