Hell on wheels Wiki


Season Number: 1
Episode Number: 1
Airdate: November 6, 2011
Director: David Von Ancken
Writer: Tony Gayton
Joe Gayton
Producer: Tony Gayton
Joe Gayton
Jeremy Gold
John Shiban
David Von Ancken
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"Immoral Mathematics"

"Pilot" or "Hell on Wheels" is the first episode of the first season of the AMC series Hell on Wheels.


Former Confederate soldier, Cullen Bohannon, seeks revenge on Union soldiers, leading him to Nebraska and the Union Pacific Railroad's westward construction of the first transcontinental railroad.



In 1865, a Union Army veteran, later identified as Buckton Prescott, walks into a Washington D.C. Church. In the confessional, he admits to committing war crimes while serving with General William Sherman on his march through Georgia. An unseen man on the other side of the divider urges soldier to confess further details. When the former soldier balks, the unknown man then asks him about what happened in Meridian, Mississippi and then proceeds to shoot the soldier in the confession booth.

Act I[]

Sen. Crane and Durant meet to discuss "arrangements" about the railroad

Entrepreneur Thomas Durant delivers a stirring speech to potential investors about the importance of his continental railroad project and how it will reunite and rebuild the country in the aftermath of war. After the speech, he meets with the chair of the Senate subcommittee on railroads, Jordan Crane in order to bribe the politician with shares of the newly formed Credit Mobilier, the company that will receive all future government railroad contracts and then subcontracts to Union Pacific Railroad (for whom Durant also works). This allows Durant to "pay [himself] to build a railroad with government subsidies."

On a westbound train Sean and Mickey McGinnes, two young Irish brothers, read a newspaper story about the Prescott's murder in D.C. and meet Cullen Bohannon, the murderer, though no one knows this. As it turns out, all three men are headed west to the railroad construction site.

Eventually the train arrives at Hell on Wheels, a moving camp town that follows the construction of the railroad. Hell on Wheels is home to workers, saloon owners, cooks, launderers, prostitutes and other hangers-on that fuel the informal economy of the railroad camp. Upon disembarking, Bohannon interviews with Daniel Johnson, the railroad foreman, for a job. During their initial encounter, Johnson remarks that he was a Copperhead before being drafted into the Union army. He also inquires as to whether Bohannon ever owned slaves, to which the southerner admits. Eventually, Johnson hires Bohannon as a walking boss and takes him out to meet his crew, consisting mostly of freedmen, including Elam Ferguson, who resents working for a former slave owner.

Joseph Black Moon and Reverent Cole arrive in Hell on Wheels

Near the camp, Reverend Nathaniel Cole baptizes Joseph Black Moon, a Cheyenne, in the river. This act symbolizes the washing away of his sins and his arrival into the Christian faith. They later ride into Hell on Wheels to establish a church.

Meanwhile, as Durant travels by rail, he berates his lead engineer for planning a railroad that is too straight. The surveyor protests that surrounding land is flat and no detours are necessary. Durant, however, wants the rail to detour as much as possible because he is paid by the mile. He fires the lead surveyor and promotes a Young Engineer to the position.

Act II[]

The Bells take a rest from surveying

Robert Bell serves with an advance surveying camp in Nebraska. His wife Lily Bell also helps him, though he reminds her of their agreement that she return to Chicago once they enter the hostile territory of the Cheyenne Indians. The next morning the survey camp comes under attack and Robert and Lily escape on foot into the woods with their maps. A single attacker catches up with them in the woods, wounding Lily and killing Robert before Lily kills him. She then makes her escape further into the woods with the maps.

Meanwhile, back at Hell on Wheels, Bohannon is drinking and playing cards with Johnson. He reveals that, though he owned slaves, he gave them their freedom a year before the ware broke out. His wife was a northerner and she convinced him of the immorality of slavery. She was eventually killed during the war. The next day on the cut crew, Elam's friend William becomes ill and they go to get water before the scheduled break. Johnson rides by and whips William. Then, a nearby gunshot startles Johnson's horse, causing it to rear up kick William in the head, killing him.

Act III[]

On his train, Durant receives word that Robert Bell is dead and that no maps were found at the scene. Distraught over this news, Durant orders his train to head to Hell on Wheels.

Bohannon tries to talk Elam out of taking revenge on Johnson

That night, Bohannon heads to Elam's tent and tries to talk him out of killing Johnson in revenge for William's death. Bohannon tells Elam that he must let go of the past but does not answer when Elam asks whether he has let go. Bohannon's next stop is the McGinnes' tent. The two brothers have established a very successful picture show business.

Finally, Cullen meets with Johnson again at the bar, though he surreptitiously avoids drinking while he questions Johnson. Eventually the discussion turns to the war and Johnson admits that he committed atrocities during his time in the Army. Cullen asks him about Meridian, Mississippi, but Johnson pulls his Remington and forces Cullen out through the back of the tent at gunpoint. Johnson says that he read about the murder of the Prescott in D.C and figured that Bohannon would come after him sooner or later. He also tells Cullen that his wife was killed by a Union sergeant and then hung to falsely indicate suicide. Before Johnson can get the name of the sergeant, Elam attacks Johnson from behind and cuts his throat.


