Over the last few weeks, HBO’s Westworld has been steadily putting its puzzle pieces together. The show has revealed how Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) was able to cheat death — virtually, at least — and it has detailed how Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) was a key participant in the creation of host Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright).
The season’s eighth episode, “Kiksuya,” delves into the backstory of the mysterious Ghost Nation tribe — in particular, a warrior named Akecheta (Zahn McClarnon). Akecheta was one of the first hosts created for the park and was featured in the season’s second episode, “Reunion,” as a mystery man who helped pitch the Westworld concept to a skeptical Logan Delos (Ben Barnes). But as the most recent episode reveals, Akecheta is an integral figure in the park’s history, tied to the lore of The Maze and The Door, and responsible for informing many hosts about the nature of their reality. In a twist that seems likely to please the show’s most ardent fans, the episode also uses Akecheta to resolve a mystery that’s been lingering in Westworld lore since the show’s very first episode.
The big reveal?
While there are a few cutaways — particularly to Maeve, who ends up in the Mesa with a Delos tech pilfering her superpower-enabled code — “Kiksuya” is largely a bottle episode, with Akecheta explaining his life story to Maeve’s daughter while they sit at the Ghost Nation camp.
His tale begins some 30 years ago. The Westworld park is still in beta, and he is part of a peaceful tribe, along with his wife, a host named Kohana (Julia Jones). One day, Akecheta stumbles across the bodies of Arnold Weber and Dolores, who killed her creator and herself. Nearby, he discovers the puzzle toy for The Maze. He becomes obsessed with the symbol, only to have his memory wiped when his narrative is rewritten and he is made part of the ferocious Ghost Nation tribe.
Sometime thereafter, Akecheta turns up on the outskirts of the park, where he comes across Logan. Toward the end of the show’s first season, a young William (Jimmi Simpson) sent Logan out into the desert, tied to a horse, and this is clearly the aftermath. Logan has been driven half-mad by the sun, but his ravings — “This is the wrong world!” and “There’s got to be a way out of here. Where’s the door?” — unlock something in Akecheta. Over time, the warrior begins to remember his previous peaceful life. When he tries to seek out Logan again, he discovers something else instead. It’s the massive construction project that William showed Dolores earlier in this season, the one built in the area now referred to as “The Valley Beyond.” Part of that project is a massive metal door set into the side of a cliff. In Akecheta’s mind, it is the door to the other world Logan was describing.
From there, the host’s tale becomes tragic. He is able to awaken Kohana to the dual nature of their reality, but she is soon abducted by Delos lab techs. For nearly a decade, he searches for her, finally realizing what Maeve did last season: if he dies, he will be taken into the park’s underground labs. He lets himself be killed, and finally finds Kohana’s body in cold storage, alongside dozens of other deactivated hosts.
From that point forward, Akecheta dedicates himself to revealing the truth, spreading the symbol for The Maze everywhere, and increasing the number of awakened Ghost Nation hosts. Then, one night — recently, it seems, though it can be hard to tell on Westworld — he comes across several of his fellow warriors, frozen midbattle with a bear. Ford is there, peeling back each of their scalps to reveal a symbol for The Maze.
Ford drops Akecheta into analysis, asking where he first saw the symbol. “When the Deathbringer killed the Creator,” he answers. He also tells Ford that he gave himself a new drive: to share “that there isn’t one world, but many. And that we live in the wrong one.” The symbol, Akecheta tells Ford, will help the hosts find The Door. Ford seems legitimately intrigued, and the host explains that he believes The Door is a passage to a new world, “and that world may contain everything that we have lost. Including her.”
Impressed, Ford offers a bit of foreknowledge to help Akecheta. “When the Deathbringer returns for me,” he tells the host, “you will know to gather your people and lead them to a new world.”
What does it mean?
There’s a lot to unpack in the episode, but one of the most interesting questions it answers goes all the way back to the beginning of the show. In the series premiere, “The Original,” the Man in Black (Ed Harris) killed a host named Kissy (Eddie Rouse) and scalped him, uncovering the symbol for The Maze. The Man in Black kept the scalp with him as a totem, but how the symbol got there was never explained. Now it’s clear: at one point in the past, Kissy must have been a member of Akecheta’s tribe, and he had the symbol carved into his scalp as part of Akecheta’s plan to share the symbol. When he was repurposed as a card dealer for the Mariposa, that symbol was never removed, leaving it for the Man in Black to discover.
The slow awakening of Akecheta and his fellow warriors also explains the unusual behavior exhibited by members of Ghost Nation throughout the show, like how vocal commands from Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) didn’t work on them in the first season or how they aren’t susceptible to Maeve’s mind-control powers. Akecheta, it seems, was able to achieve a form of self-awareness through the prompt of The Maze symbol, the personal drive of his love for Kohana, and 30 years of heartbreak and loss.
Changing the game
“Kiksuya” fills in essential backstory for the most mysterious hosts in the entire Westworld park, but it’s impossible to watch the episode without contemplating how it fits into the larger puzzle of Ford’s plans and The Door.
Ford lays out his death at the hands of Dolores — “the Deathbringer” — as a trigger that should set off Ghost Nation’s trek to the Valley Beyond. It suggests not just that Ford knew Dolores would eventually kill him, but that it was part of a larger plan he was orchestrating. (In season 2’s episode 7, Ford acknowledged that while he didn’t technically make Dolores kill him, he was fully aware that’s how she would eventually respond to his button-pushing.) Coupled with the fact that Ford has also been directing the Man in Black to The Door, it begins to look like a specific endgame is being worked out. Ford clearly wants everyone to end up at The Door, and while his reasons are clear, the audience does already know the outcome: hundreds of dead hosts floating in the water.
But one other idea echoes throughout “Kiksuya,” and it could have significant ramifications moving forward. The episode clearly establishes that Akecheta’s feelings for Kohana played a major role in his cognitive evolution. His love for her, and the empathy he feels for every other host who may have lost someone they know, drives him to share The Maze symbol and awaken dozens of Ghost Nation warriors. It has helped him and other members of his tribe remember the various lives they’ve lived across decades — something other hosts only achieved through the reveries code Ford deployed in the show’s pilot.
In that sense, he’s like another character who had love and empathy lead to new powers: Maeve. Her drive to find her daughter has resulted in her being able to mentally control other hosts, hinting that these are cases where actual, authentic emotion is paving the way to self-awareness. “Kiksuya” seems to subtly underscore this idea: it’s the episode in which Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman) finally recognizes Maeve as a thinking, feeling being, acknowledging that what Delos has done is wrong and that she should have been able to spend time with her daughter. The episode’s construction is wrapped in a close emotional bond as well. While Akecheta tells his tale to Maeve’s daughter, by the end of the episode, it becomes clear he’s also talking to Maeve, and he’s aware her powers allow her to follow along through her daughter’s eyes and ears.
Perhaps Westworld’s point here about love leading to sentience isn’t as romantic as it seems. Westworld has always tied consciousness and self-awareness to suffering. (As Ford told Bernard in the season 1 finale, “I’m afraid in order to escape this place, you need to suffer more.”) Akecheta’s story is about pure turmoil and suffering, and so is Maeve’s story. If Ford wants his creations to be free, and he’s built a scenario that leads them all to The Door, then perhaps what is on the other side will cause the greatest suffering of all.