If scientists ever figured out how to craft androids who could almost perfectly mimic human feeling and behavior, would our first instinct be to populate them into a bougie sex-and-murder theme park?
It’s that bizarre premise of Westworld—why is this the purpose this technology is being used for?—that’s served as fodder for dozens of fan theories about what exactly is going on with this show, the most interesting seven of which we’ve outlined below.
Of course that’s not the only thing fueling the fan theories. For one, it’s been a while since a sci-fi based TV show has been this massively popular as it’s airing live. (Not since LOST?) It’s different from a binge obsession. Because fans are watching each episode in real time, there’s no other recourse but to speculate wildly about what could be going on each week.
And then there’s the frustrating truth that, well, nothing has happened thus far on Westworld.
Each episode follows a familiar pattern: You get all excited because you think, just maybe, you’re about to get a mind-blowing reveal and then…NOPE! Just more Anthony Hopkins being weird and Evan Rachel Wood squinting just a bit more than the episode before.
Still, certain that there is something going on in this series, fans are alight with crazy theories and wild guesses—some detailed in the way that a carefully stitched sci-fi universe might intend, others fairly obvious (like that one about Bernard).
We’re also at a point where we’re all equals. Sunday night’s fourth episode is the final one that critics who reviewed the series got to see. So to mark the occasion, and the hope that something big is coming, let’s dig into those theories. Needless to say, SPOILERS lie ahead.
Bernard is an android.
This one doesn’t stretch the imagination too much. Presumably a large point of the series is wondering who is human and is not. Maybe no one is! And maybe Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) is so skilled at android repair because he is one himself.
The most meme-ready justification for this theory is that Bernard’s glasses are always perched on his nose and he never actually looks through them. The most paranoid reasoning is that Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins) would never trust a human as his right-hand man.
But as we see in episode three, Bernard has a video chat with his ex-wife in which they discuss his dead son. Some see that as disproving the theory that he could be an android, claiming that if he has a son he must be a human. Others argue that it’s all part of Bernard’s fictionalized backstory. (That’s the great thing about these android theories: You can fill in any hole in them with “they were programmed to think that” as justification.)
As programmer Elsie (Shannon Woodward) says, “Backstories do more than amuse guests. They anchor the host. It’s their cornerstone. The rest of their identity is built around it, layer by layer.” The dead son backstory could be android Bernard’s cornerstone. It’s also interesting that when programmers interrogate the androids, the androids are nude. But when Bernard speaks with Dolores, she is fully clothed. Is that significant?
We also only see humans having sex with hosts. It’s clear that Theresa (Sidse Babett Knudsen), who is presumably human, and Bernard are sleeping together. Does that mean Bernard is a host? After all, why muddy sexual activity in Westworld with the emotional ties of doing it with a human when all these hosts are available for a good screw, which it appears is what Theresa wants from Bernard?
The show already pulled the bait-and-switch with James Marsden’s Teddy. It would be pretty explosive to reveal that the android manipulator is an android himself.
Westworld is not on Earth.
It was HitFix that gave first prominence to this theory: “I Am 99.99% Sure Westworld Isn’t Even Taking Place on Earth.” There’s practical evidence for this, including the park map provided on HBO’s website, which is too vast for so much untouched land to exist on Earth, and the bluff that the headquarters is built on looks as Mars-like as it does Old West.
Then there’s the line, “When do you get to rotate home again,” asked of Lee Sizemore to Theresa Cullen, suggesting that these human employees are stationed away from planet Earth. Even their personal communications take place in a corporate room.
Then there’s the robot storage facility on level B83, which resembles a lobby that has been out of commission for years, the focal point of which is a planet sculpture that reads DELOS, the name of Westworld’s parent company. The planet, however, doesn’t resemble Earth. And DELOS, too, has significance. In Greek mythology, it is the island where Apollo and Artemis are born, with no capacity for producing food or timber. Because of cultural importance, it was declared that no one could give birth or die there. Is Westworld an intergalactic Delos?
There are other hints, like the use of the phrase “decompression chamber” on HBO’s website in its section on how guests enter Westworld, a term used often in space travel. Westworld co-creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy were asked about this theory, and gave perfectly frustrating non-answers. So this one is alive and well.
William Is the Man in Black.
As far as fan theories go, as a general rule I hate them. But this one intrigued me!
Certainly simply naming a character the Man in Black and sending him on some maze-solving mission without ever stating why invites mystery, and such mystery invites guesstimation about what the hell is going on. What could be going on is that there are two timelines—at least—that we’re seeing in Westworld: The Man in Black (Ed Harris) is actually the future version of William (Jimmi Simpson), whom we meet in Episode 2.
There is all this talk about something catastrophic that happened 30 years prior. Some believe that the Man in Black had something to do with that, and that William is him entering the park three decades before. Since the hosts don’t age, that’s possible. Plus, the Westworld we see when William arrives and the narratives the hosts are playing out are both different to all the other times we’ve seen guests enter the park.
