Warning: series one spoilers ahead
HBO’s Westworld landed with a bang in October, instantly spawning millions of fans, theories and mind-bending conversations about human nature and consciousness.
But while we now know the second series of the sci-fi won’t be aired until 2018 (a unique form of torture), the show’s creators have shone a tiny light onto events in the first – specifically, in the explosive final episode.
Viewers saw android host Maeve (Thandie Newton) using what appeared to be an emerging sense of self to escape from an endless loop of torture and death at the hands of rich holidaymakers who’d paid to let their darkest desires run loose in a theme park populated by robots.
But after finding out that even the details of her cunning, bloody path to ‘freedom’ were programmed into her, it was left hanging as to whether her final move – getting off the train and heading back into the park to find her daughter, whom she knew by then was nothing more than a plot line – was her own decision.
Was she always destined to enact that very moment or did she exercise free will?
Now Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, the husband and wife team behind the show, have said that Maeve definitely made that decision for herself, in what Nolan described as an “emotional moment”.
Speaking on a panel at Paleyfest in Los Angeles, Nolan said: “The way that we designed it and the way we shot it… that is really the first decision she’s ever made. For me, it’s a very emotional moment in the episode because you’re seeing the first free will.”
However, according to io9, he wouldn’t be drawn on whether Evan Rachel Wood’s seemingly tortured character Dolores also achieved free will in the final ep, saying it’s “more fun” to guess – and additionally, it was revealed that even the cast members knew very little about the bigger picture outside of their own story arcs.
Nolan was joined by Newton and Wood on the panel, alongside Ed Harris (the Man in Black), James Marsden (Teddy) and Jimmi Simpson (William).
“We all had a lot of questions – a barrage of questions – but I got comfortable with not having all the answers,” Marsden said. “Enthusiasm is a wonderful thing, but when you let the show come to you, and reveal itself in its own time, it’s much more satisfying.”
Wood added: “I didn’t know Bernard was a host when we were doing our scenes.
“It helped that most of the time I didn’t know what was going on. We had no idea what was happening outside of our own worlds.”
Westworld, based on the 1973 film of the same name by Michael Crichton, was originally set to debut in 2015 but finally landed late 2016, averaging 12 million viewers across all platforms and becoming HBO’s most-watched first series ever.
The park’s hosts are extremely lifelike robots and have set storylines to follow, though can react to situations within those stories as the guests interact with them. Guests can injure or kill hosts (and they’ll appear to react, bleed and die as humans would), but hosts are programmed not to hurt guests. When people are given free reign to act as they wish to something appearing to be human but with no consequences, the show reveals a depressing tendency toward violence and destruction.
As deadline.com reports, Newton addressed the fact that the violence is often seen toward women in the show – pointing out it’s presenting a problem and asking whether there’s a solution.
“There was a lot of comment on, ‘Is this going to be gratuitous?’ Violence against women… It’s valid. And even though we were all terrified, because we just desperately wanted to stick with it – stick with this – we also knew that that was the point. The point we’re trying to make is, look at where we are, and is there a road out from here?
“I was just filled with excitement of where this show could go – of where this show could not really take us not as actors, but the audience, and people; and I know this is hyperbolic, but the world.
“Here we are right now at a crossroads, and I think Westworld, for me anyway, is part of the solution, not the problem.
“With so many of the roles I’ve played […] very often I feel like I have to put my activism behind. I have to just be the actor, do what I have to do, but [on Westworld], I was an activist every single day I went to work. I felt part of the solution every single day.”