Chris Large/AMC
June 12, 2015 at 12:00 PM EDT

Welcome to California, Cullen Bohannon—and Hell on Wheels. For the final season of AMC’s railroad drama, Anson Mount’s rugged character will head further west to join the Central Pacific Railroad company in a town called Truckee.

“In the four years we’ve been telling our story, we always had the intention of telling the Central Pacific side, but we didn’t quite know how to do it,” showrunner John Wirth tells EW. “I’m really excited about presenting that other side of the story.”

Last season, Cullen accepted the offer to leave Union Pacific behind for the Western end of the Transcontinental Railroad. While Union Pacific moved at a faster pace, Central Pacific had to tunnel through the Rocky Mountains, allowing for a completely new setting and challenge for Cullen and the series’ team. 

The second episode, Wirth teased, will be one of the most ambitious in the show’s history, as it takes place entirely in the California setting and follows the company’s attempt to drive through the mountains. “It’s based on a story that really happened,” he says. “Once in a while we’ll just turn the page and there’s an incredible story that happened that you can’t believe happened, and it did, and we can put it on television.” There, Cullen will also meet new characters, including Chinese railroad workers who have a volatile history of their own played by Byron Mann and Tzi Ma. (But no worries, fans of those still with Union Pacific: After the first three hours, the show will return to having scenes with the usual players.)


And as the Western heads into its final run of episodes, Wirth reflected on how the writers will take the series to its finishing line in 2016, in which the two railroads must eventually meet. “The end of the story is written down in history, so we know how the story would end for the railroad,” he explains. “What we didn’t know is how the story would end for each of our characters, especially the ones that we created. It’s been really challenging to wrap up people’s stories in a satisfying way… We’ve gone down a lot of blind alleys and we’ve taken a lot of wrong turns and we’ve lost our way. Now, we’ve kind of clawed our way back to what I think is going to be a pretty good wrap up for the series.”

Hell on Wheels returns July 18 on AMC. In the meantime, EW has the exclusive first trailer for the final season:

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