Yes, Yellowstone is the story of the entire Dutton family. But the Yellowstone Dutton ranch wouldn’t exist without John Dutton’s unofficial son, Rip. Rip manages the ranch hands, which means he basically runs the ranch. He also does John Dutton’s dirty work — and John has a lot of dirty work to be done. On the surface, Rip is one part strict foreman, one part gangster enforcer. You could almost think he’s just another silent, unfeeling, stereotypical grunt.
But then you see how he takes Jimmy under his wing, believing in a kid nobody else would. You see how he’s loyal to the Duttons, often to his own detriment. You see how he’s the toughest guy in the room and isn’t afraid to show it. And you see how his romance with Beth is a love story for the ages. Behind all the silent, unsmiling stares, hard hits, and cold-blooded killing, Rip actually has the most heart of anybody on Yellowstone Ranch. Rip and his relationships make Yellowstone the hit it is, and we’re here to celebrate his finest moments.
Rip saves Jimmy with a taser and a threat
The first time we see Rip in action in the series’ pilot episode, he shows up at the trailer of some small-time thief and tases the kid at the door. When the boy, named Jimmy, wakes, Rip says very matter-of-factly that either he should accept the Yellowstone Ranch brand, or Rip will take him to the law and make sure he goes to jail forever, given his previous record. Rip explains that this is Jimmy’s last chance to make something of himself. Then he shows Jimmy his own brand, and explains how accepting it began his own redemption.
Rip is as menacing as a bear in this scene, but he acts calmly, speaking in a tone that approaches concern and humanity. Jimmy accepts the brand and joins Yellowstone. Later, Rip says Jimmy will be a cowboy, even though John claims bringing the boy on is nothing more than a favor. They’re both proven somewhat correct, but Rip moreso.
Rip takes down Jimmy’s bully
Rip doesn’t seem to play favorites — in fact, he seems to hate almost everybody under him equally. Well, maybe not Lloyd, the old-timer. But he definitely seems to be hard on Jimmy from the start, never missing a chance to call him stupid. The other hands behave similarly, especially Fred. They back off when they see Jimmy has the brand, especially after Lloyd reveals his own brand. Still, though, Fred keeps bullying Jimmy. When Jimmy works hard, that seems to anger Fred even more. When it finally comes to blows in the yard, big Fred pummels Jimmy mercilessly.
At this, Rip tears across the yard and knocks Fred over. Rip says, “What’s the rule about fighting, Fred? You wanna fight somebody? You come fight me! I’ll fight you all goddamn day!” Rip pounds Fred, then tells Jimmy that people like that come and go, but the branded ones are truly part of the ranch. The title of this episode, “The Long Black Train,” likely references the moment Rip takes Fred to “the train station”: A cliff just off the road where Rip kills him, then pushes him into the abyss. A Dutton standard.
Rip takes Beth on a morbid date
Rip, whose history with Beth goes way back, asks her on a date when she returns to the Dutton household. He invites her to a music festival, and she mocks him. Later, she tells him to ask her on a date that’s more suited to her personality, so Rip suggests he and Beth go get drunk and watch some wolves kill an elk in the park. Beth proceeds to the car, saying she’ll drive. There’s no better way to sum up the rocky early days of their relationship than this anecdote: They’re both somewhat broken and just trying to survive whatever weird ways they can.
Rip and Beth proceed to do just what he proposed: They drink whiskey inside her car while they watch wolves feed on an elk. She talks about how in cites, people rope off death. Rip replies, “Pretending it don’t happen doesn’t make it not happen.” Then, Rip points out that everybody and everything she knows will die, though Beth herself might just manage to cheat death. Beth promptly runs at the wolves, and Rip struggles to catch up. When he does, she says there was no danger — it’s only the people she loves who dies. She muses that, as a result, she’s “surprised [Rip’s] still standing.”
Rip saves the wildlife investigator
“Nobody ever f**king listens to me,” Rip says, as the horse carrying the wildlife inspector investigating his shooting of a bear takes off during “The Unraveling: Part 1.” He’d warned her about a horsefly he’d seen on her mount, and offered to kill it — but she threatened him not to touch her horse. When the horsefly does bite, her horse takes off. She is thrown, and ends up with a post piercing her side.
Rip gets down to do some limited triage before he calls their helicopter to pick her up. The officer says she’s going to die, but he rebuts that: “You ain’t gonna die, ’cause if you die they’re gonna think I did this, too.” He saves her because it’s the right thing to do … and, in part, to save his own hide.
