Hell on Wheels Season Finale Review: This Means War

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I've always had something of a soft spot for Hell on Wheels. There's just something old school cool about gunslingers, western style drama and the lawlessness that combines with a struggling of morality for the people involved, especially when the particular genre is few and far between on television these days.

So I was looking forward to what the finale was going to bring, mostly because the season has felt disjointed in its goals. There had been a lot of ground work placed over the episodes preceding, but I really wasn't sure what was going to take place or what direction the show was headed.

Ultimately, "Blood Moon, Blood Moon Rising" served to finally show off the completed railroad bridge, the inevitable war with the angry Sioux and the deadly consequences involved with love triangles.

Cullen Prepares for Battle

A good portion of the first half was truly just a lot of waiting, as Bohannon began to recount his tale of what happened to the now destroyed town.

Sure, there was a certain amount of tension and suspense enhanced by the soundtrack. The booming drums and the plucking of strings elevated the anticipation. Whether it was Elam Ferguson saying "Hello" to Lily as she was leaving her place or Sean McGinnes telling Ruth he was sorry, I was prepared for something bad to happen. They both had that look in their eyes.

Even Bohannon successfully driving the train over the bridge, which proved a victory, was laced with the dramatic pressure of a downfall.

It's interesting to think that aside from the Sioux preparing for battle, a good majority of the problems revolved around the women.

I don't understand why Sean was obsessed with Ruth. He did everything he could possibly think, even renouncing his religion and getting baptized by her, in order to be with her. And, still, she rejected him. C'mon, man. Is she really the only woman to go after? It's not like he's spent tons of time with her and it was all a surprise.

Eva's still been caught between Mr. Toole and Ferguson, but she's been pretty straight forward that she was going to stick with her husband. Clearly, Ferguson wouldn't take no, building his house and continually trying to win her back.

And it was her going to his place to tell him it wasn't going to happen that proved the first shocking death. Mr. Toole shooting himself took me by surprise. I expected him to take his anger out on Eva and shoot her, but himself? Wow.

Of course, it was Lily and her affair with Durant that was the most problematic for the railroad. Not only was Durant willing to kill her off, but she was prepared to screw him over with the ledger. And then there's Bohannon, whose blossoming love for her was only just beginning which complicated things further.

Everyone seemed to be desperately looking for a solid footing, but it seemed as if despite their success with the railroad work, everything was slipping out from under them.

So it's not surprise that the character drama became quickly aligned with the action drama.

After a very long absence, the Swede finally returned, burned and warning of the future attack. And I was thrilled he came back because his presence provides for gripping scenes. Dancing in the streets as homes burned, people were slaughtered and the town was falling down around him added to his fantastic craziness.

And his ruthless kills were shocking. Just standing behind the guard before slowly cutting his neck was powerful. You knew exactly what type of guy he was and still, no one besides Bohannon had really felt concerned with him.

Which made one of the saddest and most shocking moments for the show that much more dramatic and real.

The Swede killed Lily.

I kept waiting for someone to burst down the door at the last second, or Lily to get lucky and escape, but to no avail. And as much as I'm disappointed we'll never get to see that Bohannon and Lily romance any further, I'm pleased at the boldness in story decision. Killing Mr. Toole was a surprise but, nothing compared to finishing off one of the top tier characters... in the second season no less!

And after fighting off the Sioux, I can only imagine how Bohannon felt. I'm still trying to wrap my head around the evil of the Swede.

The Swede is the perfect nemesis for Bohannon and that final scene between the two men was perfect. Both Anson Mount and Christopher Heyerdahl have shined in their respective roles and, frankly, I wish we got more of them. They embody their characters in such a charismatic way that each moment is riveting.

It is interesting that the Swede managed to escape his hanging though. That guy always manages to wiggle out of Bohannon's grasp.

Truly, the finale wiped the slate clean. The town will have to start over, some of the characters have the potential for not coming back or at the very least switching gears and headed towards something new.

And Bohannon, I know he'll get his revenge and I hope we get the chance to see that.

But even in all it's positives, the episodes still got stuck with some problems.

Did anyone realize the time jump from last episode? Ferguson had only built the base of the house and now the whole thing was finished? Was it necessary to the plot?

Hannah Durant, who I enjoyed in her initial appearance, felt pushed to the back this time around. Sure, she had a few good lines, but ultimately she became unnecessary aside from being a reason Durant wanted to get rid of Lily.

And as much as I enjoyed the Sioux battle, it was pretty much just an entertaining action sequence. The more personal danger was left to the Swede meaning the Sioux were just characters to either slaughter or be slaughtered.

And would Bohannon really be asked to take the place of Durant? They wouldn't bring someone new in? I know he's a competent guy and clearly willing to push forward as shown in that last scene, but I'm surprised he was the first choice.

Overall, the finale stuck true to the general pace and tone that began at the outset of the series. There's always great scenic pieces, interesting plot lines and enjoyable action. But there could and should have been more with Bohannon and the Swede. These guys carry the show to its riveting heights, especially when the other characters seem to do whatever the episode wants them to do.

It's not the tightest story being told on television, but when it strikes, it strikes hard and viscerally is a pleasure to watch. I hope that season three finds a bigger goal than completing the railroad bridge, but after a decent finale, I'm glad that we've still got Westerns on TV.

Let's keep this show rolling.

What did you think of the finale? Were you shocked by the deaths? Sound off below!


Editor Rating: 4.3 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.3 / 5.0 (639 Votes)

Sean McKenna is a TV Fanatic Staff Writer. Follow him on Twitter.


