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.


No, let's not keep this series running. Killing off Lily was incredibly bad writing. Good fiction allows the viewer to "willingly suspend disbelief," to buy into the storyline and to care about the characters. The sudden killing off of a major character, with no foreshadowing, ended my willing suspension of disbelief. There was no plot device or purpose in wasting the Lily character; all it did was make us aware that the writers never read "Hero With a Thousand Faces" and are ignorant of the essential elements of myth. Rotten plot, stupid story twist. I won't be back.


I was depressed all week. This is the 1st I've even talked about it. Very upset about Lily. They shouldn't have taken away our romance. I'll miss Lily. But, the west was brutal and with time I will heal. I will watch season 3. why?
Cullen Bohannon ofcourse.


Giving up on the show, too. No reason to kill off Lily. Extremely disappointed. I wish it would have been Hannah.


My husband and I watched both episodes. However, never when eating (indigestion) or before going to sleep (nightmares). I'm not sure if my husband wants to watch Episode 3. I am so disappointed that Lily Bell is gone and in such a horrible, brutal way. I'm finished. I'm going back to reading Zane Grey westerns.


Still disappointed in the finale but did anyone else think that the "annabel" song from the love scene would have been a much better fit in the finale closing as lily was being carried away?


Well, that was interesting, and for me that pretty much closes things out. Needless to say, if they have a third season, I won't be watching.


I hated the ending !! I hope they bring back Ms. McElligott aka Lily & that she has a twin sister... We want shows that have a hero who saves the damsel in distress for a reason- to give us relief from reality. Damn you writers who have no soul....


Thankyou sds - my thoughts exactly. Been thinking about it for a few days and decided I just wanted to say that the murder of Lily was possibly the most vile, graphic, disturbing, gut-wrenching and totally unnecessary scene I can remember. For sure and certain I'll never re-watch this show and will not be watching another season -if there is one. Good shows can be watched again a year or so down the track. Hell on Wheels is not one of those. Why did the writers have to screw it up so badly - and in such a sickening way?


What gave me knots in my stomach was the gruesome way they killed Lily. The pleading, the kicking of her feet, and the swede's gentle whispering to her as he took her life. Not sure I can watch season three after that.
Great drama, just made my blood cold.


I too am surprised that Mrs. Lily Bell was killed off. It wasn'y very original thought..does anyone remember a similar scene from "Inglorious Bastards"? The blooming romance was so sweet for such an intense series. Top much grit that even Lily and her manipulative ways seemed like"good" versus evil. Remember she had the former foreman killed for murdering a whore and she found her way into Durant's bed (ewwww) when Cullen left the first time. She could have spoken her feelings to him before he left. All she had to do was touch him and he melted like butter. OMG, that scene drove me nuts!!!! I am gonna miss her, she was a real role model to the series. And now Cullen has to go without for another season. That's the most messed up of all. Come on writers, find him a true love so he can get on with the building of the railroad without too much more hassle. Maybe he can get with his sister-in-law or someone from back home in Meriden (ie: a deja vu from Deadwood, maybe). They did mention he was married into a wealthy family from Virginia (or wherever). Or he can find a Sioux woman to fall in love with or start up with someone from the Chinese invasion (isn't that a part of this history too?) And yes, I will be back next season if only to see if Cullen shaves or bathes. I'll take either one.

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