Episode 3 of Yellowstone prequel series 1883 premiered exclusively on Paramount+ on Sunday (December 26).
The episode, titled “River,” follows the Duttons and their travel party as they continue to face trials on their journey.
Keep reading for a full recap of everything that happened in the episode. DO NOT keep reading if you don’t want anything spoiled.
The episode opens on a somber note. Several members of the wagon party die in a series of accidents. As just one few examples, one man dies after being crushed by a wagon and a woman dies from a rattlesnake bite. As Elsa (Isabel May) tells us in a voiceover, her father James (Tim McGraw) moves her family’s camp further away from the main group every time someone dies. She says he is running away as if death itself is contagious.
After facing so much loss and hardship, the travel party faces another obstacle. They approach the Brazos River, which they have to cross. Shea (Sam Elliott) wants to go East to take the ferry to ensure a safe crossing, but doing so would take the group many miles off course.
James wants to go West and cross the river somewhere else. It would be more dangerous, but faster. Shea and James disagree over which course is the best one to take.
When Shea returns to the main camp he notices a widow named Noemi (Gratiela Brancusi). Her husband was killed by bandits, and she is struggling to keep herself, her horses, and her two sons alive.
Shea and his right-hand man, Thomas (LaMonica Garrett) chip in to help Noemi water her horses. She appreciates their kindness and tries to convince Shea to marry her, but he is not receptive. He says his late wife, Helen, is the only wife he’ll ever have. Still, he promises Noemi he’ll help her make it to Oregon.
Shea and Thomas learn that Noemi no longer has any supplies because they were stolen from her. They confront the thieves, who claim they only stole the supplies because Noemi’s late husband stole them first. But Shea and Thomas aren’t having it.
Shea gets particularly ruthless, and destroys the thieves’ wagon and tells them to get lost, threatening to kill them if he ever sees them again. Shea criticizes the group’s leader, Josef (Marc Rissmann) for not being able to control the party’s behavior.
Meanwhile, Elsa and Margaret (Faith Hill) leave to help the cowboys Wade (James Landry Hébert) and Ennis (Eric Nelsen) with the cattle. Elsa and Ennis continue to flirt, which Margaret notices. While working the cattle, Elsa pauses to recognize how wonderful of a woman her mother is, and realizes they’re more alike than she ever thought they were.
While Elsa and Margaret are away, James takes young John (Audie Rick) out deer hunting. Even though John has a hard time keeping quiet, the Duttons manage to sneak up on a small herd of deer.
James zeros in on a buck in the group, and helps John line up the shot. He tells John to pull the trigger, and he kills the buck. James, clearly proud of his son, tells him to thank the deer for giving its life so John and his family can have life.
After James and John return, they encounter Shea at their camp. Shea tells James he has changed his mind about wanting to go East to take the ferry. He decides the group will now travel West as James proposed. The two agree that the wagon party will move first and the Duttons will take up the rear with the cattle.
Shea returns to the main camp where some members, including the thieves, are planning a rebellion. But Shea squashes those talks real fast when he speaks about his experience fighting in the Battle of the Wilderness during the Civil War.
“We killed 5,000 men that day,” Shea says. “When I say killing you means nothing to me, I mean it. Killing you means nothing.” Shea chooses to let the thieves live, though he tells Thomas he should have killed them.
Margaret and James share a tender moment back at their family’s camp. They speak about Elsa’s flirty relationship with Ennis and share their dreams for the future. Margaret says she’d love to have a house, prompting James to promise he’ll build her a house so big she’ll get lost in it.
The episode ends as the wagon party takes off West, with Thomas helping drive Noemi’s wagon. James approaches Ennis before they leave and gives him permission to court Elsa, but warns him not to break her heart or get “handsy” with her.
Elsa narrates as the wagon party moves forward, speaking about all the wonders and dangers that await them in the world.