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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Rating: 4.3 / 5.0 (639 Votes)

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


For **** sake, people need to chill out. You're freaking out over a show that did something no other show on tv would ever have the balls to do, something nobody expected! Some of the complaints being made here are pretty naive. Personally, I liked her character and am not thrilled they killed her off either... But by no means do I think it ruined the show. The story of the show is fiction and by no means is it historically accurate. But if you know anything about it's real life counter-part and the that of the time period. You know, it was a brutal and corrupt endeavor from start to finish, that took thousands of lives in the process. Good people died everyday and in unimaginable ways... Even women and children were not exempt. In life it's usually not the villains who are casualties of progress. This was a wild lawless land, in the most unstable era of our countries history. The civil war had just ended, there was no trust between anyone, and you had thousands of veterans who were hardened (almost soulless) by the bloodiest war in our history. These people did terrible things because they were numb to it.
Just read up on Andersonville and you'll have a good understanding of how the Swede could do what he did in this episode.
The main character of this story "Cullen" is himself for the most part a cold, remorseless, civil war vet who kills without blinking. If you think about it that way, you realize that in order for his character to continue on as is.... She had to die. The show would lose all meaning if he became softened and tied down by love. He's a bad man driven by revenge. Other than being portrayed in a somewhat sympathetic light (due to his past) he's no different than the shows villains and that's the way his story is meant to be portrayed. He's not a good guy, none of them are... They're just people making hard decisions in a terrible situation.


Am I the only one who thinks it's totally implausible that the Swede actually killed Lily?  He was so badly wounded when he arrived back in town, wearing only a loincloth, that he screamed and writhed in pain when anyone tried to touch him. He rambled on incoherently and drifted in and out of consciousness.  Hanna said, "I doubt he'll live through the night."  It's too unbelievable to me that he's suddenly up, dressed and waltzing through the fire to Lily's car where he wrestles her to the ground and strangles her.  More likely, this is part of his delirium as he hovers near death.  It would also explain his weird “fire waltz� and the dreamlike sequence at the end where he skips along the tracks and jumps off the bridge to escape his hanging by Cullen.


I'm a big fan of Hell on wheels. It's a dam good show. I do have a few issues with it though! For one, NOT ENOUGH EPISODES!! I know you can do better then that! At least 15! And as for Lilly.. Hopefully she was not dead! Things were just getting really good! It would be a bad move to knock her out of the show. She help make the show! You guys need to get your acts together and come on with the come on next season lol!


i don't think Lilly is dead. If you notice when she was strangled her hair was one way. When Cullen walked in and noticed her her flowed around her face. Pay attention to her neck as well there is heart beat. When Cullen brings her to town pay attention to her fingers just as they are walking past Mickey and Sean. She moves one of them.


I just don't understand why basically every single one of these posts are so negative. Yes I was very sad that lily was killed.. I mean her and Cullen just started to fall in love with eachother. But this doesn't mean that they should stop producing. Please don't stop watching this show because lily happened to be your favorite character and now she's know longer in it. This is a very good show and has turned to be my favorite. I looked forward to every Thursdays when it came on. It will be very unfortunate if they stop the show. Just remember.. you don't know what they could have coming up :)


Just depressing...the whole flashback thing and Lilly's death was not that creative.


Absolutely terrible finale. These shows last because of the relationships, not because anyone actually cares if the railroad is finished, the blue meth is made, or zombies are killed. It's the character development and CONTINUATION of the key characters. Killing off one of the few likeable/sympathetic characters shows how poor the writing is and how weak the overall plot is. The first season was just passing good, but this ends it for me and it seems like it ends it for many others. At least there is the Walking Dead and the other half of Breaking Bad left. When that's all done, so too will AMC be.


there is no hell on wheels without Lily


All these years I've been SICK that Gus McCrea was killed off in Lonesome Dove!!! After Return to Lonesome Dove and Comanche Moon (their early days), it was evident - it would NEVER be the same without Gus-- give it up. Well now it's happened AGAIN!!!!! Our new favorite Western, Hell on Wheels,(we've watched it over and over and over and over)has(apparently)lost one of the main characters. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! But by the time Bohannon carried her to the church she'd probably be brain dead and un-revivable. However, everyone thought Mr. Toole was more han dead when Elam shot him in the woods- and he came back. So we'd love to see their story continue. But it's not going to stop us from watching the show if she's gone. Cullen? that would be different. He's the main character and the story is not really about the railroad-- it's about Cullen's life and whatever it takes. The railroad is simply the means to tell his story. Still, it's not right to end the story until the railroads meet. I'm pretty sure the Swede is dead too and he was sooo great. With Lily, the Swede and Mr. Toole gone the story would definately take a turn, but there IS hope. Please, please, please, please, please-- let's have a 3rd season!


We need to see more of the Cullen and Lily. Chemistry and romance

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