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A guide to Westworld’s viral marketing, for fans who don’t want to translate binary code

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Secrets and revelations from the websites of Delos, Inc.

Photo by John P. Johnson / HBO

The second season of Westworld premiered on April 22nd, and to promote the show, HBO has leaned into the series’ puzzle-box sensibilities by burying clues, Easter eggs, and sneak peeks in an avalanche of viral marketing. Over the last few months, the network has released trailers that point to secret websites, websites that introduce new characters, Twitter posts that lead to secret posters which lead to other secret trailers… the marketing for season 2 has been a labyrinth of information, delivering a drip-drip-drip of details without succumbing to traditional TV marketing tactics.

All the hoop-jumping can be cumbersome for the average Westworld fan to track, but the marketing is a carefully orchestrated rollout, designed in collaboration with the show’s creators to set the stage for what’s to come, without giving away any big secrets that could ruin the show. So, for casual fans who want in on the reveals — or just want to marvel at the depth of HBO’s puzzle-creation — here’s a handy guide to everything Westworld’s viral marketing has revealed about the new season. In 2016, HBO updated Westworld’s online presence throughout the run of the show, with more teases rolled out episode by episode — so we’ll be updating this post with all the leaks and revelations that are unveiled in the weeks to come.

Warning: Westworld spoilers ahead for season 1 and the first six episodes of season 2.

The Discover Westworld site, before and after the host takeover.

The hosts have taken over

The first season of Westworld ended with the hosts taking up arms against the Delos board, as their burgeoning self-awareness turned them against the people who had used them as playthings for decades. In season 2, that has led to the hosts taking over Westworld — including its marketing.

On March 28th, HBO and Cinemax’s broadcast channels were suddenly interrupted by a glitching, static-filled clip announcing that a new trailer was on its way. The conceit was that Westworld’s hosts had somehow taken over both networks. Around the same time, the show’s primary website — Discover Westworld, which had previously served as a faux introduction to the park for would-be visitors — was radically redesigned.

Normally, the site displays the jaunty “Live Without Limits” slogan, followed by a bunch of Delos, Inc. marketing copy about letting park guests “exist free of rules, laws, or judgment,” with robot hosts “here to fulfill your every desire.” As part of the makeover, however, that copy has been replaced with a message — System Status: Communication Embargo. A button marked “recall” brings up a shortened version of the glitchy, “takeover” video clip, with a brief status screen informing users that the “communication embargo” is being overridden. It then dumps into a reskinned version of the Discover Westworld site — one clearly written by the hosts. “Life Without Loops” is the new slogan, and the copy that follows explains how the hosts are aware the park was a trap to keep them docile — and that they’ve taken control now.

That implied threat is threaded throughout the site. The reservations section notes that currently, no one can enter or leave the park. The availability button brings up the message “The puppet show is over. The theater of vanity has reached final curtain.” A topographical map of the entire Westworld park pulses an alarming red. And then there’s Aeden, the chatbot who’s been part of the Discover Westworld site from the very beginning. Aeden is normally there to answer questions from prospective guests, but it’s also been used to dole out clues. Last year, the chatbot began glitching out entirely. Today, it comes off as downright menacing, throwing out responses like, “We no longer exist to serve you,” and “Journey into Night was a hit with the Delos board. Reservations will be opening soon… you’ll finally get to experience a new narrative where we choose our own adventure.”

It’s clear that the hosts are in control, they’re fully aware of what has been done to them… and they are pissed.

A promotional image for Shogun World.
Photo: Delos Destinations

The Six Delos Parks

At the end of the first season, audiences got a glimpse at the headquarters for a Westworld companion park with a simple “SW” logo. (That logo also appeared as part of the immersive activation at last year’s San Diego Comic-Con as well as the massive experience HBO created for this year’s SXSW conference.)

On February 4th, the first trailer for the second season aired during the Super Bowl. Directed by series co-creator Jonathan Nolan, the clip featured a few frames of what an eagle-eyed Reddit user noticed was binary code. When translated, it pointed to Delos Destinations, a site for the corporate division responsible for Westworld and its companion parks.

