HBO has seen massive success in recent years thanks to high concept series like Game of Thrones, True Detective, and, the premium cable network’s most recent hit, Westworld. In fact, the Westworld series premiere garnered the highest ratings for HBO since the premiere of True Detective, and the series has captured the attention of both critics and sci-fi fans alike.
Created by Jonathan Nolan (Interstellar) and Lisa Joy (Pushing Daisies), Westworld is based on Michael Crichton’s 1973 sci-fi thriller of the same name – taking place in a near future world that’s home to an amusement park populated by android hosts who are nearly indistinguishable from humans. The original film follows a first-time visitor of the park as the androids experience systemic failures that become deadly for the human visitors.
HBO’s Westworld is an updated and more complex storyline, stretching over 10 episodes and following a number of characters; including, guests of the park, hosts, and those who make the whole operation run from the control center of Delos Destinations. However, with competing motivations of the characters — many of which aren’t yet clear to the viewers — and the dubious nature of Westworld distinguishing hosts from human guests and employees, there is plenty of mystery shrouding HBO’s sci-fi series.
As such, viewers are left with plenty of questions after each episode of Westworld, prompting many fans to construct simple or elaborate theories in order to explain the goings on of the futuristic park and its wild west inhabitants. Here, we’re breaking down the best fan theories and discussing how plausible they may be as Westworld continues to unravel its mystery over the remaining seven episodes of season 1.
Westworld is On an Alien Planet
So far, we know that guests enter the park through a doorway that leads onto the train heading into town, since we followed Jimmi Simpson’s character William through the process in ‘Chestnut’. However, the park and the Delos facility that houses it is seemingly cut off from the rest of the world, with Simon Quarterman’s character Lee making reference in the premiere to Teresa (Sidse Babett Knudsen) “rotating home” — establishing that the employees of Westworld live on site for extended periods of time before going home. So, many have wondered, where exactly is Westworld?
One theory, laid out by Hitfix, posits that the park and facility for Westworld exist on another planet from Earth. The brief shots of the exterior of the Delos facility indicate it’s situated on a bluff that appears to be Earth, but could be another planet that has been terraformed. Certain other hints, such as the Westworld website’s use of the term “decompression chamber” and the fact that guests are encouraged not to bring any luggage additionally seem to point toward space travel of some kind.
However, perhaps the biggest argument against this particular theory — other than the conclusion that Westworld needn’t be more complicated by including space travel — is the fact that Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins) seems to directly insinuate the Delos facility is on Earth in a conversation with Bernard (Jeffrey Wright): “Evolution forged the entirety of sentient life on this planet using only one tool: mistake.” Certainly, there could be a reason for Westworld taking place on a different planet and Ford still speaking this way, but it seems to indicate the park is housed on Earth.
All that said, when Nolan was asked about the specific location of Westworld and whether it’s located on a distant planet, he told /Film, “By the end of the first season, if you’re paying close attention, you will know where it is. [There’s some offline chat.] Lisa disagrees with that, by the way.” So, it’s likely that no matter where Westworld takes place, fans will have a good idea by the end of season 1 — though it won’t be spelled out in the most explicit terms.
The Man in Black is An Android
Although seemingly based on the Gunslinger from the original Westworld movie — an android who terrorizes the park and the protagonist of the film — the Man in Black (Ed Harris) has been established as a human character. However, the Man in Black is doing his fair share of terrorizing the host residents of Westworld, though he has a specific goal in mind. So, what if he’s actually an android host who has become self-aware and gone rogue?
In the Westworld series premiere, the Man in Black attacks the Abernathy ranch, suffering no injury when shot by Teddy (James Marsden), presumably establishing he’s one of the human guests that cannot be killed or harmed by the hosts. Additionally, the Man in Black makes certain comments about paying for his experience and visiting the park for 30 years, all the while referring to Westworld as a game. As for other clues that the Man in Black is a guest: when someone brings up his killing spree in the control room, they’re told by security head Ashley Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) that he “gets to do whatever he wants.”
Since a host wouldn’t be given the same kind of leeway to do whatever they want — in fact, much of the early episodes are focused on making sure the hosts are doing exactly as they’re supposed to do — this seems to indicate the Man in Black is a guest. But, if he is a host that became self-aware a long time ago, he could have potentially reprogrammed himself to appear human not only to the other hosts (explaining why Teddy’s bullets don’t harm him) but to those in the control room as well.
That said, in an HBO featurette about Teddy and the Man in Black’s first confrontation, Nolan states in no uncertain terms: “He’s a human guest that has taken the fantasy to its utmost extreme.” Additionally, Nolan points out that the Man in Black “represents everything human in the park,” which further indicates the character is indeed human. In fact, if the inhumanity of humans versus the humanity of the androids is a recurring theme of the series, with the Man in Black and Teddy representing those ideas, the Man in Black turning out to be an android would potentially ruin that theme — so this theory seems like a long shot.
Arnold Didn’t Die
Introduced in the most recent episode of Westworld, ‘The Stray’, Arnold is the co-creator of the park with Dr. Ford who initially wanted to give the hosts consciousness. However, Arnold’s code that allowed the hosts to hear their own programming as an inner monologue was perceived by certain androids to be the voices of gods, and drove many crazy. But, as Ford explains of Arnold, the “search for consciousness consumed him totally” and he died in the park by “accident” — with it implied that Arnold killed himself.
