“Yellowstone” is a story of politics and family, a neo-western tale of the Dutton family’s unending battle to hold on to their land and legacy as everyone around them wants it for themselves. The family is packed full of powerful, complex characters like Dutton patriarch John, his shrewd, cunning daughter Beth, his fierce but reluctant son Kayce, and his adopted wayward son Jamie. But there’s another member of the Dutton family who wasn’t born into it but brought into it, and he may be more loyal than anyone of Dutton blood.
Rip Wheeler, a boy orphaned at a young age, was rescued by John Dutton and raised nearly as one of his own. Rip became a rancher as a teen and had his legal identity wiped away to help him escape from his troubled past. His new future sees him become John Dutton’s right-hand man — his ever-loyal bodyguard and enforcer. Kind-hearted but vengeful, he demands loyalty from all who serve the Yellowstone and is the one man who should never be crossed. His retribution is swift and brutal.
Over the course of the series, we’ve seen Rip show just how brutal he is on many occasions, from striking at enemies who wish to do the Dutton’s harm as well as those who get in his way. Want to recall his best? No need for a binge-watch — we’ve compiled a list of Rip Wheeler’s most brutal moments.
It’s in the premiere episode of the series that we see Rip’s first brutal moment, and it also happens to be the introduction of two of the show’s major characters. In our first glimpse at Rip, he goes to a trailer to meet with a local drug user and general low-life named Jimmy Hurdstrom. Though little more than a punk in the premiere, Jimmy goes on to become a fan-favorite character on the series and is set to get his own spin-off series, “6666,” in the near future.
Sent to Jimmy’s home at the behest of John — likely because they need a new ranch-hand – Rip welcomes Jimmy with a taser shot to the gut before zip-tying him to a chair. Rip knows Jimmy is likely to end up in prison for life and offers the young man a choice: be branded by Yellowstone and work for the Duttons or be hauled off to prison. Though audiences would see Rip brand many ranchers later in the series to become lifelong members of the ranch, it’s all the more brutal because it’s the first time we see it and because Jimmy is clearly backed into a corner. Unlike later branded ranchers like Walker or Teeter, Jimmy doesn’t want the brand but is forced into it with the threat of prison. The fear in his eyes is palpable as Rip approaches him with the searing hot iron and tells him to “be a man” and not to scream.
Killing the medical examiner
By the second episode of the series, the Dutton’s are already in serious trouble: After Lee is killed in a standoff on the Broken Rock reservation, Kayce murders the man who fired the fatal shot. John attempts to cover it up, but the medical report shows it wasn’t self-defense, threatening not just Kayce but the entire ranch and forcing John to correct the problem outside of the law. When digging for dirt on the medical examiner, they discover the man was pushed to resign from his previous post for drug abuse, and John gets just what he needs: leverage to get the examiner to recant his report.
Rip is sent to visit the medical examiner, a troubled addict named Dr. Monteith. But Rip doesn’t seem interested in getting a new statement. Instead, he intimidates the frightened doctor and makes it clear that what’s coming next won’t be pleasant. Rip calmy tells Monteith to prepare for his death, but the doctor is confused, telling Rip that if the place burned down, it wouldn’t fool anyone, saying, “Everyone’s gonna know this is arson.” Rip’s answer is chilling: “Don’t look like arson to me. Looks like suicide.” Rip then allows the doctor one last smoke before he strangles him, leaving just before the facility burns to the ground, destroying all evidence of not just the murder but the case against Kayce as well.
Showdown with Walker
Recruited by Rip directly from prison, the pretty-boy cowboy Walker joins the Yellowstone crew in the 1st season after being picked up by Rip, who is seeking another new ranch hand. Seeing few options after a lengthy stint for manslaughter, Walker accepts an offer from Rip to be branded a Yellowstone rancher. In Rip’s eyes, this means Walker is more than a wrangler for the Duttons — he’s an enforcer who will do whatever they ask, no matter how dirty. And it isn’t long before Walker finds that out for himself. Far from the ordinary ranch he’d once worked in Texas, Yellowstone often asks him to fight and even kill for them. Not wanting to return to a life of violence, he refuses to follow orders, and that doesn’t sit well with Rip, who expects unwavering loyalty from his men.
While out working in the field, Rip finally has enough of Walker’s resistance and snaps. Literally. Using a pair of bolt cutters, Rip snaps the tight barbed wire fencing, which promptly flies into Walker, slicing his face open. Walker responds by pulling a knife, and it’s only Lloyd’s pistol that prevents a brawl between the two. Leaving the group on horseback, Walker announces he is leaving the ranch, and Rip makes it clear he shouldn’t stop running because he’s out for blood.
Taking one for the team
After Kayce moves back to Yellowstone, his father puts him in charge of the bunkhouse. This is a blow to Rip, as it means his demotion, but it isn’t the worst that is asked of him. Without saying it, John wants Rip to fight his son Kayce and come out on the losing side as a way of proving Kayce the new leader. Rip, as a fiercely loyal lieutenant, obeys without any objection despite his great pride. At the same time, Rip’s recent feud with Walker nearly led to a knife fight, and Walker announced he was leaving the ranch. But John ordered Walker back to work and assured his safety.
