Kevin Costner’s best moments as ‘Yellowstone’ patriarch John Dutton

Yellowstone - Kevin Costner
via IMDb / Paramount m

Kevin Costner is a 2023 Golden Globe winner for his role as John Dutton in Paramount’s number-one series, Yellowstone, and if you ask fans about it, the win is long overdue. Breathing life into the ranch owner since 2018, Costner has devoted himself to bringing this beautiful story to life, giving fans a peek into the charming yet heartwrenching story that captivates audiences without relenting.

While you might not initially think of a series like Yellowstone as garnering a worldwide fan base, it’s not hard to understand why audiences fell hard and fast for the family. These characters exist in a moral grey area and find themselves struggling with everything from devastating losses to brutal physicality and a lot of family drama in the meantime. There are also moments of beauty, lust, romance, and the kind of love we all dream of holding in our hands. John Dutton is at the center of so many life-altering moments in the series, and he’s also quick to share the wisdom he’s picked up along the way.

To celebrate his Golden Globe win, we’re looking back at some of John’s best moments as the patriarch and now Governor of Montana. While he’s made powerful moves and been behind some of the most well-planned trips to the train station that we’ve ever seen — most of our favorite moments of John Dutton are the ones that might sneak past you if you weren’t paying close attention. They’re the moments when you’re not expecting something meaningful to happen, and then it surprises you as it does. These are the moments that are utterly John at his best.

Leaving a blood message

Let’s start strong; one of John Dutton’s most innovative moves in Yellowstone so far is what he accomplished moments after he was attacked and shot several times. After being completely ambushed, John made sure to let anyone who found him know who attempted to take his life, and in what could have been his final moments, he used his own blood to spell out the license plate number.

First, you’ve got to give it to the guy — he isn’t going down without a fight. No one will get away with trying to take the life of John Dutton, and his will to survive is more robust than what stands against him. However, we were concerned that we might have lost him when season four started back up, especially as we saw Rip telling him he couldn’t die “like this.” How about he can’t die at all? Luckily, we didn’t lose our patriarch, and that message sprawled out in his own blood helped to ensure that those who attempted to kill not just John but several members of the Dutton family were dealt with appropriately.

In other words, they were given a quick ride to the train station.

“I want you to dig”

Another powerhouse moment from John Dutton is during his confrontation with the angry bikers who didn’t know how to take no for an answer. As some of the ranch hands discovered them hanging out on Dutton land, they nicely asked them to leave; but things quickly escalated, and an all-out brawl happened.

Things were over pretty quickly thereafter when Rip and Lloyd showed up, but the bikers weren’t happy that Rip had run their motorcycles over with the Dutton Ranch truck. It went without saying that this war wasn’t over just yet, so when the bikers returned that night, someone was waiting there for them — John himself and with shovels in hand.

That’s right; John wasn’t just waiting for them to have some strong words or get into an altercation. No, he’d done some serious planning ahead. When the bikers arrived, John asked what they’d do if he came and destroyed their homes. When the leader of the bikers told John he’d kill him, the mood was set — they knew they weren’t getting out of this one alive. After offering to leave, John told them that’s not how this night would end for them.

“I don’t want you to leave; I want you to dig,” John told them — and they saw their lives flash before their eyes quickly.

The men spent hours digging their own graves, but it appeared that John decided to give them one more chance after the fact. He’d leave the holes in the ground, and if the men ever returned to Montana, they’d never escape the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch again.

Bringing the brutal honesty

Have you ever felt like things weren’t exactly going your way? John Dutton has, and during a quick chat with his son, Kayce, he said there were no good days left on the horizon. This is one of those moments we talked about that might have escaped you if you weren’t paying close attention, but it was monumental. We saw a peek at a man who keeps it together for everyone else all the time, and he simply couldn’t up the charade that morning.

Making that epic promise

Promises are significant for the Dutton family, and when we lose sight of why John is trying so hard to keep the land and protect his family namesake, we’re reminded that it’s because he made a significant promise. In a conversation with his father many years ago, he told him that he’d never sell the ranch — not even an inch of it. He can’t lose the land, feeling like the one thing he gave to his father was his word, and he refuses to fall back on it.

Some might see John as a stubborn man, but when he recalls that last conversation, we see more love involved than pride. He doesn’t want to let his father down and will do anything to ensure that the man in heaven looking down at him is proud.

This moment with Wade

There are some people you’d never want to cross in a fight of any type, be it a physical fight or one steeped only in words and spitting vitriol. John Dutton is one of those men, and it’s in large because he doesn’t go out looking to start a fight, so if your name is on his list, it’s because you’ve done something to put yourself there.

