[This story contains full spoilers for the season two finale of HBO's Westworld, "The Passenger".]
Several characters lost their lives along the way in the season finale of HBO's Westworld, but few deaths felt as final as what happened to Elsie Hughes, played by Shannon Woodward.
Elsie, who went missing midway into the first season only to reemerge in season two's "The Riddle of the Sphinx," lost her life in the midst of a noble pursuit: trying to save Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) from being outed as a host, and by finally confronting Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) with everything she knew about Delos' secret digital immortality project. In no time at all, Hale turns the tables, pulling out a gun and shooting Elsie two times in the chest. It's a brutal scene for fans who have come to love and respect Elsie as one of the single most capable and likable human characters on the show, and it was equally brutal for the actors involved in the scene.
"Shannon is, first of all, one of the smartest people ever, and knows so much about tech and the world in which Westworld is set, which makes her a really great person to theorize with about the show," Tessa Thompson tells The Hollywood Reporter about working with Woodward. "Shannon is like my encyclopedia. My set wife. I just love Shannon. I can't say enough about her, and I really enjoyed getting to spend time with her — so it was a real bummer to kill her!"
It's much less of a bummer to see Hale's murderous actions immediately answered by Bernard, who brings Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) back online in the form of a Hale doppelgänger, which proceeds to murder the original Hale. In Thompson's case, her future with Westworld remains intact, as she's now tasked with playing a mystery character, or potentially even several mystery characters in the next season of the show. How about Woodward? Could she be in for a similar comeback down the line?
"I think the light at the end of the tunnel is that no one ever really dies on Westworld," Thompson speculates. "Now that we know that they essentially have pearls that recreate people, is Elsie dead, or will she just come back as full-on Sarah Connor? Because we could reset all the programming, and she'll be totally fearsome and indestructible. I don't know!"
For her part, Woodward doesn't know, either, though she's more than open to a Westworld comeback should the occasion arise.
"You never know," Woodward tells THR. "Anything is possible on this show, and I would obviously be thrilled to participate in any capacity that [showrunners Jonah Nolan and Lisa Joy] will have me in."
For now, it's worth taking the death at face value. Woodward has her hands full with other projects as she looks past the HBO drama. THR reported in April that Woodward is executive producing a drama based on the cult Nxivm for Annapurna Television, alongside Annapurna's Megan Ellison, Sue Naegle and Susan Goldberg. More recently, Woodward appeared in a trailer for the video game The Last of Us Part II, playing a new character who shares a kiss with returning protagonist Ellie (Ashley Johnson).
"I wish I could say more," Woodward says with a laugh when asked about her post-Westworld future. "I seem to be in a good place where I'm not allowed to talk about the things that I've been working on."
At the least, Woodward can speak at length about Elsie's exit. Read on for the Westworld veteran's final thoughts on playing Elsie, why she saw the death coming as early on as the first season, and more.
How long had you known about Elsie's fate?
I knew for a while. They told me pretty early on in the season that it was gonna happen. Frankly, I joked about it since I saw the second script of the first season. I ran up to Lisa Joy and was like, "Oh my God. You're gonna kill me." And she's like, "What are you talking about?" And I was like, "I know what happens to characters that nose around!" (Laughs.) So frankly, every time I read a script I said, "This is it, isn't it?"
You were expecting it for a while, then.
This is a show about a robot apocalypse where the robots are the heroes. What's great about Elsie is that she's constructed as such a classic hero. But she is unavoidably, deeply human. I think the stakes were always obvious, that between her and Bernard, this was a complex situation to have a character that you care for who I think is essentially, morally bound, who is human. I sniffed that out for a while, as I think everybody probably did. It's a dangerous place for her.
How did you react when your suspicions were confirmed, and you were informed of Elsie's death?
I was obviously sad. I was attached to this character in a particular way. It's a tough season for Elsie, who truly wants to do the right thing, who is just constantly left with impossible choices. But I also thought that it was an exciting choice for them. I think the stakes are really real, and I find it compelling, as much as I selfishly wish that it left me on that show. But who knows what'll happen. It's Westworld. They do crazy stuff over there!
I was thinking about that, because Dolores built Bernard from her memories of Arnold. Who's to say Bernard can't build a new Elsie?
Oh, yeah. Right before Charlotte Hale shot her, she says, "I've read your file." She means, "I've seen your cognition!" (Laughs.) And it's why she doesn't make the deal with her. She's like, "I've seen your file, and you're too morally sound to do this with me. So, I know you're lying." And it was true: Elsie is definitely lying. She wants to help Bernard. She really miscalculated her leverage with Hale.
Did you find a moment in that scene where Elsie feels she's on dangerous ground with Hale?
I don't think she went down there thinking she was going to be murdered by her co-worker! I think she would've maybe had a different plan if she thought that murder was on the table. But I do think that she did go down there to make a deal with Hale, so she could try to help Bernard. Because he's not well, and he's been doing a lot of murders around the park, and he's not in control of himself. But he's her friend and her co-worker, and she is a good person. She knows she can't let him leave that room anymore. So, it kind of leaves her stuck.
She's seen him handcuffed to enough car wheels at this point to know…
Right, exactly. (Laughs.) We forget once, shame on you. We forget twice…
In terms of this being the final scene for Elsie, did it feel true to you?
I think Elsie has been attempting to unravel this mystery for two solid seasons, to try to stop it. It's been, what? One minute since she's tried to use her leverage and be like, "I know what's up here?" I find it shocking and tragic, because it is the one moment she attempts now to finally use this information that she's learned to attempt to make some headway to do the right thing. She's just shutdown in the most ultimate way.
What was the final day of shooting like?
I mean… not happy. I was really sad about it. I was really sad about it. That's it.
What will you miss most about Elsie?
What I loved about Elsie is that, pretty much for the entire show, she thought she was the smartest person in the room. I love that there are young women out there aspiring to work in tech and seeing this character that is not so far in the future, who was the one hope for humanity against the robot apocalypse. And the fact that it's a young woman. She always inspired me, and I hope she inspires other people, too.
When you spoke with fans, what kinds of reactions would you hear from them about their feelings toward Elsie?
I think people really liked Elsie, and I think there's a good reason for that. Representation is really important, and I think most of the people who watch this show are human. And I think that Elsie is a good representative of a human being trying to do the right thing.
She's the most human character on the show, at least in terms of who you want to aspire toward. There are plenty of human characters who you really don't want to see yourself in, but with Elsie, she's the type of person you hope you would be in a crisis.
Yeah, she's true blue. Elsie is a classic hero. In the story, she doesn't have any superpowers, she's not special. She was going to dental school, and now she works at Westworld. She was really just trying to do the best with what she had. I think in everyone's heart of hearts, we all would like to imagine ourselves as strong and full of character, as I think Elsie is.
Fingers crossed that season three begins with robot Elsie working in a dental office.
Nothing would make me more excited.
Do you think Elsie will return in the future? Sound off in the comments section below and keep checking THR.com/Westworld for more.