Played by: Anson Mount
- Anti-Hero: Type IV. Shades of Type III and Type V depending on his mood. He's brutal, vengeange-obsessed and sometimes an asshole, but he is still fighting for the right cause.
- Asskicking Equals Authority
- Badass Beard: Since the first season.
- Cartwright Curse: His first wife is murdered by renegade Union men, along with their children. He later falls in love with Lily Bell, who is murdered by The Swede. His bond with Ruth Cole was kept from developing into romance after he is forced into marrying Naomi, the Mormon girl he got pregnant. He only learns Ruth had feelings for him the night before she is executed for killing a man. After this he tries to find Naomi and his son, but can't locate them after their Mormon community scattered after disease and Indian attacks ravaged them. It's possible they're already dead.
- Death Seeker: Becomes one very briefly in season 2, due to murdering an innocent man and feeling nothing about it.
- A Father to His Men: Becomes this when he becomes Head Engineer.
- Fire-Forged Friends: With Elam eventually
- Guile Hero:
- Very cunning when he's not blinded by vengeance, not to mention his knowledge of American history and warfare.
- Season 2 provides further proof to this with him playing Durant and the workers like a fiddle, then executing The Plan he set up to get the workers back to their jobs. It works like a charm.
- Honor Before Reason: He marries and stays with Naomi out of honor. Even she notes he could just leave her.
- I Did What I Had to Do: This is mostly his defense when asked about all the murders he had to commit in Hell On Wheels.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: He is by no means a gentle person, but deep down, he knows what's right.
- Knight in Sour Armor: Bohannon has a extremely pessimistic worldview and trusts no one, but this doesn't keep him from helping those in need.
- Maybe Ever After: Boards a ship to China in the series finale to go find Mei.
- Mr. Fanservice: He is the character with the biggest amount of shirtless scenes. Which surprises no one, considering Anson Mount's muscular physique.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Once he realizes just what he summoned when he asked for Major Bendix's help.
- Nice Hat: Bohannon has a minor obsession with hats, and he always grabs a hold of one.
- Revenge Before Reason: Bohannon overrides any sense of self-preservation or logic if revenge is the reward. This in particular blows up ons his face when he murders a innnocent man because of the illusion this man killed his wife.
- Secret Keeper: keeps the secret of Fong aka Mei actually being a woman from Chang.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: Cullen participated in the slaughter of wounded soldiers and medics. It is evident this didn't do him good.
- The Sociopath: He isn't even close to being this, but expresses fear of becoming one after not feeling guilty for his brutal murder of an innocent man.
- Unscrupulous Hero: He will do everything it takes for the railroad.
- Sociopathic Hero: Sometimes gets to this point when his actions get more and more extreme.
- Warrior Poet: A very well-read soldier.
Thomas "Doc" Durant
Played by: Colm Meaney
- Affably Evil: He is a true gentleman, charming and polite even as profiteering of the slaughter of indians.
- All Love Is Unrequited: Regarding Mrs. Bell.
- Anti-Villain: A Type I, being a businessman at heart, he keeps his promises.
- Authority Equals Asskicking: Fights for his Railroad with tooth and nail.
- Because You Were Nice to Me: Sincerely cares for Eva's well being without expecting anything in return, because she took care of him when he was shot and during his subsequent opium addiction.
- Big Bad: Is shaping up to be this for the third season.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: Did it at the end of the first episode. Has not done it since.
- Card-Carrying Villain: If you want him to play the villain, he'll gladly do it.
- The Chessmaster: While he routinely suffers from Didn't See That Coming, Durant can outgambit people with the best of them.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: His Corrupt Corporate Executive credentials are all Truth in Television. The real Durant did set up Credit Mobilier to pay himself for building his own railroad, he did use "oxbow" curves to arbitrarily increase the length of the railroad and get more government money, he did bribe senators, and (as mentioned by Bohannon in their first meeting) he did make a lot of money smuggling embargoed cotton out of the Confederacy during the Civil War.
- Even Evil Has Standards: He has a few (very few) lines he will not cross.
- Face–Heel Turn: He was always something of a Jerkass with some soft spots, but as of the third season, he has also decided to destroy Bohannon. Most of his Pet the Dog moments also vanished with the death of Lily Bell.
- Jerkass: While he can be quite a gentleman, Durant cares about profit first and foremost, and he loves to remind people of such.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: While he is very arrogant, corrupt and self-serving, Durant does have empathy and will show compassion when he has no reason to.
- Large Ham: Half the appeal of the series is watching Colm Meaney chew the scenery.
- Manipulative Bastard: As his interactions with Senator Crane demonstrate, Durant is a master of psychological manipulation.
- Not Me This Time: When a Marshall confronts him over a particular crime, Durant notes he has no clue what he's talking about. Ironically, for the one time in the series, Durant is telling the truth. Doesn't save him from the Marshall's wrath, though.
- Pet the Dog: Most of his interactions with Mrs. Bell show his kinder nature.
- Kick the Dog: Then he tries to have her killed
- Pragmatic Villainy: Durant he seeks profit, and nothing more. He won't go out of his way to be evil if it doesn't involve acquiring posessions. However, the same goes for being good.
- Rags to Riches: He wasn't always a rich railroad baron.
- Railroad Baron: As mentioned under corrupt corporate executive, he's paying himself to build a railroad with government subsidies.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Bribes senators
- Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: He know many senators and others.
- Took a Level in Badass: He was mostly a Non-Action Guy but in the second season finale he fights the Sioux on his own accord, with a rifle without backing down
Played by: Common
- Anti-Hero: While Fergurson's plight as a black man in the 1800s is very sympathetic and he has a good sense of morals, he has a tendency to be very selfish and violent.
- Badass Preacher: Not an official Preacher, but he served as one in his youth.
