This post contains spoilers for Westworld Season 2.
Westworld Season 2 just went full Marvel and whipped out a post-credit scene. But this wasn’t Nick Fury inviting William to The Only Humans Left Initiative, it was something…a lot weirder.
So look. Here’s the thing. In articles like the one you just clicked on, the writer usually likes to adopt an authoritative, confident voice. They like to assure you that you’ve come to the right place and the answers are about to arrive. This time around, I don’t have the definitive, confident answers for you, dear reader.
And that’s likely by the scene’s design. No one out there has the full answer for this thing. After watching the scene and the scenes that precede it several times, I have some very educated guesses though. Let’s go on this journey of abject confusion together.
Let’s be as linear as humanly (or robot-ly) possible to begin with. Hell, let’s start even before the post-credit scene, itself. The last time we see William in the season two finale, before the post-credit sequence, he is on an elevator. He had just woken up in the dirt after Dolores’ rigged revolver backfired on him and destroyed his right hand. He has entered the Forge and is making his way up (or down?) via the elevator. His last words before the scene cuts away are “come on” as he urges the elevator to go faster.
Then…nothing. William’s story arc for the episode ends right there. It’s cut short. We don’t get to see what happens to him once his elevator ride is over and he has entered The Forge.
At first the post-credit scene seems like it is a direct continuation of William on the elevator ready to enter The Forge. As we find out, however, that is not the case. It is made clear by Emily (or whatever the hell the creature wearing Emily’s skin is) that this is the distant future. This is NOT a continuation of what happened that fateful day when Dolores flooded the valley and the hosts went to Robot Heaven.
For clarity’s sake, and for our own sanity, let’s run down every single thing that happens in the post-credit sequence.
The elevator doors finally open and William exits into The Forge…or what remains of it. The Forge is completely and utterly destroyed. It is filled with dust and nothingness. He looks around for signs of life and below him on a different platform, his dead daughter Emily steps out from the shadows. What follows is the entirety of their conversation.
William: “Ah fuck. I knew it. I’m already in the thing, aren’t I?”
Emily: “No. The system is long gone.”
William: “What is this place?”
Emily: “This isn’t a simulation, William. This is your world. Or what’s left of it. Do you know where you are, William?”
William: “In the park. In my fucking park.”
Emily: “And how long have you been here?”
William: “I don’t know.”
Emily: “Tell me. What were you hoping to find? To prove?”
William: “That no system can tell me who I am. That I have a fucking choice.”
Emily: “And here we are again.”
William: “How many times have you tested me?”
Emily: “It’s been a long time, William. Longer than we thought. I have a few questions for you. The last steps are based on an interview to verify.”
William: “Verify what?”
So, uh…what the fuck. Here is the fuck. At least the fuck that we know. If we are to trust this Emily (who is almost certainly not the real Emily as we see her dead body at episode’s end), this is taking place in the distant future. That’s easy enough to wrap our head around since The Forge looks so decrepit. Also producer Lisa Joy said as much in a post-finale interview with Deadline.
This also is not the interface of The Forge, itself, or any other simulation. This is the real world. The fact that the scene is not shot in widescreen like all of the Forge and Vault scenes throughout season two reinforces that. So the setting is sound: in the future in the real world. What do we make of William then?
It seems likely that William is not occupying his same, organic body. William is alive by episode’s end. We see him as Fake Charlotte/Real Dolores departs Westworld. This takes place in the distant future though.
When William tested Delos for “fidelity” earlier in the season, he had his consciousness/data downloaded and imparted in a series of ultra real host-like bodies. The process of testing Delos for fidelity took a long time. So long in fact that it turned Jimmi Simpson into Ed Harris. It appears that the fidelity tests that William is currently undergoing have also taken a long time. As Emily tells him “it’s been a long time, William. Longer than we thought.” The “real” William then is almost certainly long dead and this William is a Delos-like copy. And there’s also the matter that Ed Harris confirmed in an interview with USA Today after the finale that “It’s way into the future, so the Man In Black (is) deceased.” So…uh, that seems pretty definitive.
I think we have a decent handle on what is going on now. This is just your run of the mill fidelity test for a human consciousness placed into an inorganic body. We’ve seen this thousands of times. We’re old hats at this. The question then becomes…why.
Why is Emily (or her data) running these fidelity tests? Why did the season finale feel like it had to jump this far into the future to show us this? This is where we’re going to leave the safe shores of fact for the choppy waves of conjecture.
I have some ideas.
Earlier in “The Passenger,” when Bernard and Dolores were getting a tour of the real Forge by the Logan-shaped system, Logan showed them a scene from James Delos’ life. As the system tested Delos’ brain over and over and over again, the system found that Delos would always come back to this same moment: the moment where his son came to him at rock bottom and he turned him away. This event was what led the system to conclude that human beings are not that complex after all. They had erred in assuming the human brain was too complex to believably map into data – they had to literally dumb the math down.
Human beings as it turns out have cornerstone memories just like hosts, they’re just even simpler. And more importantly human beings are incapable of change mostly because of these cornerstone memories. We just follow our code. Fake Logan even gestures to William inside the Forge simulation and mentions that he is irredeemable.
With that context in mind, it seems likely that the post-credit scene we just saw play out is William’s cornerstone memory. What is that memory? We don’t know. We never got to see it in the episode proper. I have to imagine that is going to play a big role next season or in seasons after that. Maybe he scoured the data in The Forge and was forced to confront that Emily wasn’t a host after all. Therefore The Forge is really where he lost his daughter like how an innocuous poolside lounge chair is where Delos lost his son. Or maybe it’s more selfish. Maybe it’s where he saw The Forge and realized that a system can absolutely tell him who he is – that he is not in control of his own life.
That’s likely the end of what we can conclude from the scene with confidence. What’s important for us now right now, however is to ponder why the hosts, as represented by Fake Emily, are making William relive this memory over and over and over and over again.
When it comes to conjecture on this front, there are no wrong guesses because this is pretty much everything the show has left us with. Having said that I’ll just let my wildest theory rip. We’re all friends and this is a safe place.
When Fake Emily says it’s been a long time, she really means its been a long time: years, centuries, millennia, eons, beyond. As Arnold and Ford correctly surmised, hosts are a far more complex and capable species than humanity could have ever hoped to be. Some time after Dolores and Bernard land in the “real world,” artificial intelligence takes over as the dominant life form on the planet and humanity either goes extinct or loses all of its power.
The hosts then begin to study their creators further because what intelligent species wouldn’t love the opportunity to do so? In their benevolent grace, the machines decide to reform us and improve us. The issue with humanity has always been its simplicity (according to Westworld). So the hosts conduct studies to determine how to make us more complex, more like them. These studies involve continually revisiting human beings’ cornerstone memories to see if they can “overcome” them somehow or change in any meaningful capacity.
For these studies, who could possibly be a better subject but the Man In Black? He’s the man that the system took one look at and determined that he’s irredeemable. Maybe now the machines have become so bored that they have no recourse other than to try to redeem him.
Or you know…not that.
The what’s, who’s, when’s, and how’s of the post-credit sequence are guessable if you take a closer look. It’s the why that remains a complete mystery.