At this point, fans of Taylor Sheridan’s “Yellowstone” are either champing at the bit for the hit neo-Western to premiere the last episodes of season 5 or they’ve simply moved on after nearly eight months off the air. Once the smoke clears and the final six episodes of the series start trickling out, however, the ratings are sure to go through the roof once again. There’s simply too much high plains drama and backstabbing political intrigue that needs to be wrapped up before “Yellowstone” finally rides off into the sunset.
Throughout the run of the show, the main reason to watch has always been the hopelessly damaged characters that dedicate themselves to the cowboy way of life to preserve the Dutton family legacy. One of the most popular additions to “Yellowstone,” without question, is musician-turned-actor Ryan Bingham, who plays Walker, a debonair rodeo crooner with a chip on his shoulder. After being released from jail, Walker was scooped up by the Dutton’s longtime ranch foreman and “fixer” Rip Wheeler (Cole Hauser) during the first season and quickly became a series mainstay, popping up to cause trouble time and time again.
Originally, Bingham wasn’t really supposed to be a part of “Yellowstone” at all, as it turns out. The character of Walker was never given a huge amount of screen time over the course of the series, and became more of an agent of chaos and a challenger to Rip’s authority as the show rolled along. As a matter of fact, he’s cheated death so many times that it feels like Sheridan still can’t decide if he should kill off Walker or bring him back into the fold for another go around. Luckily, Bingham’s last-minute casting turned into one of the most relatable characters in all of “Yellowstone.”
Turning a hit songwriter into a TV star
The inaugural season of “Yellowstone” was off and running when Bingham joined the fray. Already an established country singer, Bingham was also featured in the 2009 film “Crazy Heart” (for which he won a Best Original Song Oscar for “The Weary Kind”). He was subsequently contacted to write a song for Sheridan’s film “Wind River” starring Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen. According to Bingham in an interview on the Bobby Bones Show, that didn’t quite pan out. Nevertheless, Sheridan came knocking again when “Yellowstone” started heating up:
“I never really kind of came up with anything that stuck. And whenever this show came around he contacted me about writing some songs for the show, and then he found out that I could ride horses and I used to rodeo, and he said, ‘Well, shoot, we gotta write you into this show.’”
From his first introduction, Walker quickly became a fan favorite, playing a broken-hearted drifter who winds up stuck on the Dutton ranch instead of singing drinking songs as a top-billed act on stage at a packed honky-tonk. Initially, Sheridan didn’t know what to do with the character, telling Bingham the straight truth:
“He said, ‘You know, we’ll see how it goes. If you do good then we’ll keep you on,’ and he said, ‘If you suck we’ll just kill you off.’”
With the Texas-set “Yellowstone” spinoff “6666” in the works, it’s already been established that Walker worked on the famed horse ranch before joining up with the Dutton clan. So, there’s a chance he could eventually head South with his trusty guitar in tow to reunite with Jimmy Hurdstram (Jefferson Wright), who left for the 6666 back in season 4. That won’t be happening anytime soon though, now that the premiere of “6666” will most likely be pushed back to early 2024.