How 1883's Tim McGraw And Faith Hill Felt About That 'Heartbreaking' Season 1 Finale

james and margaret dutton in the 1883 Season 1 finale
(Image credit: Paramount+)

Spoilers below for the season finale of 1883, so be warned if you haven’t yet watched!

1883’s penultimate episode put the writing on the wall regarding Elsa Dutton’s fate, and as much as fans may have hoped that she was somehow shot with the one Lakota arrow that hadn’t been dipped in feces, the Season 1 finale cut those hopes down to size. The optimism-fueled Elsa appeared as if she’d be the spinoff’s main character throughout its run, thanks in part to Isabel May’s graceful performance and sorrowful voiceovers, and while that wasn’t meant to be, her death was revealed to be the entire reason the Yellowstone timeline exists as it does. Of course, such narrative importance wouldn’t offer much comfort to James or Margaret, and it didn’t stop the tears from pouring out of May’s on-screen parents Tim McGraw and Faith Hill.

Elsa’s death was a crushing blow to the husband and wife, and in different ways, as James was the one holding her when she passed, while Margaret was forced to miss her daughter’s final days. In speaking with Variety about that emotional 1883 closer, both McGraw and Hill copped to getting sob-faced as soon as they dug into the scripts. According to McGraw: 

When we got the final two, we literally couldn’t read them to each other because we were crying so much — I mean, ugly, boohoo crying. I was a blubbering idiot. It was just so well-written, so devastating and heartbreaking, but at the same time, so on point and poignant for what Yellowstone turned out to be. It just gives you all the reasons in the world why they fight so hard for that land and why their family fights so hard to keep what they have. It just made perfect sense.

Indeed. The Duttons’ domineering attitude regarding land ownership and protection of their insanely massive ranch in Yellowstone has sometimes felt lacking in virtue and relatability, such is the American way. But to know that it all started on the idea that James and Margaret wanted to visit Elsa’s grave on a daily basis, and that a future generation will apparently have to answer to Crow Nation’s return, it definitely gives John Dutton’s current-day plights more of an emotional anchor. 

It sounds like Faith Hill and her country singing hubby may have been able to drop an anchor into the pool of tears they shed just in the process of learning what happens in the finale. Here’s how she described reading through the final two episodes:

He couldn’t read [Episode 109] because he was bawling. It took me about an hour to read it to him because most of the time, I couldn’t catch my breath, I was crying so hard. . . . When I finally finished reading Episode 10 to him, we both just sat there and said, ‘My God, this is one of the most incredible stories we’ve ever read.’ I knew the weight and responsibility of playing Margaret and telling the story and bringing her to life — I felt an enormous responsibility. I did not want to fail.

Part of the reason why 1883’s most emotional scenes are so stinging and lasting is because they often aren’t played up through big stirring beats or musical heart-tugging, breaking tradition from how historical dramas tend to handle things. For instance, it’ll be through birds quietly connecting the deaths of Elsa and Shea Brennan, who was granted peace via hummingbird before he shot himself on the beach. 

What’s Next For James And Margaret After That Tragedy?

While there are sadly no more questions left to ask about Elsa’s storyline, at least from a going-forward standpoint, 1883 viewers are no doubt curious to see exactly how the character’s death will affect James and Margaret’s relationship in Season 2 and possibly beyond. Tim McGraw addressed that topic in talking with TVLine, and while he’s not fully aware of how things will play out (since Taylor Sheridan likely hasn’t penned much, if any, of the second season), he did point to Yellowstone already giving fans a nugget of info in that sense. Here’s how he put it:

They have a really, really deep strength and love for each other. I don’t think that that’s going to go anywhere. But it’s certainly going to put a huge strain on their life, as it would anyone in that situation or anyone that’s lost a child. It’s the most tragic event you could ever have in your life, so there’s going to be profound effects on both of them, and probably profound effects on their relationship. But their strength and their love for each other, in my mind, will carry them through. We at least know that they’re together 10 years later, because of the flashbacks in Yellowstone. [Laughs.] He might have taken a few lumps.

Of course, while Tim McGraw’s patriarch looked to be alive and well during Yellowstone’s first flashback sequence, the one that he referred to just above did not end well for James Dutton. He seemed to be a dead man himself after being shot by a pack of thieves who most certainly paid the price for their transgressions. But was that moment foreshadowing Elsa's own foretold death, or will it reverse expectations by revealing that James did indeed survive his wounds? I'm sure medical care had advanced ages in the ten years since Elsa died, right?

1883 Season 1 is available to stream in full for those with Paramount+ subscriptions, and stay tuned for more updates on Season 2, as well as for the recently announced spinoff 1932 and elsewhere in the growing Yellowstone universe. Our 2022 TV premiere schedule has lots of options for what to watch until Sheridan’s narratives are back on our TVs.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.