Hell on Wheels

Hell on Wheels Information

Hell on Wheels is an American Western television series created and produced by Joe and Tony Gayton. Set in 1865, the series centers on the settlement that accompanied the construction of the first transcontinental railroad, referred to as "Hell on Wheels" by the company men, surveyors, support workers, laborers, prostitutes, mercenaries and others who make the mobile encampment their home. It stars Anson Mount as Cullen Bohannon, a former Confederate soldier who works as a foreman on the railroad as he tries to track down the Union soldiers who murdered his wife and young son.

The series is broadcast in the United States and Canada on the cable channel AMC and premiered on November 6, 2011. It was developed by Endemol USA, under the stewardship of senior vice-president of scripted programming Jeremy Gold, and is produced by Entertainment One and Nomadic Pictures.

On December 23, 2011, AMC renewed Hell on Wheels for a second season. The second season premiered on August 12, 2012 and ended on October 7, 2012.

On October 29, 2012, AMC renewed Hell on Wheels for a third season, consisting of 10 episodes. The show's creators Joe and Tony Gayton no longer will be involved in the day to day production. On December 12, 2012 AMC announced that John Wirth, a writer for Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, would take over as showrunner for the third season. Production is slated to begin in spring of 2013.



  • Anson Mount as Cullen Bohannon, a former Confederate soldier who is determined to avenge the death of his wife, Mary.
  • Colm Meaney as Thomas "Doc" Durant, a businessman and investor in the transcontinental railroad, where he hopes to make his fortune.
  • Common as Elam Ferguson, a recently freed slave who is trying to find his place in the world.
  • Dominique McElligott as Lily Bell, a recent widow; her husband was a surveyor working on the transcontinental rail project.
  • Tom Noonan as Reverend Cole, a minister who formerly participated in Bleeding Kansas prior to the Civil War; he is sick of the slaughter and wants to help the whites and Indians avoid another war.
  • Eddie Spears as Joseph Black Moon, a Cheyenne who must choose between the new world and the traditions of his ancestors.
  • Ben Esler as Seán McGinnes, a young Irishman looking to make his fortune in the West.
  • Phil Burke as Mickey McGinnes, Sean's brother, who, like his brother, is looking to make money.
  • Christopher Heyerdahl as Thor Gundersen, Durant's head of security. He is known as "the Swede", even though he is Norwegian.
  • Robin McLeavy as Eva, a woman with a prominent chin tattoo given to her while in the captivity of Indians. Initially supports herself in Hell on Wheels' brothel.


  • Wes Studi as Chief Many Horses
  • Kasha Kropinski as Ruth, Reverend Cole's daughter
  • April Telek as Nell
  • James D. Hopkins as Senator Jordan Crane
  • Duncan Ollerenshaw as Gregory Toole
  • Dohn Norwood as Psalms
  • Virginia Madsen as Mrs. Hannah Durant

Series overview

Season one (2011"2012)

See Hell on Wheels (season 1) for more information In 1865, a former Confederate soldier, Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount) journeys to the Union Pacific Railroad's westward construction of the first transcontinental railroad to seek work and vengeance on the Union soldiers that have killed his wife and son. Cullen gets hired by the railroad and supervises an all-black "cut crew," one of which is Elam (Common), to prepare the terrain for track laying. Through conversation, Cullen learns more about his wife's death from railroad foreman Daniel Johnson (Ted Levine), who knows the name of her murderer. But tragedy strikes before this name is given. Thomas "Doc" Durant (Colm Meaney) begins his "mad, noble quest" to expand his Union Pacific Railroad westward in order to complete the transcontinental railroad. Lily Bell (Dominique McElligott), accompanies her ailing husband Robert (Robert Moloney) as he surveys the landscape for the Union Pacific. Robert is killed by the Cheyenne natives and Lily must cope with being a widow on foreign soil. Reverend Nathaniel Cole (Tom Noonan) baptizes Joseph Black Moon (Eddie Spears), a Cheyenne, then takes him under his tutelage in the church. Season one ends with Bohannon killing a man whom he believes was responsible for the rape and murder of his wife only to find out that the man was not there at the time and that he had killed the wrong man.

Season two (2012)

See Hell on Wheels (season 2) for more information On December 23, 2011, AMC renewed Hell on Wheels for a second season. The second season premiered on August 12 and ended on October 7, 2012.

Season three

On October 29, 2012, AMC renewed Hell on Wheels for a third season. The third season will consist of 10 episodes, although it is still unclear when they will air. It was also announced that series creators Joe and Tony Gayton would step down as series' showrunners, and series producer/writer/director John Shiban would take over. Following the departure of John Shiban the renewal was put on hold until a replacement could be found. On December 12, 2012, AMC announced that John Wirth, a writer for Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, will be the new showrunner for the show's third season. Production of the season's 10 episodes is slated to begin in spring of 2013.


