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Character Development: Bohannon Grows a Conscience, Hell on Wheels “The Game” 

Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC
Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC

I’ve really been enjoying this season so far. Anson Mount‘s Cullen Bohannon seems to be growing as a human being – even if it is very much against his will. He cleaned himself up and got his act together to get his Union Pacific job back and now he spares the life of Red Bear’s son. Why? It seems that he’s tired of killing, or at least killing for sport. What changed between the last episode where he and Elam took out every member of that cattle raiding party and now? Maybe it was what he heard at the Indian burial grounds. Maybe it’s his growing friendship with God, and by default Ruth. Maybe it’s the fact that so many people are counting on him back in Hell on Wheels. And maybe it’s none of those things. Whatever the reason, I really like the kind of man Bohannon is becoming.

Cullen and Elam seek out Brent Briscoe‘s “Jimmy Two Squaws” to do some trading with the Kiowa. He speaks their language and the railroad really needs their Spruce for railroad ties. Not only are Cullen and Elam attacked when they arrive, but they’re forced to play stickball – a game taught to the Kiowa by the Choctaw. Adam Beach‘s Chief Red Bear has made it an initiation rite for his fiercest braves. Cullen and Elam are given another player, an Arapahoe Indian. He’s not too keen to be on their team since the Blue coats murdered so many of his people. After the Arapahoe is killed by Red Bear’s son, Cullen and Elam realize how much trouble they’re in. Turns out Jimmy Two Squaws forgot to mention a vital piece of information at the outset: win or lose this game, they die. When Cullen has a chance to ‘win’ the game – Red Bear’s son has even started singing his death song – he can’t go through with it. It’s a hell of a time to listen to your conscience.

Because they’ve shamed Red Bear and his people, Cullen and Elam will have to die anyway and by fire. They’re tied up and as the fire is lit under them Cullen and Elam discuss their regrets. Cullen wishes he’d had a chance to see the Pacific ocean. Elam wishes he could’ve married Eva. As the flames start to burn higher Cullen prays to God. But it’s not God who saves them (even though Ruth disputes that fact later), it’s Johnny Two Squaws. He’s agreed to marry Red Bear’s daughter Buffalo Face. Now he figures people will have to call him Jimmy Three Squaws.

Back at Hell on Wheels Durant is stirring up trouble. He asks Sean about Cullen’s recent transgressions and hears about the hanging of the Mormon kid. It isn’t really an unwarranted murder though, is it? The Blue coats were there to see frontier justice carried out and in a way it was. But Durant can still make trouble for Cullen. He tells the Jennifer Ferrin‘s Louise Ellison about the members of the 13th Ohio infantry. Cullen insists that story isn’t a railroad story, but Louise says it is. As soon as Cullen solves one problem another pops up in its place. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

What does this mean for Cullen? The sympathetic picture Louise has painted of him so far will not remain that way. As she investigates these allegations, she’ll learn what Cullen used to be like and it could cause all sorts of problems – with his bosses at the railroad, with the law, with people who might want justice for their dead relatives. As much as Cullen is trying to leave his past behind him, I think it’s better for him to deal with this now. We’ll see how he handles it and whether he can continue on this new path or revert to his old self.


  • Who took Eva and Elam’s baby? Declan is an obvious suspect, but he seems just as interested in having Eva and well as the child. Who else could’ve done it and what is their motive?
  • What the heck is going on with The Swede? He’s playing nice with that Mormon family but I’m just waiting for him to turn on them in some horrible way. Want more insight into Thor Gundersen? Check out this Q&A with Christopher Heyderdahl.

Hell on Wheels airs Saturdays at 9/8c on AMC.

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1 Comment

  1. Ginger BearCub

    This episode kept me on the edge of my seat. Love watching the stick game with Common and Anson. Great job guys. Anson, if you had killed the Chief’s son, how do you think that would have changed this episode? By right, you were suppose to. That is custom. Thank you AMC for having this series and I do hope you continue it for quite a few years, even after the railroad is completed. I’d like to see how CB does in the real world after completion, so AMC please don’t leave your audience just in limbo. Thank you.

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