- Character Death: In the episode "Elam Ferguson" he is gunned down by Bohannon after going mad, shortly after he was revealed to have survived his encounter with the bear at the end of season three.
- Covered in Scars: After the bear attack.
- Dropped a Bridge on Him: After going half a season thinking he got eaten by a bear, we finally discover he survived the attack, but the injuries he sustained likely left him with PTSD. This combined with the fact that he apparently developed amnesia after being rescued, nursed back to health and converted by the Comanches. He later returns to Cheyenne, clearly deranged and attempting to sell three women as if they were slaves. After repeated attempts to get through to him, a fight escalates between him and Bohannon, and ends when Bohannon shoots Elam.
- Eye Scream: After being attacked by a bear, his eye is left blinded and pulpy white.
- Fire-Forged Friends: With Bohannon.
- Never Found the Body: After going after Bohannon, he was never found. He is shown in season 4 to have been taken in by Comanches after his fight with a bear and slowly going out of his mind, which ends very badly for him once he decides to return to Cheyenne.
- Sanity Slippage: After he becomes "Bear Killer."
- Scary Black Man: A heroic one, but Fergurson can be a very scary man when he wants to.
- Shaggy Dog Story: What his arc seems to be [[until it becomes a Shoot the Shaggy Dog case.]]
- Social Climber: a recently freed slave, Elam sees the signs of a future, career, money, and status as possibilities for him for the first time. His aspirations to make something of himself frequently conflict with his fellow black companions as well as how he looks down on Eva.
- Star-Crossed Lovers: With Eva; he's black, she's white in the racist 1860s.
- Took a Level in Badass: Multiple. He starts the series as a common worker of Durant, but after some bouts with the Irish and Bohannon's training, Fergurson becomes a expert marksman, second only to Bohannon himself in Hell On Wheels.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Gets one from Toole over his treatment of Eva after he gets her pregnant
Played by Dominique McElligott
- Character Death: choked by The Swede
- Cruel and Unusual Death: Graphically choked by The Swede.
- Damsel out of Distress: Lily Bell stabs the man who killed her husband with his own arrow, treks however many miles alone and sews up her own wound before she's rescued.
- Determinator: Crawled through some five miles of mud, with an arrow wound on her hand, starving and without water, as she was pursued by Indians. Most people would go home and rest after such a experience. Mrs.Bell instead went right back to work.
- Determined Homesteader's Wife: Was this, until her husband died in the first episode. She then spends the rest of the show as a Determined Widow
- Guile Heroine: Lily is clever enough to impress Durant, and is matches him in knowledge of economics and psychology. A fitting example being when she escaped a murder attempt by convicing the assassin to side with her.
- Horrible Judge of Character: She trusts The Swede; not a particularly smart thing to do.
- Idle Rich: Is pressured by nearly everyone all around her to sit back and simply be "The Fair Haired Maiden of the West", a pretty little mascot to bring around to parties. But Lily refuses to go back to the shallow comforts of the rich and lazy, and firmly makes a place for herself in Hell on Wheels.
- Proper Lady Snarker: Moresoever around Durant, but it's there.
- Lady and a Scholar: The most educated person on Hell on Wheels, as well as the kindest.
- Number Two: To Durant, until Hanna comes along.
- Sacrificial Lion: Her death is the final straw on Bohannon's sanity, and The Swede's final work.
- Silk Hiding Steel: Bell is a Proper Lady of highest kind, polite and civil in all occasions, but do not try to push her around, for she ''will' fight back with all she has.
- Stuffed in the Fridge: She is murdered by the Swede not because of her brilliant mind or her plot to overthrow Durante, he even admits she never did a single thing wrong to him, but simply because her death would make Bohannon bummed out.
Played by: Tom Noonan
- The Alcoholic: for the first half of the second season
- The Atoner: his attempts to assist the Sioux and kidnap/kill Durant could be seen as his attempt to atone for his inability to help the Cheyenne in the first season
- Badass Preacher: He's a minister who fights with a saber.
- The Cameo: In flashback form in Season 4, Episode 11 back to his days in Bleeding Kansas.
- Character Death: Near the end of the second season.
- Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Showing signs of this in season 2.
- Cool Sword: A magnificent saber is his "weapon of choice".
- Despair Event Horizon: After the Cheyenne's attack on the railway
- Disappeared Dad: was one to his daughter, until she turned up in Hell on Wheels
- Disc One Final Boss: He is slain, but the Sioux aren't even half-way done by the time he dies
- Face–Heel Turn: Started off as one of the most moral white characters of the series, ended up as one of the most villainous.
- Famous Last Words: "Behold...your legacy."
- God's Hands Are Tied: What he comes to believe after crossing the Despair Event Horizon.
- Good Shepherd: He tries but can't quite pull it off because of his lack of faith strength.
- Go Out with a Smile: He dies with a wide grin on his face.
- Heel Realization: Right before his death, he apologizes for his sins to Ruth, saying he's been a horrible father.
- If Jesus, Then Aliens: Averted. Despite being a minister, he doesn't believe in urban legends.
- Knight Templar: "The glory of the Lord will be revealed and all the people will see it, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken." Indeed.
- Odd Friendship: With The Swede.
- Only Sane Man: The matter is Indians where he is the only person to even consider the possibility of peace.
- Preacher Man: Started off as this, gets more ambiguous as season progresses.
- Sanity Slippage: After the Cheyenne Attack on the railroad, he becomes unhinged and becomes alcoholic. It only gets worse and worse from there.
- Straight Edge Evil: Played with. He starts his sanity slippage and descent into evil by drinking himself to oblivion, but is little more than a Cloud Cuckoo Lander at that point, he only becomes truly evil after he stops drinking.
- Those Two Guys: Hangs about with The Swede in season 2.
- Tragic Villain: He was driven into villainy by the sheer cruelty of the world he lived in, and because of his alcoholism
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: He tries to kill Durant to end the massacre of the Indians.
