Hell on Wheels TV Poster Image

Hell on Wheels

Gritty drama revels in Wild West's vices and violence.
  • Network: AMC
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2011

What parents need to know

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

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.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Some social drinking, occasionally to the point of drunkenness.

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.

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.

Families can talk 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

Premiere date:November 6, 2011
Cast:Anson Mount, Colm Meaney, Common
TV rating:TV-14

This review of Hell on Wheels was written by

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What parents and kids say

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Parent Written byTrying2BagoodMOM September 19, 2013

My opinion....

I actually like this series, but disagree with the review in a couple different ways. First, I think that overall they don't show a lot of the actual sexual act, but the couple of times that they do show people having sex are enough for me to say it's not for kids. The other thing is that there's tons of drinking and obviously, if you're having several shots at one sitting, you're getting drunk. I am a little concerned at this point in the series as to how they will continue to portray Christianity. Whereas I do agree that we can criticize the way the people at the time 'evangelized' the settlers and indians, I do think that Christianity in it's purest form would have been a wonderful thing for both sides to have benefit from. If they could somehow show this and not 'throw the baby out with the bath water' it would be great.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Teen, 14 years old Written bykillerbadger19 January 17, 2015

An amazing and gritty look at the true "wild west"

This show focuses on a gunslinger named Cullen that is seeking revenge for the murder of his wife. It soon becomes much more that that as it deals with the creation of the trans-continental railroad and black slavery. This show is very brutal but rarely bloody mainly coming from the Native Americans. There is some moaning after sex but sex is nearly never shown and if it is, it's very mild and non graphic.
What other families should know
Great messages
Too much violence
Parent of a 14 year old Written byLolzgangsta June 18, 2014

Great show

Violence happens fast. But aftermath is shown. I believe this is because they are trying to give it a TV-14 rating. This makes some of it seem a little cheesier. Personally thought it should've just been given a TV-MA rating to avoid this. Drinking every once in a while & little smoking. Sexuality includes lots of prostitution. Men are seen trusting and there is moaning but there is no nudity