Longmire Episode 1.5: “Dog Soldier”

Walt Longmire, Branch Connolly and A. Martinez
Is that a dog soldier I see before me?
This week’s powerful episode, penned by Tony Tost, delivers intensity and mystery in spades, tackling the real-life tragedy of Native American children being taken from their homes by social services. At one point, Cheyenne advocate Jacob Nighthorse (played by soap star A. Martinez) says, “For years, the county has been taking Cheyenne children off the reservation and placing them in homes run by white men and white women. But we expect that, don’t we?” He goes on to say they’re not protesting about the children being taken, but the children being “misplaced.” His matter-of-fact delivery brings home the tragedy of this observation (rendered even stronger by the fact that it’s not just a construct for an episode of television).

SEE ALSO: Find what you seek with this list of Longmire posts covering Season 1 through the new Season 4!

When Neil Cody, a Cheyenne boy, goes missing from his temporary foster home, Walt is called to investigate. At first it seems as though the boy’s biological parents, rumored to be junkies and miscreants, might be behind it. But after a quick visit to their home, he concludes that the Codys’ “only real crime was being poor.” Then a sobbing woman comes to the station, confessing that she fears her 35-year-old son, Jeremy, who’s gone missing and is an unregistered sex offender, may be involved.

Walt and his team follow a lot of paths, as always in their quest to find the wrongdoer. But the mystery is tightly constructed and unfolds more organically this week, relying on less coincidence and more solid plotting than in previous episodes. They suspect, in turn, the families, the pedophile, and the county children’s group home supervisor, who soon disappears along with two more Cheyenne boys.  

A visit to the boys’ social worker, Crystal, even manages to throw a bit of suspicion Henry’s way for a moment when she reveals that a Cheyenne gentleman came in to her office recently and became enraged. Cut to the Red Pony and Henry protesting he was insistent, not enraged. He points out that the truth is being twisted about the families of these children.

Walt and Henry have a brief tense moment at the Red Pony before Henry apologizes, saying the situation is very upsetting on the res. He offers that there used to be a saying among Whites who settled the west: “Kill the Indian, save the man,” and that sometimes it seems like nothing has changed. The culture clash and racial tension between the Whites and the Indians are compelling distinctions that set Longmire apart from the other procedurals cluttering the airwaves, and the focus on that key element makes this episode the strongest one yet.

Woven in amongst the current-day crime are some intriguing flashbacks. Walt gets a letter from the Denver Police Department and we see him intently driving at night in the pouring rain on a highway. Later, he looks at the envelope again and we see a shirtless Walt with an unscarred back staring at himself in a mirror in a starkly lit motel bathroom. Another intriguing piecemeal clue to the mystery of what he did regarding his wife’s death that he can’t tell Cady about?

Cady and Branch
Deep secrets.
Back at the station, Cady’s got her own secrets to keep. She and Branch subtly flirt (they seem to have kissed and made up from last week’s fighting) while Vic finds a potential connection between Shank and Jeremy. Then Ruby comes in and says their Amber Alert snagged a suspect. Turns out, it’s Jeremy who seems innocent of all but failing to register as an offender. As Walt takes care of that, Jacob Nighthorse comes into the station to point out that the foster families get double the money to take in Indian kids. Walt calls Branch in to deal with Jacob’s “politicking” while he runs out to question the kids at the group home again. One of the boys finally confides that he did see something—a Dog Soldier.

A Dog Soldier is basically the Indian equivalent of the boogeyman who spirits naughty children away, we learn. This actually marks the first time that the TV series approaches the mystical thread that runs through Craig Johnson’s novels. In the books, Walt often has Native American dreams or visions, and tends to be guided by spirits in some near-death scenarios. TV-Walt is a bit more pragmatic though, and instantly suspects  a man named Hector, a former boxer and enforcer on the reservation with a scarred cheek like the kid described. Cheyenne who don’t trust the court system hire Hector to “right their wrongs.”

Things switch into high gear. Shanks turns up in the next county, dead from being run over, and then the social worker also gets run off the road. She describes the driver: Hector. Walt sends Branch to round him up on suspicion of murder and kidnapping. But Hector finds Walt first, putting him into a choke hold (proving there are at least some men Walt Longmire can’t take down in a fight) and then trying to explain his innocence. Walt, looking pretty roughed up, hauls him off to the jail, then Cady comes in to tell him the abuse and neglect complaints lodged against the boys’ families all came from one man on the reservation—a man who was recently beaten to unconsciousness and is in the hospital. It’s not looking too good for Hector, but then Henry calls: miraculously, the missing boys were returned, unharmed, to the Red Pony.

When Walt questions them, they stick to their tale of the Dog Soldier as their captor/rescuer, and Henry questions whether Walt will return them to social services. The show’s been walking an interesting tightrope with Walt’s moral decisions. We’ve seen him disregard the law on a few occasions now, arresting a woman for her protection, turning a blind eye to a medical marijuana dealer, and now his response to Henry: “Just cause it’s lawful, don’t mean it’s right” as he takes his leave of the Pony.

Walt, looking decidedly worse for wear
Decidedly worse for wear.
When Nighthorse comes to confront Walt about keeping Hector locked up, he relents (much to his deputies’ confusion) and lets Hector go, saying there’s no way the families had the money to pay what Hector charged for enforcement. Vic and Branch persist that he should arrest Hector for assault at least, but Walt tells them sometimes you have to let a killer believe he’s free to catch him.

