Grab your six-shooters, saddle up your robotic horses and select the white or black cowboy hat of your choice: We’re going back to Westworld, and there are lots of secrets left to uncover. We’re less than a month away from the return of HBO’s smash-hit/heir apparent to the Game of Thrones throne, and when Season Two debuts on Sunday, April 22, it’ll come carrying enough dangling plot threads to make a hangman’s noose.
Set in a futuristic theme park where human “guests” and uncannily realistic robot “hosts” are free to mix, mingle and murder in a Wild West setting, the series’ first season ended when the park’s tyrannical creator, Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins), revealed his top-secret “new narrative” for the androids’ adventures. He’s enabled them to achieve consciousness and seek revenge against their flesh-and-blood tormenters, with the park’s oldest host – farm girl turned death-cult leader Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) – leading the charge. But the true fates of many characters are up in air. So are the size and location of the park, the number of sister sites and spinoff worlds it includes, the nature of the real world outside its borders and even the kind of show Westworld will become after what its creators dubbed a “prequel” of a first season.
So we’re taking aim at nine of Season Two’s most gripping mysteries. Read on for a refresher course that’ll catch you up on Season One and offer a tantalizing glimpse of the Westworld to come.
1. How far will the host revolution spread?
Lead by the newly sentient Dolores – the first host to successfully navigate her co-creator Ford’s maze of memory and consciousness to its self-determining center – the hosts close out Season One by turning their guns on the wealthy human guests and company board members for real. The second season’s marvelously morbid trailers depict all-out slaughter both within the park’s Old West environment and inside its off-limits HQ. The question is, how ambitious are Dolores and company going to be now that they’ve gotten their first taste of freedom – and vengeance? Will they keep some hosts alive, or is their goal genocidal? Will they be content with taking over Westworld … or do they have the real world in their sights as the end goal?
2. How far does the park itself spread?
By the end of Season One we’d already gotten a glimpse of hosts from “Samurai World,” now apparently known officially as Shogun World, a sister theme park using medieval Japan as its setting. At least four other parks have been hinted at as well. (Their parent company, Delos Incorporated, must make Disney look like a mom-and-pop shop.) The most recent trailer features the Japanese setting heavily, with former madame Maeve (Thandie Newton) in period-appropriate garb and everything. Will the “new narrative” of outright rebellion launched by Ford and Dolores take root there as well? And where is “there,” anyway? Are all the parks located on the same island or in the same remote area somewhere on Earth? Is there more than one location? Are we in outer freakin’ space?
3. What’s the real world like?
Most of the details we can glean from the human staff and guests at Westworld – clothing styles, speech patterns, etc. – indicate that the show is set in some sort of nebulous near-future. The big difference, of course, is the incredibly advanced technology required to create the robotic hosts and their sprawling artificial environment, not to mention the sheer concentration of money and power needed to keep said tech a closely guarded corporate secret. Last week’s “Heart-Shaped Box”–soundtracked trailer offers a tantalizing glimpse of Dolores gazing at a slightly futuristic cityscape, but whether that’s real or not is anyone’s guess. If and when we step off those high-speed trains and into the outside world, will we like what we find? Or will we all go the full Heston?
4. Is Ford dead? Like, dead dead?
Under normal circumstances, we’d say that the main male character getting shot in the noggin at point-blank range in front of a huge crowd is a slam-dunk “yeah, he’s dead” situation. That goes double when the god-like figure who catches a bullet is a major movie star who most likely signed on to the show as a one-and-done affair. But this is Westworld, a series that delights in fake-outs and false fronts; it’s got all the robotic doppelgangers and digitally transferrable memories you need to make a misdirection possible. Other than Sir Anthony Hopkins’ schedule and salary demands, is there any reason why the Ford whom Dolores caps in the finale isn’t actually a host – or that he didn’t construct a ‘bot of his own to take over once his human self was killed? For a guy obsessed with evolution, deliberately transforming himself from man to machine would be a fitting next step.
5. Where are the missing human characters?
You may recall that Logan (Ben Barnes) – the young Man in Black’s nemesis both in the park and in the family business that runs it – got run out of town in a scene that took place decades before the show’s present-day timeframe. Also M.I.A.: Security honcho Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth), who got jacked by members of Ghost Nation, the stereotypically savage Native American tribe that served as some of the park’s most hardcore hosts. (Until all the hosts went hardcore, that is.) And then there’s Elsie (Shannon Woodward), one of the top minds in the Diagnostics Department, who was attacked by her own secretly robotic boss Bernard to stop her from discovering the truth about the corporate-espionage relay beaming info on the park to the outside world.
