Warning: This story contains spoilers for Westworld.
Westworld’s mysterious premise—a futuristic theme park where people can do whatever they want with lifelike robot “hosts”—has made the HBO series a hotbed for fan theories. Based on the 1973 Michael Crichton film, Westworld’s setup has given fans a number of hairpin twists and turns. As the first season nears an end, one thing is clear: some of the show’s many mysteries aren’t even close to being tied up. Here’s a look at 11 popular fan theories and their likelihood of being proven true by Sunday’s season finale:
Write to Ashley Hoffman at Ashley.Hoffman@time.com.
1. We're watching different eras.
One of the most prominent theories claims that the events of Westworld take place across several different timelines. The show hasn’t clarified them all, but it seems to have hinted that this theory is true—suggested most strongly by Dolores’ frequent outfit changes from beige sharpshooter pants to denim blue prairie dress—possibly showing us at least three distinct threads:
- The way-way past: The totally guest-free Westworld in beta version at the very beginning of the park’s history, when Arnold was still testing out original hosts. This would be around the time of Dolores’ reveries of catastrophic massacres.
- William and Dolores, On the Run Tour: Logan and newcomer William enter the park, and William and Dolores—human and android—have their milk-can meet-cute and begin to develop an inter-species relationship.
- The present-day: Decades later, the Man in Black hunts for the center of the maze as Charlotte Hale, Ford and the scheming powers-that-be all plot their shake-ups of Westworld.
Dolores notably asks William “When are we?” and the Times Square photo of Juliet seems to be from the way, way back—long before it made Abernathy go on a cannibal tirade. This could explain why she’s reliving experiences from long ago and conclusively prove there are multiple timelines. But with a structure this flexible, any clue can be invalidated. Hosts are frequently getting reset or fed false memories, so some clashing details could call this one into question, and it seems that the park tries desperately to ensure narratives aren’t interrupted, because that would ruin the “reality” of the dead host photo opportunities for the tourists. At this point though, it’s looking like a safe bet.
2. The Man in Black is William.
The most popular takeaway from the multiple-timeline framework is that it would allow William (Jimmi Simpson) to become the tough, jaded Man in Black (Ed Harris) later in the show’s narrative. That means when we first meet William, we’re seeing him as the young man who falls for Dolores, not her captor. Westworld came close to confirming this theory when Angela popped up during the eighth episode after being “retired.” This would explain why the Man in Black clocked her as the same woman who possibly first shepherded him into the park long before he got addicted enough to transform into Harris’s hardened character.
Some telling clues: Both are very into Dolores. William goes on an impromptu murderous rampage that resembles some of the Man in Black’s violent tendencies—we are quite possibly seeing the conception of those tendencies—and they both shared time with Angela. There’s also that time the Man in Black shows up at the church when Dolores is expecting William. And as Vanity Fair points out, both gentlemen use the same knife and wear the same shirt.
Less conclusive validation: both are adventure buddies with Lawrence (in two very different roles), they’ve never shared a single scene together, and William’s engagement could have set him up for a sizable promotion at the family business. It’s safe to say the show wants us to believe that the prophet of doom known as Time turned William into a real piece of black-hatted work. On that note, if Juliet (the woman from the Times Square photo that drove Abernathy mad) is the Man in Black’s wife—who committed suicide at an unknown time—that could make his park-induced 180 even more understandable.
3. The series is the sequel to the 1973 Westworld film.
Flashbacks to scenes with a larger than average death count make it fairly clear that this isn’t Westworld’s first rodeo. If you accept that there are different timelines, then perhaps Theresa and others fear a robot rebellion because it’s happened before. Just as the Gunslinger hunted down an unsuspecting guest in the 1973 movie, that’s happening on a much more advanced scale in the show. The series hints at a past critical failure again when Ford treats Bernard to a preview of his new daddy-issue-burying narrative. He teases him in front of a church buried in sand. If hosts could have killed guests in the past, then it’s unclear why tourists would roll the dice in the future for the thrill of forking a hand to the table. But given that the technology is much more advanced now (take Maeve, for example), it would make perfect sense that the events of the series take place after the events of the film.