If nothing else, that supports the theory that William and the Man in Black are in two different timelines. When the Man in Black references his shared past with Dolores, some assumed they were referring to Dolores being so special to Billy’s experience 30 years prior and they we’d learn what events led to his transformation into the Man in Black.
There is evidence to debunk this theory. When Dolores makes herself sentient enough to pull the gun in Episode 3, she does so after accessing flashback memories, including of the Man in Black. She then wanders to camp with Billy and Logan, which would mean both Billy and the Man in Black exist in the same timeline. Plus, Westworld employees discussing Billy’s journey are the same ones who discussed the Man in Black’s wandering off the beaten path in an earlier episode.
Still, there’s no clarity on anything: sentience, timeline, purpose. Things are still open enough that excusing discrepancies as confusing alternate timelines and realities could be enough to keep this theory alive, too.
The Man in Black is Arnold.
A big reveal early on is that Anthony Hopkins’s Dr. Ford had a co-creator who has since died, Arnold Weber, whose biggest flaw was that he wanted the robots to have too much consciousness and too much sentience. But what if Dr. Ford, whose motivations in this series and with the androids are still unclear, was simply misdirecting us with the death comment? If that’s true, then some posited that the Man in Black is actually Arnold.
The easiest summary of this comes from The Wrap: “That would explain why he is given the freedom to do whatever he wants within the park and why he is so determined to discover a deeper level to the game.” His cowboy-esque line, “I was born in this park,” could be a metaphor for his creationist ties to it.
Episode four also sort-of debunked this theory. When Man in Black encounters a group of bandits at a campfire, one guest who is there recognizes him, presumably from his life outside the park, and commends him on his philanthropic work. Since Dr. Ford had previously explained that Arnold was misanthropic and preferred androids to humans, that doesn’t jibe with the philanthropy comment. Also, as The Wrap points out, the Man in Black directly references Arnold’s death in the park and his desire to continue his legacy.
So expect more answers in episode five when Man in Black and Dr. Ford come face to face.
Bernard is Arnold.
This theory first provides that you go by the idea that Bernard is an android, and then takes it a step further: Bernard was created after Dr. Ford lost his partner, Arnold, and was designed expressly in Arnold’s image. Uproxx digs suitably deep into this theory, first with the proof that Bernard didn’t arrive at Westworld until after Arnold’s death.
Also, it’s intriguing that Bernard is the only employee that we’ve been given a backstory for, with the dead son. We’ve already discussed how backstories are essential for keeping the androids grounded in their purpose, and the grief over his son is that “narrative” that keeps him on his scripted loop and purpose: fixing hosts, day after day. That Dolores is malfunctioning knocks Bernard off his own loop, and he begins error correcting. We seem him become more aware of reality, just as Dolores is.
“You mustn’t make Arnold’s mistake,” Dr. Ford tells him. “I know that the death of your son Charlie still weighs heavily on you.” Uproxx’s theory: Arnold also lost a child. Specifically, Arnold’s child is the girl we see in the photo that Bernard obsesses over. And thus Bernard doesn’t just fulfill Arnold’s role as a robot repairman, but is also someone who sympathizes with the hosts.
And—get this—“Bernard Lowe” is an anagram for “Arnold Weber,” Westworld’s co-creator. Boom. Or, maybe, eh.
This is essentially a sequel to the 1973 Westworld film.
As we’ve already said, there are many allusions to a catastrophic event that happened 30 years prior to the events that we’re seeing now—at least to the events in the “present” timeline, if we’re to assume there are multiple timelines. Based on the ominous way this catastrophe is talked about and the intensity with which corporate Westworld employees warn against any hosts that go off-course or rebel against their loops, we can assume there was an android uprising.
Of course, the 1973 film that Westworld the series is inspired by contains a plot that is essentially that—an infection spread through the androids causing the hosts to malfunction, act against orders, and eventually kill scores of guests. Thinking of the HBO series in that way raises many interesting questions. Could there be other theme parks? In the film, Delos was a Disneyland-type park, not a company, and West World was one exhibit, along with Medieval World and Roman World.
More, could any of the characters we encounter now have been a part of that catastrophe, such as Man in Black, as either an android out to finish what he started 30 years ago or a human guest on the quest to locate this maze in order to get to the truth of what happened when he was at that horrible bloodbath? Was Arnold responsible for it? What role did Dr. Ford play?
Westworld is a stage in some diabolical A.I. experiment.
This is another one that was obvious from the get-go, with Westworld’s writers so kind as to spell out for you. When Theresa tells narrative writer Lee, “This place is one thing to the guest, another thing to the shareholders, and something completely different to management,” it immediately raises questions as to whether this android technology is being incubated at Westworld for a greater purpose than to be screwed or killed by wealthy guests with debauchery fetishes.
What that end game could be, how Bernard’s pursuit of improving the consciousness of the androids could help or hurt that goal, what employees are in on it, and what this maze the Man in Black is after has to do with it is anyone’s guess. Is DELOS a weaponry corporation? Cloning or immortality experiment? Who knows!