This article contains spoilers for the Westworld Season 3 finale.
We’ve been teased this before. Way back in 2018 and at the end of Westworld Season 2, there was a post-credits scene, just like there is now in season 3. And in that earlier one, William (or a host that thinks he’s William) enters the cavernous ruins of Delos’ Westworld park. Long abandoned and marred by by the sands of time (and the desert outside), this ruined place still exists as a circuitous hell. How better could you described the Sisyphean realization by “William” that he, like James Delos before him, is trapped in a loop where machines now test his fidelity to a long dead human psychology?
Westworld Season 3 returns to that theme twice in its post-credits scene. The first time is the more obvious echo wherein the real William meets his fate, dispatched by a seeming robotic copy of himself (more on that in a moment). However, there is then a second final scene in which Bernard wakes up after using a version of the “key” to visit the “Sublime,” aka the Valley Beyond, aka Robot Heaven. Before the end credits, Bernard told Ashley the apocalypse was imminent and it appears Bernard must’ve slept through it. Because when he awakens in the post-credits scene, he is covered in a layer of dust that would take years and decades, maybe even centuries, to accumulate.
With that final closing image, showrunners Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan seem to be promising that Westworld Season 4 will be making good on season 2’s heady teaser: we’re going to have a long time jump to the future. And honestly, it’s about time.
In retrospect, the third season appears to be very much a bridge year between the “end of the park” and the “end of human civilization” as we know it. How the third season got there with cloak and dagger betrayals and double crosses between Dolores, Maeve, and Caleb was all really just a bit of theater to get to the same endpoint: Our very believable future of a giant corporate social engineering project created by data-mining is upended by these artificially intelligent beings. The final scene of the night, before the end credits, is Maeve and Caleb standing on a bridge watching an American city tear itself apart like some kind of weird amalgamation of Fight Club and Nolan’s own screenplay in The Dark Knight Rises.
“You can be anyone you want,” Maeve tells Caleb, in a call back to her spiel to guests back in her days as a Sweetwater madam. Still, I do not think that we’ll see Caleb in season 4, or at least not a lot. While there is every opportunity to live in another scattered timeline alongside these hosts who are potentially immortal, it’s finally time for season 4 to make good on the concept of having protagonists who are immortal and can exist for centuries.
This is the real endgame of Westworld. It’s one that it hinted at during the season 1 finale when it put all its cards on the table and revealed sweet-hearted William grew into the nihilistic and abusive Man in Black—and Jimmi Simpson could turn into Ed Harris.
“They say that great beasts once roamed this world, as big as mountains,” Dolores tells Old Man William. “Yet all that is left of them is bone and amber. Time undoes even the mightiest of creatures… one day you will perish. You will lie with the rest of your kind in the dirt, your dreams forgotten, your horrors effaced, your bones will turn to stand. And upon that sand, a new god will walk, one that will never die, because this world doesn’t belong to you or the people who came before. It belongs to someone who is yet to come.”
When dealing with a new artificially intelligent species that is almost impossible to truly kill, staying in the binary plotting of A to B to C eventually becomes spinning wheels. We saw that in season 3 with all the misdirection and narrative red herrings about Dolores’ plan. Yet even now, there is little reason to doubt Dolores is actually “dead,” not with several copies of her walking around with her pre-season 3 memories. Maybe Tessa Thompson’s Charlotte Hale lookalike has grown into something else—something still determined to turn AI creatures into gods and leave humanity to the dust—but the Evan Rachel Wood variant is sure to return.
“We just love the ability to play in the perceptual terms with the hosts being immortal,” Nolan told EW about the season 2 ending in 2018. So it’s time to fully take advantage of that aspect. We were teased last night about how far things can digress when Incite’s god, a Nolan version of HAL 9000, revealed how long it projected societal collapse if it were affected by Dolores’ new strategy.
“End of human civilization (50-125 years),” the computer predicts. Granted Dolores’ strategy wasn’t uploaded. Rather the machine itself was simply turned off, but the “mass casualty events” it projected for our immediate future had already commenced outside when, without apparently social media telling folks what to do, humans instantly devolved into burning down their homes and buildings.
The rapidity of apocalyptic collapse in the third season is fairly ridiculous, but Westworld Season 4 doesn’t have to deal with those shaky developments, at least not directly. As indicated by Bernard waking up in dust, the series can now pick up in a period where the series can take the long view of what artificial intelligence declaring war on our messy species might look like. Charlotte Hale clearly is intending to do just that, and so as to keep Ed Harris on the series, she is bringing a robotic clone of William to her cause.
For in the other half of the post-credits scene, we see a replica host of William slaughter the original flesh and blood antagonist he is based on. It’s an ignominious end to the character (and frankly a lesser sendoff than just having left him in that mental hospital he found himself abandoned in during the end of “The Mother of Exiles”). But William’s consciousness will live on as the dark side of his moon is made synthetic flesh.
It’s a bit of a cheat considering that season 2 established making exact clones of a human consciousness is almost impossible since it drives the hosts mad; that’s why “William” is trapped with a faux-ghost of his daughter for eternity in a fitting retribution for his sins, with the “human” now the robot’s guinea pig. But it appears Westworld Season 4 might ignore that and just have William be one more host making his way in a new world. At last, we should finally get to see what that world looks like when humans are no longer able to play god.