‘Hell on Wheels’ Season 2 Finale Review

Published 2 years ago by

Anson Mount in Hell on Wheel Blood Moon Hell on Wheels Season 2 Finale Review

If this proves to be the end of AMC’s Hell on Wheels, then the series certainly went out on a rather severe note. And while the end of season 2 was big (at two hours) and bombastic, the finale’s bleak outlook – which undid a storyline beginning to show signs of hope – certainly looked conclusive.

Looks aside, it’s difficult to tell if this was the end or just a continuation of the show staring into the abyss. Perhaps the creators are aware of something the rest of aren’t, and pulling the rug from beneath Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount), while obliterating the show’s titular town, was merely the producers’ way of saying, “I’m taking my toys and going home.”

At any rate, given the way the season ended, perhaps the program should have been called Hell on Earth.

That certainly looked to be case as ‘Blood Moon’ opens on a Hell on Wheels that had been utterly ravaged and more or less burned to the ground. Meanwhile, a seemingly broken Bohannon attempts to provide some kind of explanation as to just what had transpired. In his low growl of a voice, Bohannon gives an account of the town’s final days. Thomas Durant (Colm Meaney) and his wife Hannah (Virginia Madsen) were busying themselves over concern that their duplicity with the railroad mileage would result in a jail sentence, while Lily Bell (Dominique McElligott) was doing her best to secure a future for herself that didn’t end with being a governess. Lily’s plan was for her and Bohannon to continue building the railroad and their relationship, and that plan appeared to be one Bohannon was willing to buy into – even as Durant was looking to buy Bohannon’s loyalty through a permanent partnership.

Eddie Spears and Anson Mount in Hell on Wheels Blood Moon Hell on Wheels Season 2 Finale Review

It seemed others had plans, too. Elam (Common) busied himself with convincing Eva (Robin McLeavy) to come live in his house down by the river (the “by the river” part being of particular concern to Elam), while Sean McGinnes (Ben Esler) had become so transfixed on marrying Ruth (Kasha Kropinski) that he was ready to renounce his faith in order to win her over. So, perhaps everyone was too busy to notice the Sioux had amassed an army and were merely waiting to attack, but then again, maybe it had more to do with an old proverb about making plans.

At least Joseph (Eddie Spears) was smart enough get out of Hell on Wheels; he even managed to provide Bohannon with an early warning that, although it proved somewhat fruitless, sure seemed like a nice gesture. Mr. Toole (Duncan Ollerenshaw), on the other hand, found his way out, too, but through much different means. Without listening to Eva, Toole ends his own life, believing his miraculous second chance to be nothing more than a cosmic joke to see him become an even more wretched creature. Though the viewer could see it coming a mile away, Mr. Toole’s suicide set the tone for just how agonizingly dour ‘Blood Moon’ and ‘Blood Moon Rising’ would actually turn out to be.

To some extent, Hell on Wheels has been hinting at an ending like this from early on in season 2 – and that’s not just the warnings that the Sioux would be declaring war. After episodes like ‘Slaughterhouse‘ and ‘Purged Away with Blood,’ it was clear that a nasty streak was riding through the show’s narrative. Everywhere Bohannon went, bloodshed was sure to follow, and while it certainly refrained from swallowing him, the carnage took anyone else it could get its hands on. So, in that regard, it makes sense that the Sioux raid would not provide the season’s climax with its most painful aspect in the death of Lily Bell.

Anson Mount in Hell on Wheels Blood Moon Rising Hell on Wheels Season 2 Finale Review

If the assumption that Hell on Wheels really is about a man who brings death and destruction with him wherever he goes, then the Swede’s (Christopher Heyerdahl) decision to strangle Lily, as a means of proving that fact, probably works in an incredibly nihilistic way. After all, in ‘The White Spirit,’ the Swede went into some detail regarding the thirst for violence he and Bohannon shared. However, this unfortunately does little to provide answers as to what Lily’s death actually means beyond getting a rise out of Bohannon – or the audience. It also suggests that if examining such an unrelentingly harsh world was the goal of the series, then it took too long for that fact to come across.

