Bread and Circuses

"Bread and Circuses"

Season Number: 1
Episode Number: 5
Airdate: December 4, 2011
Director: Adam Davidson
Writer: Mark Richard
Producer: Tony Gayton
Joe Gayton
Jeremy Gold
John Shiban
David Von Ancken
Episode order
← previous
"Jamais Je Ne T'oublierai"
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"Pride, Pomp and Circumstance"

"Bread and Circuses" is the fifth episode of the first season of the AMC series Hell on Wheels.


Joseph Black Moon and Reverend Nathaniel Cole travel into Cheyenne territory in hopes of a peace talk, while Joseph's brother Pawnee Killer, endures a native ritual. Lily Bell and Thomas Durant continue to discuss the future of the railroad construction; and Cullen Bohannon and his crewman Elam Ferguson settle their differences in a public fight.


In Cheyenne territory, Chief Many Horses prepares Pawnee Killer for the Sun Dance ceremony. With long leather straps attached from his chest to a lone tree, Pawnee Killer must spend a full day staring at the sun and praying. If successful, a vision will be granted him. Pawnee Killer collapses after completing the ceremony, telling Chief Many Horses that he was blessed with a vision of the "great steel beast," adding "I killed it." Reverend Nathaniel Cole and Joseph Black Moon visit Chief Many Horses to ask him to come to Hell on Wheels and discuss peace. The chief will agree, only if Joseph requests his presence, which he does.

Back in town, Thomas Durant emerges from his Pullman coach. Cullen Bohannon informs him that the workers are not happy with not being paid lately. Durant orders him to only pay the walking bosses to keep the rest of the workers quiet. Later at the work site, Cullen convenes with the walking bosses to inform them of the pay situation. Elam Ferguson joins the group to declare himself a walking boss of the freedmen. He gets upset with the situation and walks off the job, daring Cullen to make him work. A fight breaks out between them. Durant orders them to stop, announcing to the whole crew that the payroll is on its way. He proposes to Cullen and Elam that they settle their differences in a public fight that evening.

Durant, meanwhile, tells Lily Bell that, without her deceased husband Robert Bell's survey maps, he will be considered a failure and Robert won't be thought of at all. She later accuses Durant of engineering the fight to distract his workers until they can be paid. He scoffs at her opinion of him. She then decides to tell him that she has Robert's maps, which detail the route through the Rocky Mountains and beyond. Durant is excited at the news, until she declines to reveal the maps' location. "How much?" he asks. "What Robert is owed," she says.

Sean and Mickey McGinnes' magic-lantern business has money trouble as well, with Thor Gundersen. He cuts their tent's rope supports, collapsing their place of business. Before the arranged fight, Sean is sold "enough peppers to make a Mexican cry." Mickey helps Cullen prepare and tells him Sean has bet all their money on him. The fight begins and, at first, Cullen gets the best of Elam. However, between rounds, Psalms motivates Elam, comparing Cullen to a former slave master who mistreated Elam. Cullen gets beaten down to the floor. As Mickey tries to raise Cullen, he notices Sean whisper to Psalms and slip something to him. The fight resumes. Elam lands a punch to Cullen's eyes. This staggers his opponent, blurring his vision. Elam eventually wins the fight. Outside, Sean shows Mickey a sizable wad of money. Seeing his brother's confusion, he explains that he bet everything on Elam, rather than Cullen. Mickey says that he cheated and that Cullen was their only friend. Sean disagrees - money is his only friend.

In the saloon, Lily sets a bucket of water at Cullen's head. He washes his eyes, then licks the residue from his fingers. He laughs at the peppery taste. The next morning in his tent, Cullen hands out payment bags to the walking bosses. Elam enters and again identifies himself as the freedmen crew's walking boss. Cullen offers Elam his money bag, but still clutches it when Elam tries to take it. He finally releases it to him, after they stare at each other.