Later, however, while wrangling a calf that’s wandered away from the herd, Rip finds himself isolated with Walker while chasing it into the woods and uses the opportunity to try to kill the cowboy with his horse. Thankfully for the singing cowboy, Kayce intervenes. Back at the ranch, audiences are then treated to one of the most brutal fist fights of the series, with Rip and Kayce exchanging devastating blows as the cowboys and wranglers look on. Rip doesn’t hold back but lets Kayce have the last winning blow, allowing him to earn the ranch’s respect. After Rip walks off bloodied, Kayce repeats a line we heard from Rip before: “If you want to fight, you come fight me.”
Ambushing Walker behind the bar
In the Season 2 episode “Blood The Boy,” Rip finally has an excuse to take Walker “to the train station” (which on “Yellowstone” is code for murder). But once again, Kayce comes to his rescue, and instead of killing Walker, makes the cowboy swear an oath of silence and spares his life. While Walker survives his time at the ranch, everyone else — Rip included — thinks he’s dead. This makes it all the more surprising in the eighth episode of the series’ 3rd season when Rip and Lloyd are in a bar and discover Walker playing his guitar on stage.
Incensed but not wanting to make a scene, Rip and Lloyd leave and lie in wait until the bar closes. After hours, the pair of vengeful cowboys ambush Walker in an alley, and it’s there, under the musky, dim light of a street lamp, that Rip brutally beats Walker with his fists. Completely taken by surprise, Walker is unable to defend himself as Lloyd duct tapes his mouth and hands and tosses him into the back of their truck to bring him back to the Yellowstone. Needless to say, Kayce has some explaining to do, and Rip wants to spill some blood. Eventually, though, Walker earns his way back onto the ranch … but things don’t get too much easier for him.
Rip versus Divine Discord
In the 3rd season episode, “Going Back to Cali,” a few of the bunkhouse cowboys — Ryan, Colby, and Teeter — are driving back to the ranch when they spot a group of bikers called the “Divine Discord” trespassing on the ranch’s land for an impromptu picnic. Ryan, as a reserve Livestock Agent, stops to ask them to leave “or cite [them] for trespassing,” and the bikers don’t take kindly to the rude interruption. Teeter’s bad attitude catches their attention, and things turn ugly quick, leading to a massive brawl between the two groups.
Driving back to the ranch themselves, Rip spots the fisticuffs from the road and — annoyed by the diversion — snaps into action, slamming his truck into the biker’s row of motorcycles, mowing them down like dominos. Exiting the truck — with Lloyd by his side — Rip does what Rip does best and delivers another brutal smackdown, striking the leader of the gang in the head with his Yellowstone branding iron so hard it bends the steel handle. Unintimidated by another biker’s pistol, Rip tears the gun from his hand and pistol-whips the man with his own sidearm before ordering them to leave or be buried in the field where they stand.
Protecting Lloyd from himself
Walker’s return to the ranch at the end of the 3rd season of “Yellowstone” doesn’t go much smoother than his first stint in the bunkhouse, but for very different reasons. Off the ranch for nearly two years, the bunkhouse is a very different place when he returns, with two women among the crew. Walker hits it off with one of them, Mia’s friend Laramie, but little does he know that she had a one-time dalliance with Lloyd — and the older man doesn’t like seeing the two together. Tensions come to a head in “I Want To Be Him” when Lloyd callously stabs Walker in the chest, just missing his lungs. Rip wants to give Lloyd a second chance, but John only gives them one option: a public fight.
After a knock-down, drag-out fistfight between Lloyd and Walker, with the whole ranch watching, Rip steps in to deliver a final message to Lloyd. After telling him that he loves him, Rip proceeds to deliver an absolutely vicious beating to his closest friend. Hardly offering a defense, Lloyd is bloodied and broken and laying against the log fence when Rip tells him, “This is for your protection, Lloyd. You understand me? This is to protect you from yourself,” before smashing Lloyd’s hand with his boot, breaking it in a blood-curdling crunch that left audiences wincing.
Breaking up a robbery
In a recent dust-up, Rip and John take a meeting at a local diner with the sheriff to discuss how to proceed with the prisoner they believe orchestrated the assassination attempt at the end of Season 3. Unfortunately, when they roll up on the diner, Wheeler immediately spots something suspicious: Through the windows, he can see that nobody is eating, and a strange, odd-looking man is standing in the back staring straight out. They’ve just stumbled upon a robbery in progress, and Sheriff Haskell is one of the hostages.
Rather than call the police, Rip asks John to retrieve a pistol and a shotgun from their truck, and the pair get to work. John goes in and when shots ring out, Rip tears one of the punks out of the diner straight through the window in a move that would make The Rock proud. Though it’s John who mostly gets to play tough guy — dealing with the lead lowlife — it’s Wheeler who gets the shot that saves the day, pegging the hostage-taking scumbag in the foot and allowing his captive to escape. Rip proves he’s more than just a brawler, and his expert shot shows he’s just as skillful with a pistol as he is with a branding iron.