This entire affair shows just how good Rip is in a pinch. And to think, the whole investigation began because some tourists didn’t listen to him either, and ended up falling to their death. Rip always tries to do the right thing, but unfortunately, he often gets a raw deal for doing it.
John asks Rip to call him by his name
In the final episode of season one, Rip finds John cleaning the stalls, the last job a ranch owner should ever do. Rip says they have people to do that. In response, John asks Rip to look into why the sheriff (and seemingly everybody else in the county) has turned against him. Rip, perturbed by John’s odd behavior, asks about John’s cancer fight. John says he’s no longer seeing his doctor.
Rip lets that sink in. Then, he responds with, “Sorry to hear that, sir.” John answers simply: “John.” As in, Rip doesn’t have to call him sir. “I’m sorry, John,” the big, tough guy says, with as much gravitas as two cowboys can ever share.
Rip has no father. In fact, he killed his father, an abusive pig farmer who killed his mother and brother. And John Dutton has, by this point, been rejected by his own sons. This is the strongest father-son relationship either of them have. This scene displays a tenderness and vulnerability rarely seen from either man, and encapsulates Rip’s status as John’s truest son. The Rip-John connection is one of the most special elements in the show, and this scene emblematizes why.
Rip and Kayce avenge their hands at the local bar — with a bull
In the season two opener, “A Thundering,” the bunkhouse is enjoying a rowdy vibe, what with the recent additions of Walker, Avery, and Cowboy (and, to an extent, Kayce). Thus, they get drunk and end up playing with a bull. Rip kicks them out and directs them to the bar. While at the bar, the Dutton hands get into a fight with a couple townies. Of course, Jimmy gets hit hard. Back at the ranch, Rip and Kayce hear about the fight. They may not approve of their hands getting out of hand, but they definitely don’t approve of anybody else beating up their boys (and girl).
Rip and Kayce head to the bar with baseball bats, to let the barflies know who’s boss … and they bring the bull. They proceed to let the creature loose in the bar, sending the men flying, straight into their bats. The message: Nobody messes with Rip and his people at the Dutton ranch. Nobody.
Rip lets Kayce win a fight to establish authority
When Kayce first returns to the ranch, we see his relationship with Rip isn’t as sweet as Beth’s. Rip gets off his horse and beats Kayce pretty handily in a fist fight, saying Kayce never could handle a punch — or working. Later, though, John says he wants Kayce to run the bunkhouse, as a first step towards running the ranch. To do that, he’ll have to assert his authority over Rip.
This sets up what might be one of Rip’s most altruistic scenes. First, he orchestrates a situation where Kayce stops Rip from trampling Walker. Rip challenges him to a fight. A knock-down scrap in the corral that all the wranglers see proceeds to take place. Kayce wins the bout, contrary to what we expected, given their first fight. Afterwards, Rip walks up to John, who acknowledges Rip let Kayce win, but that he made the young Dutton work for it. Thus, Rip gives up his pride and his position as head bull at the request of his patron, John Dutton.
Young Rip doesn’t take guff from an older hand
The second episode of season two, “New Beginnings,” opens with a flashback: We see young Rip trying to catch the horse that killed young Beth’s mother. Back in the bunkhouse, Rip’s shining an old hand’s boots while the ranch hand in question jeers, “Little orphan boy fell in love today with the farmer’s daughter.” He keeps calling him little orphan boy until Rip, considerably smaller and less grizzled than the older man, decks him. As the man threatens to kill Rip, one of the branded old-timers says that if his hand touches Rip, he’ll gut the man in his sleep. These scenes show that Rip has fire from the start, only barely contained.
In contrast, the next scene shows young Beth meeting young Rip in the barn. He says he killed his dad, and she says she killed her mom. They kiss, thus beginning the tale of Yellowstone’s own star-crossed (and screwed up) lovers.
Rip’s origin story is seen in another flashback, in which John finds him hiding in a barn and takes the boy in. But in that scene, Rip is still shell-shocked and angry — almost feral, really. When taken together with his other flashback scenes, the audience gets a fantastic look at how Rip grew to become the man we all admire and respect.
Rip teaches Tate to ride a horse
Rip isn’t known for having a soft side, much less for being good with kids. But in the season two episode “Resurrection Day,” Kayce and John go off on a therapeutic ride and leave Tate at the bunkhouse. Rip finds the youngest Dutton there, and pulls him out of its debauched confines. This ends up being a truly tender moment in which Rip shows Tate how to work a horse. He lets Tate pet it, and shows him how it calms the horse. When Kayce and John return, Rip says, “You can add babysitting to my list of talents.” The Duttons are indeed somewhat surprised to see how good Rip is at handling a little one.
