Deadwood famously ended with more of a whimper than a bang, canceled by HBO in 2006 after three seasons—at least one fewer than creator David Milch needed to tell his highly fictionalized history of the South Dakota camp. Rumors have swirled off and on since the show’s end that Milch would reassemble his incredible cast and film a more worthy conclusion to one of the finest shows of the century—it holds its own against The Sopranos, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad. For a while it was going to be two movies, but those rumors fizzled to the point where all hope seemed lost. Star Timothy Olyphant opined as recently as last year that “there’s no fucking way it’s ever going to happen.” Then, just like that, HBO announced that Deadwood would get to end with a feature-length movie, debuting this Friday.
For fans who don’t have time for a 36-hour memory jog, or for newbies who’d rather dive right into the movie, here’s where every major (and many minor) character was left at the close of business in 1877. The film will pick up the action a decade later. Major spoilers ahead for the TV show only, none for the film.
The angriest sheriff in the West, who was thrust into the job by virtue of his being the only candidate with any virtue, loses quite a lot at the end of Deadwood’s third season. The votes have started to come in, and it looks like the election—rigged by George Hearst—is not going his way. His true love, Alma Garret Ellsworth, is on a coach headed out of town for good, a longing look exchanged as she goes. On the other hand, perhaps Bullock could put together a slightly more normal life as a hardware salesman, keeping his nose out of town politics. (As if he’d be able to do that.) He remains married—semi-happily, at the very least—to his brother’s widow, Martha.
Al Swearengen, owner of the Gem Saloon and crime kingpin of the territory, went through the most complicated emotional journey of the series—both for the character and the audience. An absolutely heartless killer one minute and a softie (relatively speaking) the next, it was hard to know whether to root for him or against. Lest the series err too much toward Swearengen being one of the good guys, the finale left him mopping up a pool of blood in his office—evidence of the innocent prostitute, Jen, whose throat he slit in order to satisfy George Hearst’s desire for revenge, and allow Hearst to leave town. Sure, he was trading Jen’s life for his old friend Trixie’s, but it was still an awful thing.
George Hearst, unlike Al Swearengen, never had a moment of doubt when it came to evil deeds. An unrepentant murderer, rapacious capitalist, and king of the condescending sneer, he made no friends in Deadwood—though he did command a paid army to do his bidding. His bidding was to get the gold—all of the gold—and at the end of the series, he had finally convinced Alma Ellsworth to sell him her bountiful claim. (It only took murdering her husband, among other things.) Still, when Hearst rode out of Deadwood on his wagon—leaving psychotic Cy Tolliver behind to see to his non-mining interests—it was in partial defeat. The town elders, in putting up a fight, left him short of his goal, which was to “take this place down like Gomorrah.” Bullock even gets in the last word—a rarity in Hearst’s world. Hearst will appear in the movie, so more sparks will surely fly.
Fancy big-city lady Alma Garret never quite fit in with Deadwood, but that didn’t stop her from trying to stay. Her first husband, Brom, was murdered by Dan Dority at Al Swearengen’s direction, but that didn’t force her out. Her second husband, the honorable Whitney Ellsworth, was also murdered—this time by agents of the other big bad, George Hearst. Alma herself was even shot at in the thoroughfare as a warning, but her heart belonged to Seth Bullock, and that kept her around—even as they couldn’t continue their relationship. Whitney’s murder ended up being too much to bear, though, and the now-twice-widowed Alma left town at the end of the series with her ward—the orphan Sofia, whose family was murdered by road agents—and a wistful look in her eye. Presumably the bank she opened would continue without her there to run it. She’ll return for the movie, of course.
There wasn’t all that much for former madame Joanie Stubbs and current/former drunk/friend of Will Bill Hickok Calamity Jane to do in the third season than… fall in love? The duo’s relationship developed so sweetly over the season that it could be forgiven for getting a little soapy, though. Joanie and Jane found themselves drawn to the town’s school, with Joanie turning over her former brothel to Mrs. Bullock and Jane finding rare joy in telling her story to kids. Their relationship felt true and earned, each having been close to suicide—Jane with booze and Joanie with a pistol to her head—and having found comfort in each other. Jane’s confusion over Joanie’s tenderness brought one of the series’ most incredible acting moments, which is saying something considering the skill of the entire cast.
Though an important character in the series—and played by one of its finest actors—Doc Cochran didn’t have a ton to do in the final days. He walked around coughing a lot—a “lunger,” meaning he had tuberculosis—and stitched up Hearst after he was shot by Trixie. But at the end, he was more a bystander than an active participant.
A cold-blooded killer with an occasional soft spot and an unbending loyal to his boss, Al Swearengen, Dan Dority was one of Deadwood’s funniest and scariest characters. After his massive, bloody fight with Hearst’s right-hand man, the Captain, Dority briefly showed his softer side, retreating both in physical pain and perhaps in the sadness of killing a man in a “fair fight.” (This “fair fight” involved the Captain’s eye being plucked from his head.) But it’s Dority’s speech to Whitney Ellsworth—convincing him not to play into George Hearst’s hands and attack—that fully summed up his character. He’s loyal and violent and smart in his own way. He remains so at the end of the series, still by Swearengen’s side, and fully on board with Swearengen’s murder of the innocent prostitute.
