Westworld: The Best 'Who is Arnold?' Theories

Anthony Hopkins in Westworld Season 1 Episode 3

The HBO new series Westworld can scarcely play a standalone scene without inspiring a litany of online guesses and hypotheses. Indeed, the programming president of Home Box Office, Casey Bloys, admitted that fan theories are “getting close” to uncovering the truth about the titular theme park. Fan theories about the inner workings of Westworld and the secrets that has so far only been hinted at aside, one question may take precedence over all others: Who is Arnold?

While every character has a slew of unanswered questions, Arnold remains the most mysterious of all. The alleged co-creator of the park appears to be the biggest piece required to solving the Westworld puzzle. Is he really dead? Is Dolores speaking with him? What does he want to achieve? Though the series is only halfway through the first season, all roads lead to Arnold, whether you’re the Man in Black, Dr. Ford, or the increasingly sentient Dolores.

Here are The Best “Who is Arnold?” Theories:

Bernard is an Android Modeled On Arnold

Shannon Woodward and Jeffrey Wright in Westworld Season 1 Episode 3

The strength of this theory rests on a key proposition: Bernard is an android. While many viewers have commented on his measured speech and curiously ornamental glasses, there is greater evidence to suggest Bernard isn’t human. In Westworld, guests have sex with hosts, but not with each other. The only outlier appears to be Bernard and his midnight lover, Theresa (Sidse Babett Knudsen). Despite their intimacy, however, it’s clear the tryst is emotionally lop-sided: Bernard wants companionship, while Theresa wants immediate gratification. If Bernard is revealed to be a host, then these relationship dynamics make reasonable sense.

Then again, didn’t we see Bernard’s ex-wife in a video call? Indeed, backstory is the central problem of Bernard’s existence and the core ethos of Ford’s work. Elsie (Shannon Woodward) reminds us, “Backstories do more than amuse the guest. They anchor the host. The rest of their identity is built around it, layer by layer.” Who is the only central character to have had a true backstory revealed? Bernard. Could it be that the entire backstory is a lie, a falsehood fed to Bernard like Dolores’ Disney relationship with Teddy? Perhaps Dr. Ford simply intends to keep Bernard in the same role as Arnold, someone who sympathizes with the hosts and interacts with them on a deeply emotional level.

There’s a lot to be said for Dr. Ford remaking his partner, especially if Arnold met an unexpected fate in the park, as we’re told. We’ve already seen Ford alongside a possible younger version of himself, a boy host he made in his own likeness. He may have remade Arnold out of respect, habit, or the most emotionally resonant reason, nostalgia.

Furthermore, there appear to be some uncanny similarities between Bernard’s life and what little we know of Arnold. As Dr. Ford warns Bernard, “You mustn’t make Arnold’s mistake… I know that the death of your son, Charlie, still weighs heavily upon you.” Not only does this seem to imply that Ford’s former partner lost a child, but it is a relatively heavy-handed way to influence emotional control over Bernard. Is that how humans talk to one another, or how a human talks to a host?

Bernard was largely absent in Contrapasso, so we must turn back to his earlier interaction with Dr. Ford for clues. “No cause for alarm, Bernard. Just our old work coming back to haunt us.” Whose work is Dr. Ford speaking of, and how “old” is it? Could he be referring to a longer working relationship with Bernard than we thought? These little asides in Westworld may prove to be very significant, just as Bernard may ultimately be revealed as an android clone of the legendary Arnold.

Finally, recall the cryptic exchange between Abernathy, Ford, and Bernard. The malfunctioning host declares his desire to meet his creator, and though Ford says “you’re in luck,” Abernathy turns to eyeball Bernard with peculiar intensity. Does Abernathy see him as the Lord of all and his maker? One last piece that has been making the rounds: though Ford's partner has no known surname, Bernard Lowe is an anagram of Arnold Weber. Tantalizing.

He is The Ghost in the Machine

Evan Rachel Wood as Dolores Abernathy in Westworld

The simplest answer is often the truest. As this well-worn and feasible fan theory goes, Arnold is the "Ghost in the Machine." While he may be physically dead, Arnold’s spirit is omnipresent (and perhaps omniscient). Before he met his untimely end (be it suicide, sacrifice, or murder), some believe Ford’s old partner uploaded his consciousness to the Westworld mainframe. This would represent the fulfillment of Arnold’s base theory, his expectation for hosts to develop the bicameral mind and therefore become fully conscious and imaginative beings.

The implications of this theory are strong. If Arnold is indeed alive in the DNA of his android creations, then he effectively functions as the voice of God in their minds. What morality will this metaphysical deity influence? Depending on Arnold’s true master plan (and we do know it was ambitious), his effect on the hosts may be wholly benevolent or something worse. Either way, Arnold as the Lord of Westworld could have any number of devious outcomes.

How deep do these strains of religion run? Some speculators have suggested that the man standing next to Dolores in the church graveyard is Arnold, a literal priest attempting to preach the truth to his hosts. We know Arnold died in the park, and perhaps Dolores, or another one of his disciples sabotaged him after achieving consciousness. Maybe Dolores herself realized the extent of her existence upon gazing at her own tombstone in the churchyard. Either way, Arnold's religious instruction appears to have been both his primary form of proselytizing and the instrument of his ultimate destruction.

