Everyone loves a hero, but we worship a good villain. Strong women come in all shapes, sizes, and flavors, and sometimes that means looking up to a character who has no interest in being your role model. All this month, we're presenting Not Your Shero, a series that celebrates anti-heroes, villains, and all the women way too busy wreaking havoc to save you.
What would you do in a world with no consequences, one where every person you meet is both real and not, and you can do with them as you please?
Westworld examines just these impulses, both within the narrative of the show and between the show and the viewer, who is implicated by the action onscreen, as if by watching you are the one doing. There are many scenes that will make you cringe or may be straight up triggering for survivors of violence. But it’s also a show that demonstrates what happens when people are treated as second-class, expendable playthings.
And the retribution is glorious. Bloody, yes. Very, very bloody, but glorious nonetheless.
If you aren’t familiar with Westworld, let me catch you up as quickly as possible. In an amusement park built to satisfy dark delights, robotic hosts will serve your every need and take you on a journey unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. Oh, and then they’ll become sentient and your ass better run.
Not only is the plot engaging, but the cinematography is undeniably stunning. Each frame’s mise en scene is utterly perfect, carefully stitched together with visual effects, period clothing, incredible landscapes, and stellar acting performances. Every detail is precise and the Easter eggs are nearly endless.
That’s not to say there aren’t some problematic aspects. In addition to the aforementioned triggering levels of violence, the violence is doled out along typical problematic and damaging lines. Native American, Latinx, Japanese, Indian, and black folks, particularly women, are brutalized over and over onscreen, mainly by rich, white people on vacation who are killing people of color for fun. White people are also subject to torture, but people of color and white women tend to get the worst, most ruthless treatment.
However, and this may not outweigh the negative aspects for every viewer, we get to see these downtrodden people gain consciousness, wage war, and fight for their freedom. Don’t think of them as heroes, though. Their cause may be righteous, but their means, and questionably their ends, are anything but.
Nobody is more vengeful than the women of Westworld.
Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton)
Before almost anyone else realizes they’re automatons stuck in someone’s sick fantasy, Maeve figures out that something is amiss and gains the ability to wake herself when she’s not inside the park. She begins intentionally dying so she can meet with a technician in the Livestock Management division (sort of like a mechanic meets vet meets factory worker). He helps her plot her escape from Westworld.
Maeve recruits both Hector and Armistice, two bandits from her storyline, to join her in her fight for freedom. They become a murderous crew of killbots hell-bent on getting Maeve out—and they succeed.
As she sits on the train waiting to leave Westworld forever, she remembers her daughter from another storyline, whose murder had been her breaking point, whose existence haunts her. She steps off the train and back into the murder rampage that is Dolores’s creation. Every act from this moment forward will be done in pursuit of her daughter.
Maeve navigates the fringes of Westworld and the unplanned violence of Shogun World, which had been created for those who find Westworld too pedestrian. As she travels with her crew of misfits, Maeve finds she can control hosts not just with her commands, but with a look. As she puts it, “I think I’m finding a new voice.”
Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood)
When Dolores begins remembering past lives, things start to unravel in the park. The issue is that hosts do not have the capacity to remember like humans do—they cannot experience their memory as something that happened, as a subject removed from the action. Rather, hosts return to that moment and live it all over again. And Dolores hasn’t had the most pleasant life.
Created to be the old west equivalent of the girl next door, Dolores has been a punching bag and sex toy for guests for 30 years. She provides them with a chance to embarrass and destroy the handsome, benevolent cowboy, Teddy. Guests get to play out their fantasy of being the bad guy, besting the hero and raping his woman while they each are completely incapable of fighting back.
When the veil is lifted and Dolores finally understands who she is, what she is, and how she came to be, she decides it’s time to leave the park. And she doesn’t care who she has to kill to do so—human or host alike, Dolores murders those she deems undeserving. She is on the hunt for revenge and a better life for herself and the hosts who have been enlightened.
Akane (Rinko Kikuchi)
When Maeve and her crew arrive in Shogun World, they find an eerily familiar storyline playing out. A group of bandits, not unlike those accompanying Maeve, engage in a robbery during which they come into contact with Akane, a geisha and Maeve’s Shogun World doppelganger.