Trixie—of no last name other than “the whore”—is the rare example of someone whose good deeds are rewarded in Deadwood, though not without consequence. In spite of her seemingly total subjugation to Al Swearengen—who beat her badly in the very first episode—Trixie is able to accomplish what she thinks is right, even in defiance of Al. And it’s her hot-headed response to the murder of her friend Whitney Ellsworth—she shoots Hearst in the shoulder—that’s at least partly responsible for Hearst packing up and leaving town. She’s rewarded with what looks to be a happy ending with Sol Star, who finally proves his love to her beyond her doubt. Still, she ends the series crying over Jen, who died so she could live.
Sol Star always served as the voice of reason for his business partner Seth Bullock, and as one of the only Jewish people in Deadwood, also served as the target for plenty of insults. His steady hand and demeanor meant that he wasn’t necessarily too important in the final season, though he spirited Trixie to safety after she shot Hearst. Presumably they’ll be running the hardware store together for years to come.
Cy Tolliver was smooth cruelty incarnate throughout the series, even as he seemed ever closer to going completely crazy. After supplicating himself completely to Hearst, he is given the task of looking after Hearst’s non-mining interests once Hearst leaves. This menial task seems to push Tolliver completely over the edge, and he murders Leon the junkie in one of his last scenes. Powers Boothe died in 2017, so Tolliver won’t likely figure greatly into the movie’s narrative, though the character won’t have disappeared without explanation. (Boothe himself was buried in Deadwood—the one in Texas, not South Dakota.)
Weaselly hotel owner/manager Eustace Bailey Farnum had his loyalty tested in season three, as his hotel was purchased by Hearst, the enemy of his true boss, Swearengen. After Hearst gobbed in his face, though, Farnum seemed to have a revelation. And as Hearst rode out of town, Farnum poked his head onto the “veranda”—a porch created by Hearst’s sledgehammer. The hotel appeared to be his once again.
Charlie Utter, being one of the most honorable men in Deadwood, got a couple of fine moments in the final episodes: First, he stared down Hearst’s men at the polls, never backing down when they tried to stop Samuel “N––––– General” Fields from voting. Then he paid Hearst a visit at his hotel, and actually seemed to shake the scoundrel’s foundation a bit—contributing, one would think, to his decision to leave. Utter remains owner of a booming freight business at the end of the series, as well as one of Bullock’s deputies—though that job might be short-lived if Bullock loses the election.
An honorable former drunk, Whitney Ellsworth married Alma Garret out of a sense of duty. (Also, she was super rich.) In the first episodes, he was a lovable lush. In the last, he was a righteous husband. But he was murdered in cold blood by Hearst’s agents, shot in the head.
A.W. Merrick turned a corner toward the end of Deadwood when he was badly beaten by one of Hearst’s men. It made him loyal to Swearengen, to the point where doing the right thing conflicted with telling the whole truth in his newspaper, The Deadwood Pioneer. On his way out of town, Hearst promises Merrick that his people will start a competing newspaper, to tell lies from the other side.
Martha Bullock didn’t have a lot to do once she got to Deadwood, other than fret about her husband and mourn her dead son. Still, Anna Gunn did a great job without a ton of material, and presumably her character will play a bigger role in what happened after all the excitement left town.
Little Sofia rides off with Alma Ellsworth at the end, mourning the loss of Whitney Ellsworth and her many Deadwood pals. The character will return in the movie, though portrayed by a different actress, Lily Keene.
Saloon owner Tom Nuttall got a little closer to the decision-making action in the final season, though never so close as to be crucial. He’s planning to start a fire brigade with Harry Manning, Bullock’s competition for sheriff.
One of Al Swearengen’s younger, dumber subservients, Johnny Burns wanted to move up in the organization, but may have stymied his chances by objecting in the final episode to Al’s murder of the innocent Jen. He seems to have come around by the end, and remains in Al’s employ.
Titus Welliver is one of the only living cast members whose character won’t be returning for the Deadwood movie; he apparently couldn’t make it work with his Bosch schedule. (Way more important, that.) It’s not the hugest loss, since his Silas Adams had evolved into another member of Al’s small army—more cunning perhaps than the others, but not super necessary.
Mr. Wu really stepped up toward the end of Deadwood’s run, and in the final episode his smarts may have helped avert a war. By stationing his men—loyal to Al—outside of town, he didn’t reveal their numbers until a fight seemed imminent. He remains a ruthless businessman and friend to Al. Actually they’re closer than friends, they’re “hang dai”—brothers. Not that Al knows exactly what that means.
Jewel is still cleaning up at The Gem. Steve “The Drunk” Fields, having been kicked in the head by a horse, is in a vegetative state, being looked after by Samuel “N––––– General” Fields (no relation, presumably). Wyatt and Morgan Earp left town, having made no impression whatsoever. John Langrishe, the theater owner, was a side-player in the final days, and remained Al’s friend. Richardson and Aunt Lou struck up a fantastic friendship, but didn’t figure into the story in vital ways. (The actor who played Richardson, Ralph Richeson, died in 2015.) Commissioner Jarry (played by Stephen Tobolowsky) was last seen admitting his complicity in rigging the elections. Eddie Sawyer (Ricky Jay) disappeared after season one, having stolen money from Cy Tolliver—Jay himself died in 2018.
In case you’d forgotten, these important characters are dead: Wild Bill Hickok (murdered in season one by Jack McCall, who was turned over to authorities and presumably executed). William Bullock, son to Martha and adopted son of Seth Bullock, was trampled to death by a runaway horse. Francis Wolcott (played, as was Jack McCall, by Garret Dillahunt), hanged himself. Reverend Smith (Ray McKinnon) was mercy-murdered by Al Swearengen in season one, before a debilitating brain disease could do the job.