Joseph Black Moon
Played by: Eddie Spears
- The Atoner: For his past misdeeds of brutal mass murder and scalping during his time as an Indian Warrior.
- Put on a Bus: He becomes thoroughly and utterly disgusted by Hell on Wheels and the western culture, and ultimately decides to return to his tribe. As the railroad continues to move ever onward, Joseph stays behind.
- Shoot the Dog: Or knife the Reverend rather, the only way to stop his murderous rampage.
- Star-Crossed Lovers: With Ruth. Fate always intervenes when they're about to get together. He even proposed to her and admitted his love for Ruth, but she turned him down due to the stigma their relationship would create and ended any chance of being together.
Played by: Robin McLeavy
- Bi the Way: Seems willing to sleep with Louise in a moment of grief, but Louise refuses.
- Butt Monkey: Suffers one indignity and trauma after another, especially in season four in which she no longer has her baby, loses Elam twice, is violently raped, and becomes a cold, reckless drunk.
- The Cynic: Gradually turns into one over the course of the series. And it's not as if she started out as a Wide-Eyed Idealist either.
- Good Scars, Evil Scars: She was captured by a Native tribe when she was younger and they tattooed her chin with her worth, three horses and a blanket. This sets her apart from her fellow white people.
- Hooker with a Heart of Gold: She's a Nice Girl and a prostitute.
- Out of Focus: In season four, when she spends most of her time grieving over Elam and sinking deeper into depression.
- Screw This, I'm Out of Here!: With Mickey at the end of season four.
- Star-Crossed Lovers: With Elam; he's black and she's white in the racist 1860's
- Tattoo as Character Type: The tattoo on Eva's mouth, signifying her history as a captive living amongst the Native Americans. (Based on a True Story - a Mormon girl named Olive Oatman was kidnapped my natives in 1851 and released five years later with an identical tattoo.)
- Your Cheating Heart: Cheats on Toole
Played by: Duncan Ollerenshaw
- The Atoner: He saw the Virgin Mary, now he seeks to make up for his past sins as a racist ass.
- Back from the Dead: Appeared alive after being (seemingly fatally) shot in the mouth.
- Cosmic Plaything: Things always go awry for him.
- Driven to Suicide: Having enough of the world and its cruelty, he eventually finishes his own life.
- Famous Last Words: "Father, forgive me"
- Freudian Excuse: Toole and his Irish followers are racist assholes to prove that they're not bottom of the barrel anymore. Truth in Television for many Real Life Irish immigrants in the 19th century.
- Jerkass: Has gotten better since his Heel–Faith Turn
- The Lancer: Becomes this for Bohannon in season 2.
- Last Name Basis: His first name is rarely mentioned.
- Pet the Dog: When he finds out Eva is pregnant by another man. He figures out that it's Elam but instead of killing one or both of them gives Elam a What the Hell, Hero? speech and returns to comfort Eva, apparently willing to accept the child as his own.
- Smug Snake: Before his Heel–Faith Turn, now he's more akin to a Jerk with a Heart of Gold
- Odd Friendship: With one of the black workers (keep in mind this man tried to hang Fergurson for no other reason other than being black a few episodes before). It was the result of his Heel–Faith Turn after Elam's bullet incredibly didn't kill him.
Played by: Gerald Auger
- Cain and Abel: The Cain to Moon's Able because of his extreme measures.
- Character Death via attack In the Back
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: His methods are extreme but he's only defending his people.
Sean and Mickey McGinness
Played by: Ben Esler & Phil Burke
- The American Dream: Two Irish immigrants trying to make it big in America. They both end up as Deconstructions of the concept.
- Badass Boast: "I built my fortune from nothing, and I'll do it again. This time without the likes of you, or Durant." Says Mickey in season four.
- Benevolent Boss: As far as whores go, Mickey is often remarked as being a very good pimp.
- Berserk Button: Do not mess with Mickey's Casino.
- Beware the Nice Ones: Mickey. Just ask the Butcher (whom he butchered) Or Carl (whom he blackmailed for being an asshole).
- Brains and Brawn: Sean is the brains, Mickey is the brawn. This is Lampshaded by Sean early in the second season. The dynamic is played with later, when Mickey acquires a better sense of judgement than Sean in a few occasions and fully subverted in Season 3 where Mickey becomes far more intelligent than Sean, who is much more prone to mistakes.
- Cain and Abel: Season 3 sees the brothers getting increasingly more antagonistic towards each other. In the end, the Abel kills the Cain: Mickey shoots Sean when he gets out of control.
- Character Death: Mickey kills Sean.
- The Chew Toy: Sean can't catch a break from mid-season 2 onwards.
- Character Development: Mickey starts the show as very naive, easily scared and bumbling, but as his time on Hell On Wheels passed by, he became a much more assertive and clever man.
- Despair Event Horizon: Sean goes flying across it when Mickey abandons him to his fate.
- Did You Just Flip Off Durant?: Mickey is a pimp, Durant is a master manipulator and one of the wealthiest and most influential men in America who could destroy him with a flick of his wrist, yet Mickey is not afraid to lay the verbal smackdown on Durant, and he barely flinches when Durant makes his (very serious) threats.
- Greed: Sean's main motivation. It makes him a Jerkass.
- Kick the Dog: Sean trying to profit off people's mysery.
- Killed Mid-Sentence: Sean goesn't get to finish his confession before Mickey shoots him dead.
- Know When to Fold 'Em: In season four, after losing his quarrel with John Campbell upon the arrival of union soldiers, Mickey accepts defeat and decides to leave Cheyenne with his whores, his Dead Rabbit friend and Eva.
- Love Makes You Crazy: Sean suffers from this. Unless stalking people in the night is a sign of sanity.
- The Mole: Sean, to Durant in season 3.
