This feature contains Westworld season one spoilers.
While it aired, the first season of Westworld could hardly have been more closely scrutinised for clues, twists and Easter Eggs. Between sites like this one and lengthy Reddit threads, fans went through Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy’s sci-fi drama with a fine-toothed comb.
The result of that careful work by fans meant that by the game-changing finale, most of Westworld’s secrets had been laid bare. Many fan theories had been proved correct. Nods to the 1973 film and to Michael Crichton’s other famous theme park story had all been exposed. When the DVD and Blu-ray release arrived at the start of this month then, very few nerdy nuggets remained to be unearthed.
Below then, in the absence of disc commentaries, are fifty insights from the showrunners into theme, imagery and symbolism, gleaned from the Blu-ray’s various extra featurettes.
1. The Western is a particularly apt genre to mine for this story, says Jonathan Nolan, because Westerns are all about unwritten landscapes in which characters are self-determining and carving out their own paths. “It’s a great metaphor for what our hosts are going through,” says Nolan.
2. Moab, Utah provides the show’s mountainous desert landscape, the same location in which John Ford filmed The Searchers starring John Wayne. The show deliberately presents a vision of the Wild West as channelled through directors like Ford, Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone.
3. The camera movements and angles are all designed to nudge the audience towards empathy with the hosts, rather than the human characters. Through framing and composition, we’re led to see things from the hosts’ perspective, and to see them as the central characters, not as accessories.
4. Nolan and Joy asked the directors to withhold from using hand-held cameras throughout the season. They’re only used in the finale to coincide with and represent the hosts developing consciousness and “coming alive”. It’s seen when Teddy rescues Delores from the churchyard in the finale, and when Maeve looks at the little girl during her escape attempt – the first time hand-held camerawork is used for her character in season one,
5. In the early stages of the project, Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy talked a great deal about Las Vegas and the idea of a consequence-free playground (‘what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas’) as an inspiration for the Westworld park experience.
6. Delores’ blue dress and long blonde hair was designed to evoke the look of a fairy-tale princess, says Lisa Joy. “We didn’t want to make it pink,” she says. Its similarity to modern depictions of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland has been noted by fans, a reference shored up by the scene in which Bernard asks Delores to read aloud from the book.
7. Thandie Newton’s Mariposa costume is designed to display her as a sexual object and flaunt her curves. Because of this, the actor said on set that it made her feel more exposed and naked than the nude scenes.
8. Mariposa, the name of the saloon at which Maeve and Clem work, is Spanish for ‘butterfly’, which suggests a metaphorical reference to Maeve’s transformation from host to sentient being.
9. The shot of Teddy getting off the train in Sweetwater in the pilot was a deliberate nod to a similar shot in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In The West, going from the train into the town.
10. Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan went on a trip to Germany to visit a car manufacturing factory, where they saw cars being dipped by robotic arms into huge tanks of paint and being pulled out again. They borrowed that image for the suspended Vitruvian man seen in the labs and in the opening credits.
11. The white liquid the suspended Vitruvian man is being dipped into in the opening credits is actually a tank of Elmer’s Glue.
12. The Vitruvian man was intended to symbolically represent both humans and hosts, says Lisa Joy. Both are lashed to the wheel of a machine they don’t fully understand, which controls their lives.
13. The showrunners only told the actors what their characters believed in the moment being filmed, not telling them the truth of their timelines until it became relevant to do so. Neither Ed Harris nor Evan Rachel Wood knew the full scope of the story they were telling, enabling them to tell it more realistically, say the showrunners.
14. When Jonathan Nolan was a teenager, he worked on a dairy farm with 800 cattle. His experience there influenced the storyline about the stray host wandering off and needing to be collected.
15. Melody Ranch Studio in Santa Clarita, CA, stands in for Sweetwater in the series. According to its website, the Studio was used as a location in Django Unchained, Annie Oakley, Deadwood, The Lone Ranger, Wyatt Earp and more. The Westworld team added the Sweetwater train station set.
16. Elastic Studios, who designed the opening credits for Westworld, also designed the Game of Thrones opening credits.
17. When Felix Lutz is repairing the robot bird, he says “Come on, little one!”, the exact line said by John Hammond in Jurassic Park when he sees the Velociraptor hatch from its shell.
18. In the finale, when Delores tells The Man In Black “they say great beasts once roamed this world, as big as mountains, yet all that’s left of them is bone and amber”, that’s another deliberate nod to Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park.
19. The influences for the opening credit imagery came from research into 3D printing, lab-grown organs and 3D-printed bones, as well as the work of classical Italian sculptors, who were able to use an unyielding substance like marble to create the impression of softness.
20. The theme music starts with a call and response between the violin and the piano—the violin plays an air and the piano echoes it “like a creator teaching their creation to mimic their behaviour” says Lisa Joy. Then at a certain point, the music swells, as if the creation has taken over and transcended its creator.
21. The activities depicted in the opening credits—sex, piano-playing, horse-riding—were chosen to represent distinctly human activities being performed by automation, encapsulating the series’ thematic umbrella of manufactured humanity.
22. The river scenes in the desert were filmed on the Colorado River at the Harley Bates Ranch in Castle Valley, Utah.
23. Initially, the half-built host riding the horse in the opening credits was intended to be male, but as the hero of season one is a woman—Delores—it was changed to a female rider.
