Thick smoke rises past skeletal trees obscuring the night sky. The reflection of flames dances eerily in the side mirror of a truck parked near a barn raging with fire. A terrible screaming fills the air.
Inside the barn, horses are trapped in their stalls by the roaring flames consuming the walls. They rear up on their hind legs twisting this way and that searching for a way out. A black mare is free of her stall, frantically circling the center of the barn. The towering wall of fire is closing in fast.
Another fire, this one controlled and quiet, illuminates the handsome craggy face of Walt Longmire. A leather medicine bag hangs against his bare chest. An old man's voice chants in Cheyenne inside the sweat lodge where Walt sits in a ceremonial circle with several other half naked men. Walt's friend, Henry Standing Bear, passes him a large wooden spoon with liquid and translates the words of the medicine man: This life is not easy. It is for the strong of heart. The jagged scars on Walt's back suggest the message is meant for him.
Inside the barn is a hellish inferno; the horses lie on the floor burning to death except for the black mare. She leaps and twists in a mad fury.
In the sweat lodge Henry translates for Walt: The lodge is a haven from all that is bad...
The barn is engulfed in flames. Suddenly, the mare smashes through a blazing wall, free at last to run until she drops to the ground and rolls in the dirt to cool her burning hide.
Henry touches the leather bag on Walt's chest telling him to stay true to his warrior spirit. Suddenly a cell phone rings, shattering the mood in the sweat lodge. Walt mutters that's why he doesn't own a cell phone. Henry glares at the young man who sheepishly steps out to answer his phone, but it turns out the call is for Walt. Ancient spirit time is over.
Walt's Bronco pulls up to the ranch with the burning barn. The smoke is still thick, but firemen have the fire under control. Walt takes in the scene in the flashing lights from the police cars, ambulance, and fire trucks, and strides over to where a veterinarian is treating the injured black mare. Walt kneels by the horse looking up him with terror in her eyes. He touches the medicine bag still around his neck and tucks it inside his shirt. Deputy Branch Connally breaks the moment, sidling up to Walt looking fresh as a daisy next to Walt's sweaty stubble. He needles Walt for his late arrival, and informs him that there are two dead horses in the barn, and the mare will probably be next. Walt whispers to the mare not to listen to Branch.
Walt joins Deputy, Victoria "Vic" Moretti, who can't believe what a "sh**storm" this is. Walt notices a bearded man comforting a woman and teenage boy who look like they are in shock. What is Bill Hoback doing here? Vic explains that Bill is a friendly neighbor of TJ and Alice Stewart, the son and wife of the ranch owner, Ray Stewart. No one can find Ray even though his truck is parked outside the barn. Vic has been calling his cell phone repeatedly, but there's no answer. A fireman hurries over to tell Walt a body has been found inside the barn. Even though the roof is about to collapse, Walt insists on going in to look at the body. He refuses to allow Vic to join him, and won't wear the fireman's hard hat - Walt's cowboy hat is all the protection he needs.
Inside the smoldering remains of the barn, Walt sees something that stops him in his tracks - the burned carcass of a horse. The search continues until Walt finds another corpse - this one human, and charred to the bone. However, there is a silver wristwatch still attached to what is left of one arm. Walt douses it with water from a bottle in his pocket.
A bit later outside, Walt greets Bill Hoback and asks him to take TJ inside so he can talk to the boy's mother alone. Alice Stewart has a sweet face worn by trouble. She asks if Walt has been able to reach her husband. She fears Ray will be devastated since the horses are his life. Walt shows her the watch he found on the corpse in the barn and Alice breaks down in sobs. Walt swears he'll find the truth of what happened to her husband. TJ suddenly bursts from the house carrying a shotgun and charges towards the injured horse muttering that she needs to be put down. Walt calls to TJ to stop and talk, but the boy is on a grief-fueled rampage.
In seconds, TJ reaches the fallen mare and points the gun to her head. Branch tries to block him, but the boy insists it's wrong to let the horse suffer. The vet shouts, "No!" as the boy pulls the trigger. BLAM! The shot hits the sky as Walt grabs the barrel of the gun, tilting it up and away from the horse just in time.
