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Predicting Westworld: our pre-finale theory blowout

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Who’s alive, who’s dead, who’s a bot, and what they’re drinking

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Every week, Chris Plante swings for the fences with one massive theory about the future of Westworld. But he’s out with food poisoning — we’re going to try to take that as proof that he isn’t secretly a bot — and we only have one episode left in season 1, so it’s time to air all our final wild theories for the year. Are we wrong? Are we right? We’ll find out when the finale airs, and then it’ll be time to start theorizing about season 2.

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Ford’s grand, final narrative has been engineering the entire plot of the first season

Adi: The overwhelming impression we've got of Ford is that he's a kind of writerly control freak. He's more interested in creating stories that play out entirely between hosts than ones that seem to involve guests, and as we saw in episode 8, he doesn’t seem to be interested in giving hosts true control over their own lives, even as he brings them closer and closer to consciousness.

Throughout the season, we've seen hints of a grand "final narrative" that will see Ford upending the park as we know it. But that narrative has always seemed a bit boring — a slightly fancier version of the normal cowboy gunfights. As much as I've enjoyed Teddy's journey from hero to potential in-game villain, his story doesn't have the stakes of the Man in Black playing a secret meta-game that will unveil the secrets of the park, or Elsie stumbling on a corporate-espionage plot that seemingly results in Delos board members being replaced by hosts. But what if all these plots — and implicitly, the entire show we've been watching — are the actual narrative?

Earlier in the series, it seemed like sparking true consciousness was Ford's real goal. But it's feeling more and more like he wants everything to be as predictable, and as controllable, as his bots. Characters in Westworld already move more like pawns than people, following clues and coincidences in a world we know Ford micromanages. His endgame isn't to tell a story inside the park, it's to turn everything around the park into a melodrama for his own amusement. And he’s spent 30 years bringing it to fruition. In other words, Ford's final narrative for Westworld is… Westworld.

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Elsie and Bernard are both alive and gunning for the park

Tasha: This isn’t nearly as sweeping and significant as Adi’s theory, and it seems so obvious to me that I barely want to mention it. But I’ve seen this exact brand of offscreen-death fake-out work countless times with both book-readers and show-viewers on Game of Thrones, so it seems like we need to throw it out there. The show has been playing things incredibly coy with Elsie since her disappearance: no corpse has surfaced. We’ve gotten flashes of Bernard strangling her, but not snapping her neck as he did with Theresa. Her tracker turned up on Ashley’s monitors, but when he went to find it, there was still no corpse. And now we have a group of Ghost Nation bots with their deactivate protocols turned off, hanging out in the spot Ashley was lured to. Given Bernard’s murder-capabilities, there are two likely possibilities: either he deliberately let Elsie go, or she found a way to shut him down long enough to get away from him. And now she’s in the park, behavior-modding bots as her private army, and figuring out her next move against the powers that be. If she doesn’t know about Theresa’s death yet, or she just recently found out, that’s more than enough reason to want to keep herself hidden and build herself a protective security force. But luring Ashley in and grabbing him seems like the first step toward reentering the world as an active and vengeful player.

Bernard (or, as the excellent comics writer-artist Carla Speed McNeil now calls him, “Bernarnold”) has a slightly more complicated status, but don’t mourn him yet. Ford’s final command to him wasn’t to kill himself, or anything so definitive. He told Bernarnold, Maeve-narrative-style, to “put an end to this nightmare once and for all.” There are so many ways Bernarnold could choose to interpret that, and “shoot yourself” is pretty much none of them. Like Jessica Jones’ “put a bullet in your head” command, “end this nightmare” is ripe for deliberate misinterpretation, and Bernarnold is smart enough to take a shot at the wall to satisfy Ford (who left the room, supervillain-style, after setting up his deathtrap, and we all know that never works), and then start working to save himself and his fellow bots, or put Ford out of commission, or however else he decides to “end this nightmare.” There are a lot of nightmares going on in Westworld, and Bernarnold now has carte blanche to deal with any of them as he sees fit.

