True Detective's Yellow King: A Daring Alternative Theory

What if the killer's identity is a next-generation prototype of network cross-marketing?


I had barely finished my 2,000-word-plus deconstruction of how the finale of True Detective might play out—complete with freeze-frame screen captures and tons of what Marty Hart would rightly dismiss as "conjecture"—when it suddenly hit me. I was re-watching the series' penultimate episode, and there it was, right up on the screen. As Hart had promised more than once, the solution was right there under my nose—under all our noses.

Let's begin with what we already know about the elusive, mythical central villain of the show, the Yellow King. Well, there's the obvious: He's a king, and he's yellow, the latter possibly being a synonym for blond. An entire segment of True Detective interpretation has hinged on the idea that Marty Hart might himself be the Yellow King, because in the show's promotional image his blond hair is cut from the frame, forming a "crown."

But why should the blond hair and the crown have to be one and the same? What if there were a Yellow King candidate who had blond hair and a crown, whose yellow-ness could be distinct from his king-ness?

Are you with me yet? No, not Marty's daughter Audrey. Yes, she's blond and, yes, she stole her sister's crown in 1995. But series creator Nic Pizzolatto has been vocal about his aversion to misdirection, so we can safely conclude the Yellow King is not a Yellow Queen. (Besides, Audrey was way too young to commit those complicated 1990s murders.)

So what else do we know about the Yellow King? Well, he's a sadistic misogynist, obviously, with profound sexual issues that may arise from some early-life sense of inadequacy. Plus, he's a protected man, accustomed to getting whatever he wants without question. This innate sense of invulnerability, along with other clues dropped along the way, suggests he may be the heir of a powerful family.

Still not there? The reason, I think, that it's been so hard for us to see, is that the cast of suspects on True Detective is so narrow. Apart from Marty and Rust Cohle, there are hardly any characters—Green Spaghetti Monster and Billy Lee Tuttle notwithstanding—who are well-enough developed that they wouldn't seem to come from out of left field if they were revealed to be principal villains.

But what if—and this is the leap you have to make with me—the Yellow King could be under our noses without having actually appeared on True Detective? You see it now, don't you? It's a wicked bit of cross-marketing by HBO, a way to keep us watching even after True Detective has run its eight-episode course, on into April and beyond.

When we've tuned in to True Detective for the last few episodes, what has been the first thing we've seen, before even the title sequence? Yes, that's it: the promo for season four of Game of Thrones, featuring right there, in the opening frames, the Yellow King himself: Joffrey Baratheon.

Rust Cohle may be a Bayou Supercop, but I think this all could have been cleared up long ago if only he'd recognized those shallow abdominal lacerations on Dora Lange and Rianne Olivier were the result of a quarter-cranked custom crossbow. (I mean: Duh.)

That said, I can't wait to see the thrashing that Grandpa Tywin gives Joffrey when he learns what senseless trouble the boy has been creating for the Lannisters in contemporary Louisiana. Stark loyalists to the North, Martells to the south—the last thing the family needs as they scheme to retain the Iron Throne is a riled-up  Tuttle clan, with its backwoods ways and corrupt investigative task forces. Something tells me though, that Bronn will make out all right.

April can't come soon enough.