‘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. 

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

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  1. Done…done with this show just as I am Boardwalk Empire….when they kill off the only other character that means anything to the storyline it’s time to say goodbye….won’t watch anymore won’t watch Boardwalk Empire again….

    • They planned on killing Jimmy from the very first episode, just as HoW intended to kill Lilly. It’s amazing how many people think life is just happy endings.

      • I think the show being named Hell on Wheels would be a give away that things were not going to be all roses and sunshine. I like how nobody is as upset about the preacher getting stabbed by his adopted son or the Irish guy blowing his brains out. Plus the multitude of other people who have been unceremoniously carted off to Potters Field in the show.

        • Agreed. Of course if they were all pretty blondes, people would care.

      • I just finished season 2 of Boardwalk Empire and he only began to consider killing off Darmody since the beginning of the second season, not since the very first episode. In addition to that, he didn’t tell Michael Pitt because he wanted to reserve his right to change his decision up until the very last moment. Interview can be found here:
        http://insidetv.ew.com/2011/12/11/boardwalk-empire-finale/

        It was a ballsy move and really made me question the integrity of Boardwalk Empire, as there seems to be some plot holes in Nucky’s decision to kill Darmody.

        There is an appropriate time to kill off an important character. Timing, however, is everything. Lily Bell was a crucial character, and one of the more interesting ones. Her death was too soon, the creators had spent so much time crafting her relationship with Bohannon only to end it in such a cheap manner. It wasn’t emotional and served no real purpose; her death was an afterthought.

        While I can accept Jimmy’s death to some extent (though seriously, why the f*** would you kill off your viewer’s (Google the poll) favorite character two seasons in?), I just can’t accept Lily Bell’s death as anything other than shock value.

        When they killed off Eddard Stark from Game of Thrones, I was shocked, sad and disappointed, as many others were. But it made me feel something, and there are so many other characters who are interesting, and so much going on in Westeros that it’s understandable. It also helped to fuel viewer’s hatred for Joffrey, act as a reason for Rob to fight against the Lanisters. That is, his death propelled the story, whereas on HoW, Lily’s death cheapened it.

  2. This Series is over for me now even if they make a 3rd and Magic Lily back to life in some fanciful way, the dissapointment of the ending will not bring me back. A shame.

    • I agree, killing Lily, dumb idea. That ends the series for me.

      • Concur

    • They should never have killed of Lily. She was a great character. I will seriously think twice before returning to this series IF it even comes back for a 3rd season!

      • You can add me to the list of not returning. They just killed off my favorite character for absolutely no good reason at all. Unless it was to piss people off and lose fans…which they did.

    • I read a post that proposed that we should bear in mind that Bohannon was giving a version of events which may or may not be true so anything is subject to change. I guess if ratings are good we find out Bohannon was lying about certain things. If bad ratings it ends as told by Bohannon. But that would be disappointing.

  3. If that was the end of the series I would have loved to have seen Cullen answer ‘no’ when asked if he would run the railroad. And, unfortunately, it probably is the end of the series. HoW averaged a 1.0 last season and only 0.5 this season despite it being a much stronger arc.

    Rubicon > Hell on Wheels > Walking Dead

    Shame.

  4. As with HBO it seems a great program is something they cant quite hang on to,,walking dead appears to be coming anything about walkers,,HBO screwed up the end of the sopranos,,left deadwood hanging ,,canceled carnival etc,,usually replacing them with drech,,now they are doing their best to eliminate boardwalk empire,,horrible lame new season

  5. Personally, I thought the season finale was great! Granted, I didn’t expect them to kill off Lily, but I thought that it was very fitting.

    Cullen brings death and destruction everywhere he goes. He’s one of those characters who prays for death, but death never finds him. He is a tortured soul and those around him pay the price.

    I will definitely watch HoW if they renew for a 3rd season.

  6. Swede as the “White Spirit” is actually symbolic of the “Pale Rider” of the Apocalyse, and when he says he and Bohannon are alike, this is what he is saying. But it is not actually Swede who is the “Pale Rider”, it is Bohannan himself, who via his own need for revenge, or by just existing, leaves a wake of devastation behind him. The fact that Swede said that he and Bohannon were “consumated”, I think Swede actually saw them as working together in some sick way, and the death of Lily Belle was part of that. Swede did not want to see a happy and comfortable Bohannon living in a house with a picket fence with his love, he wanted him to be all he could be as the “Pale Rider”.
    I enjoyed the show this season very much, and hope it returns for another. And please consider that since “Breaking Bad” is ending, and they renewed “Home Town Security”, they could do far worse.

  7. I guess I’m the only person who is happy about this ending. I found both Lily and the Swede to be annoying and overplayed- it was time for their story arcs to come to an end. I’m excited to see where the show goes from here.