None of these characters died on screen, and both Stubbs and Logan appear in the trailers HBO has released for the second season … though the timeframe for those appearances is unclear. (Stubbs sure seems like he’s roaming around trying to clean up the robot-revolution mess, but that still raises the question of where he’s been in the interim.) What really happened to them? Will we see them again outside of flashbacks, and what shape will they be in if we do?
6. How free is Maeve?
As one of the park’s most advanced and intelligent hosts, Maeve is the prime motivator of the bloodbath in Westworld’s control center. This undoubtedly makes it easier for the revolution to get off the ground, but its primary purpose was to help the former brothel madam (and frontier mom, and god knows how many else personae) escape. However, her programming data suggests this, too, was a predetermined narrative for her – at least until the moment she gets second thoughts, steps off the train and returns to her “prison” in search of her long-lost host daughter. Is this her first act of truly free will? It’s strongly implied by everything from the shift to a hand-held camera to, y’know, the way narrative fiction works, but on this show, you never know. At least until Season Two tells you, perhaps.
7. What about the other main host characters, Bernard and Teddy?
Ah, our two hapless host heroes. Bookish, soft-spoken Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) has an on-again, off-again relationship with his true nature, realizing he’s a robotic replica of the park’s co-creator Arnold Weber just long enough to freak out and get put back under. His colleague (and creator) Ford used him as a glorified hitman against park staffers who got too nosy about the “new narrative” and other skullduggery, from the aforementioned Elsie to Bernard’s human girlfriend Theresa. Ford’s final order is for Bernard to shoot himself, which he does — but on Westworld, to quote another HBO blockbuster, death is not the end. The trailers make it look like he’s back in business, but does he know who — and what — he really is? Which side of the war will he take? (There’s also the question of why no one working at the park recognizes its co-founder, walking around looking exactly the same as he did when his own creations killed him on-site decades ago … but we don’t think anyone can answer that satisfactorily.)
Meanwhile, Teddy Flood (James Marsden) has all the markings of a handsome leading man, but he winds up playing patsy and victim over and over again – never beating the bad guy and getting the girl. While Dolores’s season-ending onslaught seems to take him by surprise, he’s glimpsed gunning down guests by her side in Season Two’s trailers. Is he fully on board with the new boss, or will his slightly dim-witted decency get him in trouble again?
8. And what about the high-ranking humans, Charlotte and the Man in Black?
The scheming, sociopathic Delos executive named Charlotte Hale swooped in late in the season as a rival to Ford’s power in the company. She’s played by Tessa Thompson, who between the Marvel and Creed franchises and offbeat films like Annihilation and Sorry to Bother You is a real star in the making. Her character is following suit: She’s loaded all the info Ford fought to keep secret into the body of Dolores’ one-time host father Peter Abernathy, whom she’s smuggling out of the park so that the info can be retrieved. Will she get away with it, or is this also somehow a part of Ford’s plan?
Charlotte isn’t the only Delos bigwig at work here. The season finale reveals (if you hadn’t guessed it already) that the murderous Man in Black, a mega-rich guest who returns time and time again to indulge his most violent fantasies, is actually William, whose journey from wide-eyed white hat to cynical killer fuels the first season’s flashback timeline. Presumably by marrying into the family that runs Delos, he’s now the company’s majority shareholder. He’d been scouring the park for a storyline offering real life-and-death stakes for decades until his frenemy Ford finally unleashed the real deal. Will he remain content to be a player in the most dangerous game, or does he still have an interest in running the company, not just enjoying its handiwork? And when he says he wants to burn it all down in the most recent trailer, does he mean Delos, Westworld, the hosts … or humanity?
9. Will there be so many mysteries this time around?
This is the biggest question of all. Season One came with all the clues, twists, and meta-mindgames you’d expect from a show co-created by J.J. Abrams and Jonathan Nolan, whose puzzle-box projects include Lost, the Cloverfield franchise, Memento and The Prestige between them. (The third member of the trinity, Lisa Joy, has a track record of more straightforward storytelling.) All that code-cracking, flash-backing, and maze-running kept YouTubers and Redditors busy for months. But sometimes the trickery got in the way of what otherwise would have been a cracking yarn about machines struggling to become sentient, the sadistic humans who made them that way and the weird war between them.
Maybe it’s foolish to expect an old host to learn new tricks. But if the Season Two trailers – full of half-built robotic bulls, menacing fleshless android skeletons and Evan Rachel Wood on horseback straight-up murking dudes – are any indication, Westworld has pulpy power to spare. With the secrets of the Maze, the Man in Black and Ford’s new narrative finally solved, could the show embrace the joys of sci-fi/fantasy/action genre storytelling that have worked so well for shows from Game of Thrones to Breaking Bad, without ever dumbing them down?