Why Westworld’s multiple timelines theory is becoming more and more convincing

We drill down on the most popular speculation about the cowboy sci-fi drama

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Howdy, cowboy – what’s all this about multiple timelines in Westworld, then?

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Howdy yourself. Basically we’re talking about a popular fan theory about HBO sci-fi series Westworld, which revolves around the idea that friendly series good guy William (Jimmi Simpson) is a younger version of unnamed crotchety old villain and maze-hunter The Man in Black (Ed Harris). Presumably some event in the park changes him and makes him nasty, which seems like exactly the sort of twist HBO (coughGameOfThronescough) would go for.

Fans point to the fact that the two characters have never shared screen time together and that the Westworld park looks markedly different in their respective storylines, along with a few newer clues that also emerged in this week’s episode. 

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Jimmi Simpson (left) and Ed Harris in Westworld

Hold on, hold on – that makes no sense. We’ve seen the MiB interact with Dolores before she even met William, and when she does meet him she’s clearly continuing on from scenes explicitly set in the present day.

Well, that may not be the case – a lot of fans think that the series is using clever editing to trick us, and may be showing us two different versions of Evan Rachel Wood’s rebelling host Dolores. So the “modern” Dolores, who we’ve seen interacting with Anthony Hopkins, achieving sentience and being shot by the Man in Black, is separate from the version running around with William, who instead may be enacting the oft-cited “critical failure” that occurred 30 years previously.

Does…. does that even work?

Eh, sort of. The series has taken pains to inform us that Dolores is the oldest model in the park, so any scene with her in could technically be taking place at any point in Westworld’s history, while the park’s period setting renders her scenes fairly ageless. 

Based on what we’ve seen so far there’d be some very misleading editing going on, but if we assume “modern” Dolores is also travelling a similar route and possibly just remembering her earlier travels, it’s possible.

Is there anything else to back this up?

Well, this week’s episode highlighted a detail some fans had noticed before, regarding the Westworld logo. In the explicitly modern timeline, it looks like this…

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While in William’s storyline it looks like this.. 

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Now, this isn’t necessarily a dealbreaker – there could be more than one logo, though we imagine the PR division would gnash their teeth at this lack of coherent brand identity. But the only other times we’ve seen this more retro logo are in flashbacks to the early days of the park (where it appeared on the labcoats of the original engineers), or in this week’s episode when Bernard (Jeffrey Lowe) accesses the older computer systems. Hmm…

There’s also some more circumstantial stuff like the fact that parts of the park (notably the train and train station) look slightly different when William and his friend Logan (Ben Barnes) walk through them, right down to different designs of Wanted posters and the different staff of the town brothel (there’s no sign of Thandie Newton’s character, who was noted this week to have only worked there for a year or so).

Oh, and there’s also the fact that host Lawrence (Clifton Collins Jr) was killed by the Man in Black last week only to immediately pop up as gangster El Lazo in William and Logan’s storyline, probably too quickly to have been repaired (and there’s been no indication that copies of hosts exist).

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Lawrence reborn

Small details, sure – but as Anthony Hopkins’ park supremo Robert Ford might argue, it’s the small details that make the experience convincing.

Jeez, this is almost as confusing as those “everybody’s secretly a host” theories.

Oh, did we not say? This theory also includes the idea that behaviour boss Bernard is a robot clone of original park co-founder Arnold, except in the scenes set in the past where he’s actually Arnold.

…what?

Well, we learned in the latest episode that the man previously identified as Westworld co-creator Arnold in an old photo was actually a robot version of Ford’s father, only CREATED by Arnold (yeah, we know, this show is weird). As such, we still don’t know what Arnold looked like before he died, and there’s some evidence that it could be Bernard. 

In episode one, malfunctioning host Abernathy says he’s there to meet his maker, at which point Ford casts a glance at Bernard before commenting that “It’s your lucky day.” Immediately afterwards, Abernathy declared his intention to wreak vengeance on BOTH men – odd if Bernard is just an employee. In this week’s episode, Bernard is also noted to have been at the park “forever” by Shannon Woodward’s character Elsie, suggesting an older connection than we might expect.

Some fans have also pointed out instances of host-like interaction between Ford and Bernard over the series, like in this week’s episode when Hopkins’ park creator pops up after Bernard meets Ford’s Evil Robot Dad (incidentally, proof that deceased people like Arnold can be recreated as hosts).

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Clearly, Bernard should have seen Ford in the room – unless he was frozen by a command from Ford so that he could get close, just like any other host. 

The scene where Bernard look at a photo of young Ford and “Arnold” has also raised suspicions – we know now that the man in the middle isn’t Arnold, but why is there such a big gap to the right of the frame? Could it be that Bernard is simply not seeing a figure there, as all hosts are programmed to ignore things that don’t make sense to them?

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Ford did say it was a picture of Arnold, but maybe Bernard can’t see a man who looks exactly like himself any more than Dolores could understand the modern photo her father found in episode one.

Oh yeah, and did we mention that ‘Bernard Lowe’ is an anagram of ‘Arnold Weber’? We’ve not yet been told what Arnold’s second name was but if Ford was going to recreate him in host form, surely he’d give him a moniker that linked back to the man himself?

Cripes. OK, this sounds vaguely plausible if I don’t think too hard – but what on Earth does it have to do with multiple timelines?

Well, if we hypothetically imagine that Bernard IS an exact physical duplicate of Arnold, what if some of the scenes of Bernard are actually of Arnold in the past, in a THIRD timeline set before his death?

We’re thinking specifically of the long chats between Dolores and Bernard that take place in secret no matter what’s going on with her storylines elsewhere in the park. Fans suspect that these scenes are actually showing us Arnold’s attempts to achieve real sentience in the hosts, particularly Dolores, hinted at in the series several times.

This is so confusing; could you PLEASE sum all this up for me somehow?

Sure thing.

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Timeline A: Arnold holds secret talks with Dolores, eventually encouraging her to reach full consciousness. This in some way leads to his death. 

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Timeline B: After Arnold’s death, William and Logan enter the park where they encounter Dolores, after her work with Arnold has started to edge her towards consciousness. At some point after this, age and events turn William into the more villainous Man in Black, who may have some hand in financially supporting the park (which would make sense given that we know William is set to marry into Logan’s family, who already have a stake in Westworld). Dolores is reprogrammed and punished for her rebellion by being put in a storyline where she’s assaulted daily, while gang boss host El Lazo is recast as a family man called Lawrence.

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Timeline C: In the present day, hosts begin to achieve sentience and malfunction just as the Delos corporation tries to maneouvre Ford out of Westworld. A host recreation of Arnold called Bernard investigates what’s wrong with the hosts while the Man in Black embarks on a mission to find a mysterious maze. Dolores is the only constant between all three timelines.

Sure, these could all just be red herrings thrown in to mess with viewers’ heads. But HBO president of programming Casey Bloys recently noted that fan theories were “getting close” to the truth, so we suspect there’s at least some truth in the theory.

Now, on to the representation of Greek mythology in the series…

Ugh, that’s it, I’m done – this show is just too complicated. I’m going back to Game of Thrones for some simple escapist fun. 

No worries – y’all come back now, y’hear?

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Westworld continues on Sky Atlantic on Tuesdays at 9:00pm