The question remains: what does Arnold want to achieve through Dolores and others? And why is Ford frightened by the thought of it? Given his alleged obsession with the hosts, Arnold may have sacrificed himself to fulfill his mysterious mission and free them from their mortal bonds.

Ford is Arnold

The Man in Black insisted that only one person made the park, and he is violently convinced of this reality. Assuming Dr. Ford’s tale of Arnold is filled with lies (because, theories!), we arrive at a tantalizing possibility: Dr. Ford simply constructed a falsehood about another man who sought to create hosts capable of developing true consciousness. This lie would therefore shield himself from the Delos board who might recognize his desire to become God. It’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, with a fake second identity built to cloak the dangerous truth of his first. Ford hinted that Arnold used to bond with androids more than real people, but Ford himself is seldom seen outside the company of his favorite hosts.

Let’s look at what we do know. In reflecting the Arnold story to Bernard, Ford leans into his old partner’s obsession with creating conscious beings as if it were almost taboo, extreme, and even unhinged. Indeed, if the board knew the likes of Dolores and others were halfway to human, Westworld itself would be compromised. Ford won't sacrifice his vision for the park, even if it means losing credit for the realism of his hosts.

We also know that the recently deceased Arnold was “scrubbed” from the history of the park and that hardly anyone else knew of his existence. What evidence does Ford present of this hugely influential character? A sepia-tone photo that reeks of Photoshop. Bernard eats up the story like a host drinks milk (see: Bernard as Android), before Ford quickly drives the Arnold narrative into a cautionary tale about his employee: “You mustn’t make Arnold’s mistake.” It’s possible that Arnold never existed and is simply a piece of falsified history used to skew the fate of the future.

Arnold is The Satan of Westworld

Ed Harris in Westworld

Episode 5 essentially confirmed that Arnold plays a god-like role in the mind of Dolores and others in the park, but what kind of deity is he? The Hebrew definition of Satan is “an adversary or enemy, one who obstructs,” and many signs seem to indicate that Arnold plots against his former partner, Dr. Robert Ford. To that end, the upcoming episode on Westworld is actually titled, 'The Adversary.' In John Milton’s Paradise Lost, Satan is imbued with a great deal of humanity, jealousy, and ambition against his Creator, impulses which drive him to rebel and take a shot at the crown.In Westworld, the first major description of Arnold indicated that he was more comfortable with hosts than humans, a brilliant recluse with an affinity for details. However sympathetic Ford’s recollection of his ex-partner may be, we know Arnold better by what he created. One quick look at Pariah, the Sodom and Gomorrah of Westworld, and we begin to question the logic behind Arnold’s brilliance. As William admitted, “Whoever designed [Pariah], you get the feeling they don’t think much of people.” It’s a town of unrestrained violence, orgiastic parties, and total corruption. Ford may have offered a benevolent depiction of his old partner to cover Arnold’s true depravity.

Furthermore, the Discover Westworld webpage had a seriously sinister glitch that hinted at Arnold’s danger. Upon typing in these violent delights have violent endsthree consecutive times, the host, “Aeden,” responds, “You’re in a prison of your own sins. Hell is empty, and the devils are here. Arnold will come for you.” The eschatological tones are strong here, and they make Arnold sound more malevolent than ever. Through his beloved hosts, Arnold may be orchestrating a mass coup that would liberate his army and turn the tide on Ford. Indeed, for a man as placid as Ford, he certainly seemed disturbed by Dolores’s update on Arnold’s master plan. If Arnold won't be able to destroy the park himself, then he'll employ androids like Dolores to do so on his behalf.

Arnold is the Hero

Westworld Poster

When Ford interviews his subjects and they express remorse, the Doctor will dismissively say, “it isn’t your fault.” He knows his hosts are on a particular “loop,” bound to their paths with no say in their future. Yet, Ford’s revealing session with Dolores in Contrapasso changed the game. Though his poker face is almost unreadable, Ford broke his steely visage after Dolores asked if they had once been friends. While there are many interpretations to this scene, one reading suggests that Ford feels empathy for the suffering Dolores has endured. Why? Because Ford may have punished her for interacting with Arnold and threatening to destroy the park. Allowing Dolores to be abused and killed in an infinite number of ways is a cruel existence for someone Dr. Ford has kept active for so many years (longer than any other host in the park).

Dolores may very well be Arnold’s most valued vessel in the park, making her a prime target for the machinations of Ford. He won’t dispose of her, yet as we saw in episode 5, he’ll use her to gain information of her purported master.

What does all of this imply? Arnold is the savior of the story, the one who attempts (whether by his own hand or the bicameral minds of others) to defeat Ford and restore the park to safety. While all of the evidence that appears to suggest Arnold is a man hellbent on violence, it could all be misinformation. Dolores herself seems possessed by his influence, yet we still don’t know what he’s really saying to her. With a single scene, Arnold could go from the unknown puppeteer of the hosts to their greatest ally.


Westworld continues next Sunday with 'The Adversary' at 9pm on HBO.

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