    • Swede didn’t die…

  8. Kiddos to Hollywood, Amc and the two screenwriters for taking a somewhat decent western theme into the same dunp that most movies and TV series are today. By killing off Lily in a most graphic and grusome manner they did away with the heroin leaving it with Bohannon as the only surviver. If it was a contract conflict then pay her or send her off to NY or wherever until later solved. AS a screen writer and producer I just witnessed the total distruction of a promising series. The only way back now is for Bohannon to have thought Lily dead when leaving her at the church but actually unconscious near death. Otherwise this series is either over or headed for disaster. Lily and Bohannon held the series together while the rest of the cast were mere stand ins. A better ending would have been Lily killing the Swede instead of her gun being empty or misfiring. We had enough of his evil ways throughout to that point. This series is done, stick a fork in it!

    • Swede turned over the candle and there was fire damage all around, yet Lily wasn’t burned. I found this strange.

      I hope they renew it.

    • Absolutely agree with everything you say. If Lily is dead, so is this series.

  9. Of course they would end a good series. Like everyone else, I don’t think it will be back. Too bad, as I certainly enjoyed every bit of it. If you go back and watch it again, you see where everyone’s lifes are at and end.

  10. I can appreciate the death of Lily being a theatrical and dramatic moment, but I am concerned that the show has now lost its one strong and independent female character. She did whatever was needed for the railroad, stood up to Durant and any other man that got in her way, and even killed to defend herself and the railroad. I get that Eva, Durants wife and even Ruth are strong women in their own way too, but they are largely defined by the men around them, or god in Ruth’s case. Lily was the one woman in Hell on Wheels who held as much sway as any male character, and I question how the show is going to fill that void.

  11. I hope this is the series finale.
    The writers were completely lost all the season.
    The history dosen,t make any sense to me.
    If there is a 3rd season Lily and I are not coming back….

  12. Warner Bros. needs to cast both Anson Mount and Common in the Justice League. I don’t need to see baby faced superheroes at the cineplex (that’s what the CW is for). Both of these actors would look convincing as battle scarred Batman and Green Lantern.

  13. What a great opportunity squandered by the producers/writers of this promising series!

    I could suspend my disbelief over the possibility that Eva and Elam could have an open relationship in that time and at that place… thanks to great acting on the part of these two. I am looking forward to seeing more of Common and Robin McLeavy.

    Because the show explored really important and fresh ground, and did well – particularly in depicting the complicated and dirty wake that the Civil War left in our country at that time. Like Bohannan said, there were lots of people ‘running close to the ground’ at that time. I think the series should be applauded for this depiction…

    But, having the half-dead Swede strangle Lily as some kind of revenge for Andersonville… I am gone! Good bye, you are, indeed ‘the weakest link’!! What a trite ending.

  14. Not a fan of Lily’s death. Didn’t make sense to me unless, of course, the writers know something I don’t–like she has a sister who comes to take over surveying the land, etc. and a love interest for Cullen develops there. Who knows. But if the Swede somehow survives that fall (as he’s survived so many others things at this point), I won’t be back to watch another minute.

  15. From the very beginning of HOW Season 1 my favorite two characters have been Cullen and Lily. They were so good together. Even as I watched the season 2 finale, I could not believe that the writers would really kill off Lily. I hope we get a Season 3…. But not without Mrs. Lily Bell.

  16. I am remaining hopeful that the series will return and the Season 2 Finale was all Durant’s bad opium trip and none of it ever really happened.

    • I don’t think it’s Durants opium trip, but I do think Lily is NOT Dead!! Remember, this was being told in flashback by Bohannan to the government..wanting them to know what happened, or more than anything what Bohannan wanted them and Durant to believe..remember Durant has many people he asnwers to and Lily is in danger,.,the most compelling part to me is that if indeed Lily was dead, we would have seen Cullen bury her next to Robert and this did NOT happen.,,and he picked up the flag to mark the next leg of the Railroad….go back and watch it again… Bohanan was spinning a tale to keep Lily safe…..it has been renewed for season 3,, yeah..so we’ll see!!! Lily will be back, she is what makes Cullen alive!!!

  17. I hope the producers of this show get tons of e-mails about killing off Lily at the end , and how many follower’s they just lost, myself included. Plain stupid writing in my opinion.

  18. Was anyone else wishing bohannon was going to kill everyone in the train car when they asked him to continue building? I sure was

    I also think everyone is overreacting on (maybe) killing the female lead. I thought she was very good in the show, but it can surely go on without her or even if she wasn’t actually dead, something people weren’t very good at figuring out at the time so why not.

  19. I can’t believe they killed Lily. I loved the show except the Swede was rediculous..I don’t know if I will watch season 3 if they have one. They made a big mistake killing Lily Bell..

  20. My husband and I are in our 60′s and LOVED Hell On Wheels, would like to see it continue, definitley!! Excellent depiction of history, fascinating!!

  21. I agree. It is very frustrating for the viewer when the two main characters and the best story line of the whole show is crushed just after it began to get underway. I’m devastated. They could have given Lily and Cullen just a couple of happy episodes before they killed her. I would have been happy with one! It’s just not right.