- Nice Guy: Mickey treats everyone with respect and a warm smile.
- Noodle Incident: Mickey did something in Boston. We're never told what, exactly. Until season 3's "It happened in Boston", in which Mickey explains to us that Sean fell in love with two girls, did some horrifying crime to both of them in a fit of rage. Although it is implied Mickey may well have been lying and was himself the guilty participant.
- Not So Different: Sean had a burning hatred for the Swede and his way of doing business, but after the Swede is down, he ends up conducting business with the same methods. He does not realize the similarity.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Mickey, when he becomes the chief of the whorehouse.
- Self-Made Man: Mickey bececomes Mayor of Cheyenne.
- Those Two Guys: They're always together. As noted by Brains and Brawn, there's a reason for this.
- Took a Level in Badass: Due to his Character Development, Mickey became quite clever and hard to catch, impressing even Durant. By season four he's a small-scale chessmaster.
- The Sociopath: Very likely Mickey. It is strongly implied that he murdered the two girls in Boston and later shot his brother in the back when Sean was on the verge of revealing it to Ruth. His creepy conversation with Eva about how "all women are whores, except my mum" while bathing her after she's raped is just as telling. On top of all this, we must also consider his willingness to do things like assassinate people and dismember corpses.
- Spanner in the Works: Mickey is indirectly the cause for the assault on Durant, due to his murder of Jessup.
- Stalker with a Crush: Sean on Ruth.
- "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Mickey has the brotherly variation of this, always seeking Sean's approval. He seems to have grown out by season 3.
- Wild Card: In season four, Mickey decides to give a metaphorical middle finger to both Campbell and Durant, and play things to his own advantage.
Played by: Dohn Norwood
- Ascended Extra: He was a fairly minor character, but from around season three to four, he became one of the major characters.
- Beware the Nice Ones: Psalms is easy going, but not someone you'd want to anger.
- A Day in the Limelight: It's not much, but season three's "Searchers" sees him having more screentime and characterization than usual, complete with a Motive Rant.
- The Lancer: To Elam.
- Meaningful Name: According to himself, his name was chosen by his mother, in homage to a bible verse where God swears to punish the wicked. Thus, Psalms is a very justice focused man.
- Only Friend: To Fergurson. In season four he becomes this for Bohannon.
- Rank Up: He becomes one of the worker-bosses in season four.
- Scary Black Man: Heroic, but Lord in heaven do not piss him off...
- Torture Technician: He's very good at it.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: His relationship with Elam.
Played by: Kasha Kropinski
- Badass Preacher: for most of the show's run, she is a fairly pacifistic character, able to see the good in most people. Until Sidney Snow's actions kill her adoptive son, and she shoots him with a truly blood-chilling look of rage on her face
- Break the Cutie: Woman cannot catch a break. From losing her father to being stalked by Sean to watching Sean get brutally gunned down in front of her. Finally, she goes over the edge when she loses the Mormon boy she viewed as her own son to her church burning down, and takes revenge on the man responsible. After refusing to be pardoned for this crime and continuing to plead guilty, she is executed at a public hanging..
- Calling the Old Man Out: When her father loses his faith, she tears into him.
- Character Death: In season four. She is hanged.
- The Conscience: Acts as this for Bohannon in season 3.
- Death Seeker: After Sidney Snow kills Ezra in a fire and Ruth shoots Snow, she is determined to be tried as a murderer and executed for her crime. She gets her wish.
- Despair Event Horizon: See Death Seeker above.
- Fiery Redhead: She doesn't seem it at first but develops it later.
- Good Shepherd: Is trying to fill the role abandoned by her father with her own stronger faith. Is much better at it than he was.
- Heroes Want Redheads: Sean definitely does it.
- Not So Different: The episode "Bleeding Kansas" seems to suggest she is this to her father. In the end, they both die as murderers.
- Parental Abandonment: Cole hasn't seen her for most (if not all) of her life, despite knowing of her existence.
- Star-Crossed Lovers: With Joseph. Fate always seems to get in the way when they're close to being together.
- Later with Bohannon. Near the end of her arc, she confesses to being in love with him, but was too cowardly to make him hers. They truly became star-crossed when Cullen got Naomi Hatch pregnant and was forced into marrying her by her Mormon family.
- Token Good Teammate: She's probably the only member of the railroad who doesn't have some sort of innocent blood on her hands. Until she shoots Sidney Snow, not that he really counts as "innocent blood"
- Values Dissonance: Is kind even to those she considers Godless heathens...such as for instance Catholics and Mormons, who she believes to be doomed to Hell.
Played by: Wes Studi
- A Father to His Men: He always treats his warriors with outmost respect.
- Antagonistic Offspring: Pawnee Killer is more of a Well-Intentioned Extremist than Many Horses.
- Armor-Piercing Question: It's something of a character trait for him to deliver these. For example, while talking about the land issues with the US government:Sen. Crane: It's not yours, it's the US Government's.Many Horses: Did they buy it?Sen.Crane: No-Many Horses: Did they trade for it?Durant: It's not like that-Many Horses: Then how can they own it?
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Despite being a major character for three seasons, he's nowhere to be seen in the fourth. Presumably the railroad moved past his territories.
- Good Parents: Many Horses is the only good parental figure in the show, always wise and supportive.
- I Have No Son: Towards Joseph, but less ominious than usual: Many Horses says that because he is acknowledging that Joseph is now his own man, and free to trail his own path.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: He is perfectly calm and reasonable, even willing to negotiate with the railroad owners (such negotiations fail, but sure as Hell not because of Many Horses).
- The Stoic: He has yet to smile on screen.
Played by: Angela Zhou
- Action Girl: counts as this working on the railroad.
- The Confidant: Acts as this for Cullen in season 5.
- Damsel in Distress: becomes this when Chang and his company men chase after her once Chang learns her secret.
