'Westworld' Team Tackles Season 3 Finale Questions, Looks Toward HBO Drama's Future

The Hollywood Reporter speaks with creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy and season three finale co-writer Denise Thé about what comes next.
John P. Johnson/HBO

[This story contains spoilers for the season three finale of HBO's Westworld, "Crisis Theory."]

Is Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood) really dead? What about Ed Harris' William, throat slide wide open, seemingly replaced by an artificial version of the Man in Black? And where exactly did Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) go, and just how much time has passed since he plugged into whatever virtual realm he landed in?

These are just a few of the major questions on the board following the Westworld season three finale, "Crisis Theory," in which the answers range somewhere within the realm of: "Both of those characters are actually dead, and when it comes to Bernard, mum's the word."

At the least, mum's the word on that final point when it comes to creators Jonathan "Jonah" Nolan and Lisa Joy, as well as Denise Thé, who co-wrote the finale alongside Nolan. Ahead, The Hollywood Reporter speaks with all three of the Westworld scribes about the fallout of the finale, how it will influence the events of season four, and even lobs up a question not a single one of the parties involved wishes to answer. Does "stone cold silence" read as awkwardly in print as it does over the phone? Keep reading and find out for yourself!

If season one introduced us to Westworld, season two brought in Shogun World and season three brought us a form of Future World, then is season four End of the World?

Jonathan Nolan: One of the fun things about me for the show, when Lisa and I were talking about it way back when, was the ability of this show to shift genres every season, and the invitation to do it. This season, we had an episode called "Genre." We had a movie in [the original Westworld film] in which [writer-director Michael] Crichton was very deliberately playing with the notion of genre. We felt we had an open invitation to play around, especially in this moment where TV is reinventing itself constantly, to have a show that reinvents itself season after season. It essentially takes advantage of the established parameters of a genre. You have a Western, you have a samurai movie, you have war movies, you have science-fiction. There are all of the different versions of the future you have seen over the years in movies. We get to play around with all of that, and make text of all of that. So the idea that next season will feel different and distinct in genre from the previous seasons? Yes, that's absolutely part of the structure of the show.

In the finale, it's suggested Dolores Prime dies. In a show where death isn't always permanent, should we assume she's really gone? Did we really see her die?

Denise Thé: We did. We saw Dolores perish. We saw all of her memories painfully erased. I think it's really important to honor her death. This is a character who truly evolved. We saw her fight for her freedom in the park, get out into our world, wanting to leave her world for ours, and then finally realizing that humans in a lot of ways have been enslaved like hosts. She makes this incredible choice to free humanity. It's a choice that comes at a price: her sacrifice, the ultimate price. In watching Evan read out that final line — "I choose to see the beauty" — watching that on set gave me shivers. It was delivered with such grace and bittersweetness. We see that this Dolores has really completed her arc. It's a beautiful analogy of a child who has grown up to take care of her parents. I do think it's the right time to say goodbye to this Dolores. 

On Westworld, actors play numerous different versions of their characters. With that being said, even if Dolores is dead, what's the future of Evan Rachel Wood with the series?

Nolan: Where would the fun be in answering that question?

It might make some people feel better! I don't know about "fun," so much as comfort!

Nolan: (Laughs.) We love Evan Rachel Wood. She's a terrific, terrific actor. It was a real journey with the character. You do have to be careful in a show where these are robots, and death is a different deal. We've gotten a sense of what it would take to completely kill a host. Because of the impermanence of some of these things, you have to be careful. But that character is gone. We love working with Evan. But we're a long way out from talking publicly about what that fourth season looks like. 

Have you talked it through internally? Are those conversations about the exact shape of season four already taking place?

Nolan: Very much. We discussed it from the very beginning. When we were writing the pilot, we had this glorious period where we felt we needed to come up with a plan. The story laid itself out very neatly into chapters. We have been talking about it from the beginning. We're giving everybody a bit of a break, and obviously it's a crazy moment right now. We haven't started the room yet. But we have been talking about [season four] for a long time.

When and how did you come up with the final Man in Black twist?

Thé: These are discussions that have been ongoing for quite some time. As Jonah said, these are things he and Lisa have been talking about from the very beginning. MiB's whole journey this season was something discussed prior to even getting into the room, with all of the writers. It was something from the get go we were discussing: What's going to happen to this man who has prized above all things his free will, and his ability to make his own decisions? For me, coming into the room, I was really into the character, because he made such a tragic and life-changing choice in the split second where he killed his daughter. What are the ramifications of that for a character like this, who has prized himself on [choice]? It was really important to see the evolution of that character. For him, going through this moment in time when we see him on the verge of losing his sanity and having to go into an insane asylum, and having a breakthrough moment with his therapist: owning up to the fact that he killed his daughter and that he deserves to be in a pine box, but in true kind of Westworld form, [his therapist] is not really there for him in this moment. It could have been a moment of redemption, but instead, she's dealing with her own crisis and she misses it. It leads to him having a very different epiphany: "I'm the good guy." It leads him on this path of trying to destroy the hosts. We thought it was important to see how this distorted version of the truth would be his downfall, and how in the end, it might be the thing that turned him into the thing he most wanted to destroy.

The Man in Black character was conceived as a subversion of Yul Brynner's gunslinging robot in the original Westworld movie. What excites you about exploring this version of the character with Ed Harris?

Lisa Joy: Ed is such a terrific and versatile actor. To be able to examine his humanity and his transgressions first from within the trap of a human character, doomed by his own blindness and his own rage and pain, and now to have Ed be able to examine humanity from that distanced eye of a host … it's just a fascinating and exciting challenge. I think Ed is always thinking so deeply about his characters and their motivations. He's going to bring so much to this character, not only playing a host, which allows for so many different microgestures and manifestations of behavior and performance, but also all of these philosophical elements he'll bring into it. These existential elements of, "What does it mean to be human?" will be all the more grounded next season. 

Is it fair to connect that the version of Ed Harris we see in the post-credits scene of season two to the guy we're seeing here in season three? The man who was on the hunt for "fidelity" at the end of season two — is that the same creature we see walking out of Charlotte Hale's lab?

Nolan: No.

It's not fair to assume, or it's not the same creature?

Nolan: I don't think it's fair to assume it.

The final image of the season: Bernard, who has traveled to the Sublime, waking up covered in dust at some point in the future. How much will Bernard and his journey to the Sublime serve as our entry point into what is coming up in season four?

All three: (Long, stone cold silence.)

Nolan: Do you hear that? That's called a stone cold silence. (Laughs.) That's good. I love that. That's three people completely of the same mind. I'm so proud. I'm so proud.

Really? That's all I'm going to get?

Nolan: No, it was just a hazing gesture. We were just hazing Jeffrey. We covered him in dust and it took three hours to get him covered in it. 

If that's really the only reason, then truly, spectacular. 

Joy: There is one thing I'll say, and maybe it doesn't answer your question, but I remember watching the scene between Bernard and Arnold's wife (Gina Torres), and how deeply moving I thought it was as a meditation on life and loss and memory and darkness. Why is it best not to forget those things that are painful, those things that hurt us? It's so we don't lose these things to the darkness, so we can bring them into the light. We're the only vessels of carrying those things back into the light. For me, Bernard's character has always been, despite the things that have tortured him, very noble. He's an emissary of his own kind of light. Now, he's going to travel to some new places and learn some new things, and the question is, what can he bring into the light in the future going forward, if anything?

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Follow THR.com/Westworld for more coverage.