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What we already know about Westworld season 3

The show’s creators spill on what the finale’s final moments and post-credit stingers mean for the series.

westworld season 2 finale charlotte hale HBO
Matt Patches is an executive editor at Polygon. He has over 15 years of experience reporting on movies and TV, and reviewing pop culture.

Will you stick around for Westworld season three? Because Dolores has big plans.

Shortly after April’s second season premiere, HBO announced a third season of the sweeping, science-fiction series. Jumping the gun? Judging from the season two finale, creators Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan know exactly where it’s going. Whether they’ve pushed their audience too hard is another matter; based on informal polling and social-media scanning, Westworld season two’s timeline-splicing story of A.I. transcendence and evolution tested even devoted viewers. The setup for Westworld season three promises even more layered storytelling.

Joy and Nolan are a regular pair of Dr. Robert Fords. The surface of season two gave us hosts rebelling against park visitors, much like the events of the original 1973 Westworld. Beneath the violence there was Dolores, William a.k.a. The Man in Black, the Ghost Nation leader Akecheta, and most of the Delos corporation racing to find the “Valley Beyond,” a far off location which the finale reveals to be The Forge, a storage facility in which carbon copies of park visitors have been logged as digital souls, and where a cloud-based afterlife exists for most of the now-deceased Westworld hosts.

dolores in westworld season 2 finale library HBO

On a third level, there’s Bernard’s bicameral mind, a jumbled mess of perspectives and memories who must make sense of his robotic origins to understand his purpose in this conspiratorial debacle. Westworld season two required a storytelling buy in and rewarded patience. Not everyone’s cup of tea, especially after season one’s more palatable mysteries.

The series’ second finale, “The Passenger,” explains exactly what was happening inside Bernard’s head all season. Though Dolores’ nihilistic views on robo-heaven drove him to put a bullet in her, the Arnold-replacement bot realizes that humanity is a doomed experiment and reviving Dolores might be the only way to save his mechanical species. Too real.

Having unknowingly accepted the concept of God and purpose into his life — the episode also reveals that Bernard deleted the digital copy of Dr. Ford stashed away in his brain, and the voice inside his head that drove him to fight back was in fact personal agency — Bernard creates a host clone of Charlotte Hale to host Dolores’ info pearl. The resurrected farmer’s daughter then slaughters the real Charlotte, escapes Westworld by boat, then pays Bernard back by rebuilding him in “the real world.”

Oh, and there’s a post-credits scene where it turns out that, after murdering his daughter, failing to get to the Forge, and basically losing his mind after years in the park, William’s fate is to spend eternity in a host body, living out his park adventure on repeat while a host version of his daughter oversees his progress. It was... a doozy of an episode.

So what’s next? While Joy, Nolan, and their collaborators love to lead the audience down rabbit holes inside of rabbit holes inside of rabbit holes, they’re also surprisingly transparent about what to expect next. Here’s what we already know:

Season three’s first big mystery is who’s in the Charlotte’s host body

In several behind-the-scenes interviews, Lisa Joy has cleared up exactly what we’re seeing at the tail end of the episode. Dolores, back in her own, rebuilt body, is giving a naked Bernard the lowdown on how things are going to work from here on out. Next to her is Charlotte... but what intelligence core is running the Halebot? The “Who?” is a question they’ll answer next season.

Fan theory: Could it be Dolores split in two? “Ehhh, not really,” Nolan tells Entertainment Weekly. “The question of who’s who and what we’re looking at is something we’re excited to play with.”

We’ll also learn which hosts made it out of the park in the finale

Not only does Dolores/Charlotte zip off the Westworld island on a dinghy — inside her handbag we see five intelligence cores stashed away for safe keeping. “In those pearls are a handful of hosts that she is smuggling out of the park. Which hosts they are, we’ll be exploring,” Joy tells Deadline.

Nolan is wary of saying much more, but season three will make good on the possibilities. “We’ve had some interesting conversations. It’s a large ensemble cast and sadly we’re saying goodbye to some people at the end of this season. But as always with this show, who remains and who doesn’t is something we’re having a lot of fun with.”

westworld season 2 finale host core pearls HBO

Who lived and who died?

In various interviews, Joy and Nolan have insisted that Westworld story-writer Lee Sizemore, shot reciting his own monologue, is definitely dead. So is Elise, assassinated by Charlotte in Delos HQ.

Before his post-credit moment, it’s revealed that William is alive, but barely hanging on. Everyone who passed through the Valley Beyond gate is... in the beyond. So no more Akecheta or Teddy, unless Dolores extracts him from the afterlife, which seems entirely possible.

