Here's Exactly WTF Is Going On in 'Westworld' Before the Season Finale

hbo westworld
John P. Johnson/HBO

It’s always the little things that give it away: the aspect ratio, Bernard's glasses, the moisture level of Dolores' dress. If you want to follow what's been happening in Westworld (and, more crucially, when), the devil is in the details, some of which flit by very quickly. When Dolores and Bernard talk at the top of this season's sixth episode -- testing his fidelity, freezing his motor functions -- she stands up and walks behind her chair, and in that moment (literally, one second), the back of her dress is visible. And it's wet. Really wet. Miss a detail like that, and you miss figuring out when the Dolores-Bernard interactions take place in the show's often-confusing chronology (after the flood, right?) or being attuned to the power dynamics really at play. As Sunday's Season 2 finale looms, let's put a bow on some of the confusion around Westworld before we plunge ahead to the Valley Beyond.

hbo westworld
Jordin Althaus/HBO

For hopefully the last time, who is a human and who is a host?

If you haven't questioned the nature of every character's reality yet, you're not playing the game of Westworld properly. Season 2 has been less about tricking viewers with a crumb trail bait-and-switch (see: Bernard in Season 1), instead stoking paranoia around the nature of reality as we get closer and closer to opening The Door. Don't be fooled: William, most likely human. William's daughter, Emily, who he killed because he suspected she was a host sent by Ford, also likely human. Charlotte Hale, human. Probably.

The twist in all of this is that a third alternative was introduced this season: human-host hybrids. Now that we know Delos is toying with the formula for eternal life, a William-propelled initiative merged the consciousness of the deceased James Delos into host form, an experiment that couldn't crack the mental plateau 149 different times. But Ford, secretly racing to beat Delos at its own game, seems to have made a version that won't degrade: Bernard. By reviving Arnold as Bernard using only Ford's memories of his old partner, and testing his fidelity against Dolores, who knew Arnold better than anyone, Ford managed to avoid degradation. Still TBD what all the Bernards in the closet are for, though it's possible there might have been multiple Bernards running around Westworld at any given time.

hbo westworld

How is Ford still "alive?"

Buckle in: Remember that Ford expected to die when he revealed his "Journey Into Night" narrative, which essentially cut the last cord that was tethering down the hosts' free will. Before that, Ford had Bernard print a control unit (that sleek blood-red ball Bernard pocketed) for himself. Bernard uploads Ford's unit to the Cradle where he can function stably. When a brain-wiped Bernard meets him in the Cradle version of the Mariposa, Ford monologues about the evils of humanity before snatching away Bernard's free will (if he really had any to begin with) and sidles himself into Bernard's consciousness, hitching a ride along to the Valley Beyond, invigorating Bernard's bloodlust along the way. That is, until Ford suggests that Bernard kill Elsie, which he rejects and deletes the code that's been holding Ford as a subconscious phantasm. Ford might be gone from Bernard's periphery, but there's probably no way he's gone for good.

Are all of the major characters heading to the same place?

Yes. By now, most viewers should have deduced that the Valley Beyond -- or the Forge, or Glory, or the Pearly Gates, or the Door -- are all different names for the same thing: Sector 16, Zone 4, where the data storage system is housed and where everyone -- Bernard, Ford, Hale, Dolores, William, Maeve, Akecheta -- is headed, though over a couple different timelines. (There's the Dolores/Bernard/Clementine timeline we saw in the penultimate episode, and then the one with Hale/Strand, who are using Bernard to locate Abernathy, sometime in the future.) It’s been glimpsed by a few characters before it was flooded, like when William showed the construction site to Dolores. (Big mistake!)

In addition to the data, there should also be a lot of empty bodies -- ones awaiting uploads. This would explain why the security team found that a third of the recovered host bodies floating in the flooded area were "virgin." Are some of these bodies backups for hosts we’ve already met? (This would explain why the dead Teddy pulled out of the lake doesn’t seem to have a gunshot wound to the head.) Are some of these bodies clones of the human guests? And were they meant for purchase, or perhaps something more sinister? (The sequel to the original Westworld movie, Futureworld, involved the Delos company hoping to replace the human guests in the real world.) Probably all of the above!

It makes sense that the Delos vs. Dolores battle would take place here: one side wants to preserve its corporate investment, the other wants to strike back and take it for themselves -- but it still isn’t clear why Ford would send William on a quest here. However all that data is stored behind the Door, it’s secured by the encryption key housed in Abernathy's control unit that Dolores ripped out of his head. Access advantage to Dolores.

hbo westworld
John P. Johnson/HBO

What's going on in the real world outside of Westworld?

So far, the news that the robots have gone on a rampage seems to have been kept quiet, which is fairly remarkable considering the level of carnage and the wealth of the clientele. (Yes, yes, satellite communications have been down.) But why does no one from Delos seem concerned about the PR nightmare they’re about to face, or the liability issues of having so many guests get slaughtered in the park? For William, a man who was concerned about facing real stakes, this is about as real as it can get. But even as Emily acknowledged, he came back to Westworld on a suicide mission, and as he further detaches from reality, it doesn't seem like he has any plans to return and deal with the real-world debacle.

What's up with the mysterious body of water?

In the Westworld facilities we’ve already seen, such as the CR4-DL (the Cradle), the storage units are temperature-regulated through an unusual coolant system. Instead of using the more standard air, the Delos folks prefer to use water. Assuming data in The Valley Beyond is handled similarly, what would happen if someone tried to explode or destroy the giant server where all the human guest data has been stored? Would the amount of coolant water stored there be enough to flood a desert valley? Or at least enough to get Dolores’ dress sopping wet? The finale should clear all of this up. Or make us all a lot more confused.

hbo westworld
John P. Johnson/HBO

What was the point of Shogun World?

Honestly, our two-episode stroll through Shogun World (and brief entry into Raj World, for that matter) seems like a yarn. Though, to be fair, we did get some salient world-building: now we know that Westworld isn't the sole park on a massive island (at least that's where we think it is!), and Delos was selling these multiple, albeit cribbed, experiences from which to mine human data. On the host side, we learn that the Westworld bots aren't the only consciousnesses that are now mentally unleashed, and Shogun World is where Maeve unlocked her capability of talking to other hosts telepathically through the mesh network. Not for nothing!

Doesn't Delos have access to Maeve's mind control code now?

Yes, and Hale and her Delos lackies already resurrected Clementine (who, reminder, was shot by Delos when Dolores and crew stampeded the Cradle and took back Peter Abernathy's "brain") and stuffed Maeve's extracted code into hers. But Maeve, even splayed open on that operating table, still has her admin ability to access the mesh network and is definitely beaming commands out to the world. (Let's also presume Ford's intention in stopping by was more than just a pep talk and wants access to her brainpower for himself.) Assuming Maeve makes it off (or even if she doesn't!), we'll see if the two cancel each other out, or if one can evolve to outsmart the other.

Where does the Ghost Nation fit into all of this?

Episode 8 spelled it out: Maeve wasn't the first host to achieve awakening; Akecheta was. Back before the park even opened, when he first saw the Maze in the aftermath of Wyatt's first massacre, he's been on a path towards his freedom, eventually breaking through when he sees his former wife in cold storage. Since then, it's been Akecheta's mission to spread enlightenment to the other hosts (which is what he was trying to do in Maeve's haunting memory of her homestead under attack) and, at Ford's behest, lead his people to "a new world." Now he just has to make it there before everybody else.

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Jennifer Vineyard, a regular Thrillist contributor, has also written for Elle magazine, The Los Angeles Times, and The New York Times.