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Westworld pulled the curtain back on its most mysterious player in season one’s penultimate episode, confirming once and for all what some viewers already suspected: Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) is a host based on Arnold, the legendary man who founded Westworld alongside Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins). Arnold died under confusing circumstances, and still influences the park’s present events from beyond the grave.
But that’s not the only new development in the Arnold saga. Now, we also know how he died: Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) killed him. She admits as much when coming face-to-face with Arnold in a secret chamber dwelling within “the city swallowed by sand,” but stops short of explaining the how, when, where and why. The answers to those questions all depend on yet another question: Was Arnold’s death accidental or intentional?
In episode three, when Ford first tells Bernard about Arnold (although we now know they have danced this same dance numerous times over the years), he talks about how his forgotten partner died in the park, his death ruled an accident. But Ford is not so sure of the official ruling: “I knew Arnold, and he was very, very careful.” It suggests the possibility that while Arnold’s death may have looked like a freak accident, that it was actually very deliberately designed, perhaps by Arnold himself.
In attempting to figure out exactly how Arnold died, it’s worth returning to Wyatt, the enigmatic enemy at the heart of Ford’s new narrative. As Teddy Flood (James Marsden) often states, Wyatt disappeared for several weeks and returned with “strange ideas,” leading to the visions of Wyatt and Teddy slaughtering their fellow soldiers. As of the penultimate episode, Teddy saw those visions slip away for what they really are: memories of a time long ago, where Teddy shot up a town of defenseless hosts. It’s not just any town, either, but the same town featured in Dolores’ dreams, identified on the show as “Escalante.” By all current accounts, it appears that Escalante is one of the first settlements in Westworld, if not the first, designed to test out host programming in the earliest days of the park. Teddy’s not the only one with visions of inflicting violence upon Escalante, either. In episode eight, Dolores experiences a similar memory jolt, watching a separate version of herself shoot several individuals, and ultimately herself.
When Ford first introduced the story of Wyatt (keep in mind that he introduced the story of Arnold in the same episode), he made it clear that the greatest stories are rooted in some measure of truth. Clearly, there’s an awful and ancient truth fueling the Wyatt narrative, almost certainly connected to Arnold. One interpretation of events posits Dolores as the Wyatt figure with Teddy as her sidekick, shooting up the hosts (and possibly even humans) of Escalante due to… what? A glitch? A flaw in the early designs? Or is it not a flaw at all, but the discovery of consciousness that caused the rampage?
Since we’ve known him as a concept, we have known that Arnold was searching for consciousness within the hosts. A quick consideration of the show’s Bernard, Dolores and Maeve (Thandie Newton) stories indicate that he found it. Several characters, Dolores included, talk about Arnold as a man who wanted more for the hosts than a life consumed by violence. Escalante represents that idea, an idyllic place where hosts learned manners and learned how to dance, when they weren’t busy getting shot up. Is this what Arnold wanted out of the park? And if he wasn’t going to get his way, would it be better to bring the guests’ violent delights to a violent end? Following this through, we’re left with at least two possible and plausible scenarios:
• In one corner, the accident: By giving consciousness to the hosts, Arnold created powerful entities beyond his control. Dolores, Teddy and perhaps others rebelled against their masters and shot up Escalante, killing Arnold somewhere in the process.
• In the other corner, the incident: After recognizing the park’s immorality, Arnold commanded Dolores to euthanize her fellow hosts, and possibly even kill the human employees in order to destroy all the scientific knowledge needed to make a place like Westworld possible. As part of this mass cleansing, Arnold ordered his own death at Dolores’ hands, and ordered Dolores to kill herself as well.
Both cases could be ruled as nothing more than a “freak accident,” if someone was trying to cover a mess and keep the park online — someone like Ford, for example. And in both cases, there’s room for Ford to wonder whether Arnold actually died in an “accident,” or if his death was part of a meticulous design beyond even Ford’s vast view. There are several possible explanations for Arnold’s death, but based on what we know of the man and his untimely demise, what we’ve seen of Dolores’ and Teddy’s Escalante visions, and Ford describing the Wyatt narrative as a smokescreen for truth, it’s easy to see all these threads tying together in time for the finale.
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