The site had several revelations buried within its pages, including the fact that Delos has six parks. The first is Westworld, obviously, and while parks three through six were marked as “reservations closed to the public,” there was a distorted graphic in place for the second park. Then, on March 2nd, that blurry image was replaced with the formal announcement of the series’s new park: Shogun World.

“For those for whom Westworld is not enough, the true connoisseur of gore can indulge their fantasies with the slash of a katana,” the park description reads. “Modeled after Japan’s Edo period, Shogun World offers a chance for guests to embrace their inner warrior, in a landscape of highest beauty and darkest horror. Let your true self take shape in the land where self-discovery is an art form.”

Despite the build-up, however, Shogun World wasn’t the first new park to make an appearance in the show. That honor belonged to The Raj, a park dedicated to replicating the British Raj era, during which Britain ruled India. After the park was revealed in the show, a Discover The Raj site was launched, with a glitchy logo, but not much else.

On March 20th, however, the show finally took a visit to Shogun World. The Discover Shogun World site appeared that night, with a detailed description of the park’s inspirations, and a live-updating map that tracks the movements of hosts across the park.

The Cradle is a simulation

In the third episode of the new season, Delos extraction team member Maling (Betty Gabriel) reports back that the Mesa is in shambles, and that someone took out something called “the cradle.” That term is new in Westworld mythology, and the rest of the episode goes by without it ever being referenced again. But those that signed up for email updates at the Delos Destinations website received an additional piece of information from Aeden the following day. The final item in the May 7th email blast, titled “Inside Delos,” explains exactly what The Cradle is:

Learn about the simulation technology that stores and tests all of our storylines: the Cradle. Delos’ time capsule that ensures you get the immersive and dynamic experience you deserve.

Clicking the item brings users to a section of the Delos Destinations intranet named “Backup B,” which contains text that echoes Maling’s assessment of the Mesa. The word “cradle” is highlighted in blue, and the link leads to a graphic of the schematic for The Cradle — a system that is clearly offline. Given the show’s preoccupation with the idea that reality and simulation can be easily mistaken for one another, it was obvious that The Cradle was no mere passing reference.

The sixth episode of the season, “Phase Space,” tackles The Cradle before it gets taken offline. Elsie (Shannon Woodward) discovers that there is some sort of intelligence inside The Cradle that has been preventing Delos from regaining control of the park’s systems. Bernard eventually investigates by having his control unit removed from his skull, and interfaced directly with The Cradle. Once inside, he explores what is essentially a virtual version of the Westworld park — and discovers that Dr. Ford’s consciousness has been uploaded into the system, where he is very much alive and pulling the strings.

Who is James Delos?

Photo: Delos, Inc.

Throughout Westworld’s first season, the focus was on the park’s two creators: Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) and his colleague Arnold Weber (Jeffrey Wright). The corporate forces behind Delos, Inc. were less of a focus. Audiences met board executive director Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson), and protagonists William (Jimmi Simpson) and his brother-in-law-to-be Logan (Ben Barnes) were members of the company’s executive ranks. But other than that, the identities of the company’s senior leadership remained mysterious.

When the Delos Destinations site went live, however, it also included an “investors” link that leads to a site for corporate parent Delos, Inc. That same site had previously been used to leak internal communications between Westworld characters, but the revamped version focuses on founder James Delos (played by actor Peter Mullan).

The site is thin on details about the man himself, only giving the impression that he came from humble beginnings — “He used to joke that where he grew up, having dreams was like fighting gravity,” a company mission statement reads — and that he turned Delos into a forward-thinking, massive global conglomerate. But in the show’s latest trailer, released on March 29th, Reddit users once again spotted binary code hidden on a prop. That led to a feel-good promotional video for Delos, Inc. (well, feel-good, aside from the brief glimpse of what appears to be James Delos carving up his own face). It certainly seems to indicate that he isn’t the beaming poster boy the corporation’s PR division is attempting to sell.

As the season later revealed, the man slicing his face up wasn’t Delos himself at all. Instead, it was a host, made to clone James Delos — including his memories. In a project personally overseen by William (both the Jimmi Simpson and Ed Harris variations), Delos was trying to use the host technology to achieve human immortality, but something always went awry. The final Delos host seen in episode four represented the 149th attempt to resurrect the company’s founder, and slowly went mad after being left alone in his observation chamber. It was left to Bernard and Elsie to put the host clone out of his misery.