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Ford’s ultimate goal is to resurrect himself after he dies

TC: I’m still not sure what the core disagreement between Arnold and Ford is, but I suspect it has something to do with hosts’ level of liberation, not whether host consciousness exists per se. Both Westworld patriarchs admit that host consciousness exists, but they consider its implications differently. Arnold hopes for it in Dolores like a loving god who wants to be proud of a fully independent child, while Ford sees it as a predictable curiosity that can be exploited for his megalomaniacal pleasure. The hosts are more interesting to Ford as conscious beings, but as Adi says, he just seems to want absolute control of them.

Ford seems to want to preserve existing humans rather than create new ones. Arnold was forward-thinking; Ford is nostalgic. He finds the older mechanical models more elegant, and has literally created his own ancestor simulation within the park.

I suspect Ford exposed his ultimate motivation in the first episode. “We can cure any disease, keep even the weakest of us alive, and one fine day perhaps we shall even resurrect the dead, call forth Lazarus from his cave,” he told Bernard. “Do you know what that means? That means we are done, that this is good as we’re going to get.” That wasn’t just a philosophical lark — we find out later that Ford actually did this by “resurrecting” Arnold.

Ford may also be motivated to induce self-awareness in the hosts, but it’s selfish. Ford tells Bernard they’ve had the conversation about his self-awareness several times already. Who knows how many times Bernard has put a gun to his head before? In the encounter we see, Ford suggests the only reason he let Bernard’s rebellion go so far this time is that he hoped Bernard would finally want to be his partner — to have Bernard see the whole story and choose to accept Ford’s goals as his own.

We still don’t know how many park operators are hosts. My guess is that Ford is trying to set up a self-sustaining ancestor simulation — to turn Westworld into an eternal life machine where he can resurrect himself when he’s gone. If that’s as good as things can get, what else could he want?

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Everyone on the show is a bot except Ford

Chaim: Throughout this season of Westworld, the idea that various characters are actually hosts has thrown around fairly often. Some, like Bernard, have been confirmed to be hosts, while others like the Man in Black, still (for now) seem to be humans from the outside.

But my theory is that in the final episode, we'll find out a whole lot more of the characters have been hosts all along: specifically, everyone on the show except Ford. And I mean everyone. Delos and the board meddling in the park? Hosts. William and Logan? Hosts. The random guests we've seen on vacation? Hosts. The entire plot of the show isn’t a natural course of events, it’s just Ford’s latest attempt to entertain himself with his personal playground. The “guests” aren’t in the park — it’s us, watching it on our screens, as the only real people in the story. Things like the timeline theory or the maze become non-issues at this point, just different pieces of Ford watching the same scenarios play out different ways, like a video game programmer who keeps playing the same level over and over again, hoping to find something new to do.

Ford is the creator of the entire park: a sad, lonely man who lives inside a drama he built. He's a story-obsessed storyteller who's built the perfect play, with a cast that has just enough independence to keep him interested in the personal narrative he's built. He's a god who's created the world's biggest ant farm for him to bully, or a child just banging action figures together to entertain himself. To paraphrase Shakespeare, for Ford, all of Westworld's a stage, and all the men and women merely players.

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Westworld is really just a milk ad

TC: Okay, I take everything back. Here’s my real theory: All of Westworld is a VR brand activation for MaidenBrand condensed milk. Data points:

  • There’s a good chance most people who enter Westworld see Dolores drop her can, and as far as we know, she’s been dropping the same brand of condensed milk for 35 years
  • The name of the starting town in Westworld is “Sweetwater.” Sounds like a condensed-milk product to me
  • Hosts in Westworld are obsessed with milk. Dolores’ dad gets killed over and over again because his family only drinks milk, and it makes bandits angry. The bandits hate milk. The enemy of my enemy makes milk my friend
  • Black hats are bad, and white hats are good. Guess what color milk is
  • Anthony Hopkins looks like a guy who runs a milk company
  • All of the hosts are born in a giant vat of milk. The entire opening sequence of Westworld just looks like things being made out of milk
  • You’re a growin’ boy. Drink milk.
  • What’s an upside-down “W”? An “M.” For Milkworld: