This show follows the journey of Cullen Bohannan (Anson Mount) a former confederate soldier who joins the Union Pacific Railroad looking for work and vengeance against the Union Soldiers who murdered his family. This show has everything a realistic western that takes place on a rail road would need. It has blood thirsty indians,alchoholics,gun fights, hardships, and loss of loved ones. This show opens with a Union soldier walking into a church confessional and confessing his sins to a priest, he discusses the horrible things that he has done, this is when the soldier is gunned down by the priest who is revealed to be Cullen Bohannan. Cullen then calmley walks out of the church and is on the train headed for 'Hell on Wheels' (yes those towns were actually referred to as Hell on Wheels). We also see that a young couple is also working for the railroad and finishing surveys, this couple Robert and Lilly Bell, discuss the dangers of heading into Cheyenne territory and it would be best for Lilly to return home to safety. Lilly refuses to leave her ailing husband behind. The next morning Lilly and Robert awake to find their camp under attack by the Cheyenne indians, Robert and Lilly amke their escape but are confronted by an indian. During the gruesome battle Robert is killed by the indian, who then tries to kill Lilly but Lilly kills the indian with an arrow she pulls from her shoulder, and quickly makes her escape with Robert's maps. The episode continues following Cullen Bohannan, who is made walking boss of one of the many negro cut crews, Cullen befriends Daniel Johnson (Ted Levine) who is the foreman of Hell on Wheels. After many drinks at the bar Johnson reveals to have done very bad things during the war, while Cullen questions Johnson, Johnson reveals that he knows why Cullen is questioning him and admits to taking part is his wifes murder. Johnson tells Cullen that the sergeant who also was involved in the murder is still in camp. Before Cullen can get the name Johnson is killed by one of the cut crew members.
While I watched this whole seires I just could not look away, my eyes werepractically glued to the tv. They pull all of the correct stops here, even going out of their way to make the Hell on Wheels camp look as authentic as possible and showing the conditions people lived in for the time. We get a great look at the casts background and motivations for joining the railroad and can even relate to the characters. If you love westerns then you will love this show.