Farewell, Lily Bell

I’m still reeling from the finale (season? series?) of Hell on Wheels Sunday night.  If you haven’t seen it, and mean to, you may not want to read this.  There Will Be Spoilers.

The writers of Hell on Wheels have never pulled their punches, and they certainly didn’t start doing so in Blood Moon Rising, the last episode of the second season.  They burned the town to the ground, and they killed people.  Important people.

When Mr. Toole, Eva’s husband, trailed her to Elam’s cabin (where she was in fact telling Elam that she had decided once and for all to stay with Toole) and waved his gun around, I fully expected him to take a shot at Eva or Elam.  I didn’t expect him to blow his own head off, but that’s what he did.

When Cullen marched Gundersen out to the middle of the bridge to hang him, I expected Gundersen to make one last insane speech.  I didn’t expect him to jump off the bridge, robbing Cullen of his personal vengeance, but that’s what he did.

The real shock, though, was the murder of Lily Bell.  I watched in disbelief as the odious, mad Gundersen strangled her.  I held my breath, waiting for Cullen to burst through the door of the railroad car and save her.  But he didn’t.  My first reaction, after the disbelief, was that I’d never be able to watch the show again.  But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made.  I still don’t like it, but I understand.

As a viewer who always enjoys a good love story, I was crushed by Lily’s death.  She and Cullen were just discovering each other.  Did they have a chance at happiness together?  We’ll never know.

As a viewer of the female persuasion, I was angry.  We don’t have enough strong, competent, complex female characters on TV to throw one away lightly.

But as a writer, I gradually had to admit to myself that Lily’s death was a logical step in the story.  Hell on Wheels was never Lily’s story, or Eva’s, or Ruth’s, as much as the women fascinate me.  It’s a story of power, corruption and redemption, honor, treachery and vengeance, and its central focus is Cullen Bohannon.  It’s certainly not a romance, and Cullen is not a hero.

But he is the protagonist, and the story has followed his choices, many of which have been dreadful.  Is he seeking redemption, or running from it?  Hard to tell.  He’s badly flawed, deeply damaged, and he knows it.  He’s afraid, he tells Mr. Toole, that Lily won’t even like him once she really gets to know him.  In a romance novel, the love of a good woman would redeem a man like Cullen,  but not in a story like Hell on Wheels.  This is not a story about happy endings.

I don’t know if Hell on Wheels will be back next summer for a third season.  As I watched the end of Blood Moon Rising, I wasn’t even sure I wanted it to.  But after thinking about it for a couple of days, I’m hoping it returns.  I want to know what happens next to the Durants, Eva and Elam, Ruth and her church, Sean and Mickey and the rest.  I’m not entirely convinced that Gundersen is dead.  And I want to watch Cullen Bohannon drive the railroad west.

 

 

 

 

17 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Tessa Sheppard
    Oct 10, 2012 @ 00:58:10

    I love this show too. I have every belief that the show will continue for another season. I can’t wait to see what will happen next summer.

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    • Kay Hudson
      Oct 10, 2012 @ 06:47:01

      I seldom understand how decisions about series renewals are made, but I do hope we’ll see Hell on Wheels again, even without Lily. I wouldn’t be all that surprised to see Gundersen come crawling out of the river, either.

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  2. John
    Aug 06, 2013 @ 03:44:14

    I identified with Cullen and fell in love with Lily. I’m mad as hell that they killed her off and disgusted that they let that sickening Mr. Swede do it. The dialogue around enjoying murder is very off to me, as well. I doubt I’ll be able to come back to Season 3. I’m too disheartened.

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    • Kay Hudson
      Aug 06, 2013 @ 09:39:09

      AMC has some publicity pictures on their site. The Swede will be back, and there’s a new female character, a young woman reporter from a New York newspaper. I’m looking forward to the new season–starting with the two episodes on Saturday evening.

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  3. Joe
    Aug 30, 2013 @ 18:44:30

    I stopped watching after they killed Lilly. It kind of reminded me of the old Beauty and the Beast series with Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman. At the end of season 2, they killed Beauty (Linda Hamilton), yet continued with season 3. Season 3 was all she wrote because fans revolted. The simple fact is that the show needs Lilly Bell going forward. No, it’s not her story, but she is vital in the telling of his story and in the ability to extract certain emotions and mannerisms from him that no one else can. She was vital in showing his struggle. Without her the show isn’t worth watching, which is why I haven’t seen a single episode of season 3 and never will.

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    • Kay Hudson
      Aug 30, 2013 @ 20:26:07

      I felt the much the same when I saw the season two finale, but honestly, I think the writers got it right. Season three is offering Cullen a host of new challenges, and the Swede is headed back (with a full head of hair!). I’m actually quite pleased with season three so far (although I’m rather worried about that family the Swede is traveling with).

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  4. hmulasmajic
    Oct 09, 2013 @ 23:20:08

    I will never watch Season 3 because of Lilly’s death. The writers didn’t get anything right, the way Swede gets away with everything is just absurd and unreal. Lilly has proven herself to be a tough woman throughout the series that is a lot stronger than her delicate exterior would lead everyone to believe. This is all shattered by Swede just strangling her to death without putting a fight at all. The love interest between Lilly and Cullen wasn’t even developed that far to the point where her death would be emotional because it really wasn’t emotional at all. I just thought to my self “isn’t this a bit early?” seriously I can understand maybe at the end of Season 3 or possibly 4 that she dies after her relationship with Cullen develops into something we truly cherish. Cullen’s wife was already killed, it’s a bit far fetched to believe that his next love is killed as well. That’s just bad luck, and bad luck is bad writing. The odds of losing 2 women you fall in love with to death in a single lifetime, even in real life is just unlikely.

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    • Kay Hudson
      Oct 09, 2013 @ 23:34:29

      The end of season 2 was certainly shocking, but it worked in the overall story the series is giving us. There were just as many ups and downs in season 3, but it was well worth watching. I’m hoping we’ll hear soon that there will be a fourth season.

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  5. Kbruce
    Nov 28, 2014 @ 12:03:07

    Lily Bell was the only decent character on the show and the main reason for enduring the awful unnecessary violence with the scarring visuals… Let’s not leave anything to the imagination here ok! The writers are obviously more interested in coming up with more ways to show blood and gore than keeping a strong woman with decent enduring qualities around to balance the awfulness of that time period. She alone made the show worth watching and it’s too bad she is gone. I personally have no desire to watch the show again without the alluring miss lily bell 🙂 Ruth, Eva or Mrs. Durante would have been a much better choice if you are so inclined to kill the women off IMHO.

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  6. ceraphym
    Jun 21, 2016 @ 06:09:39

    And here we are, 2016! I hated the loss of Lilly, too. And there have been others since then. I think it’s been a great western series.

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  7. Alex
    Jul 24, 2016 @ 04:35:28

    I’m just now watching the show. I just got through with season 2 and I’m pretty bummed about her getting killed. Oh well…

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  8. Chase
    Jan 16, 2017 @ 20:33:26

    Well as much as i tried to understand i just could’nt… so i sorrowfully slapped shut my laptop on this episode and do not intend to return.

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  9. Kay Hudson
    Jan 16, 2017 @ 21:14:42

    I felt the same way for a while, but I’m glad I watched the rest of the series.

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  10. 12vs
    Jan 18, 2017 @ 06:06:04

    Just now getting to this show on Netflix. I didn’t like her dying, and I hated the Swede doing it. I have stopped watching many shows before after a favorite character is killed off. I’ll stay with this, for now, just because so few good Westerns are available, albeit without much gusto or commitment.

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