It’s clear that should the series continue, Bohannon is prepared to carry on, but just where would the laconic Southerner be headed? Picking up his initial quest for revenge? Continuing to build the railroad under increasingly difficult circumstances? Durant is in custody (so we’re told), so either of the two possible outcomes could serve the program’s tone quite well – though any continuation would likely mean the Swede survived his plummet from the bridge, and that, coupled with Mr. Toole’s initial survival last season, would only make the impact of Lily’s death feel less significant than it already does.

In the end, Hell on Wheels has spent two seasons telling somewhat disparate stories, and connecting them through a pervasively violent and intriguingly harsh standpoint that just hasn’t quite managed to feel as substantial as it should. A more precise examination of that world and what it means for the inhabitants would go a long way in making Hell on Wheels the epic western it wants to be. If ‘Blood Moon’ and ‘Blood Moon Rising’ are any indication, however, the series knows how to hit cinematic highs, as well as it does emotional lows – these last two hours were certainly chock-full of both. And taking into consideration that, overall, this was as a much stronger arc than season 1, it would be interesting to see if that trend might continue into season 3. For now, though, we’ll have to see what, if anything, AMC has planned for Cullen Bohannon and the rest of Hell on Wheels. 


Screen Rant will update you on the future of Hell on Wheels as information is made available.

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  1. I loved this series from the very beginning and while the relationship between Cullen and Lily was very subtle up until the end of season 2, I and everybody else can say we saw a couple relationship in their future. To have them create a passionate affair and then have her strangled to death befuddles me. Now Cullen has no reason to stay at the railroad and he will go back to being a vengeful killer.(not that its not deserved). I just dont see how the show and Cullen can continue without Lily.

    • The decision to kill Lily was completely stupid. Now, the writing staff should kill themselves!

  2. What a great series!! I so enjoy it! Although not a fan of the violence, the U.S. has always been a violent country. I want Joseph to get more airtime & more Native ppls to play a part. They bring a Native or two into a scene once in awhile but the writers should face facts: Native Ppls were all over the U.S. & we still are!! I hated that Lilly was ‘killed’- she is a very strong character. I like to think that Cullen made a ‘big show’ of bringing Lilly Bell threw town to Ruth. After the way Mrs. Durant acted suspicious when her husband looked at her & Eva not running to see about her ‘friend’ in Cullen’s arms, now I’M suspicious…:). I’m looking forward to next year when Cullen & Lilly can ‘surprise’ the uppity Durants with their continued plans & make HOW the great show it is.

  3. My favorite series in a long time, but hate that Lilly was eliminated – her character was so compelling and very relatable to women. Without her there will need to be a spectacular replacement for this series to continue! I also agree with last reviewer about more air time for Joseph. I do hope this series continues in spite of my disappointment.

  4. I am looking forward to the birth of that baby,

  5. Can NOT believe they let that monster Swede kill Lilly. So, so disappointed!

  6. Can NOT believe they let that monster Swede kill Lilly. So, so disappointed! What were they thinking ? !!!

  7. The writers were all over the place in this last episode. It will be interesting to see what develops next season and if it takes a cheesy turn, which it seams to be heading. (Lily terminated) I’m moving on to another show.

  8. What happens if the baby comes out completely white? The fact Mr. Toole thought it could be his when she told him means they were sleeping together around the same time.

    I miss Lily so much, i hope she isn’t really gone, although i have this feeling she is

  9. Like those comments before me… Hell on Wheels is either a program you like or you don’t. I did. The mission of building the railroad and the hard work involved in doing so, the perils along the route chosen, and the cast that played their parts were exceptional. I too would like to say that I was on the edge of my seat when Lily was getting throttled by the swede and I was hoping that she was being left as unconscious, and by showing the swede knock over the candle I was hoping that “he” thought the railway carriage would catch fire and burn everything including Lily, leaving nothing for Cullen to find. But that was not the case as Cullen is carrying Lily to Ruth. I agree with one other previous comment that after the writers curtailment of this series that if they wish to proceed they will have to come up a very good story line to keep all of us followers or “get laughed out of town” for trying with their episode 3?

  10. I’m in Australia and absolutley love this show. I’m with most, where Lily Bell’s ‘death’ is beyond tragic. It does not lend to Bohannan staying in HOW, but rather, become suicidal again and go after the Sioux and kill every one of them like he has tried in avenging his wife and child’s murder.

