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The Deadwood movie: Everything you need to know before watching

After 13 years you may be a little hazy on the Deadwood details. We’ll bring you up to speed.

Deadwood: The Movie with Seth Bullock and Saul Starr HBO Films
Russ Frushtick is the director of special projects, and he has been covering the world of video games and technology for over 15 years. He co-founded Polygon in 2012.

Nearly 13 years ago, Deadwood ended in the worst way possible. The series finale was one of the most brutal, gut punch cliffhangers in television history, leaving dedicated fans without any semblance of closure.

But, against all odds, Deadwood is back. Deadwood: The Movie premieres Friday, May 31 on HBO. And unless you just wrapped up another rewatch of the series (which you should because it’s great), you’re going to be a little lost. But worry not! This piece will bring you back up to speed with Bullock, Swearengen all your Dakota buddies.


Good God, no. Don’t even try. Seriously. While the Deadwood movie does offer some brief snippets to remind people of past events, it absolutely requires an intense familiarity with the original show and its characters. Please don’t start here. It’d be like making Avengers: Endgame the first MCU movie you watch. You will be very confused.


George Hearst in Deadwood HBO

Now that it’s just the Deadheads in here, we can skip past all the basics of Al Swearengen being a bar owner, Seth Bullock being a sheriff, and E.B. Farnum being a sweaty mess. We’re going to get into so heavy Deadwood season 3 spoilers.

At its core, Deadwood is about a rich mining town trying to keep control of itself as outside forces push in, attempting to take the town for themselves. The pressing event throughout the series is the impending statehood of the Dakota territory and what it means for the inhabitants of Deadwood.

Those outside influences are best personified by one man: George Hearst. First introduced in season 2, Hearst is a business magnate with a keen focus on mining operations. Given the richness of Deadwood’s Black Hills, Hearst decides he’s going to set up his next major mining operation right there.

Hearst immediately uses his infinite wealth to start buying up the claims around Deadwood, gaining influence within the town, much to the chagrin of Swearengen and Bullock. But there is one mining operation Hearst can’t secure: Alma Garret’s. After a life of being shoved around by men, Alma is unwilling to budge when Hearst offers to buy her operation, the most profitable in the region. Hearst is not amused.

Alma’s refusal to sell is backed by Whitney Ellsworth, her husband, her mine’s operating manager, and the nicest man alive. Ellsworth has a history with Hearst, having seen first-hand his murderous business tactics at the Comstock silver mine years before.

Hearst’s rage over not being able to make the purchase bubbles over in a series of events. He brings in hired guns and threatens to tear the town apart. He also has Ellsworth assassinated.


Trixie in Deadwood HBO

Ellsworth’s death shatters the town. He was universally beloved, and his body being carted through the streets proves the horrors that Hearst is willing to commit to get his way.

Trixie (“The Whore” as she says when pressed for a surname) was especially close to Ellsworth. When she sees his dead body on the cart, she spins into a rage. She marches right into Hearst’s hotel, knocks on his door, flashes her nethers to distract him (this is important!) and shoots him with a derringer pistol.

Hearst doesn’t die. Drag. Instead, he’s just wounded, very pissed off, and he wants revenge. He goes to Swearengen, asking for the death of the woman who shot him. Swearengen knows he has to present a body. Otherwise Hearst will have the entire town burned. But Swearengen also has a keen fondness for Trixie. He decides he’s going to kill another one of his prostitutes and present her in Trixie’s clothes to try to fool Hearst.

The ruse is successful, and Hearst is convinced that the woman who shot him is now dead. Alma sells her claim to Hearst to prevent further death and Hearst leaves the town, which is reeling from the death and destruction he caused. Outside of a non-fatal bullet wound, Hearst comes out of season 3 getting essentially everything he wanted. Which is what makes Deadwood’s series finale so damn brutal.


The Bullock family in Deadwood: The Movie Photo: HBO Films

Deadwood: The Movie is set 10 years after the series. Without spoiling anything, the events of the movie are directly tie into the end of season 3. The cast list confirms that George Hearst (now a California senator) has returned to Deadwood, and he predictably plays a big role in the film.

Beyond that, if you’ve been waiting for 13 years for some closure to the Deadwood universe, just sit back and enjoy it. You’ve earned it.

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