  22. I am another super disappointed HoW-watcher. You’ve got to throw the viewer a bone every now and then but this season finale was just all-around dark. No bones at all! Perhaps it is the intention of the writers, and I think the more relevant comment was Cullen describing people and towns as “replaceable”. Although we know he doesn’t really feel this way about Lily, his sense of resignation about life left me, for one, with the feeling of utter depression.
    How should it have ended?
    Cullen or Ferguson (who was supposed to kill her) should have found Lily and she’d be alive. Her death was not even portrayed as a big deal in the real finale…strange choice.
    Swede should have suffered a fairly long and brutal death. The nonchalant walk to the bridge was ridiculous and it’s unbelievable that Cullen wouldn’t have shown more rage and smarts when it came to this nutcase.

    • If there is a season 3 just wonder if the writers could bring Lily back & show that she was maybe in a coma as they don.t show her burial just Cullen carrying her to the makeshift church or that she has a twin sister as Cullen & Lily were so good together.

  23. It’s funny this post about the finale is getting more posts then all the other ones for the whole season combined. I don’t know if the show is ending or not, but this is not a soap opera and nobody is above getting killed. All the romance some people seemed to have locked into on the show was just background noise to me, since pretty much every relationship on that show is damaged on some level.

    As for the pedestal Lilly’s character is being put on, it’s funny that her story arc started with Durant using her as a propaganda figure after the Indian massacre, and even fell for it himself for a short time. Lilly was not the strongest female character because of the things she did, she was just dealing on the same low level as some of the men and it cost her.

    The one thing a lot of people seem to be missing in how she died and who killed her is that she allowed the Swede access to the railroads information because she could not figure it out. And blinded by her ambition she stopped Bohannon from killing him on more then one occasion I think and made him let him out of jail when he wanted to keep him locked up. Her actions helped bring the Sioux attack down on them and directly aided in getting her killed.

  24. Looking forward to next season (if it materializes)…loved the show….swede is not dead, nor ilily.

  25. I simply do not understand what everyone is complaining about. Has anyone been watching this show at all? If you wanted a big happy snuggle fest between all the characters this is obviously not the right show. None of the shows on AMC depict a particularly happy set of circumstances, which is why these shows appeal to me. Real life isn’t about happy endings. Not to say that there can be no happiness, but this is a western depicting the harsh realities of a world of lawlessness.

    Also, why does no one understand why the Swede killed Lily? Has no one been noticing that all the Swede has been doing is trying to ruin Cullen’s life and destroy the railroad because of how he was humiliated and ripped of all status. Was no one watching when the Swede said “Don’t worry, I hate you more than you hate yourself”. From telling the soldiers where Doc was to aiding the Indians, the Swede was systematically taking everything away from Cullen. He took the final two things away from Bohannon that he had left, Lily and vengeance. The Swede took away the thing Cullen cared about most because he was too blinded with his own ambition to realize what was most important to him, and in the end when it appeared that Cullen would at least be able to get some retribution in the form of hanging the Swede, he took at away as well by killing himself.

    I understand not wanting Lily to die because she was a very interesting character, in fact she was probably my favorite in the show, but I feel like there are such unrealistic expectations of a happy ending. Her death was heartbreaking because of the happiness they shared and because she was such a strong character. If the only thing keeping people watching this show was a love story, then I don’t think anyone even knows what the wild west was all about.

  26. i’m done with this show. i can’t believe they killed lily. that was just freaking stupid.

  27. If they dont bring back lily then im done! These writers suck, I could write circles around them and have a much better show. I mean come on get it together.

  28. You made it so easy to take her from you.
    The Swede was so clearly twisted and evil. Imagine if they had caught the person who killed
    and beheaded Adam Walsh and in court told John Walsh you made it so easy take him from you.
    That line has haunted me for 3 days it was disgusting and evil and adding that it gave him such
    Pleasure. This has probably been the response they were looking for, love it or hate it were talking about it

  29. I am also done with this show if Lilly is really dead. And no all you foolish ones, it’s not because she’s a pretty blonde. I think Ruth and Eva are both just as pretty, Eva’s nasty tattoos not withstanding, and in fact given the choice I’d date Ruth before the other two. Yet as much as I’d hate to see them go, the show could lose either or both of those ladies. This show right from the beginning has been about two characters, Bohannon and Lilly. They are the two who had their stories set up and followed into the camp like no other characters was. If you kill Lilly you might as well kill Bohannon, without either one of them, it’s no longer the same show.

    • This show has always been primarily about Bohannon hunting for the people who killed his family, told among an ensemble of other characters. Three other regular characters died this season along more minor characters then I can remember.

      Lilly escaped death in the first season, but stayed around probably because without her husband she had no means to go anywhere else. Her growing obsession with thinking she could take over the railroad is what helped get her killed. She stopped Bohannon from killing the Swede and made him release the guy from jail because she wanted him to find out how Durant was cooking the books. Even in the end she could have gotten on the train, but didn’t because she felt like she had a stake in the railroad. Like the old saying goes dead people don’t make money.