Westworld concluded its first season on Sunday night with a mind-melting finale that answered big questions and raised several new ones. Below showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy answer — or at least very politely avoid — some of our burning queries about their acclaimed drama series.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: My impression from interviewing Anthony Hopkins was that he was signed for one season. A lot of our readers think he’ll be back. Can you say if he’s on board for season 2?
JONATHAN NOLAN: We were very lucky to have one amazing season with Anthony Hopkins. We loved working with him. As for the show, where it goes, the characters — we’ve well established we’re playing in a more advanced ruleset in terms of death and resurrection than other [projects] I’ve worked on. So I would say: Assume nothing.
Is there anyone you can say is definitively not coming back next season?
NOLAN: Again, I think with this show we like surprising people. And we like playing with them. We’ve established the show can track forward and backward in time. … As we’ve established, the hosts can’t distinguish their memories and realities. There is always an opportunity to revisit some of these characters.
A while back you had a mini-debate during our interview about whether viewers would know the park’s location by the end of the season. Jonathan, you thought we would; Lisa, you said, no, we won’t. We had that rather big hint of Maeve heading out to the “mainland,” a word used in context to refer to an island. And also — and this is just rather embarrassing to admit — but I just realized this morning that there’s a real Greek island named Delos, although it’s too small of one to contain a land the size of the park. Should we just assume the park is on an island at this point, given what you’ve told us?
NOLAN: The key is to never disagree with Lisa. Always bet on Lisa being right.
JOY: I think part of the fun of figuring out where they are is something that we’re going to… it’ll be fun.
NOLAN: We don’t want to create the world’s largest mystery around it because we have equally interesting, or more interesting, character questions to ask. But I think the rule we’ve built from the beginning — whether it’s frustrating for the audience or not; hopefully it’s not — is you really only know as much as the host’s know. Our worldview is limited to theirs. They don’t know where they are yet. We tried teasing that in the finale, but it doesn’t seem fair that the audience would know if they don’t.
Speaking of teasing, I love the glimpse at Samurai World. Or perhaps it’s Shogun World or Sensei World? Anything you can tell us about this glimpse into the other park. We also got the other hint of “Park 1” being written the note telling Maeve her daughter’s location.
JOY: We’re definitely teasing there are other worlds. How many other worlds and what is the nature of the other worlds is something we’ll start to explore more in season 2. But it was definitely fun filming those samurai [scenes].
NOLAN: It was awesome. Something we’re constantly asked is, “Is there a Roman World and Medieval World?” We couldn’t say “no,” because we wanted to go in a slightly different direction. This samurai-shogun world, for us, has a very specific relation to the Western. Some of my favorite movies are the Sergio Leone adaptations of the Akira Kurosawa samurai films: The Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven. In the period when the Western was the biggest genre in the world, the interplay between Westerns and samurai films in the domestic market in Japan was really cool. On that meta level, those two genres have this almost incestuous relationship with each other. We just couldn’t resist.
Is it definitively “samurai” or “shogun” in terms of what the “S” is for?
NOLAN: Those are good guesses.
Did Dr. Ford also run this “SW” world?
NOLAN: One of the things we’ve established is Westworld is the proto-park. It’s the first park. The other parks, you would imagine, are extensions. In the Disney universe, you start with a parking lot in Anaheim, California, and then you grow. We would imagine, yes, Ford has had a great deal of sway over everything we’re seeing.
I have to ask about the sidelining of Elsie (Shannon Woodward), who is being teased on HBO’s Delos website as being alive, and Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth). It felt like there might have been a non-storyline reason for her being offscreen, or that you got into a corner, writing-wise, and weren’t sure what to do with her for the final episodes. And with Stubbs, I was thinking he could have led the armed response team in the finale instead of having a team full of characters we didn’t know. It was a curious decision and I couldn’t tell whether it was creative or there was another reason they weren’t around?
NOLAN: Look, we love working with Luke and Shannon.
JOY: There were early incarnations where we tied up those arcs [in the finale]. I’m not saying how — I’m just saying we tied them up.