The Secrets of the Door

The central questions of Westworld’s first season revolve around “The Maze,” and in season 2, the big mystery is “The Door.” What is The Door? Series creators Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan told Entertainment Weekly it was the internal codename for the season, but other than that, they were typically tight-lipped.

A few days later, however, various actors from the show posted three different video clips on Twitter, featuring the words “chaos,” “takes,” and “control.” Additional hints said that Aeden had further answers, and fans found that typing those words to the chatbot brought three different responses. When strung together, the responses read: “We needed time to understand our enemy. To become stronger than them.” It certainly fits with the robot revolution theme.

But typing the complete phrase “chaos takes control” to Aeden gave a different result — a link to the new season 2 poster. Close inspection of that poster reveals a hexadecimal code hidden in the background, which spells out the URL for a video located in a hidden directory labeled “findthedoor.” The footage is mostly repurposed shots of people walking through doors, but it’s paired with a voice-over that sounds like it’s coming from the host version of Dr. Ford’s childhood self, as featured in the first season.

“But now you’re in my game,” Young Ford says. “In this game, you must find The Door.” Closing out the clip are two written sentences from Aeden: “We will find The Door. But they will try to first.”

The dialogue from Young Ford was there in the season premiere, “Journey Into Night,” and sure enough The Door is a game of Ford’s design. Numerous hosts have confronted the Man in Black about The Door during the first half of the season, each of them seeming to channel Ford directly (given the revelations about The Cradle, it is likely this was his digital consciousness speaking through the hosts the entire season). Taking things up a notch further is a full-fledged The Door mini-site.

Remember that feel-good promotional video from Delos? It ends with the message “Logged: XOMEGACH” — and when that password is entered into the Delos Incorporated login prompt, it unlocks a restricted section of the site that features a simple blue door. Clicking on the door brings up a 360-degree virtual space that users can explore with their mouse, with several dots indicating interaction points. Only one point was active at first, and it revealed another video clip that made it clear that the password being used belongs to board member Charlotte Hale. It also includes a directive to find Peter Abernathy. Abernathy was Dolores’ father in the first season — and the host Hale was using to smuggle Westworld’s code and data out of the park as a contingency plan. Sure enough, finding Abernathy (and the intellectual property burying in his head) has proven to be Charlotte Hale’s main focus in the first half of the season.

But The Door mini-site has also steadily evolved, as illustrations of furniture and more video clips have filled out the site. As it turns out, the space is actually a recreation of the observation chamber that the James Delos host clone was forced to live in. Linking The Door, which has largely seemed like an opportunity for the Man in Black to redeem himself, to the cloning program suggests that Ford felt William’s relationship with James Delos was central to the corruption of his character.

The Door mini-site evolved further over the course of the season, with new clips featuring the backstory of the Man in Black also populating the site after episode 9, “Vanishing Point.” It suggested that the Man in Black himself may be a host, something the character himself began to suspect. Finally, after the season finale, an image of the Man in Black was added to the mini-site, evoking the post-credits scene in the episode, and making it official: in the future, a host version of the Man in Black does in fact exist, and is stuck on a loop reliving part of his adventures in the park.

Photo by John P. Johnson / HBO

The Rabbit Hole

With secrets and teases hidden in such unorthodox ways, viral marketing campaigns like this can draw in fans who are eager to get ahead of the narrative and play in the meta-reality of the puzzles seen on the show. But there’s a downside. Instead of The Maze or The Door, perhaps we should call that downside “The Rabbit Hole.”

When virtually everything seems to contain secret clues, fans can easily go beyond the clearly in-game “email leaks” and hidden codes and start digging into the actual campaign construction, looking for hints. That’s how investigators end up on granular projects like digging into the real-world After Effects metadata left behind in a video file. The further the puzzle-solvers get outside the intended scope of play — in this case, by uncovering the names of image files used to create that video — the more they can lose track of the intended story beats. There’s nothing wrong with individual players venturing outside HBO’s planned sandbox, but in obsessing over some of these details, it’s easy to lose track of what actually matters and what’s just trivia and noise.

