Have We Been Thinking About The Antler Queen On Yellowjackets All Wrong?

This post contains spoilers for the latest episode of "Yellowjackets" season 2.

The second season of "Yellowjackets" has been so jam-packed with intriguing mysteries and exciting payoffs that it was easy to forget that one of its most recognizable motifs has been conspicuously absent. We've seen neither hide nor tail of The Antler Queen, an image that haunted the show throughout its first season before being revealed as Lottie's (Courtney Eaton) Doomcoming costume — until now.

The latest episode of "Yellowjackets" brings the Antler Queen back to the forefront in a big way, but also asks viewers to reconsider our established theories about the figure. In a breakthrough moment, present-day Lottie (Simone Kessell) treats Nat (Juliette Lewis) with a sort of hypnotic regression, asking her to focus on her voice and watch a blinking flashlight in order to remember her last moments with Travis. It works, perhaps too well.

Nat remembers overdosing in a hotel room with Travis, but she also remembers seeing a disturbing alternate version of the plane crash. In it, everyone is dead, and the Antler Queen steps through the wreckage and towards their charred corpses. "We weren't alone out there," Nat says ominously. "I saw it. I felt it. We brought it back." She apparently doesn't have to tell Lottie what she means; the cult leader's focus is interrupted by a creaking noise, and when she turns, she sees a shadow of an antlered figure spreading across the floor. The Antler Queen is back, baby.

Natalie and Lottie confront the darkness

This new riff on a familiar image makes for a cool horror moment, but the Antler Queen's return goes much deeper than that. Until now, viewers have conceptualized her as a real person; we see her in the opening of the show's very first episode, feasting on the flesh of a girl the survivors trapped and killed together. She seems like a mysterious and powerful leader, but one who's made of flesh and bone. When Lottie dons the antlered outfit for Doomcoming, it seems like the mystery is solved.

Except, the latest episode of "Yellowjackets" posits that the Antler Queen isn't one person, but a "darkness" that more than one of the girls can feel. "The whole time there was something, some darkness out there with us. Or in us. It still is," Nat tells Lottie after the hypnosis. "That's what I was right about." Travis, you might remember, left a note asking whoever found it to "tell Nat she was right." In his final days, he also became obsessed with the idea of chasing a near-death experience in order to "confront the darkness" and find out what it wants from the survivors. When he tells Lottie about this in episode two of the new season, a quick shot of Lottie as Antler Queen appears on screen.

That's not the only blink-and-you'll-miss-it shot associated with the Antler Queen this season. When Nat ODs, an extremely short shot shows a distorted version of adult Nat with black eyes and a knit cap. Is she related to the Antler Queen, or just communing with her? "Yellowjackets" has officially reopened the Antler Queen mystery, and this time, it seems like the answer will be a lot more complex than hungry teenagers with a penchant for playing dress-up.

The Antler Queen isn't a who but a what

The Antler Queen may have only made her grand re-entrance at the end of episode 5, but she's been hiding on the fringes of the show for quite some time. Lottie's compound features some prominent antler-themed decor, including a wall mount that Nat clocks above the entrance to Lottie's cabin. The wilderness chic seems pretty in line with the aesthetic of a place where residents are asked to slaughter their own chickens, but former Antler Queen Lottie also believes in the power of objects and symbols, so there's no way the antlers are there by coincidence. Plus, Lottie is clearly still performing rituals, and hearing calls to spill blood in the name of some unseen presence.

Still, the latest Antler Queen developments seem to have evolved the central mystery surrounding the figure; it's no longer "Who is the Antler Queen?" but "What is the Antler Queen?" The series has already presented us with two different spirit-like entities that haunt the woods, and it now feels like good old AQ could be a third. But while the hunter seems like a classic unquiet spirit and the man with no eyes is a mysterious and off-putting dream entity, the Antler Queen seems to be something closer to a goddess, a being whose relationship with the girls is more personal and powerful than either of the other haunts.

A powerful entity never actually left the survivors

This theory is reinforced by some of the actions we see in the scenes surrounding Antler Queen mentions this season. Just before Nat recovers her memories, we're shown a scene in which the girls use manifestation in an attempt to make it out of the winter storm. "I feel our friends coming back to us. I feel our friends wanting to find us," they chant, and eventually, it works. "Yellowjackets" often meaningfully cross-edits its scenes, so it's not a leap to assume the Antler Queen revelation is somehow related to their seemingly magical moment. Plus, when Travis and Lottie talk about the darkness they brought back, it isn't just the Antler Queen imagery that flashes before Lottie's eyes, but also a shot of her leaving a bear heart in the woods as a sacrifice.

We associate the Antler Queen with Lottie because she dressed up as her last season, but Lottie also has the closest relationship with whatever darkness lies in the woods. Perhaps she's not actually the Antler Queen, but a vessel for her messages. It's also worth noting that back in season 1, Lottie had a recurring vision of a deer shedding its antlers, and Nat and Travis actually saw that happen in real life, meaning all three of them actually have pre-existing ties to the unsettling imagery. The last question, then, is what the figure wants. It seems to be too soon to tell, but she's clearly closely tied to death or near death. There's one more thing we know about her, too: decades after the survivors made it back from the wilderness, she's clearly not done with them yet.

New episodes of "Yellowjackets" are available in the Showtime app on Fridays, and on Showtime on Sundays.