That said, with Bernard suggesting Arnold’s aberrant code has seemed to resurface in the current storyline — explaining the recent glitches in the hosts, including Abernathy (Louis Herthum), Walter (Timothy Lee DePriest), and Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) — the mysterious Westworld co-creator’s history is presumably important to the season 1 arc. As such, fans have come up with a number of theories about Arnold that posit he isn’t actually dead as Ford explained.
THR lays out a number of theories about the truth of Arnold. For one theory, they posit that Arnold represents Ford’s thinking in the early days of the park, but was a philosophy Ford let die, though now he’s returning to Arnold’s school of thought — basically, Arnold is the Tyler Durden to Ford’s Narrator. Another theory states that Arnold is the Man in Black, a guest who has been around for so long that most of the Westworld employees don’t know who he is or his ties to the park’s creation — and the Man in Black’s free reign may be the result of his working with Dr. Ford on creating the park.
The final theory puts forth the idea that Arnold is Wyatt and the narrative back story that Ford gives Teddy is a mirror of his own relationship to Arnold. In the new Wyatt narrative, he and Teddy were friends and soldiers together before Wyatt disappeared for a time, returning with “strange ideas.” Wyatt murdered innocent people and Teddy wants vengeance for their deaths. Now, if Arnold is alive and living hidden in the park, perhaps Ford constructed the Wyatt narrative as a mirror to his own relationship with Arnold — as well as a means to track down the errant co-creator.
Of course, one other possibility is that Arnold actually is dead, and his story is simply meant to mirror a character that’s already been introduced — perhaps Bernard.
William is The Man in Black
With one of the major themes of Westworld being the humanity of the hosts and the inhumanity of the guests, the Man in Black is representative of the latter, while the hosts he terrorizes, tortures, and kills — especially Dolores and Teddy — are representative of the former. As such, the identity of the Man in Black is one of the biggest mysteries established in the early episodes of Westworld. However, one theory posits that the man is the future version of a younger human character: William.
According to the theory, William and the Man in Black are the same person, Westworld is simply following the character at two different points in his life — 30 years apart, more specifically. Since the hosts don’t age and we haven’t seen any of the employees interact with William, it’s feasible that Westworld is following two separate timelines. Additionally, fans noticed that William’s introduction to Westworld seems different to everything else we’ve seen both backstage and within the park itself — when he first arrives in Sweetwater, William meets different narratives than those introduced in the season premiere.
As /Film points out, the William timeline could potentially be reminiscent of the original Crichton film — with William as the hero who has to defeat an uprising of robots bent on killing humans and the Man in Black being the sequel to that narrative, explaining how the man became so sadistic and obsessed with the park. Considering the similarities between William and Logan (Ben Barnes) and the protagonists of the movie, as well as the Man in Black and the Gunslinger, it would certainly be a surprising and compelling twist on the original narrative.
That said, many have wondered whether the final scenes of ‘The Stray’ disproved this particular theory. In the sequence, Dolores arrives home to see bandits terrorizing and killing her parents, with one of the other hosts dragging her into the barn. However, she manages to steal his gun and shoot the bandit host, although only by overriding her programming by remembering the Man in Black. She then stumbles to William’s camp, seemingly establishing that they’re the same timeline and the Man in Black is in her past. However, Thrillist suggests the scene of Dolores stumbling across William is also a memory of her past — since ‘The Stray’ plays with the idea of memories and consciousness. Still, if these scenes are all in the same timeframe, it essentially disproves this particular fan theory.
The Hosts Are Based on Real People
Of course, one of the biggest mysteries of Westworld as a whole is who are the androids and who are the humans. While it’s clear that certain characters like Dolores, Teddy, and Maeve (Thandie Newton) are androids and others are human, it’s likely that there are more androids among the main cast than viewers may know. One particular fan theory simply states that there are many more androids than viewers may think based on the first three episodes.
For instance, it seems likely that Delos would use androids for the backstage goings on of the park — in fact, this may have been established in ‘Chestnut’ when a host (?) welcomes William to the facility and helps him through the process of readying for the park. So, what if androids are also used for other backstage roles? What if characters like Stubbs, Elsie (Shannon Woodward), Teresa, and Lee are all hosts? What if Bernard is an android created by Ford as his greatest creation? Ford does mention to Bernard, “I know how your head works.” Perhaps Ford meant that literally. Even if Bernard isn’t an android, though, it seems likely that there are more hosts working behind the scenes on Westworld than we may think.
Going deeper along that line of thinking, another fan theory posits that many of the androids are based on real people. This theory pulls from the original film’s sequel, Futureworld, which featured the main characters uncovering that Delos had secretly been making android replicas of real people. Applying that narrative to HBO’s Westworld, perhaps the park is creating a form of immortality by way of hosts made in the likeness of real people. Furthermore, the theory posits that immortality is the endgame for the Man in Black — the prize at the end of the maze/game.
Certainly, there isn’t much proof of this particular theory and it’s based on an idea from the movies, which have seemingly only offered vague inspirations for the HBO series. Still, it seems likely there are more androids than we think at first, and with Ford always striving to create more, and further tap into human nature, it doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to believe he’s attempted to crack immortality.
Those are the five best fan theories so far for HBO’s Westworld. It remains to be seen which, if any, turn out to be true as season 1 continues. But if viewers of the sci-fi drama have made anything clear, it’s that there is plenty to speculate about when it comes to Westworld.
Do you think one of these theories is more plausible than the others? Did we leave out your favorite Westworld fan theory? Let us know in the comments!
Westworld continues Sunday October 23rd with ‘Dissonance Theory’ @9pm on HBO.