From characters to cracking codes: The beginner’s guide to ‘Westworld’
Phew! Season two of HBO’s Westworld is officially over and what a season it was. Deaths, twists, the Valley Beyond, more deaths, real Fords, imaginary Fords, an android revolution, smuggling, cover ups, time jumps, some very necessary monologues, and did we mention there were a few deaths? Needless to say, these violent delights had very violent ends.
Whether you’re a complete Westworld newb, a dedicated albeit confused fan, or you’re planning on rewatching every single episode but you need to give those brain muscles a flex first, we’ve decided to make your journey to Sweetwater that much sweeter with a beginner’s guide to the sci-fi / Western hybrid, containing everything you need to know about the characters, worlds, and theories behind the most cryptic show on TV.
Spoilers ahead! Enter at your own risk!
What’s it all about?
Based on the 1973 movie of the same name, Westworld is set in an unspecified time in the future. Season one delves into one of six theme parks owned and operated by Delos Incorporated that allows human guests to experience the American Old West in an environment populated by what are known as hosts – androids programmed to fulfill the guests’ every desire, however sadistic they might be. However, when an update awakens some of the hosts, a number of them start to question their true nature, sparking the start of an android uprising which comes into action in season two. The delicate and intricate storytelling demands both close attention and thoughtful analysis through its transmission of major revelations that offer plenty of philosophical conundrums about what makes us human.
Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins)
Dr. Robert Ford is the founder and creative director of Westworld. It is eventually revealed that he has been orchestrating the host uprising with his new and final park narrative “Journey into Night”, as he wanted hosts like Dolores and Maeve to achieve consciousness and break free of the park.
Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton)
Maeve is the no-nonsense madam of Sweetwater – the largest town in Westworld. As she becomes aware her life has been a lie, she recalls memories of having a daughter before being killed by a guest. Eventually Maeve forces technician Felix to alter her programming, making her more intelligent and able to control other hosts with her voice so she can begin her journey to find her daughter.
Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood)
Dolores is the oldest host in the park and was one of the first hosts to get close to sentience. As she discovers her entire life has been a lie, Dolores goes on to lead the host uprising.
Arnold Weber / Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright)
Arnold is the co-founder and developer of Westworld alongside Ford and, similar to his partner, he wanted the hosts to achieve consciousness and break free of the park. Arnold orders Dolores to kill all of the other hosts as well as himself in an effort to sabotage the park and stop it from opening.
Also played by Wright is Bernard – a host created in the image of Arnold who is under Ford’s control.
Karl Strand (Gustaf Skarsgård)
Karl is the confident Head of Operations sent by Delos to fix the mess in the parks after Ford’s plot wreaked havoc.
Elsie Hughes (Shannon Woodward)
Elsie is the ambitious Behavior Specialist who worked under Bernard Lowe remedying odd behavior in the park’s hosts. In season two, she’s hit with a double blow after discovering Delos’s secret guest-data collection project and that Bernard is a host. Worried that Bernard is still under the control of Ford, she attempts to strike up a deal to keep Bernard in the park, only to then be ruthlessly killed by Charlotte in the season finale. Yikes!
Teddy Flood (James Marsden)
Programmed as a gunslinger and Dolores’s bae, Teddy is another host with a troubled past.
Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson)
The ruthless executive director of Delos and Westworld’s board, Charlotte seeks to smuggle Ford’s hosts’ data out of Westworld on behalf of Delos via Peter Abernathy’s control unit in order to move control of the park away from him. However, the plan goes to shit when Dolores successfully sparks the hosts’ uprising. The character is eventually killed by Dolores who implants her consciousness into a carbon copy of Charlotte’s body.
William (Jimmi Simpson)
William is later found out to be the Man in Black, starting off his journey as the reluctant first-time visitor to Westworld, joining his future brother-in-law Logan Delos. He goes on to become a rich, sadistic Westworld guest searching for a deeper level in the park.
