‘1923’s 12 Biggest Gut-Punch Moments of Season 1, Ranked

'1923's most emotional moments
Christopher Saunders/Emerson Miller/Paramount+

[Warning: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for 1923.]

In true Yellowstone fashion, 1923 has been filled to the brim with shocking moments. Be it unexpected deaths, brutal attacks, or perilous hardships, the prequel series knows how to keep viewers on the edge of their seats.

Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren‘s Jacob and Cara Dutton lead the helm of this family that faces one danger after another. And after the deadly attack on their family and hoard of cowboys, they’re in dire need of Spencer’s (Brandon Sklenar) speedy return home.

But he and his new wife, Alexandra (Julia Schlaepfer), have to make it to Montana if they’re going to be of any help to the ranch and its legacy, and that journey is proving to be more life-threatening than anything Banner Creighton (Jerome Flynn) and Donald Whitfield (Timothy Dalton) can pull off. What are men compared to elephants, lions, shipwrecks, and sharks?

Even with these constant brushes with death, Teonna Rainwater (Aminah Nieves) is facing the worst of it all, suffering through who knows how many months of abuse at a Catholic church-operated residential boarding school.

Here, we rank 1923‘s biggest gut-punch moments so far, including shocking plot twists, unexpected deaths, and heartbreaking emotional confessions from across the show’s gripping first season.

With Season 2 on the horizon at Paramount+, there’s sure to be more where these came from.

1923, Season 1, Streaming Now, Paramount+

Julia Schlaepfer & Brandon Sklenar in '1923' Season 1 Episode 4
Emerson Miller/Paramount+

12. Spencer Learns His Brother's Fate (Episode 4)

What started as a fun reading of the long-avoided letters from Aunt Cara ended with the tragic news of John Dutton Sr.’s (James Badge Dale) death. Alexandra’s face sunk as she read the news aloud to her love, who chose to return home to Montana that instant after six years away. Their honeymoon phase bubble couldn’t have been popped in a more heartbreaking way, save for one of them perishing themselves (knock on wood).

Harrison Ford & Helen Mirren in '1923' Season 1 Episode 6
Christopher Saunders/Paramount+

11. Cara's Monologue About Grief (Episode 6)

Cara carried the world on her shoulders while Jacob was incapacitated by his wounds from the fatal shootout that killed John Sr., Elizabeth’s (Michelle Randolph) father, and more. The subsequent months were defined by mourning and healing, though the healing came slowly and the grief remained.

Cara made Jacob acutely aware of this in Episode 6 to check his anger over her springing the sheriff on him before he felt ready. Listing the losses (for Darren Mann‘s Jack, both of his parents, and for Elizabeth, her father’s death and her mother’s departure from Montana) and the struggles to keep the ranch and her husband alive was a powerfully sad reality check for the cowboy.

Harrison Ford in '1923' Season 1 Episode 6

10. Jacob's True Reasons for Protecting the Ranch (Episode 6)

Just when we thought Cara’s monologue about grief was heavy, in came Jacob’s apology to her later that night. In the emotional monologue, Jacob made it clear that he’s well aware of Cara and the family’s months of sacrifices and thanked her for it. But it was his reasons for protecting the ranch that packed the biggest punch.

He fights to preserve the land because of his family’s connection to it. When Cara dies, he said, he never wants to see a day where a city is built on top of her grave. He’s in the conservation long game, his motivation being the love of his life.

Brandon Sklenar & Julia Schlaepfer in '1923' Season 1 Episode 6 shipwreck
Emerson Miller/Paramount+

9. The Tugboat Shipwreck (Episode 6)

As if Spencer and Alex’s time in Africa didn’t provide enough perilous adventures with the elephant flipping their car and their sleepover in the tree above a pack of lions, the couple is thrown overboard when their tugboat to the Suez Canal is struck by a ship and capsizes. They’re left to sit, wait, and fend off sharks until another vessel comes to their rescue.

The danger began when Captain Lucca (Peter Stormare) died at the wheel, causing the engine to putter out and the tugboat to float aimlessly. Spencer couldn’t get the boat out of the way of the ship in time, but these two are proving to be lucky as hell.

As they waited for salvation, Alex delivered a melancholic refusal of death, saying that if this is where she is to die, she’d spend her last moments kissing Spencer. They were miraculously found hours later and taken to safety aboard an ocean liner captained by The Rings of Power‘s Joseph Mawle.

Marley Shelton in '1923' Season 1 Episode 5
Christopher Saunders/Paramount+

8. Emma's Suicide (Episode 5)

Emma (Marley Shelton) was never the same after her husband was killed in the Episode 3 shootout. His death plummeted her into a deep depression that didn’t let up, leading to her tragically taking her own life in Episode 5. There weren’t many signs that Emma would recover from the effects of her grief, but that didn’t make her death any less heartbreaking.

Amelia Rico in '1923' Season 1 Episode 6
Christopher Saunders/Paramount+

7. Issaxche's Murder (Episode 6)

Teonna’s grandmother (Amelia Rico) had been advocating for her granddaughter’s safe return from the brutal boarding school, but she was wrongfully denied the chance to even try because of the U.S. government’s oppressive laws keeping Indigenous families separated.

