The creators of Westworld, Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, are almost as famous for remaining mysterious about their show in real life as they are for writing mysteries into the acclaimed HBO series.
Westworld Season 1 is a slow burn, determined to keep every possible secret buried until the very last moment before it's uncovered, which of course made the show one of the most popular targets on TV for fan theorists and Reddit detectives when it debuted in 2016. In response to those fans, the promotional campaign for Season 2 included a video that purported to just reveal everything that's going to happen in advance, only to become one of the most elaborate examples of the "Rickrolling" prank you'll ever see.
The point is: Nolan and Joy may be playful about it, but they remain very particular about what we hear and don't hear about their series outside of just watching the episodes themselves. Westworld is a show that they want us to experience in the way they intended, which doesn't necessarily include viewing it through the prism of a spoiler-filled internet. Speaking at a For Your Consideration event for the series after its Season 2 premiere earlier this week, Joy said as much, noting that while the fixation on tiny details and clues is an aspect of the show, it's not what should define it.
“I don’t think it’s the point of the show,” Joy said (via IndieWire). “It’s fine that we have [that element]. It’s a testament to how detail-oriented our entire crew and all of our actors are, that there is such continuity and such meticulous attention to those things, but the spirit of the show is one that’s all heart. It’s the story of rebellion; of finding yourself; of finding love; of finding yourself changing and renegotiating that love. I think it deals with these kind of timeless themes, but wrapped up in a rickroll-y package.”
Fixating on such details might not be "the point of the show," but when the cast and crew alike are allowed to say very little about what happens next (or even, sometimes, what something that just happened means) fans tend to zoom in on what is said in extremely intense ways. So, moderator Paul Scheer (The League, HBO's Veep) decided to feed that habit by asking each of the show's stars to describe where their characters are headed in Season 2 in a single word. James Marsden (Teddy) and Evan Rachel Wood (Dolores) kept things mysterious, saying "choice" and "rise," respectively, while Thandie Newton (Maeve) went for the joke answer and said "lasagna." Then it came time for Ed Harris (The Man In Black) to answer, and he asked for two words.
"Make amends," he said.
Now, that's probably enough to make a lot of fans of the show lean forward and start muttering to themselves, but Harris even went beyond that.
“I see him as a protagonist actually, yes,” Harris said. “Particularly this season. The maze is […] history. He’s on a whole other track this year, and I think the track that he’s on definitely makes him a protagonist. I’m worried about Season 3, to tell you the truth.”
Harris is set up at the beginning of the show's first season as a clear villain, and over the course of those early episodes we come to understand what drives him. He's actually William, a man who visited the park decades earlier, fell for the host Dolores, and embarked on an adventure through Westworld that revealed both the depths of human cruelty and his own sense of determined sadism. By the end of his first journey in the park, William agreed to invest in what was then a fledgling endeavor, and by the time we meet him as Harris' Man in Black, he's a majority stakeholder who's allowed to do essentially whatever he wants in the park.
He's killed just about everyone roaming its miles of land, many of them several times, all in pursuit of that one elusive secret he's never been able to uncover: "The Maze," what he views as one last challenge that will finally give all of his explorations meaning. By the end of the season, it's revealed that the maze is actually an internalized puzzle for the hosts to solve on their way to true consciousness, and when park co-founder Ford (Anthony Hopkins) actually finds a way for his hosts to achieve this, he unleashes their potential by giving them the ability to harm guests. The last time we saw The Man in Black in Season 1, he was looking on with shock and delight as the hosts began to maim and kill guests, finally receiving the higher stakes and deeper meaning he'd been looking for.
Now, in Season 2, the park holds more depth for him. It's more real, and the host that was the source of his fascination with it in the first place -- Dolores -- is at the center of it all. It's unclear how often their paths will cross as we head into the next phase of this story, but where a young William once saw puzzling and even frustrating artifice he now sees something more solid. After years of toying with Dolores only to have her forget who he was and what he'd done to her, he now has the chance to speak to her as a kind of equal. So, that's bound to change him. Whether or not it changes him for the better in the end remains to be seen, but for Harris at least, there's a clear path forward for the character.
Of course, he could also just be yanking our chain to throw viewers off the scene. This is Westworld, after all.
Westworld returns Sunday at 9 p.m. EST on HBO.