Hours later, dawn rises over the barn, now just a smoldering skeleton of a building. The Bronco is still parked outside.
Inside, Walt is asleep behind the wheel, his cowboy hat tipped over his eyes. Vic appears in the driver side window with a cup of coffee and bangs on the door calling "Room service!" Walt wakes with a start.
Moments later, Walt and Vic are stepping through the ashes, exploring the remains of the barn. Walt stares at the charred skeleton of a horse, and Vic hopes she'll never encounter a mess like this again. Vic finds trophies and wonders if these were racehorses. Walt explains these were "cutting" horses, a specialized sport; and this many trophies means the horses were very valuable.
Walt points out the human corpse, and Vic spots a cell phone nearby melted from the heat - no wonder there was no answer. Then Walt discovers a .45 revolver in the ashes by the body. Examining the gun, Walt realizes only one shot was fired. Vic guesses Ray took one to the head. Walt asks Vic to help him lift the fallen barn doors - and discovers they were padlocked... from the inside. Ray didn't want to be saved.
A short time later in the Stewart's kitchen, Walt gently questions Alice. Was Ray under any stress? Alice insists Ray loved his horses, but was worried about an upcoming competition. He was also on anti-depressants. Walt sends Vic up to the bathroom to look for them. When Vic grudgingly complies, Walt quietly asks Alice if Ray had begun hitting her again. Alice insists that was just one time - Ray loved her! Two years ago when Alice first came to Walt for help with that problem, he promised to keep it a secret, but now he has to know if anyone else was aware of the incident. Perhaps TJ found out? Alice is stunned. Could he be suggesting that her son is involved?
Suddenly, TJ appears in the kitchen distraught, holding a note he found in his father's office. Alice reads it and goes to hug her son as he breaks down in tears. Walt glances at the note and asks Alice to confirm - is that Ray's signature? It is.
A bit later, Walt and Vic load an evidence box into Walt's truck. Vic believes Ray's death is a suicide. But Ray's brief "I'm sorry and I love you" message on the note doesn't sit right with Walt. A headstone behind the gate of a cemetery on the property catches his eye. Vic notices the shift in Walt's demeanor. What now? Walt turns to look at the body bag being loaded into a hearse. He understands a man wanting to kill himself, but he's got to be in a pretty dark place to take his horses with him.
Later, Walt stops by the veterinarian's stable to visit the mare who survived the fire. She lies inert on the floor under blood soaked bandages, struggling to breathe. Helping the vet change the bandages, Walt, a farrier's son, notices that the mare's shoes should have been changed a month ago. Her teeth are in even worse shape. For a man who won so many trophies with his horses, Ray Stewart was taking terrible care of them. The vet predicts the mare won't make it, but Walt believes in long shots. He promises to pay for whatever it takes to save her.
Returning to the sheriff's office, Walt is greeted by Deputy "the Ferg" Ferguson, who stammers an apology for not appearing at the scene of the fire the night before. Walt lets him off the hook. Then Branch mocks Walt's "old school" re-election campaign sign. Walt defends it as "subtle" and gets on with the case: analyzing the signature on the suicide note. Was it really Ray's? Branch turned up only one sample of Ray's signature to match to the note - from the DMV. The ranch is in Alice Stewart's name and, strangely, there is no mortgage application. They paid cash! Vic chimes in that it's the same story with the truck and horse trailer, paid in cash, no signature to be found. Branch suggests they call in an FBI handwriting analyst to help, but Walt hates the FBI butting in. He'll take Alice and TJ's word that Ray signed the note until there's reason to suspect otherwise. Branch and Vic exchange a look as Steve Rogers, an insurance salesman, barges through the door.
In Walt's office, Steve asserts that Ray's death must be suicide since the barn doors were chained on the inside. Walt wants to know if there is a suicide clause in Ray's life insurance policy, but it turns out Ray didn't have life insurance. In fact he hadn't insured the house or barn either. The only policies were on Alice's life with TJ as the sole beneficiary, and on the horses. Big policies: worth millions. Steve shows Walt the policies with pictures of the horses attached. Walt takes a long look at a photo of the black mare in front of the barn. The beneficiary of the horse insurance was Alice.