Development history

On November 8, 2011, co-creator Joe Gayton spoke of the series' origins. "We [Tony and I] started talking and remembered this story, American Experience, which was this really great documentary, and I thought, 'God, that's great. I just learned a bunch of stuff I had never learned before.' You just have this cursory information that the Chinese and the Irish built the railroad, but it got in underneath all the dirt and stuff that went on, with the financing of it, and the greed and corruption. And then, I heard about this Hell on Wheels place and I went, 'What a great setting for a western.' So, we pitched that to Jeremy Gold [at Endemol] and ended up taking it to AMC, and they loved it," he said.

Hell on Wheels was created by Joe and Tony Gayton in late 2008, at which point Endemol USA came on board to develop the series for AMC. The series was developed by Endemol USA's scripted television division, headed by senior vice president of original programming Jeremy Gold. On May 18, 2010, after having been in development at Endemol USA for almost two years, AMC placed a pilot order for Hell on Wheels. Joe and Tony Gayton wrote the pilot, David Von Ancken was attached to the project as director, with Jeremy Gold, Joe Gayton and Tony Gayton serving as executive producers. On July 6, 2010, Endemol USA announced that they had entered into a partnership with Entertainment One, who would serve as the production studio on the project. Part of the deal between the two companies included provisions of international distribution, with Endemol retaining rights to the series across Europe, while Entertainment One acquired rights to Hell on Wheels in all remaining territories. As a result of the deal, Entertainment One also holds global rights for DVD and Blu-ray sales, as well as video-on-demand and other digital distribution services. The Canadian production company Nomadic Pictures was brought onto the project to serve as co-producers alongside Entertainment One. The pilot was delivered to AMC executives in November 2010. On November 12, 2010 it was reported by Deadline that the executives at AMC were impressed with the pilot which, coupled with the fact that the network had cancelled their drama series Rubicon, meant that the network was likely to order Hell on Wheels to series.

On December 15, 2010, AMC green-lighted the series with an order of 10 episodes. Along with the series pickup, AMC announced that Nomadic Pictures would again co-produce the series, as they had done for the pilot, with Mike Frislev and Chad Oakes joining the series as producers while John Shiban and David Von Ancken joined the series as executive producers; Von Ancken had previously served as director on the pilot. The network also announced that John Morayniss and Michael Rosenberg would oversee production for Entertainment One, while Joel Stillerman and Susie Fitzgerald would oversee production for AMC. On July 28, 2011, AMC announced that Hell on Wheels would premiere on November 6, 2011. The series is produced by Entertainment One and Nomadic Pictures.


Casting announcements began in July 2010, with Common first to be cast, Common portrays Elam Ferguson, "an emancipated slave who is working to achieve true freedom in a world entrenched in prejudice". Next to join the series was Anson Mount and Dominique McElligott, with Mount playing Cullen Bohannon, "a former soldier hell bent on avenging his wife's death", and McElligott playing Lily Bell, "a newly widowed woman trying to survive in a man's world." Colm Meaney was next to be cast as Thomas "Doc" Durant, " greedy entrepreneur taking full advantage of the changing times." Ben Esler, Phil Burke and Eddie Spears were the last actors to be cast, with Esler playing Seán McGinnes and Phil Burke playing Mickey McGinnes, "two young brothers looking to find their fortune in the new West", Spears was cast as Joseph Black Moon, "a Native American man torn between his culture and the changing world around him." It was later announced that Jesse Lipscombe, Gerald Auger, Robert Moloney and Ted Levine had joined the series as recurring guest stars.

Cast quotes

Common spoke about the challenges of playing a former slave: "Very challenging. And that's why I took it on. It's a lot of responsibility because what black people went through in slavery, within that system of slavery, was really treacherous. And for me, I felt like I owed it to the people that lived during that time to bring something truthful to the character. And even just revisiting some of the experiences of it, [there] was just a lot of emotion and a lot of pain. At the same time, a lot of strength came from it. What I enjoy most about the character is the fact that he was written so strong, not as just a person that was oppressed and kept his head down."

Irish-born Dominique McElligott never expected to be cast in a period American role: "I was hanging out in London, having drinks with friends who are all flight attendants, and they said that they would get me over to America for free, and I could stay and do some meetings and auditions. Hell on Wheels was the first one. I arrived on the 5th of July, and the Hell on Wheels audition was on the 6th or the 7th. It was crazy! They didn't know me, at all. Obviously, I loved the pilot and I loved the character, but I didn't anticipate ever actually getting the chance to do it. When you go up for these brilliant parts, you just figure, 'Okay, well, they're going to pick some American actress, and that will be that.' But, the opportunity was there, and I really enjoyed the audition. It was fun."

