Image Source: Paramount Pictures
The opening scene of Netflix’s “Yellowjackets” begins with one of the most haunting TV sequences in recent memory. A dark-haired girl in a nightgown runs through a frozen forest, looking scared for her life — and for good reason. As she runs, a pit opens up beneath her feet, and she falls in. The next frames show her limbs nailed to the ground with sticks, and then she’s getting hung up by her feet and flayed while a bunch of people clad in animal skins look on. Eventually, after the girl’s remains are placed in front of an antler-clad figure, the group devours her.
The specter of that scene haunts all of “Yellowjackets,” which tells the story of a girls’ soccer team who crash-land in a forest and are forced to survive there for 19 months. Interspersing that story with scenes set 25 years later — when the surviving girls are struggling adults — the series is mostly about trauma and its lingering effects. By season two, the wilderness has begun to wreak havoc on the team’s minds, making their descent into ritualistic murder more and more comprehensible.
Since the beginning of the show, one of viewers’ most pressing questions has concerned the identity of the antler-clad leader from the first scene, whom fans have branded the Antler Queen. While at first the figure’s identity seemed obvious, the Antler Queen may be a bit more complicated than she — or it — first appears to be. Ahead, here’s what we know.
Is Lottie the Antler Queen?
Lottie (played by Courtney Eaton as a teen and Simone Kessell as an adult), who deals with mental illness and begins having visions of the forest as soon as she runs out of her meds, was initially the main contender for the Antler Queen. In one episode in season one, she’s shown in front of some antlers hanging on the wall, which frame her face as if she’s wearing them as a headdress. She also sees a deer in the vision she has when Laura Lee (Jane Widdop) baptizes her, and gifts Van (Liv Hewson as a teen and Lauren Ambrose as an adult) a deer’s bone as a talisman to keep her safe.
Image Source: Paramount Pictures
Then, in the ill-fated, psychedelic-distorted party in season one’s “Doomcoming,” Lottie actually puts on some antlers and a shawl that resembles the Antler Queen’s. By season two, young Lottie has already begun leading the stranded Yellowjackets and company in morning rituals and superstitious rites. She also seems to have some kind of ability to communicate with what she sees as the spirit of the forest. For all these reasons, it was easy to assume she’s the driving force behind of the violent acts that the team commits during the first season.
In season two, we discover that Lottie becomes a cult leader (played by Simone Kessell) as an adult, and oddly, the mysterious symbol that the team sees all over the woods appears to play a critical role in her organization. Adult Lottie also frequently reference an independent force that existed in the wilderness while the girls were stranded, and that — combined with some of Kessell’s comments — throws the Antler Queen’s identity into question. During season two, episode nine, though, another surprising Antler Queen contender emerges as we learn that Lottie actually crowned Nat (Sophie Thatcher as a teen and Juliette Lewis as an adult) the leader of the remaining Yellowjackets.
Is Nat the Antler Queen?
Nat was always an unlikely choice for the Antler Queen, given her dislike of Lottie and all things supernatural. But during the last episode of season two, Lottie decides that the wilderness has chosen Nat as the group’s new leader. The rest of the team winds up formally recognizing Nat’s leadership, making Nat a surprise frontrunner for the face behind the Antler Queen’s mesh veil. Unfortunately, adult Nat dies at the end of season two, meaning we won’t get to see Lewis grapple with her memories of being the Antler Queen (if she is) in the present day.
Is the Antler Queen a Spirit or Force?
As it turns out, Kessell had the same questions we all do about the Antler Queen’s identity. In an April interview with The Hollywood Reporter, she provided some insight that managed to make things even less transparent.
“I remembering saying, ‘What is the Antler Queen? Is it a symbol, is it a metaphor, is it real?’ And I remember [the creators] going [no answer],” she said. “It can be kind of anything that we deem it to be,” she continued. “There was so much about Lottie being the Antler Queen. But really now, we’ve distilled it into the fact that the Antler Queen is a part of all of us, and she really was something that kind of kept these women going to survive in the wilderness. That was my interpretation of it. I had so many questions, but I was trying to play it cool.”
There’s a fair amount of evidence to back this theory up. Throughout the second season, adult Lottie and Natalie (Juliette Lewis) frequently reference a force or entity they call “it,” which they both seem to believe came back home with them from the wilderness. This indicates that the Antler Queen in the show’s very first scene could be a hallucination, or possibly a real entity that shows itself to the team in the form of the shroud-clad being.
Judging by all this, it’s safe to say that the Antler Queen is not only a person. It’s also clearly some kind of force, energy, or spirit. This raises another central question, though: Is the Antler Queen a real entity that exists independently from the team’s minds, or is it something that exists in the plane clash survivors’ heads, conjured up by starvation and fear? Lottie actually answers this question in season two, episode nine, after Shauna tells her that the Antler Queen was always just the Yellowjackets themselves, not anything supernatural. “Is there a difference?” Lottie says, reminding them all that whether they were possessed by a supernatural force or just fell prey to human nature, that doesn’t change what they did or how it still haunts them.
Are There Any Other Contenders For the Antler Queen?
In terms of the antler-clad figure in the first scene, if it isn’t a hallucination, actual spirit, Nat, or Lottie, it’s possible that “Yellowjackets” could throw in a twist, particularly if someone dethrones Nat and takes control of the group. Shauna (Sophie Nelisse as a teen and Melanie Lynskey as an adult), who has always displayed comfort with blood and violence, has grown increasingly erratic, and it’s feasible that she could become possessed with enough rage to become the Antler Queen. The same goes for Taissa (Jasmine Savoy Brown as a teen and Tawny Cypress as an adult), who admittedly does undergo hours-long fugue states — though the Antler Queen’s ritual seems to have taken a lot of planning, meaning Taissa probably couldn’t have done it while sleepwalking, even though she seems more and more convinced that Lottie has some kind of special power.
We also know that Misty (Samantha Hanratty as a teen and Christina Ricci as an adult) is volatile and attention-hungry enough to do something like lead blood rites, but we know she’s definitely not the Antler Queen; she’s actually the one person in the original scene who takes her mask off, revealing she’s the face behind that creepy bear costume.
Meanwhile, Travis (Kevin Alves as a teen and Andres Soto as an adult) has shown signs of infatuation with Lottie, so it’s not impossible that Lottie could have manipulated him or another one of the teammates into leading the sacrifice. Still, given the fact that Nat becomes the group’s leader at the end of season two, she’s still the frontrunner.
Knowing “Yellowjackets,” anything could happen, and given the show’s slow-burning first and second seasons, we might have to wait a while to know anything for certain. But regardless of who the Antler Queen is, one thing is clear: what happened in that forest won’t stop tormenting those who survived it.
“Yellowjackets” season two is now streaming on Showtime.