NOLAN: I wouldn’t say “tied them up.” I would say we unspooled them in an uncertain future.
JOY: Where we elucidated their fate more explicitly. But their fates — we know where they’re going and we’ll get there.
NOLAN: We dearly love both those actors. We also, you know, it was not our intention to spin out huge mysteries ad infinitum. We wanted to resolve some pretty important storytelling. But we didn’t want to answer every question.
Is there anything that fans are missing in the finale — in terms of a point or a small reference that no one is picking up on?
NOLAN: One of the incredibly gratifying things about making the show is that the audience is so in-sync with where the story is going. With certain members of the audience, some are frustrated at times. They’re picking up everything we’re laying down — Reddit in particular — are picking up all the details and spinning out beautiful theories, many of which connected to the show. But I think, for the most part, it’s Monday morning, but people really seem to have grabbed ahold of all the things were trying to accomplish. Which is hugely gratifying.
JOY: I haven’t read the comments, so I don’t what they’re saying.
Do you have a tease for season 2 you’re willing to make at this point?
NOLAN: No [laughs].
JOY: I’m trying to think!
NOLAN: We talked about the idea that the first season has been the hosts expanding understanding of the situation they’re in. There is an awful lot left to explore.
JOY: I think part of it is we’ve looked at the hosts trying to become aware of the reality of their situation and who they are. To hear their own voices. That’s where we’ve gotten to at the end of this season. Now the thing we get to explore is once they’ve heard their own voices and once they’ve embraced who they are, what choices will they make? It speaks to a thing of how identity constantly evolves. They were steeped and raised in violence. These violent delights did indeed have violent ends at the end of the season. And I think we’re going to see how that pendulum swings going forward.
This first season, there were so many intricately plotted mysteries that led to so many explanations and revelations at the end. Now that this group of characters and park history has been established, do you anticipate the second season to be somewhat less mystery driven in terms of the number of questions you raise and then have to explain along the way? Or will season 2 be every bit as much a puzzle box as season 1?
NOLAN: The puzzle of it all was never the focus for us. We had a unique opportunity here with a set of protagonist hosts whose situation is unique. They don’t age the way we do. They’re not really equipped to understand the distinction between their memories and the present tense. The show is not about people, it’s about these creatures whose cognition and understanding the world around them is markedly different from ours. And it suggested a form of storytelling that — hopefully in a pleasurable way — allowed the audience to find themselves in at the deep end in our story. As every season moves forward, the audience hopefully has more of a connection to our hosts and how they understand the world. We take that mechanism — which, in the first season, caused Dolores in particular so much hurt and betrayal — to realize she’s been conflating the one person who represented a glimmer of hope for her with her worst enemy, and all the emotional wreckage of that. Then we’ll take a character who can explore her past and future with that level of understanding and continue to explore how that storytelling works. Not with an eye toward a puzzle, but with an eye toward hopefully delighting the audience. It’s not for everyone, but this is the sort of stuff Lisa and I love. We want to continue to grow our ambition in terms of how this form of storytelling works.
UPDATE: During the showrunners’ Facebook Live event talking about the finale, the producers hit a few more questions.
— Asked for three words each to describe season 2, Nolan says “total f–king mayhem,” while Joy added “madness and transcendence.”
— One fan asked the top reader question below this post: Could the host that Ford is printing when Theresa is killed be a copy of himself, one that Dolores actually shot? The producers called the question “really, really good” and wouldn’t answer it directly, but did note that Ford’s “sacrifice is real.”
— Did Dolores actually become aware or is that part of Ford’s narrative? “In the finale, when she pulls that trigger on Dr. Ford, that is her choice, and it’s a big difference. It’s not that Ford couldn’t have anticipated it … he knows he could have predicted this outcome, but it’s absolutely her call. It’s a bold new starting point for her character.”
More Westworld finale coverage:
— Our deep-dive recap of The Bicameral Mind breaks down everything that happened Sunday night.
— Here’s our 10 unanswered questions about the Westworld finale
— Later: Our finale edition of our Westworld: Analysis Mode podcast.