Hell on Wheels

TV review by
Kari Croop, Common Sense Media
Hell on Wheels TV Poster Image
Parents recommend
Gritty drama revels in Wild West's vices and violence.

Parents say

age 16+
Based on 6 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 8 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

The general mood is pretty bleak, with major themes of revenge, corruption, and greed. There's generally little sense of legality, either.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Although the main character is understandably grieving the loss of his wife, his brand of revenge involves killing those who were responsible for her death. Other characters are openly racist toward people of color, including African-Americans, Native Americans, and Chinese-Americans.


Violence isn't constant, but it is realistic and bloody, with injuries caused by guns, arrows, knives, etc.


Sexual innuendo, with kissing and implied intercourse. Some characters are prostitutes.


Unbleeped swearing includes "s--t," "damn," and "hell" (which, obviously, is in the title, too). Characters also use racist terms like "darky," "chink," and the N-word.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some social drinking, occasionally to the point of drunkenness.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this adult-targeted drama portrays life more or less as it was in the post-Civil War "wild" West. That means you'll hear unbleeped language (including "s--t") along with racist terms like the N-word, "darky," and "chink," and see realistically violent conflict that results from stabbings, shootings and the like. Sexual content isn't graphic, but there's some sexual innuendo, kissing, and implied sex. Some characters drink socially, too, and occasionally get drunk.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 13-year-old Written byLivingTheDream June 17, 2016

Very good for historically savy and/or mature tweens

My child just turned 13 and the two of us have been watching Hell on Wheels for the past few months. Both my child and I love American history and appreciate th... Continue reading
Adult Written byNotDaPanda October 2, 2020

Story rich gory drama with sex.

The story on this tv show was very well done except for the first few episodes at the beginning of season 4. There are some cringe worthy gore scenes and the vi... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written bychildofGodanddo... March 9, 2021


It is a drama about how the railroad came to be. It is so good and I learned a lot. There are of course guns and ropes and hangings since it is the Wild West, b... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byBluSpruce March 22, 2020

Grizzly yet Historical Look into the American West

Hell on Wheels is a wonderful historical representation of the American West. There is sexual content, racism, violence, and abuse but it is very eye-opening. A... Continue reading

What's the story?

With the Civil War over, ex-Confederate soldier Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount) journeys west to avenge his wife's death and finds work in the lawless town of HELL ON WHEELS, where the transcontinental railroad is staging its cross-country expansion. Once there, he crosses paths with an emancipated slave (Common), a greedy entrepreneur (Colm Meaney), and a freshly widowed woman (Dominique McElligott).

Is it any good?

On the surface, Hell on Wheels certainly looks like it could be another Mad Men or The Walking Dead, the type of well-made, cerebral drama AMC is known for. Both the art direction and costuming are thoughtful and detailed, and the period is well-defined. But there's something in the way this story's told that makes us care a lot less about these characters than we'd like to.

Perhaps the problem lies in the show's sweeping ambitions to tell too many stories at once, blending elements of Manifest Destiny, post-Civil War racial tensions, and the construction of the transcontinental railroad, just to name a few. That said, with the writing in the right hands, it's precisely that level of ambition that could be the series' greatest virtue.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the show's portrayal of a specific historical time period and whether that portrayal seems accurate or exaggerated. What details make what you're seeing seem more realistic? (Think about violence, language, and costuming, to name a few.) How does the show compare with what you know to be true about the American West during that era?

  • How does the show address the racism of the time period? Whose perspective is the story told from? Do minority characters have much of a voice? How did the end of the Civil War affect the lives of African Americans? How did America's westward expansion affect the lives of Native Americans?

  • What role did the railroad play in our nation's growth? Was the "progress" of westward expansion truly positive for everyone involved?

TV details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love drama

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