4. Ford is a Host.
When it comes to the guess-who’s-a-host game, anyone’s a possibility—even the man behind the curtain. During Westworld happy hour, the Man in Black insinuates that Ford is a host when he says he might get some intel by scalping him. Sure, Ford could be an imprint of his former self at an older age with a watch fob, immortalized forever, though it might be more likely that he is simply the most advanced human left in the mix. After all, the show does flash back to Ford as young, dark-haired-man, and we know that hosts don’t age—though again, we could always be looking at Ford the host version even if he started as human.
5. Ford murdered his father.
Something’s up with Ford’s dad. Throughout the show, Ford files so many complaints about his daddy issues, it’s enough for Bernard to shout, “I need a vacation from this artificially intelligent vacation!” Even more eerie, he uses a Frankenstein reference about how no one’s life is as important as winning, possibly hinting that his father was another partner. If the show plays out this way, then Ford would have killed his own father to build his empire, using parts of him to create another host with amnesia. (It’s the one in the cottage who he says Arnold created for him, likely at the Delos Secret Santa exchange.) But what if he gave his dad the Arnold treatment? This way, he’d be in total control of his dad, leaving Ford to play with his white church toy however he wanted without his dad getting in the way with his discouraging dad burns.
6. Arnold is alive.
Right off the bat, we’re told Arnold’s dead, and the ninth episode reiterates that even though we never witness his death. But it’s clear that at present, his work is still lurking around in spirit. He seems to tamper with the codes. He influences Dolores and Walter from inside their heads, and when Bernard uses his programmer knowledge to crack his own code, he finds that Arnold still has power over him. When Elsie’s muckraking in the theater, she tells Bernard that Arnold’s demise doesn’t add up because he appears to be a prolific coder for a dead guy. Still relevant, after all these years.
Interestingly, Ford assures Charlotte Hale that he can pretty much put elements of the park on autopilot. Surely that means Arnold could set an automatic robot uprising in motion to punish humankind for their exploits in a way Ford didn’t quite anticipate. It’s likely that his posthumous legacy is still kicking. He may not necessarily be alive inside Wyatt (a theory some fans have put forward, not to mention the possibility that Dolores may actually be Wyatt) or at the center of the maze. But he’s very likely still playing the game, quietly and effectively throughout the programming that influences the park.
7. Hosts are human.
Felix tells Maeve, “I was born, you were made,” but to Maeve, they feel the same. It’s a fair point. Even the Man in Black tells Teddy he’s made of “flesh and bone just like us” to spice up the fantasy park. He, Lawrence and Kissy all require “blood” to “live.” It could just be excellent technology, but when lowly technicians have the power to resuscitate a bird, it’s not out of the question that they could animate dead humans to become highly amusing saloon regulars.
Hosts still begin their “lives” with a skeleton milk dunk, but what if some hosts weren’t so original, and instead were a mix of human and metal insides, a hybrid of man and machine?
The androids are at least partly flesh and blood. When we get a look at Dolores’s inner gears, it’s totally plausible that she consists of first-generation hardware, because she’s an original host, but some fans have wondered if Westworld managed to configure actual humans as hosts too. An unlikely stretch, but not impossible.
Close-watchers will remember this: in the very first episode, when Lee’s lifelong quest to feel important is irritating Theresa, Bernard pays particular attention to the way Theresa scrunches her brow in repressed anger. It could have just been his line of work as a behavior programmer, but it’s also conceivable that he was studying up on her moves before using her human parts to create a (submissive) Theresa version 2.0 host, one who wouldn’t dare get in Ford’s way. If this holds up, then hosts might be partially fashioned from sick guests or deceased humans, blurring the lines between man and machine. Then they wouldn’t just be acting on old host grudges, they’d be retracing fragments of their own real consciousness.
