In 1883 Season 1, Episode 7, entitled, “Yellow Lightning Hair,” our pioneers are crossing the barrenness of the Great Plains ahead of a terrible storm. Written by Taylor Sheridan and directed by Christina Alexandra Voros, Episode 7 begins with our group of settlers trekking across a terrain littered with bones from previous wagon parties. Elsa (Isabel May) is at first unnerved when she sees two Comanche men—Sam (Martin Sensmeier) and Two Feathers (David Midthunder)—on the horizon. Wade (James Landry Hébert) and Colton (Noah Le Gros) explain to her that the Comanche tribe charges tax for the cattle to graze on their land, a tax which Captain Shea (Sam Elliott) and Thomas (LaMonica Garrett) are more than happy to pay to keep the peace. Even more, Shea and Tom invite the Comanche men to eat with their party.
After Cookie (Sheridan player James Jordan) teaches the pioneers the rules of the food line, Margaret (Faith Hill) teaches him a thing or two about manners in front of her son, John (Audie Rick). During dinner, Elsa can’t stop staring at Sam, who strikes up a conversation about Elsa’s horse, Lightning. Sam soon challenges Elsa to a horseback race, which Elsa and Lightning decidedly win. He dubs her “Lighting with the yellow hair,” and the two open up to each other about the loves they’ve lost and the men they’ve killed. Later, as Sam is preparing to leave before the impending storm, he warns Shea about bandits, telling him: “the wagon party is the perfect size. Big enough to be a prize, small enough to fight.”
The next morning, Shea and Thomas discover that Cookie has abandoned the camp to get ahead of the weather. As James (Tim McGraw) prepares Margaret and John for the storm, Elsa, Wade and Colton gather the herd. However, when the tornado hits, everyone is scattered. The pioneers hunker down close to the ground while the wranglers do their best to outrun the cyclone on horseback. Out of nowhere, Sam appears and gets Elsa, Wade and Colton to lay down on the side of hill and brace themselves. Impulsively, Elsa kisses Sam as they hold on to each other for dear life.
Miraculously, no one is killed by the tornado, but the destruction to the wagons and the settlers’ possessions is devastating. To Shea’s relief, Cookie returns to the group so no one will starve while they plot their next move. However, Cookie brings bad news: he saw 6 men gathering up what’s left of their herd. Shea quickly gathers Thomas, James, Wade, Colton and Elsa to make a plan. Shea wants to take Thomas and James to confront the thieves and have Wade and Colton take Elsa back to the group and protect the pioneers in case the thieves double back to the wagons and attack. Elsa insists on saying with her father, saying, “If there’s gonna be a gun fight, I wanna be with you.” Cant say we blame her!
When Wade and Colton return to the camp to protect the settlers and give Margaret the news, Margaret is naturally furious. She takes a gun and makes Colton give her his horse so she can ride off to get Elsa before the confrontation. Margaret is too late however. As Shea, Thomas, James and Elsa approach the cattle thieves, they soon realize they are dealing with 13 men, not 6 as Cookie initially reported. James tells Elsa to ride off while he, Thomas, and Shea settle in for a gun fight. Using all their military training, the three men are able to hold their own, but the situation is bleak. As Elsa is pursued by 3 men, things look hopeless for our heroes until… Sam, Two Feathers and Shea’s old friend Charles Goodnight (played by a bearded Taylor Sherdan) ride in and save them all! As Shea, Thomas and James tend to their minor bullet wounds, Shea thanks Charles profusely. The episode ends as Margaret encounters a wounded thief making his escape. As he demands her horse and threatens her with a gun, she promptly shoots him. The West has made killers out of the Dutton family.
COOKIE GETS SLAPPED
After a brief introduction in Episode 6, James Jordan’s colorful Cookie is on full display in Episode 7. When a man grabs several steaks that Cookie is in the middle of the preparing, an angry Cookie orders Josef (Marc Rissmann) to tell the party in their language about proper line etiquette. Cookie tells them that if they don’t return their plates, “you’re eating with your fuckin’ hands!” Confused, Josef asks what the strange word “fuck” means, and Shea quickly intervenes. “He don’t know what that word means,” Shea tells Cookie and then gestures to the young John, “Neither does he.” Ominously, Shea looks at Margaret and continues, “And he’s about to ask her and lord help you. So maybe don’t use it.”
