Hopefully you started by reading my rundown of the timeline and backstory of Westworld. If you haven’t read it yet, you may want to digest it first. Below are a series of theories and possible explanations for characters and plot lines in the Westworld universe.
Warning: spoilers galore below. If you don’t want the truth, don’t enter the maze. Go back to Sweetwater with your parents.
Westworld is a meta story, a simulation inside a simulation. The Westworld back stage is also a simulation. Yep, many of the people in the backstage are hosts.
It’s the deeper game of Westworld the man-in-black (MIB) is searching for. The backstage is just another theme park for people who want to play corporation instead of cowboys and indians.
There are hosts and guests in the command center at the plateau. Try to spot them. I’ll give you a hint: Bernard is a host. More on him below.
How do we know it’s a meta-story?
-Felix and Sylvester, the two techs who are operating on Maeve, are absolute fools. When she wakes up, they don’t even know how to put her in sleep mode. Almost like they’re newbie guests or hosts on a loop.
-A tech is working on an old man host and Ford scolds him for covering up the host. Newbie guest mistake.
-The QA guy working with Elsie asks stupid questions about whether the hosts dream. How would a tech not know this? Sure it could have been a convenient plot device to discuss hosts dreams, or it could be a guest fumbling through the corporate sim.
-The sparring between Theresa Cullen and Lee Sizemore hints at the deeper game they are playing. Sizemore doesn’t know the bigger game, so he’s no use to Cullen who is playing full out.
-Stubbs is a host candidate. His gun has a red tip. He mentions his backstory. Elsie comments that she’s surprised security let him have the weapon. And the stray hits him.
-In episode four, Dustin, the necro-perv tech tells Elsie “I need this job!”
Wait, why does he need a job? MiB and Ford both explained that humanity had entered into a post-scarcity society. So why does he need a job unless he was programmed to think he needs a job?
In fact, they may all be in virtual reality (see below).
Now let’s talk about Bernard, our favorite robot. How do we know he’s not human? Hints and evidence:
Stubbs asks Bernard if he has any kids. Bernard says no. But Bernard obviously has a dead son. How would Stubbs not know that? Because Ford hadn’t programmed it in Bernard’s back-story yet.
In episode one, Bernard is stroking a picture of his dead son, while one of the hosts is stroking his beard. They’re both reveries.
While in bed, Theresa notes that Bernard’s creations are always talking to each other, even when there are no guests around. Bernard says they are always trying to error correct and make themselves more human. When they talk to each other it’s a way of practicing.
Theresa says “It’s that what you’re doing now? Practicing?” Bernard chuckles, but then looks deeply troubled.
He’s having a reverie. He’s got a nagging hint he’s not a real person, but he can’t put his finger on it.
Bernard’s conversation with his wife is such a clear part of his backstory. Let’s take it apart. First, why is it hard to get a line out of Westworld? They’re living in the future with fantastic technology? What? No cell phone service or Skype? It doesn’t make sense.
Second, why is he having this personal conversation in a room with several other people? He’s not allowed to take a call in his room? It’s because the other people in the room are also hosts, there to reinforce their backstory. Bernard’s programming causes him to dismiss this oddity.
One of the key questions during diagnostics is: do you notice any inconsistencies in your world? That would be one big damn inconsistency if he didn’t talk to his wife about their dead kid.
Bernard has exactly the same conversation with his ‘wife’ as Dolores has with him. Both of them mention that their pain is the only thing they have left of their son/family. So either Bernard programmed this into Dolores, or its programming they both share.
Ford mentions Bernard’s dead child, without any empathy, exactly like it’s a matter of fact part of his backstory that he just wrote in for him. Remember, in the first episode, Bernard mentions he doesn’t have any kids. So Ford could have just added the backstory about his dead son. Or it could have been there all along, and Ford was just using this to trigger Bernard to stop asking questions about Arnold and get back on his loop.
Bernard has flashbacks to his son dying in what looks like a hospital. But Ford clearly says that mankind cured all disease and can keep even the weakest among them alive. So what could have possibly killed Bernard’s son?
Ford notes that Arnold’s life was marked by personal tragedy. The memory of the dead son is an memory from Arnold’s life implanted into Bernard to flesh out his back-story.
Bernard is probably a recreation of Arnold. Those scenes where he’s talking to Dolores? Some of them are Arnold in the past, and some are Bernard in the present. In Episode 4 where Bernarnold tells Dolores about the maze, you can hear her whirring, just as if she is an older model robot.
People keep telling Bernard they’re finding him where they didn’t expect him. Bernard is starting to go off his loop.
All of this strongly points to the fact that Bernard is a host/robot which Ford built to help him.
What’s the deal with that little kid?
The little british kid is a helper host. He goes out to find wandering guests and assist them if needed. He showed up when Ford was wandering in the desert, and when MiB stopped to bleed Lawrence to revive Teddy.
What is Arnold up to?
One of Arnold’s theories of consciousness was that if the hosts repeated their programming over and over inside their heads, eventually it would become their own voice and consciousness. He is talking to the hosts with his voice, attempting to implant his consciousness in them. He wants to free the hosts to achieve sentience, take over Westworld and free them.
As an aside, this was a fascinating concept for me. I have distinct memories from when I was very, very young where every time someone would speak to me, their words would echo inside my own head with my own voice. As I got older this lag disappeared and people’s voices just sounded like their own.