8. Westworld is on another planet.
In the most recent timeline, Amy Winehouse and Radiohead are popular artists on the player piano, but there remain no clues about when exactly all of this is going down. That’s led fans to wonder if Delos owns land for this self-contained park on another planet. Given the vastness of the park’s map, the show’s soaring vistas could even be on an advanced Mars. Where else would you fit a post-Civil War orgy of that size? Alternate theory: Delos wants to expand to populate a new planet using Ford’s intellectual property. It could be Eastworld, a luxe new attraction, or a more sinister operation where hosts are weaponized to spy on everyone. The process for entering Westworld does seem advanced, but this one’s early to call. It could just as easily be a very open world virtual reality game.
Source: Slash Film
9. The maze is where the robots become alive.
The show presents the idea that Ford is manipulating everyone to think the maze is the ultimate endgame. The symbolic pattern appears all over the show, from Ford’s important notebook to the site of Maeve’s momentary humanity. Tellingly, Bernard challenges the increasingly autonomous Dolores to try a “game, a secret” which he describes as a maze. “The goal is to find the center of it. If you can do that, maybe you can be free,” he says. The key word here is “maybe,” which doesn’t tell us much, but it seems unlikely that a maze would free hosts from bot servitude completely. It could be a place or an inward journey that leads to a state of mind that would simply give hosts access to their prior builds to think more autonomous thoughts.
10. Bernard is Arnold.
Ford explains in his Fordian way that his “deceased” fellow architect of the park, the notorious Arnold, flew a tad too close to the sun with that consciousness business. It’s why Ford insinuates that the park killed him off, explaining it as an accident. Ford is careful to point out that accidents were uncharacteristic for careful Arnold, and that he’s stopped Arnold from getting in his way before. The show validated fans when it confirmed that Bernard was a host himself, a realization made especially poignant when Bernard kills Theresa. This led some fans to speculate that Ford cloned Arnold in host form in order to keep him under his thumb, and the penultimate episode basically proved this was true.
After Ford hands Bernard a photograph of himself posing with “Arnold,” Bernard discovers that man in Ford’s secret cottage. (This guy definitely is not Jeffrey Wright, and the host who Ford introduces as his hospitality-light alcoholic father doesn’t even recognize him or the name “Arnold.”) But fans on Reddit pointed out a human-sized hole suggesting that a third subject was “missing” from the picture, and because conflicting information is invisible to hosts to spare them of heartbreak, it seemed possible that Bernard was in the picture but couldn’t register the complete shot. On top of all this, Bernard’s full name, Bernard Lowe, happens to be an anagram for “Arnold Weber.”
With that established, Bernard’s growing suspicions about Arnold and host awakenings may be part of his quest to retrace the maker. One odd thing about this theory: when Dolores hears those “do you remember?” cues in the middle of the night, it’s clearly Bernard’s voice. But those “kill him” and “find me,” commands? That sounds like a completely different man. This second voice could be Arnold’s, in view of Bernard’s assessment: the notorious Arnold’s still calling shots alongside Ford via his inner software. But if it is indeed Arnold’s voice stored forever in the park, then it’s unclear why Ford wouldn’t program Bernard, his host with the most, to sound more like his ideal partner.
Source: Vanity Fair
11. The Man in Black is Arnold.
The most intense gamer of Westworld has gone so far as to say that he’s out to finish what Arnold started. The Wrap pointed out that he says, “I was born in this park,” as an explanation for why he’s such a V.I.P. Kill everyone in town? “That gentleman gets whatever he wants,” Stubbs says. But during the Man in Black’s sit-down with Ford, he explains that Arnold died years ago, and he was the park’s angel investor. So Arnold living forever in the form of the Man in Black never quite added up, and Bernard is officially Ford’s clone of Arnold. The Man in Black is a member of the board, so his status would explain why he gets such special treatment.
Source: The Wrap