'Westworld': How 'Trace Decay' Helped Clarify the Mysterious Man in Black

Four moments add further fuel to the fiery possibilities surrounding the park's self-proclaimed villain.
John P. Johnson/HBO

[Warning: This story contains spoilers through episode eight of HBO's Westworld.]

For the many Westworld viewers who not only watch the show but also thoroughly dissect it among fellow fans online and in person, one prevailing theory has taken on an all-but-confirmed nature: William (Jimmi Simpson) and the Man in Black (Ed Harris) are the same man.

The idea dates back to at least the show's second episode, featuring William's introduction. Several signs pointed to two different timelines, between close studies of William and the Man's respective behaviors, to even an investigation into the Westworld logo itself. Even though the connection remains unconfirmed on the show, several signs indicate that an official reveal is on its way.

Look no further than this past week's eighth episode, "Trace Decay," for more evidence of the William-MiB connection, even if one development appeared to throw a curve ball at the theory. Here's the breakdown:

• The Man Down By The River: In their first scene of the episode, William and Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) stumble upon a small army of soldiers, all dead, save for one. William and Dolores debate whether or not they should care for the dying man, with William thinking it best to euthanize him. Dolores leaves to fetch water, but when she returns, the young host is dead. It's not a stretch to imagine William killing the host while Dolores was away, and having that serve as one of William's early steps toward the Man in Black's nihilistic approach to the hosts. Far from a slam dunk in terms of evidence, but at least a point in the theory's favor.

• The Man's Wife: Later in the episode, the Man in Black reveals some details about his backstory to Teddy (James Marsden). He talks about his status outside the park as a "god" of sorts, "a titan of industry, a philanthropist, and a family man." He discloses that his wife committed suicide a year ago, and describes it as "30 years of marriage" gone in an instant. Thirty years is the approximate distance in time between the Man in Black's story and William's story — and William just so happens to be engaged to be married to Logan's (Ben Barnes) sister. The timing links up.

• The Woman in the Woods: Perhaps the biggest point in the theory's favor comes in the form of Angela (Talulah Riley), the host who greeted William to Westworld back in episode two, and reappears in the Man in Black's story in episode eight. When the Man sees her, he recognizes her and remarks: "I would have thought they'd retired you." The Man in Black knows virtually everyone he comes across, but the way he talks about Angela as a figure from a long time ago, and the fact that Angela was the first host William ever laid eyes on, certainly raises an eyebrow or two.

• The Man in the Town: In addition to clarifying the William in Black theory, episode eight also complicates matters somewhat, at least at first glance. Dolores reaches the town of her dreams, and experiences two versions of events: (1) a massacre in the past, not unlike what we've seen in Teddy's Wyatt dreams; and (2) a barren wasteland with nothing to mark the town other than a steeple emerging from the ground, not unlike what we saw when Ford (Anthony Hopkins) first visited the ruins. William exists in the second version of the town, meaning that it's already ruined by the time his story takes place. Some fans have taken this to mean that William must exist as is in the present — aka the Man in Black timeline, the one inhabited by the elderly Ford. But that's ignoring the very likely possibility that whatever catastrophe struck the town already occurred by the time William reached the park 30 years ago. If it turns out that Dolores is remembering something from the absolute earliest days of the park, around the same time Arnold was alive, then it would make sense for William to appear in the town's ruins without ruining the Man in Black theory.

What do you think of the William in Black theory? Sound off in the comments, and follow THR.com/Westworld for more interviews, news and theories.

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