At the Stewart's ranch Alice sits in the kitchen lost in home movies of Ray, TJ and Bill Hoback. Happier times. She is so absorbed she doesn't realize that Walt is standing in the doorway watching her.
A bit later, Alice shows Walt pictures of Ray, describing a competition he won last year, but Walt cuts her off and tells her to stop lying. He called around and found out Ray didn't win any trophies. In fact, he never competed at all. The whole story is a lie. The mare was neglected for months, but Ray sure took a lot of insurance out on the horses... or was it Alice who did that? Alice is stunned by Walt's accusation. What does he want from her? Walt demands the truth about Ray. What is she hiding? Alice swears she's been honest until Walt threatens to charge her with murder. Alice is flabbergasted. Why would she ever kill Ray? Walt lists the reasons - Ray beat her, she wanted the insurance money... Alice insists Ray's death was suicide! There's a note, and as Walt himself discovered, Ray chained himself in. But Walt shows Alice the insurance agent's picture of the mare in front of the barn. There's a window on the second floor. It would have been easy to escape through. So what isn't she telling him? Walt has Alice cornered and she knows it.
At a table in a darker room Alice shows Walt another photo, but now she's painfully spitting out the words. The photo is of Ray with his parents in Boston, only his name isn't Ray. It's Oscar Arnesto. He used to work for the Depanzo crime family until he had a falling out with them. He stole some of their money, then disappeared to Texas, where he met Alice. She fell in love with him and it was only after they married that Ray revealed the truth about his identity. From then on they paid cash for everything to avoid leaving a paper trail, and tried to live a normal life. They bought the ranch and horses to blend in, but they couldn't hide from the Depanzo family forever. Alice thinks they either killed Ray or drove him to kill himself. Walt is worried that Alice and TJ are in danger and tells her to come stay at the station. But Alice doesn't trust him and orders him to go, she's told him all she knows. Walt has no choice. He snaps his cuffs on Alice and arrests her for her own protection.
The next morning, Walt crosses the town square with a bag of food and cups of coffee with Branch and Vic in his wake. For once they are united - against Walt. Branch reads aloud from a front-page news story about Alice Stewart's arrest. Vic can't believe that Walt filled in a reporter before his own team! It makes them all look bad. Walt denies talking to anyone and insists he was going to fill the deputies in right after giving Alice her breakfast. Branch accuses Walt of freezing him out of every investigation just because he's running against him for sheriff. Walt denies that too. After all, he allowed Branch to call in his FBI handwriting expert, didn't he? There's no time to argue. Walt orders Branch to look for strangers from Boston in the guest registries of every hotel in the area and intrigues him with the potential of an organized crime connection - a revelation not found in the paper. But Vic is still upset about the article. Walt suggests she do what he does, and stop reading newspapers.
Minutes later, Walt strides into his office to find his daughter Cady with her feet up on his desk. Bill Hoback called a lawyer to protest Alice's wrongful arrest, and the lawyer happens to be Cady's boss. Mostly Cady is worried that the negative press will hurt Walt's campaign for sheriff. Walt is more concerned that Alice's life is in danger. Cady points out that his actions might be noble, but it's illegal to arrest Alice without cause and she must be released. Walt hates to admit it, but Cady is right.
Walt reluctantly releases Alice to join TJ and Bill Hoback - they'll be staying at Bill's place now. On their way out, Walt offers to take TJ to see his horse. The boy spits at Walt - to see her in pain? Alice marshals TJ to the door as Walt gently admonishes him not to give up on the mare because she hasn't. The minute the door closes behind them, Walt orders Vic to tail them and make sure they are safe, and to make sure that Alice and Bill don't run off together.
Driving back, Vic radios Walt that Alice and TJ got to Bill's house without a hitch. Annoyed that Doc Bloomfield is too busy delivering babies to complete the autopsy quickly, Vic reached out to a friend back East who deals with organized crime. He confirmed there was an Oscar Arnesto who disappeared 11 years ago. The friend sent a picture of Oscar via cell phone that looks just like Ray. Vic would forward the picture to Walt's cell phone except - oops! - Walt doesn't have one. Ignoring the barb, Walt hangs up on Vic.
