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Westworld, much like consciousness for the show’s hosts, is a work in progress.
The HBO science fiction drama, which just wrapped its first season with an illuminating 90-minute finale, often acts as a puzzle as much as it acts as a viewing experience. At least, that’s how a certain portion of the audience engages with the Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy series, gathering on various corners of the Internet to dissect the complicated plots in play. As a result, several fans arrived at the answers to some of the show’s biggest reveals before they were unearthed in the context of the story.
There’s no greater example than the finale’s big Man in Black (Ed Harris) twist, in which it’s revealed that William (Jimmi Simpson) was a younger version of the gunslinger all this time. Fans began piecing this twist together starting with William’s first appearance in episode two, which featured subtle but irrefutable differences between the Westworld depicted in his scenes and the park as it’s depicted everywhere else. Other examples include Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and his true nature as a host, and his subsequently revealed connection to the park’s co-founder Arnold.
Of course, showrunners Nolan and Joy were keenly aware of the theorizing within the community. Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter this week, Nolan said that when it comes to that level of scrutiny, he’s of two minds — a bicameral perspective, if you will.
“Part of your series is figuring out how the audience engages with your series,” he said. “We’re learning how to make the series, and they’re learning how to engage with it. When you have a lot of these shows with theories about them, a lot of those theories don’t really add up to much. In our show, every theory adds up to something. The show has been structured like a puzzle, and that’s not our intention, because we’re laying a lot of pieces into it.”
In that regard, Nolan and Joy reaffirmed that they intentionally planted seeds throughout the season that would lead eagle-eyed viewers to these reveals ahead of time. According to Joy: “The breadcrumbs were there for them to find, and the hope is that it was rewarding for the people who found them, and the people who didn’t want spoilers could stay clear of them.”
“I love the community on Reddit who spends their time picking the show apart,” added Nolan. “I’ve been a part of that site for a long time and it’s a great site. It represents a very small portion of the audience that wants to engage very aggressively with the story that’s being told, because it’s part of the enjoyment for them, and that’s awesome. And for the general audience, I hope next season people will be careful to avoid spoilers, and maybe in writing about the show, understanding the difference between a theory and a spoiler, which is complicated itself. But it’s incredibly gratifying to see this many people engaging with what we’re making.”
In other words, anyone expecting Westworld to change its storytelling structure in reaction to fans arriving at answers ahead of the show’s pace is in for a disappointment. Nolan puts it bluntly: “We’re not going to change the way that we make the show.” Make of that what you will in the many months ahead before Westworld returns, in 2018.
What’s your take on the Westworld theory culture? Sound off in the comments, and follow our coverage of the show at THR.com/Westworld.
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