    Hopefully, we cut to a scene where Lily is seen breathing ever so lightly that Ruth notices and gets the towns doc over!

    Then, they can put Mrs Durant and her puppet husband to shame!

  11. Lily dead, terrible ending. I was waiting for there relationship to finally come to light through all season one and two! Then Swede kills her? Cullen couldn’t be more ‘broken’ at this point… Wonder how they’ll save this? Moving to another show.

  12. Killing Lilly was icing on the cake… the problem is they didn’t have a cake yet. They killed her too soon. Certainly she should have survived season 2 to die in a later season. I would have been fine with that.

    If they really needed to kill her because she was moving on to bigger and better things, it would have made more sense to have Elam kill her, yet she evaded that… or the Sioux… she evaded that too. They could have sent her back to New York for a while or maybe cast a new actress to continue playing her role.

    Why get her killed by the Swede? Why didn’t the candle burn the trailer? Lots of questions. Maybe they are going to pull a Jack Bauer and revive her.

    Towards the end the Durant’s are under custody and are eventually facing trial, the main witness for the prosecution team is now dead. They could even spin it off as Lilly being the one responsible for tampering with the numbers.

    This end leaves a lot of possibilities.

    I will vote for starting season 3 with Lilly waking up from a “comma”. Call it a “miracle” from Jesus and have the priestess and her church take the credit.

  13. there is a season 3:

  14. I am of the opinion that Lily is not dead, there is great wisdom among some the commentators to that effect.

    This is a brilliant, brilliant show.

    • I’m among those who aren’t convinced of Lily’s demise. There were too many details that would point to the idea that her death was faked — that she was merely unconscious — for me to think that, without a doubt, she is gone.

      As many have pointed out, the episode was told in flashback, so what we got was Cullen’s telling of events to the feds. There’s our first clue. Also, and I’m working off the top of my head here, the Swede was choking her with an injured hand — when he broke free of the handcuffs earlier that episode, he hurt his hand. There was a close up of that. They wanted us to see that. Not to mention the overturned candle that evidently didn’t start a fire. I also noticed that it seemed like her body was oriented differently — when Cullen was with her, it seemed to be in a different position than when it was when the Swede left. I have a hard time believing Eva in particular wouldn’t be more affected by seeing Lily carried through town. At the time, it made me wonder if Eva and Elam were in on the plot, too (if there is one). Lastly, and this is just a personal observation of mine, on this show, when people die, you know they’re dead — we see them getting shot, hacked up, we seem them get buried. They don’t die intact in HoW. That didn’t happen with Lily, and it didn’t happen with the Swede. I’ve already seen elsewhere that the Swede is indeed back for Season 3. It’s not that much of a stretch to think that Lily could be kept safe from Durant and his wife (What was that bandanna business at the end? Perhaps a signal to Lily?). I really hope Lily’s still alive. Not just because she’s a wonderful character, but also because of the possibilities — imagine how dangerous she could be if it’s believed she’s dead.

  15. That really was a horrible end and time to kill off a loved chatacter like Lily. The town is completely destroyed and so is any resemblence of what the cast used to be. The writers just ended the series for me there. Completely starting over with a new plot or motive for Bohannon now seems pointless. We had a reason to watch when we were seeing what unfolded with what we were already tuned in for. Writers think they are brave by making bold decisions like that when it is just a cop out of continuing the story. So good job, you made a point by relating his strangling of an innocent man come back to burn him later and ended a great show in the process.

  16. Killing off Lilly Bell was the dumbest writing move
    I’ve seen since Boardwalk Empire killed Jimmy
    Stupid move
    Stupid move
    Stupid move
    Gee, I can’t say it enough

  17. Killing off the Lily character made absolutely no sense. Why would the writers go through the trouble of manipulating the plot to have her and Cullen re-united, and kindle a romance, just to have her killed off? I don’t get it.

    I’m left wondering if this was the writers waving their middle fingers in our faces on their way out. If so, then it’s pretty childish of them.

  18. i loved this show until they killed Lily!! the show is over
    i will never dream of watching any of the season 3 ones!

    stupid idiot writers!! now i hate
    this show worse ending ever!!

