'Westworld': Thandie Newton Breaks "War World" Wide Open

Newton and co-star Vincent Cassel weigh in on the genre-bending HBO drama's deadly new world and even deadlier new enemy: "He controls everything."
John P Johnson / HBO

[This story contains spoilers for season three, episode two of HBO's Westworld, "The Winter Line."]

"Welcome to War World."

It doesn't quite have the same ring as the signature Westworld catchphrase, and don't worry — there is no reason to get used to it. In season three's second installment, "The Winter Line," the World War II theme park first showcased in the trailer for the new year finally stands revealed: it's an illusion, a digital realm created by Engerraund Serac, the mysterious new nemesis played by Vincent Cassel.

Directed by Richard J. Lewis and written by Matthew Pitts and Lisa Joy, "The Winter Line" focuses on Maeve (Thandie Newton), also known as "Isabella," a spy caught in the middle of a war. She meets some familiar faces along the way, including Rodrigo Santoro's Hector Escaton, now dressed up as a suave spy, as well as Simon Quarterman's Lee Sizemore, the reformed storyteller who seemingly died at the end of season two.

Sadly, there actually is no "seemingly" about it: War World, and all of the people contained within, are not real — at least not in the physical sense. Maeve quickly puzzles out that she's not actually still at the park, but trapped within some sort of virtual reality. "The Winter Line" follows Maeve working her way through the puzzling new reality, by dismantling the rules of the universe with complicated math equations and other forms of disorientation. She temporarily escapes, uploading her consciousness to a drone in the facility where she's being contained. Eventually, the drone is subdued, but Maeve is brought back to reality all the same — this time thanks to Serac, clearly linked to the Incite company and its super-computer Rehoboam, with an eye on using Maeve to defeat Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and stop her from destroying humanity.

Listen to the Series Regular: Westworld podcast for a full breakdown on War World and more.

In previous seasons, Maeve's struggle with her puzzling reality could have easily extended across a large span of episodes. In season three, however, the twists and turns are contained within the close confines of "The Winter Line." According to showrunner Joy, the choice was very deliberate, as it pertains to Maeve's own character growth.

"The POV of the show has long been mimicking the POV of the protagonists," Joy tells The Hollywood Reporter. "We're trying to build an empathetic connection with them. We've been seeing things before from the perspective of the hosts, and we've been fooled by the nature of their reality, the same way they've been fooled by it. But at the same time, we wanted to honor the growth Maeve has been through. She's a fast learner. She's wise to a lot of these tricks. She's skeptical. It made sense that if they're going to put her back in the park, she's going to wake up, she's not going to last in that loop for too long because she's evolved and she knows how to test the boundaries and limitations of her world and to look at her flaws. She's very smart."

"It was really thrilling to have an episode where we can focus on Thandie, who is so brilliant and wonderful to work with, and watch her go through an arc where she's caught in this world, and it allows us to see Rodrigo again, which is always fun," Joy continues. "For her, sure, she's expecting it's another bloody park and she has to bust out of it, but what she finds out is something far more complicated than that — and she still finds a way to break out of it. It's a lot of fun to subvert Maeve's expectations as well as the audience's, but to watch her adapt and explode out of any other world they trap her in."

"I missed that in season two, just on a personal level," Newton tells THR about watching Maeve outsmart the system. "It was like she plateaued. Her life was meaningless. Now there's new meaning being brought back into her existence, even if it's just to get out of where she's trapped. She's an escape artist, actually."

But the escape is short-lived once Maeve runs into Serac, one of the wealthiest and most powerful people in the whole world of Westworld — a notion he demonstrates when he freezes Maeve's motor functions, a shock to both her system as well as the audience, no longer used to seeing a human hold power over the former madame of Sweetwater.

"He controls everything, but there's a funny thing about him," Cassel says about his enigmatic new character. "He has this fascination with [Maeve]. It's interesting to me that the guy with the most power over humanity is someone who is so fascinated with someone who is nonhuman. It's a paradox. It's one of the many paradoxes of this character. He wants to save the world, but the most interesting person he's ever met is not a human. He's trying to save the human species from itself. He's just so full of paradoxes to me. Those kinds of characters are always so interesting to me. You never know if he's really good or if he's bad. I think he has great intentions, but he wants to impose them."

Newton says the audience may view Serac as either "a threat or a savior," depending on their view of the man's intentions — but Maeve's perspective on him is clear as day. 

"I love Maeve's indifference to all of his plans," she says. "She doesn't give a shit — 'your little squabble.' She just doesn't give a shit. It's a great place to come from. In this new landscape, I don't think it's about morals for Maeve. She's not invested in humanity in any way. Both of these characters are at the absolute top of their games. They're brilliant. There's a calm serenity to them. People who are powerful aren't always this calm and effortless. They're well matched. It really excites me, having this man and woman on screen who are so matched."

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