Introduced in Season 3, Roarke Morris is a slimy, corporate villain — a man out to take the Duttons’ land. But far from a city slicker from out of town, Roarke is a local and owns a ranch just upstream from the Yellowstone. Played by “Lost” star Josh Holloway, he has all the charm and wit you’d expect from a Montana rancher, but beneath the surface, he is a shrewd corporate raider and nearly a match for Beth Dutton. Unlike most of the corporate types who’d come after them before, Roarke is unafraid of playing dirty and sent Wade Morrow to taunt the Duttons, even having him attack and maim Teeter and Colby.
After a coordinated attack on the family, Rip decides it’s time to finish Roarke for good. Whether he suspects Roarke is responsible for the plot or just wants payback for ordering Morrow to attack his men, we don’t know, but rather than wait for John’s permission, Rip takes matters into his own hands. While Roarke is fishing, Rip approaches him with a beer cooler, putting him at ease by claiming to be a passerby. But he quickly opens the cooler to reveal a deadly rattlesnake and tosses it at Roarke, who is promptly bitten on the cheek before he can draw a weapon. As Roarke dies, Rip steps on his chest and says, “Good riddance.”
Murdering his killer father
Near the end of the 1st season of “Yellowstone,” we’re given the secret origin of Rip Wheeler. The eighth episode of the season, “The Unravelling: Part One,” opens with a flashback to 1997, where we find Rip as a young teen waking up from a beating to the sight of his younger brother, dead and bloodied in the kitchen of his family home. We hear the screams of his mother from the other room, and as he gathers himself up off the floor, the audience still likely doesn’t realize this is Rip. The boy picks up a cast iron frying pan and enters the next room to discover his mother being stabbed by her estranged husband — the boy’s father. Without hesitation, the boy smashes the heavy pan onto his father’s head and proceeds to bludgeon him to death.
Jumping forward some days, the boy is found defiant but alive and hiding in a barn on the Dutton ranch. John asks him his name, and when he says “Rip,” it’s a cold moment of realization for fans to have his story revealed. Rip isn’t a drifter or an ex-con, we learn; he’s a man who came of age with his hands stained with blood — a man with a dark and violent past. Rip’s first brutal moment was delivering justice to his mother’s killer.
Brawl at the bar
In the 2nd season premiere titled “A Thundering,” the bunkhouse boys (and girls) head to a bar to unwind. Jimmy and Avery have a surprisingly flirtatious conversation that’s interrupted when a man approaches to ask Avery for a dance. Jimmy answers no for her, but Avery speaks up too — she’s not interested. When Jimmy tells the man off, a classic saloon brawl breaks out between the cowboys and the good ol’ boys. Everyone gets the receiving end of a punch or two — even Avery — and they limp back to the ranch bloody and bruised. But when Rip finds out what happens, he won’t let it stand; nobody messes with the Yellowstone crew.
Returning to the bar, Rip hatches a devious plan: He and Kayce back up a cattle truck at the front door and release a full-size bull into the bar, sending the patrons scrambling for the exits. Out back, Rip, Walker, and the rest wait with wooden bats, and after Jimmy points out the aggressors, Rip gives chase and proceeds to give them a vicious beatdown so brutal that Walker refuses to take part in the horrifying scene.
In one of the most violent, graphic, and goriest scenes that “Yellowstone” has offered up — before or since — Beth is viciously assaulted by a group of men who were threatening the ranch in the episode “Resurrection Day.” She is able to send Rip a call for help via text when she sees them enter her office, but she can’t stop the attack. Her face is slashed open (which leaves her permanently scarred), and she is beaten, battered, and threatened with some of the vilest and depraved acts you can imagine. But Beth isn’t frightened — or if she is, her fierce streak refuses to allow her attackers to see it — and she continues to taunt them, buying just enough time for Rip to arrive and turn the tables.
Because when Rip shows up — throwing a desk chair through a glass wall — he delivers an equally vicious assault right back at them. Charging forward fearlessly, Rip endures at least one gunshot but never stops, killing the guard without blinking and gouging out the eyes of the man who was on top of Beth. Smashing the man’s head into the concrete floor, he leaves him for dead in perhaps the most brutal moment we’ve seen yet from Rip.
Carter’s harsh reality check
Introduced in the 4th season premiere, Carter is a troubled young man who grew up with an addict for a father. When he loses his dad to addiction, he seeks out Beth, who shows an uncharacteristic heart and offers him a home. But when Rip returns to the cabin that night and discovers Carter there, he wants no part of the boy. While driving Carter back into town the next day, the orphan sounds off on the unluckiness of his situation and the cruelty he’s received from everyone around him and tells Rip off in the process. Perhaps a good father would see the pain and anguish that Carter is feeling and help with comfort and concern, but Carter isn’t dealing with a good father — he is dealing with Rip Wheeler.
Rip doesn’t take kindly to Carter’s loud mouth and stops the truck, forcing Carter out before driving off, leaving him there on the side of the road. It’s a harsh reality lesson for Carter and one that may have been unnecessarily cruel. Thankfully, Rip turns the truck around and gives the boy a chance … and a job.