Tonight, the miniseries Hatfields & McCoys, starring Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton as the patriarchs at the center of the great American family feud, premieres on History (9 p.m. ET). Here’s what awaits you:
1. A bullet-riddled history lesson. Most people have heard of “the Hatfields and the McCoys,” but if you don’t know their story, this three-night event will fix that. The basics: The Hatfields are from West Virginia and the McCoys are from Kentucky, separated by the Tug Fork River. At least according to the miniseries, Devil Anse Hatfield (Costner) and Randall McCoy (Paxton) fought side-by-side in the Confederate army until Anse believed the Civil War was lost and deserted. While Randall went through further hell, Devil Anse’s timber business flourished. In January 1865, Randall’s brother Asa Harmon McCoy, who’d fought for the Union army, was killed – by Devil Anse’s uncle Jim Vance (Tom Berenger). In 1878, the families went to court over the ownership of a pig and a relative of both families whose testimony swayed the jury in favor of the Hatfields was killed by two McCoys. In 1880, Devil Anse’s son Johnson “Johnse” Hatfield (Matt Barr) began courting Randall’s daughter Roseanna McCoy (Lindsay Pulsipher) and eventually got her pregnant. Needless to say, by the time Devil Anse’s brother Ellison Hatfield (Damian O’Hare) was killed by three of Roseanna’s brothers in 1882, the feud was officially on. Devil Anse retaliated by having the McCoy boys tied to pawpaw trees for a firing squad execution. (The location is one of the stops on the official Hatfield-McCoy Feud Driving Tour.) And that, by the way, only takes you to the midpoint of the miniseries.
2. A desire to Google “Johnse Hatfield.” Allow us to save you the effort: Here is a photo of the legendary lothario, who wanted to marry Roseanna but their fathers wouldn’t allow it. After her brothers kidnapped him for a planned execution, he backed off and instead, married her cousin Nancy McCoy (a grownup Jena Malone), whose father was Asa Harmon. In the miniseries, we can tell she has long-term revenge on her mind, but Johnse, bless his heart, doesn’t have the hate in him so he doesn’t see it in her. Though actor Matt Barr isn’t a dead ringer for Johnse (see him in character here), he is a welcome sight in his numerous shirtless scenes.
3. Delight at seeing Costner doing another Western. It’s more than just how comfortable he looks in costume, on horseback, and carrying a pistol. It’s that you believe he understands backcountry justice, which makes a scene like the one in part 3, when Devil Anse takes his loose-lipped son Johnse fishing – and sits behind him – all the more suspenseful.
4. A lot of spitting. Tom Berenger, in particular, seems to take a lot of joy in doing it. Also look for as much drinking as you’d see in Deadwood but less whoring.
5. No mention of the Hatfields and McCoys ending up on Family Feud! As the credits roll at the end of the miniseries, which concludes Wednesday, we read, “In 2003, after 138 years, a symbolic peace treaty was signed by 60 descendants from both families.” But in 1979, an informal truce had been called when descendants appeared on Family Feud and vied for money and, you guessed it, a pig.