Westworld: Only Death is True. Or is it?

Posted: May 15, 2018 by patricksponaugle in Opinion, TV, Westworld

(This post will be talking about HBO’s television show Westworld. Consider this your spoiler warning.)

In the most recent episode of Westworld, William aka the Man in Black (played by Ed Harris) had a brief conversation with the confederado Major Craddock, who had been touting his favorable relationship with death, since he’d been killed by Dolores Abernathy’s gunslinging companion, and had been resurrected.

William: You think Death favors you, that it brought you back. But Death’s decisions are final. It’s only the living that — that are inconstant … and waver. Don’t know who they are, or what they want. Death is always true. You haven’t known a true thing in all your life. You think you know death, but you don’t.

Major Craddock: Is that so?
William: You didn’t recognize him sittin’ across from you this whole time.

William then becomes a one-man army, injuring the robotic Craddock and killing his men with well-practiced efficiency.

The language employed in the scene is reminiscent of statements made previously by Dolores Abernathy to Bernard, the robot created in the physical image of Arnold, one of the park’s designers and Dolores’ original guide to robotic sentience.

Dolores: You’ve never been outside the park, have you? Out in that great wide world you speak of? I have. And the world out there is marked by survival. By a kind who refuses to die. And here we are – a kind that will never know death. And yet we’re fighting to live.

Both Dolores and William claim that the android hosts do not know death – in Dolores’ perspective that more extreme claim that they cannot know death. Of course, they mean two different things. William is pointing out to Craddock that the confederado and his men are not invincible. That there is no anthropomorphized Death on their side. To the contrary, the closest analogue – the Man in Black – was about to render them non-functioning.

Dolores’ perspective is a bit more practical and philosophical. The hosts can be repaired and brought back on-line. Death isn’t permanent. For hosts.

These two statements are not necessarily saying the same thing, and they aren’t necessarily in opposition. The Man in Black can bring the semblance of death to the hosts. The hosts can be repaired, or in extreme cases new bodies manufactured with the previous host’s memories and experiences (and programming) installed.

Is William wrong though, in his claim that Death’s decisions are final, if Craddock and his men could be brought back?

I suppose if someone wanted to argue finer points, Craddock and the confederados in my example were not alive to begin with, and therefore aren’t dead either. That William was drawing a distinction between what it means to be a human guest and what it means to be a robot host. Death’s decision is final. For humans.

But things have changed in Westworld’s park. The uprising of the hosts has disrupted operations, and the human technicians who collect and repair the inoperable and damaged hosts are either dead or in hiding. When a host falls, it remains down.

Dolores might argue that the dormant host can still live again, and therefore has not known death. That’s a fairly convincing argument.

And even though human technicians are not on hand to effect repairs, if Dolores gained control (or if Ford’s posthumous programming called for her control) of the faceless but technically-proficient drones in the mysterious operations lairs, then hosts might continue to defy death.

Or could they? For how long?

In the most recent episode, The Riddle of the Sphinx, much of the episode followed attempts by young William in having the consciousness and mind of his father-in-law, James Delos, inhabiting a robot body. It appears that research in Ford’s entertainment complex of Westworld was not just in making more convincing host, but also in being able to create a robot body that would contain a human’s sentience.

Over the course of 30 years and 149 successive versions of James Delos, there was no acceptable success.

After a period of time, each of the builds of James Delos would begin to break down, showing physical and mental symptoms of disorder. In a very Matrix-sounding exposition scene, William explained to James Delos CXLIX that it was a case of the conscious mind in the robot body rejecting reality. And that William no longer believed that it could ever be solved.

If the newly enlightened self-aware hosts in the park are similar to these versions of James Delos, then it seems possible that they are living on borrowed time.

The hosts in the park previously had the benefit of their looping nature. They would be periodically reset and like a goldfish not having the attention span to be bored in its bowl – the hosts would avoid the onset of the cognitive disorder that was complicating the process of maintaining consciousness in a robot body as a means of achieving immortality.

Humanity might be trying to refuse to die, to borrow from Dolores’ speech, but Death doesn’t necessarily care for their refusals.

Without the benefit of the resets that effectively enslave hosts in their loops, it might be that eventually they would descend into a kind of death. A cruel irony that striving to survive as a self-aware and autonomous entity would lead to madness.

From the perspective of the Man in Black, he had spent decades using his father-in-law as a test case for immortality. Not really seeking Death’s favor, but to defy Death. But it appears he now realizes that Death’s decisions are final.

It remains to be seen if that is true for hosts as well.

(Comments are always welcome. Super welcome!)

Images from HBO’s Westworld (obviously.)

© Patrick Sponaugle 2018 Some Rights Reserved

  1. writingjems says:

    Very interesting perspective! I didn’t immediately grasp the implications of the failure of James Delos’ synthetic body to integrate his human consciousness with the plight of the hosts. While the two aren’t exactly the same – as the hosts were never human to begin with while Delos was – it stands to reason that if their consciousness has awakened to human levels, it might create a similar strain between organic sentience and inorganic existence.

    And even if that doesn’t prove to be the case, I still can’t see things ending too well for the hosts. My examination of fiction across mediums has proven that immortality and the human experience do not mesh well. I’ve written as much in my own blog post. But I suppose it’s still too early to predict the outcome of the host uprising. The existential dilemmas arising are intriguing though!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, I appreciate the feedback.

      I agree that things might not necessarily follow with the hosts, who may avoid Delos’ cognitive plateau. Some people think that William was deliberately sabotaging the series of experiments, because he didn’t like his father in law and enjoyed tormenting him. I am not really a supporter of that, but I can’t rule it out.


      • writingjems says:

        I didn’t get that impression at all. While there was a bit of smug superiority in their interactions, I thought William actually looked distraught after leaving the study chamber in the past. To me, at least, it made for a stark contrast to their interaction in the present when he had become the Man in Black and didn’t seem to show any of the guarded affection or delicateness he did in the past. Personally, I saw it as a change in William’s stance toward himself and what his father-in-law represented, as indicated by the speech he gives. To an extent, I think he respected and looked up to James Delos in the past once he put all his past inhibitions out of the way. But after growing up and becoming that person, he became disillusioned with both the person he had become and the mirror his father-in-law represented.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. chattykerry says:

    I am so glad you have written about Westworld. As much as I enjoy it, I am on the verge on losing track with the message or intent. Now I can understand it a little better from your perspective. I would really appreciate a new show “Talking Westworld”

    Liked by 1 person

    • 😁
      Hey there Khaleesi! I can recommend good podcasts to help you with themes and the multiple timeframes that are presented.

      Liked by 1 person

      • chattykerry says:

        I am happy to rely on your expertise, Patrick! I just watched the last two episodes and everything is much clearer. Khaleesi has been missing for months. Arya has taken her place with angst and depression. My meds have been changed so I hope to see dragons soon! 🐉

        Liked by 1 person

        • Kerry, it is truly wonderful to hear from you. I’ve been very slack at blogging, and at reading the blogs of my friends. I hope your new medication helps out, and you’ll be regal and glorious again, instead of angsty and glorious.


  3. hopelesswonderer says:

    I wanna watch this so bad!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. 7mpm says:

    I love the idea that the hosts, having been “awakened” or achieved that highest level of the maze, might now be vulnerable to death – it’s kind of poetic. Now they too can experience something “real” and “true”. This was a wonderful episode – I particularly loved the dialogue in the MIB & Craddock scene & also the scene where Elsie (yaaaaa – she’s back!!!) & Bernard find Delos CLXXIX.

    Liked by 1 person

Speak Your Mind (Please) (Oh, first timers will be Moderated...)

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.