  19. Love the show right up until the end. I have to remind myself it’s TV. Where else could a person so badly burned and without medication be in so much pain that he could escape, slit the throat of another, dress himself and then dance all through the town without getting shot to only later have enough strength and seeming no pain kill Lily!! To much like Jack Bauer to me.
    Killing Lily was the stupidest thing they could have done. I agree with a previous poster, they could have had her going back to New York or Chicago and had another like her fill that role.

  20. After the death of Lilly, I felt I needed a Hell on Wheels support group ! I avoided watching any season 3 in the hopes my protest would change something…Eventually watched it, felt betrayed by the writers, but have now just discovered this website! You guys are great! I feel so validated – couldn’t move into the ‘train wreck’ of season 3 without you…

  21. Great show, but the PC negro needs to go. Slavery is over – stop being a pathetic victim. Be men. Most white men laugh at how incredibly pathetic blacks can be.

  22. This series took a much too sadistic turn in the season finale. Not only in killing Lilly but in doing so slowly. And then letting the Swede off easy and not necessarily dying. The writers sadistic tendencies have effectively ruined the show for me so I won’t be watching it anymore, in fact, I will make sure to never watch anything they are involved in from now on. I don’t need this when. Just want some entertainment. Goodbye AMC.

  23. Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it
    seems as though you relied on the video to make your point.
    You obviously know what youre talking about, why waste your intelligence on just posting videos to your site when you could be giving us something informative to

  24. What was the significance of the red ‘flag’ Cullen stuck into the ground right at the end of the finale?

  25. I loved this show…but the ending…killing Lilly and then that loser just escaping…never will watch another second…AMC sucks…guess this is what society has given us…reality tv…no more romance…shame…had something good going on this show.

  26. The death of Lilly made me decide to quit with the series. This was just typically an ‘Endamol production’ move. Endamol has its roots in soap series where every chapter ends with a -mostly over dramatic- cliffhanger. But that does not work well with lovers of Westerns. I actually was hoping for the death of the Sweed and a copntinuing relationship of Lili and Cullen. Anyway, her death was too cruel and completely useless. And reading now about season 3, I think I made a wise decision!

    • I completely agree. I have endured the killing off of main characters on some other shows (it seems to be all the rage now), such as Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. But what mad me especially frustrated about Lilly’s death – so much so that I haven’t watched an episode of HOW since then – was that it was (IMO) a really bad plot development. The guy had come home from the war to find his wife and child hanging on the porch. It understandably, destroyed his life. Then came Lilly, a strong beautiful woman who brought him out of the darkness and gave him a reason to live again. Then they kill her off! Not only that, she dies at the hands of a lunatic in an especially brutal fashion. For me, it was as if The Swede was not only squeezing the life out of Lilly, but out of HOW as well. Maybe, some shows in the future will give a second thought to jumping on this “kill em’, kill em’ all!” band wagon.

      • My exact thoughts. Killing main characters, especially good ones, is no longer cool and “all the rage” to me, but rather tired and cliche. It’s what writers do when they can’t do anything else.

        Lily Bell was one of the main things that made this show so good. The fact that Bo had fallen so far from the loss of his family, only to be pulled out slowly from the darkness because of Lily…is what made this show.

        Now, I will not watch again.

  27. I started watching this series and as season two got better. I have no need to watch it now the only character I liked was Lilly as she was there from the start. Why do they keep all the murders, thugs, villains and losers around and kill the only decent person.
    Very disappointed and I ended my watching the show. The writers are not very good they are all over the place. And two many stupid off the wall things they try to put in there
    Later he’ll on wheels

  28. Gutted Lilly was strangled and eliminated from the series , I can’t believe I’m commenting on this but that s how much I’ve enjoyed this series and the writers go and ruin a chane for Bo to be happy

  29. Loved this show..watched Seasons 1 and 2 in a matter of a couple days.

    But killing Lily Bell ruined it. When people first starting killing main characters it was interesting and different.

    Now it is tired and cliche. It ruined this show. Will not watch another episode.

    • i am with you killing Lily ruined the show they should try and bring her back
      although it would be weird with where the show is at now