Who is the Yellow King?: The 6 most ridiculous "True Detective" theories

Theories include a boat, some person's neighbor, and a dude dressed in yellow

Prachi Gupta
March 9, 2014 10:18PM (UTC)

The Internet is abuzz with theories regarding the ending of HBO's series, "True Detective," which follows detectives Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) on a 17-year hunt for a satanic serial killer in Louisiana, dubbed "The Yellow King."

While we know that there is a link between an obscure book of short stories, "The King in Yellow" and the hit show, fans still haven't piece together the maddening puzzle. With just a few hours left, here are 6 theories that probably won't help you, but are fun to entertain nonetheless:


The Atlantic suggests that the Yellow King is King Joffrey from "Game of Thrones":

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.

The Yellow King is that dude dressed in yellow, duh:

One Redditor's self-proclaimed "crackpot theory" that the Yellow King is "the owner of the Vietnamese restaurant from Episode 3":


The King in Yellow is a Vietnamese refugee who made his way to the United States after the war in an effort to track down Mr. Cohle and any of his living family members to repay him for the atrocities he committed against the King's family in Vietnam. Rust didn't choose to leave Alaska, his father sent him to the relative safety of Texas after training him how to survive the relentless onslaught of the King in Yellow's vengeance. Then, as the investigators stated, Mr. Cohle vanished from the map (the first step in the King's ultimate plan).

After the "accident" involving Rust's daughter (orchestrated by the King in Yellow), Rust knew he had to disappear or face certain death so he chose to go deep cover, finding that to be a safer way to live than be out in the open without a badge where he would be easy for the King in Yellow to pick off. Once, Rust was allowed to resume normal life and take a job as a detective in the Louisiana State Police, the King in Yellow relocated to Louisiana, opened a Vietnamese restaurant as a front to avoid suspicion, and began gaining the loyalty of local criminals by offering them a direct line to his narcotic connections in Southeast Asia.

The Lange murder and the cult sculptures are simply breadcrumbs the King in Yellow is using to lure Rust into a trap and finally finish his ultimate quest for revenge.

Or maybe it's the person who owns this restaurant chain in Episode 5:

[embedtweet id="435281253789487104"]

This Redditor's neighbor might be the Yellow King?:

No, you are all wrong. The Yellow King is a boat!

I first came to this notion at the end of the last episode when the camera intentionally pans from Errol to a boat moving down stream. Here's what we know for sure:

  • The south coast of Louisiana is mostly water with bayous, the ocean, and related tributaries
  • Dora Lang was mentioned to be killed by water according Rust
  • In episode 6,Rust questions the father of a missing boy who's boat, a pirogue, was torn up by the water
  • Rust notices a disproportionate number of cases take place by the rivers/bayous
  • The burnt church is located by the river. The camera intentionally pans to show this at the end of episode 2


  • The robber who Rust interviews in the prison seems confused by his tone when Rust thinks the Yellow King is a person when referring to him as a 'who'
  • To those who have been around boats, naming one "The Yellow King" would not be an odd name. There are definitely stranger names for boats

This is why the Yellow King has never really been described... because it's a place not a person.

The season one finale of "True Detective" airs Sunday March 9.

Prachi Gupta

Prachi Gupta is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on pop culture. Follow her on Twitter at @prachigu or email her at pgupta@salon.com.

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Crime Drama Hbo Serial Killer Television True Detective Video Yellow King

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