It’s a nice bit of misdirection because when we next see Walt, he’s paying a visit not to Hector but to Crystal, the social worker. He’s figured out that she was skimming the extra money the county paid to foster families who take Native American children. The unconscious man in the hospital was a plant, working for her to report abuse when there was none. Crystal turns mean quick, and says a jury will believe her over Hector any day, especially since he kidnapped the boys. Walt says that the kids say it wasn’t him. Then Robert Taylor delivers a pretty fantastic monologue with steely-eyed aplomb:

Walt: They say a Dog Soldier abducted them. The Cheyenne believe in an avenging warrior spirit, that can take on any form, animal, human.

Crystal: And you believe that?

Walt: I believe we become vessels, for forces we cannot control or understand. When you drove over Ryan Shank maybe it was the spirit of the Dog Soldier that guided you. Perhaps that spirit guided me once upon a time as well. So, congratulations, without your confession we have no case against you. The Dog Soldier knows what you’ve done Crystal. And when he comes for you, I’m just a phone call and a twenty-minute drive away.

Walt gets up and puts on his hat.

Walt: I’ll come as fast as I can.

The hard-pounding  Sail by Awolnation strikes up on the soundtrack, as we see some stark flashbacks of Walt taking his sheriff’s badge and putting it in a safe, then taking a gun and tucking it into the back of his jeans. Back in the present, Crystal comes out of the house, and Walt goes to arrest her. The children are returned to their homes, and Walt burns that letter from the Denver Police Department. The final images are of one of the boys looking out the window at the group home as a Dog Soldier, in full headdress and costume, howls to the sky.


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Tara Gelsomino is a reader, writer, pop culture junkie, and Internet addict. You can tweet her at @taragel.

Read all Tara Gelsomino’s posts for Criminal Element.


  1. Carmen Pinzon

    Great episode. I’m enjoying the slow reveal of the backstory, something that usually annoys me. I think it’s the organic way they are unveiled within each episode. This show has become my favorite of the current tv season.

  2. taragel

    Agreed. The writing on this one seemed very strong and striking. I was glad to get a little more this episode of the ongoing mystery, we didn’t get quite as much character flavor and humor, but there was a lot of ground to cover. It’s my favorite currently airing too, which is saying a lot for a girl who is neither into procedurals nor westerns usually. 😉

  3. Mary Saputo

    Okay – well I have NO idea what was in the envelope and I just realized that the view of the Dog Soldier at the top of the mountain at the end of the show was Nighthorse. I knew it was him but I couldn’t figure out what was going on – until I JUST realized that he was dressed as the Dog Soldier. And what about his wife’s death? I thought she had cancer. I don’t know from “organic,” etc. I’d just like to be able to figure out what’s going on. Can anyone enlighten me?

  4. Tatiana deCarillion

    I won the 7th book in this series, in a draw, some weeks back, and so I bought the first one so I could start reading the series in order.

    For those of you that have read the books, is the tv series seemingly following the books, or are they adapting and creating new stories?

    We like this series a lot, including its plodding nature. Last night’s episode was powerful, but the horses dying an episode or so back still haunts me 🙁 Walt looked like total hell in last night’s episode, after his beating–a little too-believable looking LOL

  5. Taragel

    Bitsy–They’re still slowly unfolding what’s up with the letter and the scars on his back and whatever he did that he doesn’t want Henry to tell Cady about.

    Decarillion–They are mostly coming up with their own plots for the show, thought the pilot episode had a lot of the setup and elements from the first book. Also the third episode with the barn fire and horse that died had a similar setup to the book the Dark Horse with the fire, but that’s all.

  6. Clare 2e

    What if I hinted that we just might be planning an upcoming sweepstakes for [s]the entire Longmire book series [/s]something really great if you want to delve deeper into all these characters’ origins and inter-relationships?


      I think i’m a little late in on this conversation…but I just started watching the series and went right through…wow best series I’ve ever seen in my life…I retired in 2013 so I finally found tv series and movies and this one is by far my favorite by far

  7. Tatiana deCarillion

    Yes, please :)) If I won, I’d happily send the two books I already have to someone who needs them to fill in their collection!

  8. Betty Breier

    decarillion – check with your local library. Perhaps you could donate your copies if the library could use them. I work at a library and donated the first four books of the series because we had none of them. We now have the entire series and I am always recommending Craig Johnson to our patrons.

  9. Tatiana deCarillion

    That’s another idea, when I finish reading them, of course.What I have found in the past, though, is that when one donates to the library, the library doesn’t add the books to their holdings; instead, they sell them off at their book sales.

    Our local library burned down, just about a year ago, and is now operating from a storefront in a shopping center. I have yet to read of plans to rebuild it anywhere, and they are not taking donations due to limited space. The library was lacking…a lot…to start with, so I hope that whenever they rebuild, they will improve their holdings and services.

  10. Mary Saputo

    Take them to another library. I’ve found, in this climate, libraries are cutting back on what they order and instead are transferring books more within the circuit. Get a tax slip for the books and deduct them from your taxes. That is, if you can still do that.

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