Tate goes to talk to his grandfather about getting a horse, and Kayce thanks Rip for watching the boy. “He’s a smart kid. You can see it in his eyes,” Rip replies. Rip and Kayce’s relationship has been fueled by an unofficial sibling rivalry, but as Kayce proves his mettle and Rip realizes his place in the family, they finally move towards a mutually respectful brotherhood. It’s a lot easier to do, now that he’s spent an afternoon playing “Uncle Rip.”
Rip saves Beth from the Beck brothers’ assassins
“Resurrection Day” shows Rip as a gentle teacher, and then as a fierce warrior. Towards the end of the episode, two assassins sent by the Beck brothers break into Beth’s office. She manages to get a text off to Rip before they storm through the room, saying they’re there to scare her. To prove they’re serious, they kill her assistant. She fights back, stabbing one to death, but she can’t kill the other. He beats her horribly, and just as he’s about to rape her, a chair crashes through the glass wall of the room. Rip, angry as a bear, has arrived.
Rip takes a shot from the assailant’s gun before subduing the man — in part by pressing his eyes into his skull. He will forever be the Dutton’s enforcer, but beyond that, he’ll always be Beth’s protector. This one episode shows this versatility in full: He is both babysitter and raging bull. After the attacker’s skull is crushed by a giant ashtray, Rip takes Beth in his arms and comforts her. From that point on, she and Rip are locked together forever.
Rip tears up when John makes him part of the family
“I know who loves me, I know who’s loyal,” John says to Beth in the season two finale, before giving her a letter. She heads to find Rip, reads it, then explains it to him: John is saying that Rip is like a son to him, and he’s giving Rip a house on the ranch. As Rip realizes that he’s gotten what he’s always wanted — the love and respect of John Dutton — he gets teary-eyed. This is the first and only time this happens on Yellowstone.
This flows into the next scene, in which they raid a Montana militia where they suspect Tate is being held. Kayce says that in war, they’d send in an armored truck to draw fire — but of course, they don’t have one. John regrets having to ask Rip to do it, especially on this day, but they need somebody on horseback to draw the fire. Rip responds with, “I can’t think of a better day for it, sir.” He proceeds to charge in, leading to the Duttons’ successful raid.
Rip vs. The biker gang
There’s tough, and then there’s Dutton cowboy tough. At the top of that particular heap is Rip Wheeler. In the fourth episode of season three, “Going Back to Cali,” ranch hands Ryan, Colby, and Teeter are driving back from a livestock auction when they find a fence to the ranch snipped. A bunch of bikers have made the pasture beyond the fence into their own little party place. The three hands take on the group of bikers, who far outnumber them and consequently gain the upper hand. Then Rip arrives.
He plows through their bikes in his ranch truck, destroying the two-wheeled vehicles. Then, Rip storms into the biker swarm, making short order of them with a branding iron. Lloyd draws a gun, and so does a biker. Rip charges the gun-wielding biker, takes his gun, and smacks the man with it. Rip tells the leader, “You leave now or you never leave.” They do — for the time being.
Later that night, the bikers come back and set fire to the field. But John is ready, with Rip in tow. They make the bikers dig their own graves, then send the frightened gang back to where they’re from: California.
Rip has a drink or three before becoming a happy husband
Season three of Yellowstone focuses on Jamie, Kayce’s rise to respectability, and Native issues. Rip takes a back seat — except for episode seven, “The Beating.” In this installment, he takes Jimmy and Jimmy’s girlfriend, Mia, to try and sell a semi-wild horse to a legendary rodeo family. In part, this is to show Jimmy why he should quit rodeo. Mia insists on coming along and chatters on throughout the ride about clothes, spurs, and music, driving the taciturn Rip crazy. “When we get back to the ranch, I’m gonna kill you. With my bare f**king hands, Jimmy,” Rip whispers to him, as Mia prattles on.
When he gets home to Beth, he storms past her, comes out with a six-pack of Coors, chugs a few, and smiles to her, finally calmed. As he smiles, Beth surprises him by revealing that she’s asked her father if it’s okay for her to marry Rip, then presents him with a ring. This may be the happiest moment of the season, if not the series.
Season three is full of heartwarming Rip and Beth honeymoon-phase scenes, where they enjoy the love that had long been denied by Beth’s self-destructive behavior. This scene is a great example of their bond — and how Rip maintains it, by refusing to drag his work demons into his happy home.