At the office, the Ferg is engrossed in tying a fishing fly. A Man-In-Black with a buzz cut comes in and announces he's Agent Daxner, Federal Marshal, here to talk to the sheriff about the "Ray Stewart situation." Startled, Ferg cuts his finger on the fly and hides it, bleeding, behind his back while explaining that the sheriff is out. Agent Daxner starts asking about Alice, and the Ferg reveals she's been released and is now staying with her neighbor Bill Hoback. Agent Daxner seems appalled and wants directions to find the sheriff. As always, the Ferg complies.
At the hospital, Walt and Vic stand by the corpse from the barn, laid out for autopsy, fried to a crisp. Vic relays a message from the Ferg that the Federal Marshal is on his way over to ask Walt questions. Walt warns that they better hurry or lose control of the case. The doctor's notes on the clipboard are indecipherable so they examine the body. Walt has never seen burns this bad. Vic notices that there is an exit wound on the side of the head. Back East she worked a suicide case where the guy shot himself with a .45 like this one, but there was no exit wound. She wonders if someone shot the victim with a different gun and then planted the .45 to make it look like suicide. Walt plucks a bullet from his own .45, and sticks it into the wound. Perfect fit. This guy was definitely shot with a .45. Suddenly, Walt realizes what the accelerant was that burned the man so badly and exacerbated the barn fire: formaldehyde!
At the cemetery on the Stewart ranch, Walt jumps into an open grave while Vic looks on. Walt opens the casket and finds it empty. Vic wonders what the f***? Walt explains: the human brain is gelatinous and so it slows a bullet down, but if the brain has shrunk, as happens after it's been dead a few years, the bullet would pass right through the head and leave a gaping exit wound. This case isn't murder or suicide - it's a missing person!
Walt's battered Bronco pulls up outside Bill Hoback's house. Vic is wondering if Alice knows her husband is still alive when suddenly POW! POW! - shots are fired at them from the house. Vic and Walt dive behind the Bronco for cover. Bill's voice is heard shouting at Walt to go away. Walt shouts back that he can't leave now that Bill has fired at him. BANG! Another shot shatters a Bronco window. Vic insists that everything was normal earlier when she watched Bill enter the house with Alice and TJ. Why don't they just call in a SWAT team like they would back East? There's no SWAT team in Durant, Wyoming, but they do have the Ferg, just pulling up in his blue Thunderbird.
As the Ferg gets out of his car, Walt and Vic frantically signal him to duck, but he doesn't notice. More shots are fired from the house and the Ferg runs clumsily to the Bronco to crouch with Walt and Vic. Nearly in tears, he apologizes over and over, confessing that the Federal Marshal is actually a fraud. When Agent Daxner didn't turn up at the autopsy, the Ferg called the main Marshal office to verify his identity. They had never heard of him. What's worse, he told Daxner where to find Alice. Walt realizes Ray's mafia enemies now have Alice and TJ. Walt orders Vic to call in Branch for back up.
Branch is there within minutes, astonished that Ray is alive. Is that who is shooting from the house? Walt isn't sure, it could be a hitman posing as a Federal Marshal. Vic rubs salt in the Ferg's wound by pointing out it's his fault. Branch wants to call the Reservation police for back up, but Walt is ready to negotiate. Before anyone can stop him, he's walking towards the house with his hands up waving a white handkerchief. He shouts out to Daxner that all he cares about is making sure that no one gets hurt. The door opens and a man with a plastic bag over his head and blood on his shirt is shoved out. It's Bill Hoback.
Walt quickly helps Bill get back behind the Bronco and tears off the bag that is suffocating him. Bill has been beaten ferociously. Daxner is threatening to kill Alice and TJ if Walt doesn't leave now. He had tricked Bill into opening the door by pretending to be a Marshal, and then went crazy beating him up while demanding money stolen by someone named Oscar. Bill doesn't seem to know about Ray's mafia connection, but is clearly in on the secret that Ray is alive. Last time he saw Ray was after the fire. Bill lent Ray his cell phone so he could connect with Alice, but he hasn't seen him since.