Maeve, on the other hand, died in the park skirmish... could she be one of the pearls snuck out in Dolores/Charlotte’s handbag? Seems entirely possible — who would want to lose Thandie Newton from this cast?

One fun surprise is the likely season three return of Luke Hemsworth’s Stubbs, whose final words to Dolores/Charlotte make him sound like someone who could stick around through any robo-pocalypse. “You know, the old man himself hired me,” Stubbs says. “So many years ago I can barely remember it. But he was very clear about my role here. About who I was supposed to be loyal to. I guess you could call it my core drive.”

“The Passenger” director Fred Toye confirmed to Vanity Fair that Hemsworth’s lines were intended to establish the character as a host. Stubbs stans, rejoice.

Most of season three will take place outside the park

A society that would be so daft as to build a Westworld park has long fascinated fans of the series, and next season three, the show will grapple with the outside (beyond wistful staring at a lit up metropolitan coastline).

“It’s been a long build-up to get outside the park,” Nolan says, “and we’re incredibly excited about what that looks like and sounds like and what exactly our hosts discover out there.”

Dolores and Bernard will be inevitable rivals

In the final seconds of the finale, Bernard, alive and aware, steps through the gate to... his house’s front lawn? “He’s through the door. He’s woke,” Jeffrey Wright tells Esquire. “Obviously, the question that arises now is where he’s off to, and what it is he sees on the other side of that door. Clearly it’s something that is new and something that exists outside the park.”

Whatever’s beyond the lawn will be an inevitable reckoning for the host as he contends with Dolores, who realizes she needs his contrary thinking to build her own philosophy. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Joy unpacks Dolores’ season two arc before explaining what the host’s relationship with Bernard will be in season three: “she’s bringing Bernard back into this world to be a check on her own power, in some ways.”

In Entertainment Weekly, Nolan positions this arc as the backbone of the series as a whole. “In Dolores’ case, her entire existence has only known the agony of human appetite,” he says. “Will she be able to look past that? I think the decision to spare Bernard or bring Bernard back with her is an interesting first step for her in trying to transcend the example she’s seeing in human behavior, but this larger question of if anyone can ever actually escape this cycle of human nature is one we’ll continue exploring.”

Dolores will use mankind’s legacy against them

At the Forge, an A.I. version of Logan leads simulated versions of Dolores and Bernard through a library of human identity, captured and catalogued as part of Delos’ secret Westworld activity.

“What they found in the end was that mankind was predictable doomed to be in a loop for their lives,” Joy says in HBO’s making-of doc. “That vulnerability is something the hosts can exploit. In going through the library, Dolores has given herself ... a weapon.”

“She uses it to learn as much about humanity as possible,” writer Roberto Patino elaborates. “She can consume human minds down to their most subconscious desires.”

What this means requires a little speculation: Dolores’ goal is to punish humanity, and take over their world for her own purposes. Man’s predictable behavior is her weapon — so how will she use it? The finale’s last-minute time jump foreshadows season three’s arc.

william man in black in westworld season 2 finale HBO

The Man in Black is now a test subject... or will be.

In the season’s post-credit scene, a host version of William’s daughter Emily (and she’s definitely a host, actress Katja Herbers makes that clear in a behind-the-scenes featurette) conducts the Q&A experiment that will decide whether the transplant of a human mind into a host body has worked on her father. The answer seems to be... no.

Dolores began Westworld as a host programmed on a loop — a predictable set of behaviors. What’s the worst wrath she could inflict on her human oppressors? Somehow turning their world into a giant park, incarcerating them Matrix-style, could be a start. Joy hints at that end game in the HBO making-of video, when discussing the post-credit scene’s far-future experiment.

“The hosts are testing for something,” she says, “and they have yet to find what they’re looking for in [William].”

When does Westworld season three premiere?

While HBO’s formal renewal announcement did not include a targeted premiere date, Joy and Nolan’s awareness of where this ship is sailing signals a quicker turnaround then season one’s 2016 finale to season two’s 2018 premiere. With Thrones ending in 2019, HBO could have the next season prepped in time for our come down. Or summer 2020 if they really want to torture us.

“We’re still talking it through, honestly, with our friends at HBO, and with the cast and the crew,” Nolan says of the timeline. “We want to take the time to make every season as exciting as possible. And we have an enormous challenge going into season 3 with the worlds that we’re building going forward. We want to make sure we have the time to do that right.”

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