I never expected Hell on Wheels Season 5 Episode 8 to conclude the battle between Cullen Bohannon and the Swede.
Sure, it’s been a long time coming, but even during the hanging, I kept waiting for the “it was all a dream” revelation or even Cullen choosing to speak out and allow the Swede to live.
Nope. Thor Gunderson of Norway is dead.
There was something curious about Cullen refusing to just kill the Swede in a hand-to-hand fight.
Both Naomi and the Swede questioned his decision, and Cullen had multiple chances during the hour (heck, he’s had multiple chances over the seasons) to finish off the Swede for good.
And yet Cullen has come a long way since his revenge-fueled days, a long way since death and killing motivated his very existence after the war.
So even if we wanted to see that shoot-em up type of ending between the two, that’s not something that the Cullen of Hell on Wheels Season 5 would be doing, even after all the death and problems the Swede has caused.
Hell on Wheels Season 1 Cullen? Sure, but that’s a vastly different Cullen.
And I think there was something to the Swede discussing how both he and Cullen are men of war. Though, while Cullen hasn’t been able to completely shake his past, he has been trying to find a way to move forward.
Yes, he wanted to end things with the Swede, but it would be through a far different brand of justice than some type of wild west brawl to the death.
But there was enough intensity throughout the back-and-forth conversations or the mini-fights that it left you wondering just how everything would play out. You could feel the electricity and gravity of the two forces colliding.
Honestly, Hell on Wheels has been at its best when Cullen and the Swede have gotten to share screen time together, and both Anson Mount and Christopher Heyerdahl delivered standout performances.
Heyerdahl has been able to create such a nasty and vicious villain in the Swede, and truly creepy as well, but there have been moments that have made him perhaps a much more human character.
Take the start of the episode that introduced a happy and jovial Swede before he was thrust into captivity by a rather ruthless enemy. He wasn’t always such a killer, but his circumstances led him into killing a friend.
And then there was when he talked about the harmonica or even when he asked for mercy. There were moments where even I felt for the character.
Mount really captured the pain Cullen was going through from his wounds and his general relentlessness to complete his mission. Plus, Mount was able to convey so much with just his eyes, especially during the final scenes.
And was it me or did Cullen seem to waver briefly when the Swede asked for mercy and when the Swede graphically gasped his last breaths?
There was something haunting about the conclusion, too, as Cullen watched his longtime adversary hang to death (and even Cullen had to look away at one point) before finally getting to walk away back out into the wilderness.
That final shot of Cullen limping away reminded me of the final scene in John Ford’s “The Searchers,” starring John Wayne.
But even with the Swede finally being brought to justice, it wasn’t an ending of elation or some snarky one-liner to go with the victory. There was a certain tragedy surrounding the whole ordeal.
What’s more, the bullet fragments from Cullen’s fight with the Swede will forever be a part of him.
Watching him walk away does make me wonder what’s next for the character, especially because there are six more episodes to Hell on Wheels Season 5.
Will he be able to successfully keep moving forward and away from death and killing? And were the Swede’s comments about Cullen having to be hanged for his own crimes, or the “May God have mercy on your soul” line, foreshadow Cullen’s future?
Will Cullen survive the end of the series?
I’ve also got to point out how incredible the cinematography was at capturing the picturesque landscape. Whether it was through the crowded woods or the vast stretches of sky over the hilly terrain, having those real locations instead of some soundstage truly added to the authenticity of the hour and the show in general.
The return episode of Hell on Wheels Season 5 was riveting and intense, and it closed out the saga between Cullen and the Swede. It wasn’t quite the ending I was expecting, though it did seem to fit in with Cullen's new line of thinking. And it does make me curious about how the rest of the final season will play out.
What did you think of how the final showdown played out? What's next for Cullen? Sound off below, and catch the action all again when you watch Hell on Wheels online now.
Sean McKenna was a TV Fanatic Staff Writer. He retired in May of 2017. Follow him on Twitter.