It's snowing by the time Branch finishes working with the phone company to draw a map on his computer tracking Bill's cell phone signal - to Bill's house. Either Bill is lying and he never gave his phone to Ray, or Ray is in the house. Bill insists he's telling the truth. Walt looks around, notices something, and tells Branch to do what he's good at: draw attention to himself. Before anyone can ask why, Walt is racing for the woods around the side of the house. Branch jumps out from behind the Bronco and starts running while firing his gun in the air. He draws bursts of gunfire from the house then dives behind a pile of logs.
Walt reaches a set of storm doors at the side of the house. He yanks them open and quickly heads down the stairs.
Walt's flashlight beam cuts through the darkness in the basement and finds Ray Stewart, crouched like a scared animal in a corner. Walt tells him they need to talk.
In an agonized whisper Ray explains. The Depanzos were coming for him. Ray had spotted one of them in town and knew he'd been seen and recognized. They hear a thump and Alice's voice arguing with someone upstairs. Walt wants to know who it is, but Ray doesn't recognize the voice. He assumes it's a Depanzo hitman. Walt wonders why Ray didn't just take off with the mob money? Shamefaced, Ray confesses that money is gone. He needed the insurance money just to survive; can't Walt see that? What Walt sees is a horse murderer and a grave robber; a man whose wife and son are upstairs with a gun to their heads while he cowers in the basement safe and warm. Ray protests that he's not a coward! But Walt handcuffs him to a pipe on the cellar ceiling sneering that Ray's been hiding all his life, now he just has to hide a while longer.
It's snowing hard as Walt races back to the group behind the Bronco. Branch's distraction ploy wasn't exactly what Walt had in mind, but he has to admit that it worked. Now, Walt has a plan to get Daxner to leave with him. Once he does, Walt directs the team to make sure Alice and TJ are safe, and then get Ray out of the cellar. Walt takes a deep breath and steps into plain view with his hands up in the air.
Walking slowly towards the house, Walt calls out to Daxner that he knows where to find Ray's money. Daxner should leave Alice and the boy, who are no use to him, and come with Walt to get the money. Suddenly, Ray's voice screams out from below that he's Oscar Arnesto!
Ray is still cuffed to the pipe in the cellar, hollering at the top of his lungs for Daxner to come down and get him! He ain't afraid!
Outside Walt freezes in his tracks. His plan is blown. BLAM! BLAM! There's gunfire, and this time it's not aimed at Walt.
In the cellar, shots rain down on Ray who twists like a worm on a hook to dodge them.
At the edge of the porch, Walt pulls out his gun and dashes into the house.
In the living room Daxner holds Alice in a headlock while he continues firing into the floor at Ray. TJ is bound against a wall. Walt lunges for Daxner who flings Alice to the floor. As the two men wrestle, Alice crawls to TJ and covers him with her body. Daxner has Walt in a suffocating chokehold until Walt slams his elbow into Daxner's stomach, knees him in the groin, and smashes his head into a lamp. Daxnar is down and Walt lands his fist in his face. Branch and Vic barge in guns raised, just as Walt finishes Daxnar off. Branch steps in to cuff Daxner while Vic hurries over to Alice and TJ. Walt staggers out the door exhausted and bruised, but with no time to lose.
Gasping for breath Walt lunges down the cellar stairs. Ray is dangling by his handcuffed arm drenched in blood, barely alive. Walt asks, why didn't he keep quiet? Ray proved he's not a coward after all.
A gleaming badge slides across Walt's desk. The Ferg tells Walt he knows he was only hired as a favor to his dad, but he's just not cut out for this. Walt admits there are two reasons he hired the Ferg: only one was for his dad. Walt looks the Ferg in the eye: Walt's still waiting to find out the other one. He slides the badge back to his young deputy just as Ruby comes in with bad news. The vet is on the phone.
At the vet's stable, the burnt and bloodied mare lies close to death staring up at Walt. He whispers that she doesn't have to do this any more, she's proved that she's tough, it's ok to go now. With tears in his eyes, Walt places the medicine bag from the sweat lodge ceremony on the horse's neck and reads her a blessing from a hand-written note bearing a Cheyenne symbol. It ends, "let us all know peace." Walt bows his head, but the horse suddenly stirs and snorts. Could there be hope? Man and horse are bathed in the light of the stable as night falls around them.