Of course, John turns to his mother and asks, “What does fuck mean, mama?” Margaret quickly replies, “It means a spanking and a good one if you say it again.” John looks to his father and asks if Cookie will get the spanking. James laughs and replies “Some form of one is probably headed his way, son.” Sure enough, Margaret goes up and slaps Cookie and whispers, “Use that word again in front of my child, and I’ll stab you with this fucking fork.” Stunned and intimidated, Cookie hands over their dinner. Hopefully, he learned his lesson!
SAM AND ELSA
From the moment their eyes meet, Elsa and Sam are intrigued by one another. After challenging Elsa to a horse race and losing to her and Lightning, Sam congratulates her: “I think you’re the lighting. Lighting with the yellow hair.” When Elsa asks why he calls himself Sam, he replies, “That was the name of the man who killed my wife. I know because I made him tell me. And I killed him and took it.” Elsa admits that she too has killed a man, but she didn’t know to take his name. Sam tells her: “You don’t want his name. Your name is Lighting. Lighting doesn’t mourn. God gave you a good face and yellow hair.”
Sam later returns to save Elsa, Wade and Colton from the tornado. As he covers Elsa from the wind, she screams, but soon, taken with the beauty of the wilderness at its most ferocious, she kisses Sam. After the storm, she and Sam ride to find Wade and Colton’s horses. As he leaves her one more time, he tells her: “Everything you see and everything you saw yesterday is my home! You’re always welcome in it, Lighting with the yellow hair. You’re home too now.” It seems Elsa and Sam are kindred spirits.
IT’S A TWISTER
As the clouds roll in, Sam tells Shea, “The sky is angry. Thieves out here use the storms to hide.” Shea appreciates the warning, but Sam reiterates: “Storm will be here tomorrow. You should leave too. Take them to Colorado.” With Sam’s words ringing through his ears, Shea tries to hurry the wagon party along the next morning, but to no available. As they see the tornado begin to form, Shea, Thomas and James instruct the settlers to release their horses, tie down their wagons and lay down on the ground.
Despite their precautions, the pioneers are left with a number of dead or scattered cattle and wreckage that they must pick through to salvage what supplies and belongings they can. Noemi (Gratiela Brancusi) is heartbroken as she picks up her silver mirror with the glass shattered. She turns to Thomas and laments, “now we have nothing. How do we survive without nothing?” Thomas tells her lovingly: “I’ve got money enough for the both of us. You ain’t losing nothing.” The rest of the pioneers can’t say the same.
WHERE TO NEXT?
With the wagon train in shambles after the storm, Shea and Thomas are forced to make a tough decision. Shea estimates that they can salvage 8 wagons for the 26 adults and 22 children left in their group. Thomas asks where the nearest town is and Shea tells him: “Denver. We gotta turn back. They ain’t gonna make it if half of them are walking.” It looks like our pioneers are heading to Colorado.
Pragmatic as always, Thomas says: “Listen, it’s a month to Doan’s with wagons. What they gonna eat?” Shea responds, “Cattle, if we can find ’em. Horses if we can’t.” Appalled, Thomas tells him, “I ain’t eatin’ no horse.” Luckily, Cookie returns with his food supplies intact. When Shea tells him no one died, Cooke assures him, “Sounds like holding back was the right choice.” We’ll have to wait and see!
Bandits have plagued our intrepid wagon party since the beginning of their journey, but the storm brought their most vicious foes yet. Shea, Thomas, James and Elsa approach what’s left of their herd, shocked to find 13 thieves instead of the 6 they thought they were dealing with. In a thrilling sequence, we watch Shea, Thomas, James shoot men on horseback who are careening towards them while dodging bullets themselves. Just when things look bad, Sam, Two Feathers and Charles Goodnight finish off the rest of the cattle thieves.
Though we don’t get much of an introduction, Charles is old friends with Shea and Thomas, presumably from the war. As he returns their runaway horses, he observes, “I swear Shea, when you bite off more than you can chew, you sure bite big.” Relieved, Shea replies, “I ain’t ashamed to say it. You are a beautiful sight, Charlie.” Charles tells him he’s out in the Plains “hunting bandits and strays,” and Shea thanks him again. “Killing cattle thieves is one of the West’s five great pleasures. No need for thanks,” Charles says graciously. Hopefully Charles will ride with our wagon party for a bit – they sure could use his protection.