Government officers came looking for Teonna at Issaxche’s home after she escaped the school, shocking Issaxche with the warrant for her arrest. She lunged at the invading officer in her anger, and he pushed her so hard, she hit the iron stove and died. The quickness of her death was a shock made worse by the officer’s inhumane justification of his killing her.

Joy Osmanski in the '1923' Season 1 finale

6. Zane's Wife, Alice, is Arrested (Episode 8)

We didn’t learn much about Brian Geraghty‘s Zane Davis until the 1923 finale. And what started as a happy story showcasing his wife, Alice (Joy Osmanski), and their adorable children ended in tragedy as Alice, an Asian woman, was arrested for marrying a white man and Zane was beaten by police for trying to stop her arrest.

Michael Greyeyes & Aminah Nieves in '1923' Season 1 Episode 6
Christopher Saunders/Paramount+

5. Hank's Murder (Episode 7)

Michael Greyeyes‘s Hank took Teonna in when he stumbled across the beleaguered teen after her escape from the school. He’s been essential to her survival ever since, especially when saving her from the priests who hunted her down. Hank saved Teonna from being attacked and kidnapped by her former abusers but was shot in the back as he carried her to safety.

Viewers had spent several episodes getting to know the lovable, wise Hank. His death came at the hands of a priest who they seemingly struck dead moments before, leaving Teonna in horrified disbelief.

After Teonna’s father, Runs His Horse (Michael Spears), rescued her and Hank’s son, Pete Plenty Clouds (Cole Brings Plenty), the three avenged Hank’s death in the Episode 8 season finale. But now, Teonna, Runs His Horse, and Pete are headed into a trap set by Sebastian Roché‘s Father Renaud and the local authorities hunting them down.

Helen Mirren and Harrison Ford in the '1923' finale
Emerson Miller/Paramount+

4. Donald Whitfield Makes His Play for the Ranch (Episode 8)

The 1923 Season 1 finale saw Jacob trying to secure a loan in order to get enough hay to last the winter. A banker loyal to the detestable Donald Whitfield (Dalton) tipped the monopolist off, leading him to make a move that threatens the Duttons’ livelihoods.

Donald arrived at the Dutton homestead to inform Jacob and Cara that he had paid the property tax on their land. If he’s not paid back in full by the end of the year, he gets the ranch. The heartbreaking disbelief on Jacob and Cara’s faces as Donald dealt the blow was crushing.

Brandon Sklenar and Julia Schlaepfer in the '1923' Season 1 finale
Emerson Miller/Paramount+

3. Spencer & Alex's Separation (Episode 8)

It was out of the frying pan and into the fire for Spencer and Alex in the Season 1 finale. Surviving death-defying odds brought them to the Majestic, a ship to England; also on board were Alex’s ex, Arthur (Rafe Soule), and his parents, the Earl and Countess of Sussex (Bruce Davison and Jane Carlson).

The brattish Arthur Jr. challenged Spencer to a duel that he fought without honor, forcing Spencer to throw him overboard to his death. Arthur Sr. (Davison) demanded Spencer’s arrest and that Alex be remanded to her room. Former bridesmaid Jennifer (Jo Ellen Pellman) negotiated Spencer’s release and broke Alex out of her stateroom, but he was removed from the ship before she could jump into the dingy.

The season ended with Spencer and Alex separated, desperately yelling “I love you” for the first time as his boat rowed further and further away. Now, Alex is unwillingly heading to London, promising she’ll meet Spencer in Montana.

Helen Mirren in '1923' Season 1 Episode 3
Emerson Mille/Paramount+

2. The Attack on the Duttons (Episode 3)

Banner Creighton’s brutal attack on the Duttons was a response to the unsettling attack Jacob orchestrated against him. The shootout was a gunslinging bloodbath that killed John Sr., Elizabeth’s father, and a swath of the Dutton cowboys. The hired hands who didn’t die left the family behind for less dangerous pastures.

The attack left Jacob nearly fatally wounded (assumed dead by his enemies), and Jack and Elizabeth also sustained gunshot wounds. The most chilling moment of it all was learning the context of Mirren’s first scene in the series premiere.

Viewers at first didn’t understand why she killed that man and let out a guttural cry. Episode 3 revealed what caused it all, changing the Duttons’ lives forever.

Aminah Nieves in '1923' Season 1 Episode 4
Emerson Miller/Paramount+

1. Teonna at the Boarding School (Episodes 1-4)

The abuse Teonna endured at the Montana boarding school was horrifically repetitive, driving her to kill Sister Mary (Jennifer Ehle) and the nun who raped her before making her nighttime escape from the religious institution in Episode 5.

This moment of righteous rage was the culmination of her traumatizing time at the school, but each of those moments have been the most harrowing scenes of the series so far. Her close friend, Baapuxti’s (Leenah Robinson), murder at the hands of Father Renaud was also terribly sad.

After suffering countless abuses at the school run by religious zealots like Renaud, seeing Teonna receive compassion in response to the tale of her escape was needed both for the character and the viewer. Hank providing Teonna aid and taking her along on his journey home (where they’d send word to her father) was a sigh of needed relief.