- The Determinator: A good portion of episode 5x06 deals with Mei trying to return her father's body to China. Eventually becomes Know When to Fold 'Em after setbacks during her and Cullen's journey force them to abandon that goal and bury her father in the woods.
- Gender Reveal
- Huge Guy, Tiny Girl:with Cullen.
- Secret Relationship:with Cullen.
- She Cleans Up Nicely:when not in disguise as Fong.
- Sweet Polly Oliver: disguises herself as a man in order to escape being the bride of a rebel leader from the Taiping Rebellion.She also mentions that if found, she will be made a prostitute by the Sze Yup.
- Troubled Backstory Flashback: We see her transformation into Fong happen during a flashback; her village is in the process of being burned down/attacked by Taiping rebels while she disguises herself.
- You Killed My Father:Tries to attack Chang after her father is fatally shot but Cullen stops her.
Thor Gunderson, aka The Swede
Played by: Christopher Heyerdahl
- Affably Evil: In the first season. Firmly Faux Affably Evil in the second as you can see by him choking the life out of Mrs. Bell while thanking her
- Arch-Enemy: Could be considered one for Bohannon considering he's the most recurring enemy of the series.
- Ax-Crazy: He is an unstable maniac who wants it all to burn.
- Awesome Mc Coolname: His first name is the Norse god of thunder, his last name sounds like thunder, and he has a The Magnificent title.
- Badass Longcoat
- The Bad Guy Wins: He got everything he wanted in the end of the second season. Even his death was fully part of his plan.
- Bald of Evil: In the second half of season 2.
- Berserk Button: He hates Cullen Bohannon, dedicating a great deal of his time to messing with the man's life.
- Also, he is not Swedish. He is Norwegian. Even when posing as a godly American Mormon, he angrily reminds the indignant Bohannon that "the late Mister Thor Gunderson was Norwegian!"
- Big Bad: Of the second season, where most of the conflict is directly related to his machinations.
- Big Eater: Rare is the scene where he is not eating.
- Blood Knight: Not initially, but eventually became a manipulative battle addict instead of a berserker style battle addict.
- The Chessmaster: Even when he loses his rank, he can still play things to his advantage and eventually wins
- Cloud Cuckoo Lander: By the second season, he has completely lost his marbles.
- Corrupt Hick: Despite being a northerner and an Immigrant, he fits this trope to a T. When he's not out being the Hanging Judge, he's shaking down businesses and bribing officials to look the other way while he robs his employer.
- The Corrupter: Cole already had a few problems before him, but it was The Swede who gave him his final push into villainy. Also attempts this on Bohannon for very little reason other than "why not".
- Creepy Mortician: Of the gravedigger variety, as of Season 2.
- Death Seeker: Eventually gets to this point. Driven to Suicide: His plan for slaughter and destruction of Bohannon's soul complete, he ends his life in peace.
- The Determinator: Even being turned into a human fireplace barely stopped him
- The Dragon: To Durant.
- Then later to Brigham Young, of all people.
- Evil Counterpart / Foil: As the man himself notes, The Swede is, essentially, Bohannon's dark side personified: A ruthless murderer addicted to battle itself. He is a constant reminder of Bohannon's capacity for evil.
- Evil Laugh: A very bizarre, very foreign "hooting" sound that leaves Bohannon with a bemused expression.
- Famous Last Words: "I wish you...a good day."
- Subverted in that he survives.
- From Nobody to Nightmare: From a humble quartermaster to a corrupting and destructive battle addict.
- God Guise: It is revealed a few Indians believe him to be the White Spirit. Whether or not he believes it to be true, The Swede uses this belief to his advantage.
- Hanging Judge: We see him working as a town judge a few times in season one. All of them are related to ordering someone to hang, even when the crime is relatively minor.Durant: You were going to hang a negro for sleeping with a whore?Swede: It seemed appropriate.
- Hero Killer: Killed Lily Bell with his bare hands.
- How the Mighty Have Fallen: Says the trope's name verbatim in season 2, when referring to his current misfortune.
- Hypocrite: He compares Bohannon to Loki, the "god of chaos" yet his behavior, especially in the second season, is far more disruptive than Bohannon's bordering For the Evulz.
- I Call It "Vera": He has a sawed-off shotgun named Beauty. "She's an old piece, but she shoots true."
- In Love with Your Carnage: See Mood Dissonance.
- Insistent Terminology: He's Norwegian, not Swedish
- Inspector Javert: To Bohannon whom he hunts but unlike the typical Javert he's also a Corrupt Cop.
- It Has Been an Honor: He says this to Bohannon before dying. Bohannon disagrees
- Knight of Cerebus: The show is pretty grim already, but in the second season, when the Swede enters the scene, you can expect things to get increasingly worse, and in the season finale, even more so.
- Knight Templar: Thinks the city is a filthy hellhole, and that all actions are justified when the goal is maintaining order.
- Know When to Fold 'Em: The Swede has, more than once, retreated when problems became too great.
- Large Ham: Christopher Heyerdahl's performance as The Swede is always... unique, to say the least.
- Lean and Mean: Thin as a rack after his experiences In Andersonville.
- Light is Not Good: He is known as "The White Spirit" among the Indians.
- Lost in Character: As "Bishop Dutson." He gets so wrapped up in selling his religious ecstasy that Bohannon is able to get him to unintentionally admit to the Mormons that he's not who he says he is.
- Made of Iron: Shrugs off third-degree burns without further thought after an afternoon of rest. And then he comes back, even though he fell off a significant height into shallow water, in a shot that heavily implied he died on impact.
- The Man Behind the Man: Serves as this to both Reverend Cole and The Sioux.
- It is implied that this is what he will be now that Brigham Young has taken him under his wing.