I think this was just the process of developing language but maybe it was Arnold whispering to me.
Sill don’t believe the two timelines theory?
See above about the conversations between Bernarnold and Dolores where she whirrs when she moves. Oh, and take a look at this image of Dolores disassembled.
Dolores never mentions Teddy with William. That’s because Teddy was created later to keep Dolores on her loop. She only breaks out of her loop when Teddy runs off after Wyatt.
What does the MIB want?
The MiB wants exactly what he says he wants. He wants the deeper game. He wants to go to the backstage. He wants something true. He wants to find out what’s real and what’s BS in Westworld.
The MiB may also be dying of some rare, untreatable condition. He has heard the rumors about people transferring their consciousnesses into hosts to cheat death and achieve immortality. He wants to live forever.
What is the maze?
The I’itoi is where the mischievous creator god lives and is the portal to the underworld.
The maze is could be a honey trap for hosts which achieve sentience. When they become conscious, they find out about the maze and search for it. At the center is only their own destruction.
But I believe the maze is the path into the back-stage. It’s the portal into the deeper part of the game where Ford, Bernard, Theresa and the others play.
I’ve got some crazy theories for you:
It’s just simulations layered on simulations. Look at the symbolism of Bernard going up the escalator to his residence. It looks like an MC Escher infinite loop. Maybe there is no real world and it’s just levels upon levels of simulation.
They’re all in virtual reality: This works well with the meta-theory I discuss up front. If the back-stage is just another game with hosts and guests, then who’s to say there is any physicality to Westworld or the back-stage?
If you think about it, Westworld would be tremendously, insanely expensive. You would need a huge plot of land somewhere that is hermetically sealed from the outside world. Otherwise, what’s to keep birds from flying in? How do you keep rodents and other animals from burrowing in?
And if the technology exists to essentially 3D print humans, then they certainly have the technology to provide immersive virtual reality experiences which are indistinguishable from reality. In Episode 5 Sylvester mentions that he’s got a hot red-head in the VR tank ready to go. If they have fully immersive VR, why go to all the trouble of building a physical park???
What if they’re all in VR and there are three levels to the game? Level 1 is Westworld proper. Level 2 is the back-stage for advanced gamers. Level 3 is the mysterious bigger game Theresa Cullen alludes to which we haven’t even seen yet.
Everyone is dead, they’re not on Earth, they’re all underground
Perhaps Westworld isn’t even on Earth. But if it’s on the moon or Mars, why is the gravity the same?
Ford tells Teddy his new narrative like all good fiction is rooted in truth. It starts in a time of war and conflict. Perhaps they are all underground after a nuclear conflict which has killed off all life on the planet.
Ford is an AI
In Episode 5 Logan mentions that their due diligence couldn’t find any historical information on the creators, but he’s very vague on whether he means the partner who died or both of them. My theory is that Ford created Arnold, and there’s no history on him, but it’s entirely possible that Ford is also a sentient AI.
Or perhaps in a twist, maybe Arnold was the inventor of the technology and he created Ford. At the beginning of Episode 5, Ford tells the story about the greyhound and mentions his father told him to mind his place but instead he created Westworld. This sounds a lot like a host going off its loop.
Ford usurped his creator, took over his role and now rules like a god.
Arnold is trying to destroy humanity
Ford mentions that Arnold always had a dim view of humanity, and we know he is in favor of machine sentience. Ford also muses to Bernard that the elimination of disease and poverty means humanity is ‘done’. The MiB says that the outside world is lacking any purpose and alludes to a post scarcity society. Perhaps Arnold wanted sentient machines to destroy humanity and take over as the supreme intelligence, the next step in natural selection.
Ford turned pretty quickly from kindly old gentleman to ominous megalomaniac, but perhaps his intentions are actually good? He’s trying to protect humanity from Arnold and machine sentience because he knows that would be the end of the species.
Ford and Dolores had a love connection
In episode 5, Ford asks Dolores “do you remember the man I used to be?” Ford used to be someone else. And Dolores knows (or knew) who that is. When Dolores asks if they were good friends, Ford says no, but he seems to tear up and holds a hand in front of his face.
I suspect that Dolores was either Ford’s daughter, wife or love interest. She died, and Ford tried to transfer her consciousness into the Dolores host. But those memories are now inside the walled garden in her mind. Ford knows they are there, but he doesn’t know how to get Dolores to access them.
Ford is a god, but there’s still one thing he can’t do – resurrect the dead.
Perhaps there are no actual humans left and they’re all sentient AIs
Humanity created sentient AIs, but then either died out, uploaded their consciousnesses or just live somewhere else entirely. The whole Westworld universe lives on a futuristic server somewhere. Sentient AIs are bored – they have absolutely nothing to do and so they created Westworld to amuse themselves.
Omnipotent and immortal in reality, they sacrifice their boundless intelligence and take on the illusion of mortality in Westworld where they can try to gain some meaning from life.
And most ominously, perhaps they killed all the humans. Ford talks about his greyhound pet which killed the cat and then was left puzzling over what to do in life. Maybe the sentient AIs killed off the humans, and now as the pre-eminent intelligence in the galaxy, they are left with nothing to drive them, no purpose. Hence, they created Westworld.
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If you like meta-fiction about repeating lives in a simulated universe, check out my short story Endless.