After the midseason finale and ten months of waiting, Hell on Wheels has returned with “Two Soldiers,” the first in its final run of seven episodes. “Two Soldiers” picks up right where we last saw our characters and focuses solely on the long rivalry of Cullen and Thor. “Two Soldiers” is filled with animosity, anger and death and is a fantastic way to start off Hell on Wheels’ last stretch of episodes.
Here are the five best moments from the midseason premiere.
For years, Thor Gunderson, AKA “The Swede,” has been Hell on Wheels’s default bad guy. Thor is always presented as nothing but pure evil, with Cullen Bohanan even calling him the devil and fighting for seasons to stop him. “Two Soldiers” finally gives us a little background of Thor (better late than never), and the intro shows Thor as a well-liked Union soldier who gets held captive at a Confederate prison in Georgia. The information we get is sparse, but we learn that Thor was once a musician who loved the harmonica and he also had a friend that tried to eat him in Georgia. But that’s enough to gain sympathy from the show’s audience, since he’s presented as a once happy man who’s been forced to do whatever it takes to survive, rather than ending up face down in the mud like his friend.
“Two Soldiers” doesn’t waste any time catching up with the battle between Cullen and Thor that seemed underway ten months ago in the midseason finale “False Prophets.” Early in the episode, Thor is shooting his way to Cullen’s wife Naomi, while Cullen chases after him. Their first fight in “Two Soldiers” shows Thor shooting Cullen in the leg, which seriously affects him throughout the episode, but Cullen gets his revenge, almost drowning Thor and then bashing his head with a rock. But Cullen knows if he kills Thor, he’ll be no better than The Swede, and instead decides to drag him into town—even with his bad leg—in order to give Thor the trial and hanging he deserves.
Cullen and Thor are not mere rivals; they’re also the two people in Hell on Wheels who understand each other best. Because of this, the dynamic between these two has been one of the strongest aspects of this show, as we see when Cullen takes Thor into town to stand trial for his actions. In this segment, we get a last look at how interesting and exciting these two are when they’re together. Cullen might hate Thor for the awful things he’s done, but what gets to his core is just how well Thor knows him. When Thor says that Cullen would rather escort him to prison instead of spending time with his family, and that Cullen fears killing Thor, there’s a fury he reveals because he knows his enemy is right.
In the final fight between Cullen and Thor, in which both are connected by shackles at the ankle, Cullen knocks Thor out and has to drag him to town by foot. Of course this doesn’t work out so well, since Cullen has a bullet lodged in his leg. As Cullen seems ready to black out from exhaustion, Thor seems prepared to exact his revenge, until the two are discovered and brought to town. At this moment, Cullen and Thor’s battle has reached its logical conclusion. Both are exhausted, weak, and yet still trying to fight each other, all up until a third party comes along and solves the problems between them.
Even though the midseason finale of Hell on Wheels presented the final stretch of episodes that would focus on the battle between Cullen and Thor, it’s pretty shocking that in this return episode, the show kills off its biggest villain. Hell on Wheels’ best episodes are the ones in which major characters die—something that happens quite a bit, since everyone Cullen gets close to dies—and Thor’s death is no different. “Two Soldiers”’ last ditch effort to build sympathy for Thor actually works, and his pleas for Cullen to forgive him, to not let him hang, and to not have his head covered by a bag when he does hang are all moments where it’s hard not to care for this mostly evil character. Even Cullen has a hard time not empathizing with Thor, as he begins Thor’s hanging by staring intently at The Swede, only for the scene to be too much to bear. He chooses to look down at the floor instead. This moment is also a strong parallel to the earlier moment in the episode, where Cullen describes how watching a snake curl up and die is supposed to represent the spirit leaving the body, an image we see again in Thor’s final moments.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can find more of his writing at RossBonaime.com and follow him on Twitter.