- Manipulative Bastard: Plays Durant's feeling for Lily to his advantage, plays Crane's greed to his advantage, plays Cole's disillusion to his advantage, plays Lily's good heart to his advantage, e.t.c
- Mood Dissonance: Waltzes around in complete happiness while the town burns to ashes
- Not Quite Dead: Turns out falling from a bridge face-first into the water didn't kill him.
- Odd Friendship: With Cole.
- Omnicidal Maniac: Small-scale version by the end of the second season. He just wants all to burn.
- Known Mostly By His Nickname: The Swede, even though he's Norwegian. Zig-zagged in Season 2, where everyone just calls him Mr. Gunderson.
- Out of Focus: His quest to infiltrate the Mormon religion after his faked death in the season two finale has been disconnected from the main Hell on Wheels setting for two seasons now. While not uninteresting, it feels almost out of place. Though, it's clear he's quite desperate to make his return back to the railroad business.
- Sadist: Just wants to watch the world burn and enjoys watching other people suffer, particularly Bohannon.
- Sanity Slippage: Somewhere in-between seasons, he went from Hanging Judge to Blood Knight.
- Serial Killer: By season four, vicious murder is practically second nature for him and is his first tactic when he doesn't feel manipulation will be necessary.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: Multiple characters say he suffers from "The Soldier's Heart", the period's term for PTSD. Looking at his Thousand-Yard Stare makes this pretty clear.
- The Sheriff: He was, essentially, the law in the first season. He loses this by second.
- Sinister Minister: During his time impersonating Bishop Joseph Dutson.
- The Sociopath: Oh yes.
- Straw Nihilist: He believes life is pointless in the second season.
- Those Two Guys: With Reverend Cole in season 2.
- Took a Level in Badass: In the first season was noted for being a coward, and his plans mostly backfired on him. In the second, not quite so on both accounts.
- Visionary Villain: He has a vision but it doesn't make any sense.
- Wild Card: After losing his position of respect and authority in Hell on Wheels, The Swede becomes completely unpredictable for the rest of the series.
- Worthy Opponent: Seems to consider Bohannon this.
- Face Death with Dignity: He recovers from his Villainous Breakdown and dies mocking Bohannon for being a "negro lover".
- Jerkass: He treats everyone like crap, be they subordinate or foes.
- Killed Mid-Sentence: Fergurson doesn't let him finish his last racist rant.
- Politically Incorrect Villain: Often complains about all the "negros" running around.
- Villainous Breakdown: Goes apeshit when Bohannon comes blasting in his railroad robbery, and gets increasingly more unstable as he gets the upper hand in a battle.
- Ax-Crazy: Saying he has poor impulse control would be a massive understatement.
- The Cavalry: Played with. Being a cavalryman, his techinical job description is to be this to Bohannon, but given he's a unstable lunatic, they only call him when the situation is most dire.
- But for Me, It Was Tuesday: As summed up by this dialogue, about a massacre that happened no less than a few hours before:Bohannon: That woman put up much of a fight?Bendix(while holding her decapitated head): I honestly can't recall.
- Brutal Honesty: Bendix is very blunt about his goals and opinions.
- Eagleland: His thought-route is a classic Type 2.
- Fat Bastard: A rather chubby fellow.
- Faux Affably Evil: He is very casual and chatty about the day he murders people.
- Majorly Awesome: The evil version. Asshole or not, he seems quite good at his job.
- Off with His Head!: Fond of this tactic, particularly with Indians.
- Politically Incorrect Villain: A massive bigot against Indians.
- Rules Lawyer: He very liberal when interpreting Bohannon's telegrams for help. He basically tries to find (far-fetched) ways of justifying Indian slaughter in them.
- Wicked Cultured: A subversion. He talks a big game with his very elaborated phrenologist speeches, but phrenology is a long-disproved field of science.
- Affably Evil: She's rather polite and civil towards Lily, even though she's planning her downfall. Frustrating her to no end that she is a rare threat that can't simply be gunned down.
- Non-Action Guy: While literally every living being in the railroad (Including Thomas Durant and Lilly Bell) grabs a weapon to fight the Sioux, Hanna screams and hides.
- Pragmatic Villainy: Same thing as Durant. Profit above everything, including good and evil.
- Proper Lady: She is the living embodiment of the description given on the trope page, only antagonistic.
- Put on a Bus: Hasn't been seen since the end of the third season.
- Played by: Jake Weber.
- Anti-Climax Boss: In season four, he has several intimidating encounters with Bohannon, Durant and Mickey, but nothing really ever comes of it. While he does a good job at upping his game and staying on top, the closest he gets to an actual confrontation is when he and Durant get into a brawl in the season four finale.
- Badass Mustache: A true gentleman's one.
- Badass Baritone: He has a fairly deep voice.
- Bait-and-Switch Boss: He is set up as the Big Bad of season four, but quickly becomes more heroic when compared to the newly introduced Sidney Snow.
- The Charmer: He immediately sets his sights on Louise and becomes determined to win her affections. Does pretty well, despite their major differences.
- Combat Breakdown: His fight with Durant quickly turns into this when they barrel into the street and it becomes a clumsy mud brawl.
- The Control Freak: Rivals Durant in this fashion.
- Dating Batman: Campbell, the cold, authoritarian Knight Templar governor, enters into a heated sexual affair with the warm, progressive-minded Intrepid Reporter, Louise Ellison.
- The Dreaded: Seems to have a reputation as an uncompromising though somewhat controversial enforcer of justice. He is personally chosen by Ulysses Grant to govern Cheyenne.
- Fish out of Water: He and his entourage are clearly more accustomed to the norms of a city as opposed to the seedy railroad town of Hell On Wheels. Nevertheless, they manage to stir quite a bit of trouble in the form of law and order.
- Historical-Domain Character: He was the governor of Cheyenne in real life as well.