Secondly we have the story of Eva/Mr Toole /Mr Ferguson I truly hope Mr Toole is not dead. I loved his accent it added something to the show it was melodic. We know how men are when they talk about their conquest. He was the one character that showed how people can change for the better.He showed us how he really is but that is not the way he is potrayed. He knew he was wrong for what he did to Mr Ferguson and he humbled himself and asked for forgiveness. That is character. He married Eva out of respect for her and I think he wanted to atone for his sin. He provided for her and tried to meet her needs. How many men do you know would still stay with a woman even though she is carrying another man's baby. That is character. She was a different woman when she was with Mr Toole . I think she had more self esteem and respect for herself. Mr Toole didn't exactly look like "Prince Charming" but he had it in him. If we only judge people by the way they look then we miss everything. He may not have been the man for her at first but I think after a while she would have realized that he was the man for her after all. Sometimes we have to take a look deeper. Eva overstepped she went back to Mr Ferguson. When a man pays you to take care of the problem that is not love having money in his pocket to give you or having fancy clothes they don't make a man. He should have let it go and move on if not for his sake for hers. Their actions lead a man to take his own life.


This episode should have been called A Bridge too Far. First there is Lilly she was upset because Durrant wanted her out of the picture She lost her position with the railroad and and wanted what was owed to her. She sacrificed everything for this railroad .She went to Cullen hoping she could build the railroad together with him.This railroad is last and only thing she could do for her late husband . The ledger represented lies and corruptions and she didn't want that attached to her late husband's memory.Cullen didn't understand that. He was trying to protect her but she still didn't get it. I understand how she feels. When she finds out that Durrant wanted her dead so that she is out of the picture she took it even further by mailing out the ledgers. She should not have done that it wasn't her place. She should have talked to him. I think the Swede had something to do with her taking this path. They are the only two that know this. He said "that is fraud" that just stirred things up even more. Durrant on the other hand over stepped as well all for the sake of his railroad. He used her as a pawn to lure investors with all his flatery. Know she is a liability. She knows his dirty little secret. He has to answer to the board. He takes it a step further and plots to have her killed. Lilly didn't see the picture, she tested him and look where it got her. Their story is trying to tell us know your limits.


They have got to bring Lilly back some how love the show


My first thought on the season finally was great disappointment. First, with the death of Lily for no apparent reason, and then the supposed death of the Swede,though this was not disappoinment but glee! After much thought, I felt that Lilys' death was brought about by Durants wife with the help of the Swede, whom she seemed to comfort toward the end yet, she was not arrested with her husband at the conclusion, which makes one wondeer if there is something going on between them. As for the Swede, I think he knew he could survive the fall which would seem to make sense since he jumped of his own accord. If there is a another season or more, it will eventually be him killing Cullen or Cullenn killing him.


I can,t believe lily was killed off. She was one of my favorite characters. Someone gIve her CPR stat, I doubt I'll watch it again. Why does this happen? Good show and they kill off one of the best characters!


Loved the show. Like most everyone, Cullen/Lily my favorite characters, especially as their relationship was just beginning to develop. Lost interest now that Lily killed off, deleted HOW from my DVR due to that. Appears writers insereted Lily's death just for shock value on final season anticipating show won't return. So many more options in future episodes with her still around. (Perhaps a 'Bobby'-like return in Dallas?) Anyway, good run but I doubt it will be back...as poorly written ending to the final episode. Leaves viewers upset rather than hanging on to next season. I give all but the last episode a strong B+, final episode a D-. Should give viewers what they want.


I wont be watching next season!! So upset that Lily was killed.
She was such a great character I admired her courage and goodness. I could not even watch the end of the finale, after the Swede strangled her I could'nt even see her face i dust changed the channel. So bummed out it was my favorite show. Can't watch anymore. kjs


It was nice to see that Cullen had aome what of a soft side to him being with Lily. I loved seeing their relationship grow & would be thrilled to somehow see her return for season 3 but I know she won't. As far as the show in all, I think it is great & most people I know love it as well. I can't wait for Season 3!! I hope Swede is dead for sure.


Sorry, Brett. I accidentally hit the send button before I finished my response. Aside from the reasons I mentioned previously as to why I found this death scene so unbelievable, he had no reason to kill her. Lily was the only person who was kind to him. She stopped the terrible beating Cullen was giving him in season one. She brought him back from the dump where he lived like an outcast. She gave him his job back as accountant, and she demanded that Cullen let him out of the pig car. Swede was also Lily's co-conspirator in exposing Durant's fraud, so they shared a bond. It's unbelievable to me that he would kill Lily just to get to Cullen. I may be wrong but I hope I'm not. I'm rooting for this excellent series to go on for a few more years until the reach Califonia.


I agree with you, Brett. The old west represented a brutal time in our history and in most of the great westerns, one of the main characters dies: Robert Duval in "Lonesome Dove;" Morgan Freeman in "Unforgiven;" the beautiful Isabella Rosellini in "Monte Walsh" to name a few. In each case, there was some meaning to their death and the audience was saddened and grieved along with the other characters in the film. Here, the audience was just left in shock. As I said earlier, being killed by the Swede was too unrealistic for me to believe. He arrives in town draped over his horse, so badly burned he wears only a loincloth. He screams and writhes in pain when touched and drifts in and out of consiousness. Hanna doesn't expect him to live through the night. Suddenly, he's fully dressed and strong enough to kill a guard, dance through fire, wrestle Lily to the ground and strangle her.

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