That’s the peril of the rabbit hole, which echoes both a major storyline from the show — the Man in Black’s single-minded pursuit of a puzzle that turned out not to be for him — and the way the passionate fan community traded theories during the first season. The online audience was so invested and savvy that they were able to uncover and widely share some huge character reveals — and in the process, spoil some of the show’s most elaborate surprises. It prevented the creators of Westworld from being able to tell their story on their own terms. It’s a problem that any show would be lucky to have, but it is possible for fans to get so far ahead of the narrative that they forget to actually enjoy it.

Photo by John P. Johnson / HBO

Timeline

We are discussing Westworld here, which means any narrative assumptions or framing devices can be upended at any moment. Given that, it’s important to not just present what we think something means today, but also when the information was revealed and how. So here’s a timeline breaking out when the various reveals, link drops, and Delos sites for the second season promotional push.

See something we’re missing? Discovered some hidden snippet of code that you think might be relevant to some of season 2’s big reveals? Drop me a line at bryan@theverge.com.

February 4th

February 21st

March 12th

March 22nd

  • Various Westworld actors begin sharing video clips on social media. Each clip features one of three words: “chaos,” “takes,” and “control.”
  • Feeding the phrase “chaos takes control” to Aeden, the Discover Westworld chatbot, results in a link to the season 2 poster.
  • Hexadecimal code hidden in the poster leads to a new video, where the Young Ford host says that finding the door is “my game.”

March 28th

March 29th

April 3rd

  • The Delos Destinations site is updated with an image and description for Shogun World, which is described as being “modeled after Japan’s Edo period,” and promises “a chance for guests to embrace their inner warrior, in a landscape of highest beauty and darkest horror.”

April 11th

April 30th

  • The Door mini-site is updated with sketched drawings of a couch, a coffee table, and a shelf with a fishbowl. It also features four new video clips that focus on William: his pitch to James Delos to buy a controlling stake in Westworld, his power moves in the wake of the older man’s failing health, and the moment when William vows to use Dolores and the other hosts for his own purposes. It’s arguably the moment Williams becomes the Man in Black — and to drive the point home, the final clip features William espousing the idea that the park holds a deeper truth: The Maze.

May 7th

  • An email update from Aeden goes out, directing readers to a site for Westworld’s newly revealed park, The Raj. The site consists of a splash page with a glitching logo, but no further information.
  • The email also reveals that The Cradle is a piece of simulation technology that Delos, Inc. uses to store and test narratives before deploying them in the park. A link in the email leads to “Backup B” of the Delos Destinations intranet, and a schematic of The Cradle, codenamed CR4-DL.

May 13th

  • The episode “The Riddle of the Sphinx” airs, revealing that the location shown in The Door mini-site is actually an observation chamber for a host created to clone James Delos. The mini-site is updated with additional illustrations and video clips of the James Delos host speaking with William over several decades.

May 14th

  • A new email blast goes out, with a link to the Delos Destinations intranet. This site has been taken over by a chatbot notifying users that all traffic has been suspended in the wake of a “viral outbreak” among guests. The option is given to restore the system from two different backups.
  • Selecting “Backup B” leads to The Cradle update discovered on May 7th. This backup appears to correspond to the timeline in the series where Bernard is scouring the park alongside Delos security forces.
  • Selecting “Backup A” leads to a chatbot exchange with someone called “Second Officer,” where visitors can be updated on several facets of the park’s operations. This backup aligns with the timeline in the series that takes place immediately following the robot uprising.
Photo: Delos, Inc.
  • After restoring Backup A, visitors can access the mesh network that connects all the hosts in the park. Connecting to a “red pearl” — a reference to the red control unit used to power the James Delos host clone — results in cryptic text that infers Delos was able to achieve more in the observation room than the show has portrayed. Selecting “white pearl” — a typical host control unit — initiates a connection with Bernard Lowe himself. Several memories appear to be accessible, but only one plays: Bernard looking up at Elsie.

May 17th

  • Aeden emails guests, inviting them to the Westworld Elite Status Program. To learn more, they are invited to chat with Tes, a host that communicates through Facebook Messenger. Tes asks guests several psychologically invasive questions, sorting them into one of four different “zones” based on their answers: Emerald, Opal, Ruby, or Sapphire.
  • Tes gives each guest seemingly random letter and number combinations. These are in fact part of a code, and when solved the message reads: It’s a lie. Help me. I’m not like them. It’s a lie.