- Hanging Judge: Played with. For the standards of Hell on Wheels, he's absurdly strict with the law. For the standards of a normal city, he's pretty straight-forward (Judge, Jury, and Executioner aside).
- Hero Antagonist: He opposes Durant, but it's pretty obvious which of them is the most righteous man.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: While he can be outrageously macho and authoritarian, as well as being no stranger to ruthless underhanded tactics, Campbell's intentions are mostly pure. He can be seen aiding the rest of the community gathering water to the burning church.
- Judge, Jury, and Executioner: Due the lack of a working law system in Hell on Wheels, him and his crew (about five people) are a walking courtroom that trials anything unlawful on their path.
- Kangaroo Court: Techinically speaking, his courts are horribly unfair due the entire jury consisting of his own men, but for the standards of order of Hell on Wheels, they're as good as they get.
- Knight Templar: Sees himself as a guardian of civilization.
- Large Ham: Not overt like most examples, but his rumbly voice and the deliberately unflappable, dominant and imposing demeanor that he exudes everywhere he goes can come off as over-the-top.
- Number Two: To Ulysses Grant, at least in regards to the railroad.
- Order Versus Chaos: He firmly represents Order in the chaos-ridden land that is Cheyenne.
- Out-Gambitted: Possibly the only man to inflict this upon Durant.
- He does the same to Mickey, who until then had proven himself quite the Manipulative Bastard.
- The Rival: To Durant, for the control of the railroad.
- Rules Lawyer: Makes this trope into an art form to take power of Hell on Wheels by any means necessary.
- Twilight of the Old West: While not explicitly linked to this trope, Campbell (as Lampshaded by several character) is almost a physical representation of it: A bringer of order in the lawless lands of the West, civilizing it, taming it and stopping the "any man makes his own law" behavior that characterizes the period and the genre.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: While he does do some pretty shady things from time to time, his sole goal is to bring civilization and order to Hell on Wheels.
- Avengingthe Villain: Assaulting Durant was Heckard’s way of getting revenge for Jessup’s death. Too bad for him he got the wrong guy…
- Hanging Judge: Death by hanging is the only sentence that Judge Webber has doled out, whether or not it was the right call to make.
- Kangaroo Court: If having one member of the group serve as the sole witness while the verdict being at least partially determined by the group leader’s will isn’t unfair, this troper doesn’t know what is. Their trials are even referred to as this by Louise Ellison.
- Last Name Basis: Almost always referred to by their family names, with the occasional job title thrown in. Heckard’s given name, Dwight, is not revealed until ‘Under Color of Law’ when Sydney arrests Durant for his murder.
- Politically Incorrect Villain: “Dumb mick” is not an appropriate term for anyone who’s Irish, Jessup.
- Suddenly Sexuality: With no clear implications beforehand, Heckard admits to having been in love with another man. It’s unknown, however, if he would qualify as gay or bisexual (given his apparent pass at Naomi in 'Chicken Hill').
- The Sociopath: An apt description for both Jessup and Heckard, the latter especially.
- Those Two Guys: Marshal Jessup and Heckard are rarely seen apart. As partners in law enforcement, it could be because of this profession; however, the last scene of ‘Life’s a Mystery’ gives some additional context.
- U.S. Marshal: Two of them.
- We Hardly Knew Ye: Treasurer Atwood gets very, very little screen-time between his introduction and death.
- Affably Evil
- Alas, Poor Villain: As he sits bleeding to death after an escape attempt, Snow reminisces a sad tale about a Union soldier he had found on a battlefield missing half his body and then asks Bohannon to tell Ruth he didn't mean to kill Ezra.
- Alliterative Name
- An Arm and a Leg: Durant saws his leg to keep him from bleeding to death internally.
- Bait-and-Switch Boss: While John Campbell was set up as the Big Bad throughout most of season four, he becomes relatively benign when Sidney Snow enters the picture.
- Beard OF Evil
- Blood Knight
- Catch Phrase: "Life's a mystery."
- Combat Pragmatist
- Cruel and Unusual Death: After sustaining painful gunshot wounds to the stomach and leg, and subsequently the painful process of removing those bullets, Snow tries to escape and ends up tearing his wounds open again. This forces Bohannon and Durant to saw off his leg as he screams horrifically. Hours later, he tries to escape again out a window, opening up his leg wound. He slowly bleeds to death.
- The Drifter: He's apparently just been roaming from place to place and getting into trouble after the war.
- Even Evil Has Standards: He notably lowers his gun when he finds Naomi and her baby cowering in a corner after very nearly shooting them. Not that this excuses the fact that he killed a young boy and a helpless store owner seconds earlier.
- He is also clearly unsettled when he realizes he shot the kid. And later apologizes for causing Ezra's death.
- Evil Counterpart: To Cullen Bohannon. While Bohannon is a stoic, brooding, dark anti-hero who regrets the bad things he does, Sidney Snow is an energetic, hedonistic, Affably Evil Outlaw who chooses to relish in the violence he commits.
- Guns Akimbo: What he prefers. Looks especially cool when he's carrying two pearl-handled revolvers from Mexico.
- Jerkass: He is an abrasive, racist, bloodthirsty, sociopathic loose cannon.
- Lack of Empathy: Has the tendency to make light of innocent bystanders and partners in crime who are caught in the crossfire of his violence, even if he initially feels bad for their deaths.
- Laser-Guided Karma: He burns down Ruth's church, killing her adopted son Ezra in the process. This results in Ruth's Despair Event Horizon, causing her to shoot Snow the next time she sees him. He does not fare well after this.
- The Man They Couldn't Hang: He is introduced about to be hanged by a gangster in Mexico. While he and his partner manage to gun down the gangster and his two friends, Snow's partner dies in the process, leaving Snow hanging from the tree. He is able to cut the rope enough that it snaps shortly after Snow loses consciousness. He rides out of the desert and lands in Cheyenne later on.