Cullen: Tell me about Meridian.

Durant: It's all horse crap. The faster I shovel, the faster they eat it up.

Sean: Mickey has twelve toes.
Mickey: And Sean but eight.
Sean: Individually, were freaks.
Mickey: But together we’re whole.

Bohannon: You kill him, you will hang.
Elam: How they gonna hang me if their ain't witnesses?
Bohannon: You come at me with a knife, son, you better be ready to use it.

Johnson: I must admit there were certain lines that I crossed, lines of morality I didn't think myself capable of crossing. But that's what men do in war.
Bohannon: Moral men don't.




  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. Jesse Lipscombe as William
  2. Gerald Auger as Pawnee Killer
  3. Ian Tracey as Bolan
  4. and Ted Levine as Daniel Johnson

Also Starring

  1. Diego Diablo Del Mar as Dix
  2. Robert Moloney as Robert Bell
  3. David Lereaney as the Telegraph Operator
  4. James D. Hopkin as Senator Jordan Crane
  5. Julian Black Antelope as Sun Bear
  6. Tom Carey as a Buckton Prescott
  7. Dru Mouser as a Prostitute
  8. Dave Brown as a Walking Boss
  9. Chris Ippolito as the Young Engineer


  1. Unknown as the Older Engineer


Opening credits

  1. Joe &
  2. Tony Gayton - Creators
  3. Gustavo Santaolalla - Theme
  4. Kevin Kiner - Score
  5. Skip MacDonald - Editor
  6. John Blackie - Production Designer
  7. Elliot Davis - Director of Photography
  8. Jeremy Gold - Executive Producer
  9. Joe Gayton - Executive Producer
  10. Tony Gayton - Executive Producer
  11. Paul Kurta - Episodic Producer
  12. Chad Oakes - Episodic Producer
  13. Michael Frislev - Episodic Producer
  14. Joe Gayton - Writer
  15. Tony Gayton - Writer
  16. David Von Ancken - Director

Closing credits

  1. Jordan Feiner - Associate Producer
  2. Keri Young - Associate Producer
  3. Linda Rogers Ambury - Unit Production Manager
  4. Philip Chipera - First Assistant Director (AD)
  5. Michele Williams - Second AD
  6. Cathy Sandrich Gelfond &
  7. Amanda Mackey - Casting
  8. Kate Caldwell - Casting Associate
  9. Jandiz Estrada - Casting Associate
  10. Jackie Lind, CSA - Canadian Casting
  11. Alyson Lockwood - Extras Casting


  • The pilot episode was filmed entirely in Alberta, Canada, with assistance from the provincial government of Alberta's film-development program. Filming of the pilot took place between August 2010 and September 2010 on location in Calgary as well as in central and southern Alberta, Canada.[1] The T'suu T'ina Native Indian Reservation, an Indian reserve in southern Alberta, was the location for most of the exteriors. The entire production team was mandated to preserve the environment in its wild state. They were also doing their part to protect the environment. "We were one of the first Canadian production companies to use the new Scenecronize System, which digitally distributes scripts and all production paperwork to the crew, network, studio and talent, cutting our photocopy usage down by 500,000 copies on the first season alone," producer Chad Oakes points out, adding that, after realizing that the crew consumed more than 25,000 bottles of water in the first half of the season, "We implemented water coolers and 'bring your own bottle to set' policy to cut down on our plastic bottle consumption."
  • Cullen Bohannon uses a Griswald revolver, one of the rarest guns. Only 100,000 were produced and then the warehouse was destroyed by the Union Army.

Featured Music[]

  1. "Twelve Gates to the City" Ralph Stanley
  2. "So Far from Your Weapon" The Dead Weather
  3. "Shuck That Corn Before You Eat" Common and Jesse Lipscombe
  4. "A Stor Mor Chroi" Phil Burke and Maura O'Connell


Critical reception[]

The show was given a 63 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 27 reviews, indicating mixed reviews.[2]

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."[3]

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."[4]

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."[5]

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."[6]


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 time slot rivals CSI: Miami (CBS) and Pan Am (NBC).[7]

Advertising and marketing[]

Promotional Photos[]



  1. Wilton, Lisa (July 6, 2010). New TV series to be filmed in Calgary. Calgary Sun.
  2. Hell on Wheels: Season 1. Metacritic.
  3. Stuever, Hank. 2011 TV season: Few smooth takeoffs, many bumpy arrivals, The Washington Post, September 20, 2011.
  4. Lloyd, Robert. 'Hell on Wheels' review: It takes a while to get chugging along, Los Angeles Times, November 4, 2011.
  5. Smith, Nancy Dewolf. "Tales of the Old West", Wall Street Journal, November 4, 2011.
  6. Lowry, Brian. Hell on Wheels, Variety, November 3, 2011.
  7. Adalian, Josef. Hell on Wheels’ Ratings, NY Mag, November 7, 2011.

External links[]

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