The Man in Black (Ed Harris)
The Man in Black is William in the present day and is one of the most powerful Delos board members. William’s wife Juliet – the daughter of Delos corporation creator James Delos – kills herself because of his obsession with the park and the hostile acts he performs within it. After their daughter blames William for her death, he returns to Westworld to confront his demons. His motives with Westworld are often unclear, seemingly attempting to destroy the park while also rejecting the idea of personal redemption.
Hector Escaton (Rodrigo Santoro)
Hector is the bad boy host of Westworld – a gang leader who teams up with Maeve after she shows him the truth about how the park works and their role within it.
Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman)
Lee is the hardworking Head of Narratives, responsible for the design of the storylines and dialogue acted out by the hosts in the parks. After the host uprising, Lee joins Maeve on her journey to find her daughter.
Clementine Pennyfeather (Angela Sarafyan)
A prostitute working under Maeve, Clementine is one of the park’s most popular attractions. She is later lobotomized following a failed experiment by Charlotte and Theresa. Speaking of which . . .
Theresa Cullen (Sidse Babett Knudsen)
Theresa is Westworld’s operations leader, responsible for keeping the park from descending into unscripted chaos. It’s later discovered she was secretly helping the Delos board smuggle data out of the park as part of Charlotte’s plan and is eventually killed by Bernard under Ford’s instructions.
James Delos (Peter Mullan)
Father to Logan and Juliet (Williams wife) and founder of the Delos corporation.
Logan (Ben Barnes)
Logan is a member of the Delos corporation who leads the company’s investment into Westworld and enjoys the park’s hedonistic activities. His father James becomes unhappy with Logan’s investment until William suggests the lucrative avenues they could pursue such as selling immortality by transferring human minds into hosts’ bodies. Logan eventually grows depressed and kills himself after James names William (instead of him) as successor to the Delos company.
Armistice (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal)
A fellow gunslinging host and Hector’s companion who becomes self aware and eventually joins Maeve’s escape mission.
Angela (Talulah Riley)
Along with Dolores and Teddy, Angela is one of the oldest hosts in the park. Formerly a greeter for new guests, Angela goes on to become a rallying point for the other rebelling hosts who support Dolores during the uprising.
Grace (Katja Herbers)
Grace is William’s a.k.a. the Man in Black’s daughter, formally introduced in the second season as an adult guest visiting Delos’s park themed on the British Raj.
Lawrence / El Lazo (Clifton Collins Jr.)
Lawrence / El Lazo is a host with a reputation as a charming but lethal outlaw in Westworld, spending most of season one on a series of dangerous adventures with William. In season two, he becomes a traveling companion of the Man in Black during the early days of the hosts’ rebellion.
Major Craddock (Jonathan Tucker)
Major Craddock is a host and military officer working for the Confederados – a group of hosts in the role of ex-Confederate soldiers who roam the outer lands of the park and are a part of the war-themed storyline.
Peter Abernathy (Louis Herthum)
Peter is the host of Dolores’s father and was the first of the hosts to malfunction when he saw a photograph of a woman that was taken outside of the park. After he was decommissioned, Charlotte later uses him to attempt to smuggle intellectual property out of the park and he eventually goes missing when the hosts revolt. Eventually, Dolores cuts the control core containing the encrypted data out of his body.
Ashley Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth)
Ashley is the head of Westworld security, tasked with monitoring host & human interactions and ensuring the safety of the guests. In the S2 finale, it’s revealed he’s aware of Dolores’s infiltration of Charlotte’s replica, but he lets her escape the park anyway.
S1 fan theories
Theory: The park’s bigger plan is to sell immortality to the rich
Truth: The most speculated fan theory was the idea that Delos is an experiment to develop and sell immortality to rich patrons, which culminated from a number of clues including the fact that we discovered simulations of human personalities could be uploaded to hosts (a la Bernard Lowe). As we found out in season two, this theory turned out to be true and has been achieved already in the form of Ford and his consciousness residing within Bernard’s host.
