This post contains spoilers through the fifth episode of Westworld, "Contrapasso." Head to Westworld World, our show hub, for reviews, theories, and deep dives.

Withholding key info is a common theme on Westworld. Think about the train, the Man in Black, Arnold, that bird, and so many other head-scratchers -- it's a long and weird list. Though such coyness is usually more of a strength than a detriment (show don't tell!), something continues to puzzle us: the guns.

How do the bullets work? What happens if a guest shoots at another guest? Are the weapons even real? With Dolores able to fire pistols and the increasing likelihood of a gun-related twist popping up in the second half of Season 1, we figured now's the time to pick through dialogue, interviews, show lore, and fan theories to get to the bottom of this enduring mystery.


Background: here's how guns worked in theWestworld movie

Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan have said their Westworld reboot is a "playful" homage, not a direct sequel, to Michael Crichton's 1973 movie, meaning shout-outs to the source material abound. Fittingly, the weapons in both have the same intended effect -- kill robots, don't kill humans -- but they function differently.

In the film, guns aren't supposed to fire when pointed at humans. As James Brolin's Logan-esque character explains, "The gun has a sensing device. It won't fire at anything with a high body temperature -- only something cold, like a machine." The guns in HBO's Westworld are more complex.

John P. Johnson/HBO

Humans can get shot

Key moments that set up the theme park's inscrutable firearm rules:

• In the premiere, the Man in Black shrugs off Teddy's hail of bullets.

• In Episode 2, Talulah Riley's robo-character tells William the pistols guests choose are "real enough, but you can't kill anyone you're not supposed to."

• In Episode 3, a bandit's shell sends William spinning to the ground. "I thought you said we couldn't get shot!" he says to Logan. "You can't get killed," Logan replies, adding that it "wouldn't be much of a game if they can't shoot back."

This summer, Nolan revealed that the bullets should generate more questions than the weapons. "In the original films, the guns won't operate on guests, [but] we felt the guests would want to have a more visceral experience," he explained. "So when they're shot, it has an impact. They're called 'simunitions,' [aka non-lethal training ammunition]. There's a bit of an impact, a bit of a sting, so it's not entirely consequence-free for the guests."

What all this tells us: Westworld's guns are confusing even to newbie park visitors, and they're programmed to damage different targets in different ways.


The projectiles are more like paintballs than bullets

If you ask Discover Westworld's Aeden about guns, you get the following response: "Westworld wouldn't be as thrilling if the guns weren't loaded," the Siri-like answer-bot writes. "Humans can be shot, but you are under no serious risk of injury or death; our guns feature low-velocity technology which feels closer to paintballs than bullets. You will either get better at ducking or grow accustomed to the impact."

That last part might explain why newbs like William fall to the ground, whereas seasoned vets like the Man in Black take hits like a champ.

John P. Johnson/HBO

Human death by bullet may be possible

Discover Westworld's weirdly specific Terms of Service statement has a clause that says, "Gun ammunition contains proprietary safeguards related to bullet velocity, and tampering with gun safety features or ammunition automatically transfers liability to you and absolves Delos, Inc., of any injury or death that may occur as a result."

Translation: someone -- a guest, a conspiring Delos board member, a robot achieving consciousness -- could conceivably mess with the "proprietary safeguards" and cause a human casualty. Watch out, William!

John P. Johnson/HBO

Gun usage is governed by security and programming

Westworld's firearms come with their own safeguards, too. Recall the scene near the end of Episode 1, when Hector and Armistice start a bloodbath in Sweetwater. Stubbs calls for all the bandits' firearms to jam (including those used by the guests traveling with Hector): just like that, the firefight stops.

It also appears that certain characters can be programmed not to shoot. When Teddy takes Dolores out for target practice in Episode 3, she can pick up the gun but can't pull the trigger. Even though she wants to. Her code prevents her. Whether that's common to any host playing a damsel or is specific to Dolores (possibly because of something she did in the past?) remains unclear.


There may be real guns in the park

The discussion of guns in Westworld inevitably leads to two other important questions: just because there aren't supposed to be real guns in the park, does that mean there aren't any? And how do non-firearm weapons work?

To that first point, viewers have pointed out that Stubbs and his team might be carrying legit FN P90s (detailed list of all the show's guns here) as a security precaution -- which would make sense, especially if a deranged guest were to lose their marbles and wreak real havoc around the park or the Mesa Gold. Does the red paint job (seen in the close-up image above) signify "real gun," or just security gun?

Melee items are an even more confusing topic. In Crichton's Westworld, robots were programmed to put up a worthy fight before ultimately losing -- but remember: that didn't stop Medieval World's malfunctioning Black Knight from fatally stabbing a guest with a sword. In HBO's Westworld, where automata are programmed to hurt you just the right amount, what safeguards are put in place for blades? Are they dull? Or is the Good Samaritan reflex, which is supposed to prevent all hosts from inflicting bodily harm, the only defense?

John P. Johnson/HBO

Unanswered questions and leading theories

To recap: we can conclude that Westworld's guns contain velocity-controlled simunition, fatal only to androids. But even though Nolan and Discover Westworld have dropped breadcrumbs that start to explain the tech, neither have explained it thoroughly. Unanswered questions and mind-boggling scenarios persist: How do the bullets distinguish between hosts and guests? And how would a ricocheting slug affect an unintended human target? Or how about lead blasting its way through an obstacle? (Remember how the Man in Black shot right through that host's cover in Las Mudas? What if a human was on the other end?)


Dolores might be a key

Perhaps Westworld hasn't fully answered all these questions, because it hasn't had a good reason to do so. Yet. A catastrophe -- you know, a repeat of the kind that ended Arnold's life -- could necessitate the clarity we crave. It's very possible the Terms of Service could be foreshadowing something when they say firearms can become deadly if tampered with. And with William and Logan's rivalry heating up, it wouldn't be surprising to see real guest-on-guest crime in the near future.

Just as Dolores is the key to figuring out how time is being used in this series, she might also be the key to the guns. In Episode 5, she transforms from wary nitro bandit to expert sharpshooter in mere minutes. "You said people come here to change the story of their lives," she tells a baffled William. "I imagined a story where I didn't have to be the damsel." Many viewers have fixated on the pistol that Dolores found hidden in her dresser drawer earlier this season. Could that come back into play in a deadly way? Or is it just hinting at her rapidly evolving role and personhood?

The HBO clip above previews no paucity of potential perils. "Prepare for [Episodes] 9 and 10 to have your heart broken and your mind blown," Evan Rachel Wood told the Huffington Post last week. "And that’s really all I can say. I’m just over the moon about it."

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Sean Fitz-Gerald is a staff writer at Thrillist Entertainment, and he thinks Michael Crichton's guns made more sense. Find him on Twitter @srkfitzgerald.



Learn More