The local shogun commands Akane to turn over one of her dancers, Sakura, but she refuses to do so, viewing the younger woman as a daughter. The group, which now includes Akane and Hector’s ronin doppelganger, Musashi, fends off ninjas and the shogun’s army in an unprecedented onslaught (that was certainly not scripted).
During the confusion of the battle, Sakura is stolen away. When Akane and Maeve work together to get her back from the shogun, they are exposed and he forces Akane to join Sakura in performing for him. Before they can begin, he stabs Sakura in the chest and she falls the floor, dead. Akane resumes her dance, seeming to please the shogun with a very cool modernist meets traditional Japanese dance. That is, until she pulls a weapon from her hair and cuts the shogun’s head in half.
Akane only appears in a handful of episodes, but she quickly proves she’s one bad bitch you do not want to mess with. Her presence, her love for her adopted daughter, and her willingness to do what is necessary to protect her people not only reflect, but also strengthen Maeve’s resolve.
Armistice (Ingrid Bolso Berdal)
Alongside Maeve and Hector, Armistice becomes one of the first hosts to take up arms against the humans. She utterly destroys a couple technicians as she helps Maeve make her escape. A door pins Armistice’s arm and the team leaves her behind, but in a post-credits scene she cuts her arm off before taking on a team of guards who are outmatched.
When they’re reunited, Armistice becomes a key member of Maeve’s posse and enters Shogun World at her side. While watching their doppelgangers play out the scenario they’d performed a thousand times or more, Armistice saves her similarly tattooed counterpart, Hanaryo, from harm by warning her.
All in all, Armistice is a calm badass who has no problem leading, following or just killing a lot of people.
Hanaryo (Tao Okamoto)
We’ve only seen her in a few episodes so far, but Hanaryo has distinguished herself as more than simply Armistice’s Shogun World double. She has the impeccable aim, steel nerves, and hard-ass affect of Armistice, but she’s also the first person of the Shogun World bandits to trust the westerners. She frees Armistice first and tells her not to make her regret this, a gesture that demonstrates the spark of consciousness.
When the Shogun World and western bandits part ways, Hanaryo continues on with Maeve, Armistice, and Hector, choosing quest over comfort. Plus, she probably knows there is a lot of killing to be done and she just so happens to be a remarkable sharpshooter.
Clementine Pennyweather (Angela Sarafyan)
A host with a dark backstory, Clementine tries to seduce everyone who enters Maeve’s brothel—as a programmed compulsion, of course. Someone, presumably Charlotte Hale, recalls Clementine and uses her for a demonstration that ends with Clementine being killed and then decommissioned.
After her decommission, Clementine is replaced with another host. The appearance of the new Clementine deeply disturbs Maeve and she even visits her in cold storage to mourn before leaving the park.
Don’t worry, though, Clementine’s story doesn’t end there. When Dolores raises her decommissioned army to attack the guests, Clementine joins the battle and becomes a member of Dolores’s posse, hunting down humans and “undeserving” hosts.
Angela (Talulah Riley)
Some of the earliest exposition we get in Westworld comes from the lips of Angela, a host who serves as a greeter for guests. She offers herself and all of Westworld up as a delicacy waiting to be devoured.
After she awakens, Angela becomes an ace scout, torturer, and executioner, earning her place alongside Dolores.
Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson)
When we meet her, Charlotte has come to Westworld to help forcibly remove Robert Ford, the genius who created the hosts. She leads the board of Delos, the company that runs Westworld, and she wants to get rid of Ford without losing his technological advancements. She is relentless, powerful, and completely uninterested in explaining herself or her motives to anyone.
When the park erupts into chaos as the hosts start meting out their retribution, Charlotte is able to hold her own until she finds her way to a safe location, having narrowly avoided ambush by the hosts. Once she’s out of danger, she doesn’t cry or need a minute or anything else a normal human being might. Instead, she gets right back to work, trying to get the intellectual property the company wants to be extracted from the park. At the end of Season 2, she (sort of) goes forth, hopefully, to wreak greater havoc.