  1. Anson Mount as Cullen Bohannon
  2. Colm Meaney as Thomas Durant
  3. Common as Elam Ferguson
  4. Dominique McElligott as Lily Bell
  5. Tom Noonan as Reverend Nathaniel Cole
  6. Eddie Spears as Joseph Black Moon
  7. Ben Esler as Sean McGinnes
  8. Phil Burke as Mickey McGinnes

Guest starring

  1. Duncan Ollerenshaw as Gregory Toole
  2. Diego Diablo Del Mar as Dix
  3. Christopher Heyerdahl as Thor Gundersen
  4. Gerald Auger as Pawnee Killer
  5. Dohn Norwood as Psalms
  6. Kasha Kropinski as Ruth
  7. Robin McLeavy as Eva
  8. Wes Studi as Chief Many Horses

Also Starring

  1. Andrew Moodie as Henri
  2. David Lereaney as the Telegraph Operator
  3. Morris Birdyellowhead as Bull Skull
  4. James Dugan as Carl
  5. Jim Rattai as Crony
  6. Randy Birch as Deuce


Opening credits

  1. Joe Gayton &
  2. Tony Gayton - Creators
  3. Gustavo Santaolalla - Theme
  4. Kevin Kiner - Score
  5. Kevin Krasny - Editor
  6. John Blackie - Production Designer
  7. Marvin V. Rush - Director of Photography
  8. Mark Richard - Consulting Producer
  9. Paul Kurta - Co-Executive Producer
  10. David Von Ancken - Executive Producer
  11. Jeremy Gold - Executive Producer
  12. John Shiban - Executive Producer
  13. Joe Gayton - Executive Producer
  14. Tony Gayton - Executive Producer
  15. Chad Oakes - Episodic Producer
  16. Michael Frislev - Episodic Producer
  17. Mark Richard - Writer
  18. Adam Davidson - Director

Closing credits

  1. Scott Schofield - Associate Producer
  2. Jami O'Brien - Executive Story Editor
  3. Bruce Marshall Romans - Staff Writer
  4. Linda Rogers Ambury - Unit Production Manager
  5. Mark Ambury - First Assistant Director (AD)
  6. Kathy Ringer - Second AD
  7. Cathy Sandrich Gelfond &
  8. Amanda Mackey - Casting
  9. Cami Patton - Additional US Casting
  10. Jennifer Lare - Additional US Casting
  11. Jackie Lind, CSA - Canadian Casting
  12. Alyson Lockwood - Extras Casting


  • The term "bread and circuses" is a metaphor for a superficial means of appeasement. The phrase originates from Rome in Satire X of the Roman satirist and poet Juvenal (circa 100 AD), wherein Roman politicians devise a plan, in 140 BC, to effectively win the votes of their new citizens and rise to power — provide cheap food and entertainment, "bread and circuses." [...] iam pridem, ex quo suffragia nulli / uendimus, effudit curas; nam qui dabat olim / imperium, fasces, legiones, omnia, nunc se / continet atque duas tantum res anxius optat, / panem et circenses. [...] (Juvenal, Satire 10.77–81) … Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.


Critical receptionEdit

Reviews for the episode were mixed. Adam Raymond of New York Magazine commented: "'Bread and Circuses' was all half-naked Common and half-naked Anson Mount working through hundreds of years of slavery with their fists."[1] IGN's Seth Amitin rated the episode as 6.5/10, calling it "a passable episode. It helped establish more character base and had some beautiful shots in there too ... The characters are there and that'll matter more over a full series.[2] Sean McKenna of TV Fanatic gave the episode 4 out of 5 stars: "I'm growing more and more attached to these characters as Hell on Wheels moves along, with the combination of action and drama keeping the show from turning into a history lesson snooze fest."[3]


The fifth episode was watched by 2.7 million viewers, and had a 0.8 rating with the 18-49 age range.[4]


  1. Raymond, Adam K. (December 6, 2011). Hell on Wheels Recap: Fight Night. New York Magazine.
  2. Amitin, Seth (December 6, 2011).Hell on Wheels: "Bread and Circuses" Review.
  3. McKenna, Sean (December 6, 2011).Hell on Wheels Review: Fight Club.
  4. Gorman, Bill (December 6, 2011). Sunday Cable Ratings: 'The Walking Dead' Stays On Top + NASCAR Championship, 'Housewives ATL,' 'Hell On Wheels,' 'Boardwalk Empire,' 'Homeland,' 'Dexter' & More. TV by the Numbers.

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