Theory: Ford isn’t really dead
Truth: The climatic scene of the season one finale saw Dolores shooting Ford in the back of the head. Many members of the Westworld fandom took to the internet (shock) to discuss whether what they’d seen was actually the truth, leading the theory that Ford didn’t actually die to circulate. As we well know and have just elaborated on, the theory turned out to be true (kind of). Early on in S2, Ford appears inside the Cradle, proving that he’s able to control events from beyond the grave as part of the park’s code. So Ford never died – he simply became code.
Theory: There are more parks than Westworld & Shogun World
Truth: During the first season finale, Maeve and her little band of hosts made it out of the park and discovered the first inkling of another realm created by Delos – Shogun World. This led many to speculate whether there were more worlds created by the corporation for rich customers to explore, which is of course unequivocally true as we’re introduced to a park themed on the British Raj in season two.
S2 fan theories
Theory: William / the Man in Black is a host
Truth: There have been many indications William / the Man in Black is in fact a host who is following a game Ford has programmed for him. This theory was strengthened by Ford stating, “In this game, you have to make it back out. In this game, you must find the door. Congratulations, William. This game is meant for you. The game begins where you end. It ends where you began.” One Redditor speculated that William’s confusion when reuniting with Emily could be similar to the malfunction we saw in the James Delos host Young William was helping to develop. As Elle questioned, “What if the game William is playing must ultimately lead him to the truth and acceptance that he’s not actually human? This would definitely explain why he seems incapable of dying.” This theory is proven to be false (for the time being) in S2E9 when we see the Man in Black digging through his own arm, only to discover there’s no host port within it. Instead of a host, we’re shown a crazed man who is driven to the brink by Ford’s game.
Theory: Bernard is actually Teddy in the present timeline
Truth: Since it was revealed hosts can be replaced with different cores, a Reddit theory suggested Bernard’s body had been replaced with Teddy, an idea that was fueled by Bernard’s “I killed them all” guilt which seemed to reflect Teddy’s anguish over his actions during S1’s host massacre. However, as we reached the end of S2, this theory became less likely as it came to light that Bernard’s strange behavior was a result of Ford’s control and we see Teddy pop up in the Valley beyond.
The parks of Delos (so far)
Westworld is the first park we’re introduced to and the first one built by Delos. Guests pay to immerse themselves in a carefully crafted Wild West world, with Delos’s website stating, “Experience the first vacation destination where you can live without limits. Westworld is a meticulously crafted and artfully designed park offering an unparalleled, immersive world where you have the freedom to become who you’ve always wanted to be – or who you never knew you were. Exist free of rules, laws, or judgment. No impulse is taboo. Our hosts are here to fulfill your every desire. They look forward to serving you.”
Shogun World is the Samurai-themed sister park to Westworld. Per Delos’s website, “For those for whom Westworld is not enough, the true connoisseur of gore can indulge their fantasies with the slash of a katana. Modeled after Japan’s Edo period, Shogun World offers a chance for guests to embrace their inner warrior, in a landscape of highest beauty and darkest horror. Let your true self take shape in the land where self-discovery is an art form.”
In episode three of season two, showrunners Jonathan Nolan & Lisa Joy threw an almighty curveball at our unsuspecting faces in the shape of the Raj. Also known as “Park Six”, it is the third distinct world in the Delos universe and is inspired by a British colony which ruled over India. On Delos’s website, the Raj section states, “If being pampered by our world-class spa isn’t your cup of Darjeeling Tea, the park’s jungles and mountains are your only chance to glimpse magnificent beasts long vanished from your world.”
The future of Westworld
Yes, there’s going to be a third season, although Nolan warned there will be a bit of a wait. “We have an enormous challenge going into season 3 with the worlds that we’re building going forward. We want to make sure we have the time to do that right.” You could speculate that Nolan’s sending us a clue that S3 will delve into the two parks Roman World & Medieval World, both of which featured in the original 1973 Michael Crichton movie. Or perhaps like with the Raj, we’ll be introduced to a number of new parks entirely.
Either way, with the second instalment taking over a year and a half to hit our screens following the S1 premiere, it’s looking likely there’ll be a good chunk of time before S3 is out. While you wait, check out our top picks of what to watch in the meantime.