The television network once known as American Movie Classics isn’t much known for featuring movies anymore. Nowadays, the network is better recognized for its stable of popular and critically acclaimed original television series like Mad Men and Breaking Bad.

While AMC’s Hell on Wheels hasn’t enjoyed the critical accolades of Mad Men or the titanic audience of The Walking Dead, it has garnered a respectable viewership and more-than-decent reviews. Just weeks after the grim n’ gritty Western drama ended its second season, the show has been placed on track for season 3, set to air in 2013.

According to Deadline, AMC has officially ordered ten new episodes of Hell on Wheels. This is quite the win for the Western, as the show saw a hefty decrease in viewership over the course of its second season, due largely to the loss of the tremendously popular Walking Dead as a lead-in. Despite the audience drop-off between seasons, Hell on Wheels managed to hold onto a sizable (and increasingly loyal) viewership. As such, the decision to renew the property was probably not a tough one for AMC executives.

Though Hell on Wheels will return with all the gun-fighting, scheming, ruthless frontier capitalism, and bloody revenge of its previous seasons, it will do so without two crucial elements to its success: Showrunners Joe and Tony Gayton are stepping down from the drivers’ seats. Having fulfilled their two-year contract to write and direct the series, the Gaytons have decided to move on to other projects. In their place, writer/director John Shiban will take over as the primary creative engine of Hell on Wheels’ third season (and perhaps beyond).

The departure of prime movers can signal a major shift in the tone and direction of any creative enterprise. This is especially true of closely controlled television series like Hell on Wheels, the first twenty episodes of which saw a lot of writing input from the Gayton brothers. John Shiban has written and directed several episodes of Hell on Wheels already, so the show no doubt displays his personal stamp, as well. The real question is whether or not that stamp will come to redefine the series as something very different – and perhaps even better – than before.

Hell on Wheels should return to its manifest destiny mid-2013.

Sources: Deadline