Wade Morrow wore the brand for the Yellowstone but would go on to cross John Dutton in this scene; he’s telling Wade that he has something important to him and that he intends to get it back. Wade scoffs and tells John to come to get it then, and with nothing more than a stern look without fear or anxiety; John tells him he fully intends to.

So what exactly did Wade have that belonged to John? That very brand itself, and John certainly did send for it. Wade was killed, but before then, the brand he wore on his chest was cut from his skin. Yes, it was brutal — but it was the cowboy justice that Yellowstone stands for.

Deciding to fight the more significant battle

When John and Chief Thomas Rainwater first met, they were enemies on all counts; however, there was a turning point within the series where they discovered that working together was far more beneficial than fighting one another. It took some fine-tuning, and with revelations in season five, we know that they’re nowhere near best friends at this point, but they have found a way to coexist and make that beneficial for both of them.

They do want the same thing for very different reasons, but as the leaders agree: if there’s nothing left for them to “fight over” later, there’s no point in any of this. They’ve got to have the ability to stand up against the enemies before they can find an end game for both of them that works.

This was the first time we saw John sort of “take a knee” in moving forward for battle. It was a compromise of sorts, and that certainly isn’t John’s middle name. It was interesting to see, and as their relationship has continued to grow, we’ve seen them sit through many situations together with that same idea: taking down the more immense evil.

John being the ultimate grandpa

It’s hard to pick a specific moment of John being the best grandpa ever, but this conversation between John and Tate is one of our favorites. During a chat, when they were talking about the complex parts of ranch life, Tate asked his grandpa why they did it. If everything is difficult, why do they keep doing something that takes so much?

John replies with a few words stuck in viewers’ minds everywhere.

“Because it’s one hell of a life, Tate.”

The thing is, it would be easy to write Yellowstone off as a series that thrives off of inconceivable drama, but the truth is — it is a hell of a life, a hell of a ride, and it takes you on a journey that’s so incredibly moving that you can’t turn away. As John explains the ups and downs of this life to his grandson, he’s being honest, and that’s one thing you can’t take away from him. He might not be the grandpa that sugarcoats everything, but he gives support and love in a way only a grandfather can.

When he called Rip Wheeler son

While we didn’t see this moment on camera specifically, we saw how it unfolded and how important it was. John wrote a letter giving Rip a cabin on the property, and he called him his son. Beth read a letter to Rip as she explained that something extraordinary happened when John looked at those around him, superficially the cowboy we know and love.

“My great-grandfather had a dream. All of his sons on the same road, the same ranch working toward the same goal. That dream survived a hundred years, until me. With me, it died. I didn’t have enough sons. They just kept dying or quitting. And one day, not too long ago, I realized that I have enough sons after all.”

He has enough sons, after all. Rip asked Beth to reread the letter as they sat on the porch of the cabin, specifically the last part, and as he looked at Beth with almost tears in his eyes, he said four words out loud that made us melt.

“He called me son.”

Rip is John’s son, he’s been an integral part of their lives for years, and we all know that family isn’t always based on blood relation. Sometimes, it’s far more special than that — family can be made up of people you choose.

This father/son bonding moment

One of our favorite relationships in Yellowstone is that of Kayce and John, and while it’s not perfect, it’s authentic. There are people in our lives that we love more than anyone, and sometimes we give those people the worst of ourselves. Kayce and John have seen the worst in each other and caused one another great pain, but there’s a deep love there.

After they both experienced a lot of pain, they sat together in a hot spring and had a moment when they could bond; they could sit aside everything else and just be. Kayce felt a heaviness on his shoulders after everything the family was experiencing, and his dad reminded him that whatever he had to do didn’t change who he was.

“You’re a good man, Kayce. Sometimes good men have to do real bad things. Doesn’t change who you are.”

Viewers could tell that Kayce needed to hear those words from his father more than anything else at that moment, and while these two aren’t often sharing a deep love for one another, at least not out loud, but there are moments when they both need it.

When John was the suavest man alive

We have to end this on a happy note for John, and few things bring a sly smile to his face, like his moments with Lynelle Perry. While they’re similar in many ways, they’re also very different, like two sides of the same coin. Perry is (almost) immune to John’s charms, but we love when they both let their guards down and allow each other to find joy and romance with one another.

At this moment, Perry walks to John, who is already sitting on a blanket with a drink ready for both of them. She explains that it feels calculated, and he tells her to relax: it’s just a sunset and moments together. That’s all it takes for her to smile and lean into it. This is Kevin Costner er…John Dutton, we’re talking about. It wouldn’t take much convincing to lean into a situation involving him and a sunset, would it?