THE BLOG
12/06/2014 04:15 pm ET Updated Feb 05, 2015

The Walking Dead Guns It, Whereas Hell On Wheels Recalibrates

I can see what it is you believe in. You need something to keep you alive, yeah. Such is the two lines from the song "Be What You Want," by Robin Loxley and Oliver Jackson. Which also happens to be featured in the AMC commercial showcasing the network's current five dramas, Mad Men, The Walking Dead, Hell on Wheels, Turn: Washington's Spies, and the newest show Halt and Catch Fire that will be renewed for a second season next year.

You have to give AMC credit for a cable network rolling out a continuing unique entertainment experience. And of its current five dramas, both The Walking Dead and Hell on Wheels had ushered in surprising changes to their storyline characters this year. So let's begin first with Hell on Wheels. A western drama, which will be renewed next year for a fifth and final season.

From the fourth season finale of Hell on Wheels that aired on November 22, 2014, episode 13 titled, "Further West," was where we last saw lead character Cullen Bohannon, played by Anson Mount. The former Confederate soldier decides to quit his position of chief engineer of the Union Pacific, to build the first transcontinental railroad. This, after he successfully built a steam shovel so that railroad construction could progress onward through a summit. Such an abrupt change of heart mystifies the businessman Thomas "Doc" Durant, a past rival of Bohannon yet only later to become a powerful partner in the railroad construction through Cheyenne.

Durant, played by Colm Meaney, believes Bohannon reached his decision to quit purely out of remorse from the tragic circumstances that involved Ruth Cole, played by Kasha Kropinski. Acting from vengeance for the death of an orphaned Mormon boy whom she considered as her adopted son, Ruth was arrested for firing two shots that later led to the death of outlaw Sidney Snow. The devout preacher and head of the only church in the mobile town of Hell on Wheels in Cheyenne, Ruth adamantly refuses all manner of clemency and reprieve from Bohannon, who was temporary sheriff at the time, and during her trial from provisional Governor John Campbell, played by Jake Weber. Then a day or so later, she was hanged, all in the previous episode 12.

The businessman Durant tries to tell Bohannon that he had done everything possible to save Ruth, and admonishes him to reconsider his resignation, but to no avail. What follows is an odyssey of sorts for Cullen Bohannon, as he next journeys to the Mormon Fort Smith to rejoin his Mormon wife and their baby. Then, upon arrival, he discovers the fort scattered with several bodies of dead or dying Mormons from an outbreak of smallpox. While his wife and child are nowhere to be found, he later finds out they went further West from his dying mother-in-law.

A viewer then gets a sense from this fourth season finale, that both the lead character and the show are now trying to get their sea-legs. In other words, Bohannon was originally driven by two things: revenge for the death of his Northerner wife and their son after the Civil War, and onward progress of the railroad. The first matter was resolved whereas in the second matter he resigns. And not only that, casino and whorehouse owner and town mayor Mickey McGinnes, is summarily told to leave town on the next train by John Campbell who is backed by U.S. soldiers. Only to be accompanied by Eva as his new business partner, along with several prostitutes.

Yet later towards the end, Collis Huntington of the Central Pacific railroad seeks Bohannon. From having heard of Bohannon's reputation at the Union Pacific, the businessman not only offers him a position and a share of the company, but also the accompanying resources of the company that would be at his disposal to find his family. Only later does Bohannon accept.

As the producers and writers recalibrate Hell on Wheels for next season, to satisfy faithful viewers they must be in agreement on one thing. There has to be a final showdown between Bohannon and Thor Gundersen, also known as the Swede, played by Christopher Heyerdahl.

It must be a bold and conclusive confrontation, of which anything short of that would not satisfy. We're talking about a man, the Swede, who strangled Lily Bell the surveyor, played by Dominique McElligott in season 2 episode 10 titled, "Blood Moon Rising." It must be an epic Waterloo, a battle royale Army vs. Navy, Notre Dame vs. USC, Auburn vs. Bama, Celtics vs. Lakers, Ali vs. Frazier. It's been a long time coming. That's for damn sure.

Now, onward about The Walking Dead.

During the first half of the fifth season of The Walking Dead, the team of directors, writers and executive producers of which Scott Gimple does both, have been gunning it on this merry-go-round with no letting up. Gone is the slow creepy odyssey of dealing with the Governor in the town of Woodbury during most of season three and half of season four. Viewers perhaps thought the same would happen at the beginning of season five, at the creepier cannibal enclave of Terminus. But Team Rick, with the help of Carol, wonderfully played by Melissa McBride, put a stop to that quick. Originally some critics complained the show had a rather slow storyline before season five. Now that things have amped up, they still complain.

The mid-season finale, an episode called "Coda," aired on November 30, 2014, and it was a doozy. Rick, played by British actor Andrew Lincoln with a convincing Southern accent, and team, devised a way to free both Carol and Beth, played by Emily Kinney. Rick had found out from Daryl, played by Norman Reedus, and Noah, played by newcomer Tyler James Williams, that Beth was held up at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta. A place where an ordinary person works under a draconian environment ruled by quasi police officers, headed by Officer Dawn Lerner, played by Christine Woods.

Rick wanted to use the element of surprise, especially since he and his team had captured the three officers, Shepherd, Lamson, and Licari. So Rick later gets the tactical layout beforehand. This after Officer Lamson escapes, but is caught by Rick, and dealt with. Yet Tyreese, played by Chad Coleman, and Daryl now believe a prisoner exchange would be best, to which Rick agrees reluctantly. Concurrently, Abraham and others find out that Eugene lied when he claimed being a scientist who would lead all to Washington D.C. to cure the zombie plague. Along with Glenn and Maggie, they all ride back to Father Gabriel's church, to which Michonne tells Maggie her sister Beth is alive. The news brings Maggie to tears of joy as they drive to meet with Rick's team.

Things proceed after officers Shepherd, played by Teri Wyble, and Licari, agree to lie to say Lamson got killed by walkers. For Dawn wouldn't agree to the exchange if she knew. As the exchange takes place, she ups the stakes, demanding also former orderly Noah, who escaped with Beth's help. Then Beth stabs Dawn and Dawn immediately shoots Beth in the head. Followed by Daryl also shooting Dawn in the head. Towards the end when Abraham and others arrive, they all see the lifeless body of Beth carried out by Daryl, which brings Maggie to her knees.

A poll was taken after the episode during Talking Dead hosted by Chris Hardwick, which asked: had all stuck to Rick's original plan would Beth still be alive? 82 percent of those polled said yes, with both creator Robert Kirkman and actress Emily Kinney as guests. Beth will be missed, obviously. And now with Carol rescued and the others now reunited with Glenn, Maggie, Abraham, Eugene, Tara and Rosita, I still have faith in the creative team of The Walking Dead. For to me it is also not only an odyssey about Rick, but also about himself and those he's faithful to as they hold onto cherishing humanity in their own way.