- Omnicidal Maniac: After losing to Bohannon and going on the run, Snow locks a large number of townspeople in the church and sets it on fire. Several people die, including young Ezra. He also looks back on a mass slaughter of wounded and defenseless Union soldiers that he and Cullen took part in as "only the best day of our lives," before describing the event with loving detail.
- Psycho for Hire: He is made a federal marshal by Campbell in attempt to outplay Durant and Mickey, and Snow quickly gets to work meting out "justice."
- Stepford Smiler: Has a perfectly happy and pleasant smile on his face most of the time. He's not a nice person at all.
- The Sociopath
- Sociopathic Soldier: Ruthlessly dispatched enemy soldiers alongside Cullen during the war.
- Stupid Evil: His brazen bad-boy antics often have devastating consequences that he barely acknowledges, increasing his problems and his tendency towards evil. There's also the two times he tries to escape during the surgery meant to save him from dying of gunshot wounds, both of which ruin all the efforts made to keep him alive.
- We Used to Be Friends: With Bohannon.
- Would Hurt a Child
Sen. Jordan Crane
Played by: James D. Hopkin
- Corrupt Politician: Accepts a bribe from Durant in the pilot.
- The Atoner: Regarding his misdeeds as member of a gang of thieves.
- Character Death: He asks Bohannon to shoot him.
- Combat Medic: Not many doctors can have a fistfight with a Sioux warrior like he did.
- Death Seeker: Because of his misdeeds as a thief, Whitehead is very glad with death, and actively seeks it.
- Face Death with Dignity: He is calmly looking at the horizon when Bohannon shoots him.
- A Good Way to Die: He feels this way at the end, saying he had a good life, and that it's a good way to end his life on Earth.
- Honor Before Reason: Decides to stay with Durant, even though it's certain he'll die.
- Morality Chain: For Bohannon. He tries to keep the guy from turning into the Swede.
- The Medic: Quite literally, in Hawkin's gang (and later on Hell on Wheels, for a brief amount of time).
- Mercy Kill: He asks Bohannon to shoot him so he will die with a friend by his side.
- Known Mostly By His Nickname: Everyone calls him "Doc" or Hey, You!.
- Punch Clock Villain: He served as a medic for a gang of thieves, but only because he had no other option.
- Token Good Teammate: Alongside Bohannon, he was this in Hawkins' gang.
- Ambiguously Evil: At this point, it's very hard to tell if he's evil or not, but Eva and Elam certainly feel very scared of him.
- Badass in a Nice Suit: His suit is in much better shape than other people in Hell On Wheels.
- Carry a Big Stick: Well not a "big" stick, but his Weapon of Choice is a police baton and he can surely wreak some havoc with it.
- Dashingly Dapper Derby: His Nice Hat.
- Dogged Nice Guy: His persistence about wanting to whisk Eva and her baby away to live happily in New York is not well received by her and Elam.
- Establishing Character Moment: He walks out of a train, sees a thief robbing a man, promptly beats the thief down and gives the man his walllet back. This establishes Declan as a man of old-fashioned values in the crapsack world that is Hell on Wheels.
- Fair Cop: He apparently was a cop in New York.
- Honor Before Reason: His motivation is taking Eva's baby (with her consent) to give it a better life. No matter how much trouble even suggesting that causes him.
- Nerves of Steel: Impressively coolheaded when he's captured by Elam and Psalms and threatened with death. He's able to walk away relatively unharmed, whereas his brother's mouth would have likely gotten him beaten to a pulp.
- Officer O'Hara: A classic irish copper.
- Put on a Bus: Or rather, a train. He leaves by train with Eva and Elam's baby and never returns.
- Sibling Yin-Yang: He is calm, collected and cultured, everything Toole was not.
- The Alcoholic: He gets an entire scene to talk about how this is a problem for a president.
- Big Good: He is the only political figure to be actually trying to finish the railroad for the country's sake (unlike Durant).
- Cigar Chomper: In literally every scene of his, he is smoking a cigar.
- Deadpan Snarker: He gets quite a few jabs at Durant.
- Four-Star Badass: General "Unconditional Surrender" Grant, after all.
- Historical-Domain Character
- Only Sane Man / Token Good Teammate: Of the entire "Trial" set to judge Bohannon, he seems to be the only individual actually trying to pursue justice.
- Bi the Way: Confirmed as of season four.
- The Conscience: She often assumes this role alongside Ruth and Bohannon.
- Dating Catwoman: With John Campbell, who she challenges publicly in her newspaper but also sleeps with behind closed doors.
- Intrepid Reporter. She is at Hell On Wheels to cover the building of the railroad and does so as honestly as possible
- Lipstick Lesbian/Ambiguously Bi: She got shipped out west at least partly to keep her away from her boss' daughter but she didn't seem to mind when Bohannon kissed her either. She didn't really respond but that could have been just because she was shocked and surprised.
- In season four, she begins an affair with Governor John Campbell so it's likely she just swings both ways.
- The Narrator: From time to time.
- Nice Girl: She is very kind, polite and caring toward people.
- Rape as Drama: She is sexually assaulted by the same man who later rapes Eva. She witnesses Eva kill him and keeps it a secret.
- Unwitting Pawn: Durant pointed her towards the murders Bohannon commited in revenge and then used her story against him at the trial.
- BFG: Wields a mounted Gatling Gun at one point – and does quite a good job with it, I might add.
- Butt Monkey: Sure, he held the prestigious post of Chief Engineer for the Union Pacific, but it certainly wasn’t because of his engineering degree – the people who appointed him to the job considered him so dim-witted that he would be easy to manipulate. The two worst blows came in season five: his wife filed for divorce, and then he was killed as the improvised part of Durant’s latest money-making scheme. The plot went awry anyway, making his death completely pointless.