24. Similarly, Armistice, the snake-tattooed host played by Norwegian actor Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, was originally intended to be a seven-foot-tall, mute, muscle-bound man. Looking for a role for Ingrid, they decided to gender-swap and adapt the character for her.
25. Ramin Djawadi, who composed the Westworld theme music, filmed himself playing the theme so the animators could mimic the exact movements of his hands for the unbuilt host hands to follow.
26. Anthony Hopkins has some moves. Watch the brief gag reel on Disc 2 of the Blu-ray set and see it close with him cutting a rug as he walks through the Westworld lab set.
27. Look closely at the masks on the wall behind Ford’s desk and you’ll see a couple of familiar faces belonging to Evan Rachel Wood and James Marsden (Delores and Teddy).
28. The player piano is a key metaphor chosen as “an expression of both art and beauty, yet automated,” says Jonathan Nolan. He describes the piano as the hosts’ “great-great granddaddy.” Its presence in the Mariposa saloon is intended as that of a robot hiding in plain sight in the Old West.
29. The idea behind adapting modern-era songs (Radiohead, Soundgarden, The Cure, Amy Winehouse…) for the player piano was to emphasise the clash between modernity and history that runs throughout the series, and to show that Westworld isn’t the Old West, it’s in the twenty-first century.
30. You might be able to create a race of robots, but you can’t stop horses from answering the call of nature, which they do, frequently, in the gag reel while the Westworld actors are trying to deliver some heart-felt speeches.
31. The Player Piano we see in the Mariposa is actually playing those songs from a real paper piano roll. Composer Ramin Djawadi breaks down the harmonies and melodies to render the songs as piano solos, then exports it as a midi file and sends to one of two companies left in the US who produce Player Piano rolls.
32. The Player Piano rolls used in Westworld are trademarked by Delos, the corporation that owns Westworld in both the original film and the series.
33. On a thematic level, the music was all chosen to represent aspects of AI and cloning, and a haunting sense of déjà-vu to represent the hosts’ experiences. Radiohead’s mood and tone in songs such as No Surprises and Fake Plastic Trees were thought especially fitting ny Nolan and Joy.
34. The Paramount Ranch, a filming location for countless classic Westerns including 1957’s Gunfight At The OK Corral, stood in for the town of Escalante in series one, the location of Delores’ white church. The Westworld team built that church, and were asked not to dismantle it when filming had ceased as the ranch owners wished to keep it.
35. The finale’s cemetery scene is a deliberate nod to The Good, The Bad And The Ugly’s climactic cemetery sequence.
36. The recurring maze symbol is inspired by the Native American design associated with mischievous creator God l’itoi, often illustrated inside a labyrinth, the maze signifying a person’s journey through life and their experiences. The Pigs In Clover game Delores unearths from her grave is a real nineteenth century child’s game adapted with a modern take on the l’itoi symbol, to illustrate that consciousness isn’t an upward but an inward journey – it’s not a pyramid but a maze.
37. American psychologist Julian Jaynes 1976 book The Origins Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind was a key inspiration, and referenced by Ford and in the finale episode title, for this series’ ideas on the hosts’ inner monologues.
38. The ‘Wyatt’ shooting was filmed by four different directors shooting simultaneously to get the footage required to weave through each director’s different episode.
39. The warm yellows and browns of the simulated park were designed to contrast with the blue coldness of the lab beneath it.
40. The face shown emerging from the white ‘blood’ was filmed submerging into it, then played backwards.
41. Tessa Thompson’s character, Charlotte Hale, was styled after young, ferocious Silicon Valley-style corporate power.
42. The moment when William finally sees Delores again at Sweetwater, after searching for her after Logan cut her stomach, and realises she’s back on her loop with no memory of him, is, according to Jonathan Nolan, “the moment [William] falls in love with the park, the idea of it”. That’s the turning point for William to start to become the Man in Black.
43. Delores’ scene with The Man in Black in the cemetery in the finale is filmed as a deliberate reference to their first meeting in Sweetwater thirty years earlier.
44. Teddy and Delores’ scene on the moon-lit beach (shot in Malibu) in the finale is a deliberate reference to the final scene of Planet Of The Apes.
45. When Hector is killing the techs in Samurai World, the creators wanted the audience to ask themselves if they felt differently about this violence than they did about violence against the hosts, as real people are being killed. It’s cathartic to see the hosts have their revenge, they agree, but it also signifies that violence begets violence and that we are all, humans and hosts, trapped together in a giant, repeating loop.
46. When Delores realises that the voice she’s been hearing all along is actually her inner monologue, it signifies “a shift into humanism,” for her, says Lisa Joy, “the ability of the machine to start encoding itself and start interrogating itself.”
47. The launch of Ford’s new narrative is essentially a trap, the showrunners explain. He has lured all the board members to the edge of the park to enact his plan, which is season two. The Man In Black has wanted season two—a new level to the game—all along, which is why he smiles when he’s injured by a bullet from a host.
48. Hosts aren’t supposed to be too much stronger than humans, says Jonathan Nolan, but if they ignore their own pain, they can be slightly more powerful than humans in a fight.
49. Ed Harris chose to do his own stunts in The Man In Black’s fight scene with Delores in the church.
50. That fight scene, says Jonathan Nolan, is “just a taste of what’s to come” in season two.
Westworld season 1 is out on DVD and Blu-ray.