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.


wow. glad i'm not the only one flipping out that they killed lily! i,too, only watched for the romance. my husband and i agree on so few shows! waited all that time for them to get together and then that's it?! i will tune in next season though, to see where it goes. hope she is not really dead, but... he's such a babe. but after losing 2 loves, can't see him rushing into anything soon. oh well...


We were in total shock that Lily was actually dead. We kept waiting for someone to come in to save her, but the damn Swede won again. We wont be watching anymore because Lily is one of the main reasons we watch the show. We couldn't wait for her and Bohanan to take revenge on Durant and his bossy wife. Now there really isnt a reason to come back. Oh well another good show down the tubes


Hey CAC and Cynthia,
I'm glad to know there are some reasonable people who thinks like me. Please read my earlier 2 posts to see if you agree .


David, thanks for a voice of reason. I think the actress playing Lily wanted out to pursue other offers. I guess we will find out eventually. I would have hated it if the writers just sent her back to New York or England for some lame reason. Much better to have a dramatic ending. I sure hope the actors that are left and the writers can stop paying for bodyguards soon.


You people claiming you won't watch it again because they killed off Lily need to just chill out! I can't tell you how many times I've herad people say things like "Today's tv shows are so predictable" or "There is nothing original on tv..." (myself included). We have no idea what is in store for HOW or if there will even be another season. IT IS A SHOW- a damn-entertaining one at that. Relax. If there is going to be a 3rd season, I would imagine sometime around December we will find out, though if this show is filmed in Canada as I suspect then any new episodes will have already been shot- it will be too cold and snowy for filming between November and April. Do you think they will wait until April of next year to film any new episodes? A long layoff.
As a fan of a show that got ripped out from under us way before its time (Firefly), I hope there will be more HOW and more surprises for us.


I'm hoping the killing of Lily was a dream - OR - she has a twin sister who comes looking for her - OR - the writers have lost their minds.


I cant believe they killed Lily! I was sitting there crying and then going on about it after the show ended. WTF? What were they thinking? I was fan of the show but now not even picking it up on bluray. That ending completely sucked! Good job, bone-headed writers!


Also, has anyone voiced the very real possibility that Dominique McElligott's contract was up and she didn't want to renew it? Don't be so quick to lynch the writers when you don't know any of the facts.


This show has never been about Lilly, or Durant or Elam. It's about the Railroad and how one man, Cullen, see that it's built. So for those saying the show won't continue after Lilly died. It will.
Cullen has now had to bury two women that he has loved, both victims of murder. The bigger question is what sort of man will we see now. Remember his dogged determination to find those Blue Coats? With the Swede dead, where will he channel his anger now?


Wanna love this bc I love westerns, but this season and especially the finale was an EPIC FAIL. What a weird season. So many holes; so much randomness. The heavy focus on the two least interesting characters--the Swede and the reverend--was exasperating. And a COMPLETELY different show than the first season. One episode the Swede is doing the books; the next he's dragged back on a horse with a hole in his belly? It really tried to go way deeper than it needed to and the writers don't have the chops to do it well. And kill Lilly? She was the only thing that made Cullen human, vulnerable and likable. Most viewers will tune out if there's no empathy required and we're not able to really get to know any of the characters and their motivation.

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