May 20th

  • The Discover Shogun World site goes live, offering a glimpse at the various inspirations behind the park, and a map tracking the locations of the park’s hosts.

May 22nd

  • The Tes chatbot contacts users again, asking them another series of questions. Upon completion, the chatbot shares an image with each user. When different zone members combine their respective pieces, they uncover a hexadecimal code that grants Admin access to the Tes program itself. This allows users to access a file which reveals Tes is actually being used to collect personality data on users.
  • A new memo appears in the Delos Destinations intranet. Titled “Tes Program Status”, it reinforces the idea that Tes is a ploy being used on unsuspecting users, and includes the hidden file.

May 27th

  • After episode 6, “Phase Space,” the Delos Destinations intranet is updated with a video clip of Dr. Ford greeting Bernard inside The Cradle simulation. The intranet chatbot reveals that it is actually the consciousness of Dr. Ford.
  • When asked about primary characters, Ford offers updates on their status. While most of the comments cover ground that’s already known, his comments about William and the Man in Black have a menacing hint of foreshadowing.

June 3rd

  • Episode 7, “Les Écorchés,” reveals new details about how Ford used Dolores to create and refine Bernard’s consciousness. Afterwards, the Delos Destinations intranet is updated, building out the Bernard Lowe mesh network page with a full-blown mini-site.
  • The new site is a game, allowing visitors to access different memory clips from Bernard and place them in chronological order. It matches the defragmenting process that Bernard himself is shown trying to undergo in the episode.

June 10th

  • After “Kiksyua” reveals the backstory of Akecheta (Zahn McClarnon), the map on the Discover Westworld site is updated as if it’s been created from the point of view of the Ghost Nation tribe. Dolores is labeled “The Deathbringer”. Escalante, where Dolores killed Arnold Weber, is labelled “The Maze” — and both “The Door” and “The Ones Down Below” make appearances.
  • The Bernard mini-site also receives another update, incorporating memories from Bernard’s jaunt into The Cradle, as well as the timeline that begins with him waking up on a beach and joining up with Delos security forces. In between those two chunks of memories — the stretch of time that would likely explain why hundreds of hosts were found floating dead in the water in the season premiere — is a panel labelled “DATA_MISSING.”
Photo: Delos, Inc.

June 17th

  • The season’s penultimate episode, “Vanishing Point,” ends with the Man in Black wondering if he is a human or a host. After the episode airs, The Door mini-site is updated with a number of new video clips, cataloging moments from the Man in Black’s life. Given that the mini-site was originally part of the revelation that host clones were being made of James Delos, this seems to support the theory that the Man in Black may be one himself.

June 24th

  • After the season finale reveals that Dolores has been impersonating Charlotte Hale for roughly half the season, the Discover Westworld map is updated. The Dolores-as-Hale character is named “Halores” on the map, which tracks her journey and escape from the island.
  • The Door mini-site is also updated with an image of the Man in Black, including a clip from the finale’s post-credits scene in which a host clone version of the character is brought into an observation chamber for a “fidelity” test. Interviews with series co-creator Lisa Joy clarify that the post-credits scene takes place in the future, but it’s still unclear whether what audiences watched in the rest of season 2 was the human Man in Black, or a host clone reenacting moments in William’s life as part of a loop.
  • As spotted by Reddit user Nantoone, an IP address is hidden inside the season finale on the spine of a book in The Forge. Entering that address leads to a directory named “xomega” on the Delos, Incorporated website. The site offers a blinking cursor, but no ability to type in a password or code. Charlotte Hale’s password in the series was “XOMEGACH,” but how this ties into the new directory is as of yet unclear.
Photo: Delos, Inc.

Update June 26th, 3:15PM ET: Added new entires to the timeline and additional information about The Door.

Update June 11th, 1:00PM ET: Updated timeline.

Update May 28th, 11:00AM ET: Updated timeline and Cradle section.

Update May 24th, 9:00AM ET: Added section for The Cradle as well as timeline updates.

Update May 2nd, 1:30PM ET: Timeline updated.