Canadian actor Christopher Heyerdahl talks about how he got his role and the rarity of a Scandinavian character: "Well, luck and providence, I suppose. They say, 'What's luck? Preparation and opportunity.' So, I guess the opportunity came, in the form of an audition. I put myself on tape, and they responded to it. I went in and did a call-back audition, and they felt that we were on the same track. My idea of who The Swede was, was the same as theirs, and vice versa. This kind of character is very rare, with the fact that it fit so well with my background and my understanding of a Norwegian man. It all just fell into place. I still get a little choked up thinking about how often a character like this comes along. For the viewer, it's quite interesting. It's not a character that we see very often, and certainly not in this form. As an actor, it seemed to be tailor-made for me. It's quite wonderful."

Exterior filming

Filming of the first season took place in Calgary as well as in central and southern Alberta, Canada. The T'suu T'ina Native Indian Reservation, an Indian reserve in southern Alberta, was the location for most of the exteriors.

Exterior filming of the second season was near the Bow River in Calgary. Interior filming was held in a building near the city's airport. Series producers expect filming the season's ten episodes will take about 80 days.


Critical response

The 1st season was given 63% on Metacritic based on 27 reviews, indicating "generally favorable" reviews. The 2nd season was given 60% on Metacritic, indicating "mixed or average" reviews. The Washington Post's Hank Stuever rated the show highly, commenting, "Hands down, the most intriguing show on the fall slate. Though imbued with epic sweep, Hell on Wheels is a western at heart, even if that heart is cold. Plenty of guns, knives, arrows, scalpings " mixed with the incendiary socio-psychological wounds left in the Civil War's wake."

Robert Lloyd of the Los Angeles Times says the show "takes its cues more from the movies than from life. Never, in the episodes I watched, did I feel as if I were actually seeing how a railroad got built, and sometimes it took a bit of squinting not to see the characters as actors in a field, reading lines. Still, for all the unlikely things [the creators] make happen in order to get their characters into place, and the dogged refusal of a couple of those characters to become interesting at all, the show gathers steam as it goes on."

The Wall Street Journal's Nancy Dewolf Smith considers the episode "like a bag of unpolished stones? Hell on Wheels finds enough beauty, danger and emotion to make some part of every episode seem fresh and worth waiting for. Not that new is always a good thing. Despite striking performances even in many of the smaller roles, the actors sometimes are made to symbolize very modern obsessions, e.g. with race and gender. The sight of modern sensibilities lurking behind the curtains can break ye olde spell."

Brian Lowry of Variety thinks "while the diverse mix of characters could work to the program's advantage over the long haul, jumping to and fro among them creates a diluted, herky-jerky ride in the early going."

Popular reception

The pilot premiered on November 6. 2011. It was watched by 4.4 million viewers " AMC's second-highest series premiere in history, following The Walking Dead. Among key demographics, the pilot episode delivered 2.4 million viewers in adults 18"49. Among adults 25"54, it delivered 2.3 million viewers, according to Nielsen. The total viewership bested network slot rivals CSI: Miami or Pan Am. The sixth episode was watched by 2.15 million viewers, the lowest viewership of the first season and had a 0.6 rating with the 18"49 age range. The viewership numbers eventually rebounded with the season one finale being watched by 2.84 million viewers and maintained its steady 0.7 rating with the 18"49 age range. In January 2012, following the season one finale, AMC put out a press release confirming Hell on Wheels as the network's second-highest rated original series behind The Walking Dead, averaging three million viewers per episode.

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Recipient Result
Emmy AwardOutstanding Original Main Title Theme MusicGustavo Santaolalla
2013 Saturn AwardBest Supporting Actor on TelevisionColm Meaney


The show has been criticized for its lack of depiction of Chinese immigrants who labored on the transcontinental railroad. In fact, Chinese coolies were the primary workforce used to build the western railroad traversing the Sierra Nevada and heading east, while the railroad starting from the east and tracking westward almost exclusively used Irish workgangs, as the series portrays. Due to scheduling and budget restraints the show's creators could only focus on one railroad. They chose to focus on the Union Pacific believing it was more "American". Since the show only depicts the Union Pacific, the absence of Chinese laborers is historically accurate.

International distribution

Country or region Channel Premiere date
Africa Fox February 19, 2012
Asia Sundance Channel
ABC2, FX January 7, 2013
TV3 Puls October 8, 2012
TNT Serie January 30, 2013
Sundance Channel February 2, 2012
RT"? September 7, 2012
Yes April 23, 2012
Latin America HBO
Film1 March 3, 2012
TV6 February 3, 2012
CNBC-e February 26, 2012
TCM May 20, 2012

This webpage uses material from the Wikipedia article "Hell_on_Wheels_%28TV_series%29" and is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. Reality TV World is not responsible for any errors or omissions the Wikipedia article may contain.



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