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‘Westworld’ Finale Postmortem: EP Jonathan Nolan On Season 2’s Samurai World, Missing Characters & Dr. Ford’s Fate

Deadline logo Deadline 12/5/2016 Anthony D'Alessandro
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SPOILER ALERT: This article contains details of last night’s Season 1 finale of HBO’sWestworld.

In the wake of last night’s Season 1 finale of HBO’s Westworld, creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy left us with a plethora of payoffs and questions.

Currently, they’re in the 10th week of the Season 2 writers room, with an eye on production early next year. In terms of the series’ return air date, we’re going to have to wait until 2018 before we see what these upscale androids have in store, and whether Ed Harris’ older William, aka The Man in Black, will continue his battle with this off-kilter amusement park. In the finale, MIB finally got his wish: Being shot by an opponent that wasn’t meant to lose (Clementine descending on Dr. Ford’s retirement party with the Ghost natives). From the look on MIB’s face, he looked all too happy but to take that bullet: Finally, as a human, old William was alive.

In regards to some pressing questions about Westworld, here’s what Nolan had to say today:

— Nolan is hoping to have Samurai World play out in Season 2. We caught a glimpse of it — the combat room — when Maeve and her posse were having a shootout through the park’s basement control center. Another indication that more lands reside than the Old West: Maeve’s note from Felix that the location of her daughter is in Park 1. You’ll remember that the Michael Crichton’s original 1973 movie included Roman World and Medieval World.

— Is Anthony Hopkins’ Dr. Ford dead? “Well, that version of Ford is dead,” confirms Nolan. Remember, it’s Westworld, the place where robots never die.

— Did Dolores’ dad, Peter Abernathy (Louis Herthum), smuggle intel out of the park as Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) indicated at one point during the episode? Teases Nolan, “Well, he’s not in cold storage and I didn’t see him on the train,” adding that “it was a delight” to work with Herthum on the pilot.

— Where are park workers Elsie and Stubbs? She was kidnapped by Bernard a few episodes back, and Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) was cornered by Ghost Nation natives in Episode 9. Nolan, Joy and staff have provided themselves with an embarrassment of riches. “We have things to circle back to and tee up for next season,” says Nolan, adding “stay tuned” in regards to the duo’s whereabouts. “We can’t leave that story hanging,” adds Nolan.

Despite the zenith production quality and stellar acting ensemble at Westworld‘s disposal, some were divided over the series’ labyrinth storylines: Fanboys relished the hidden symbolism, while some critics didn’t want to think too hard while they were watching the show. Characters would whisper or deliver lines in a low-key fashion, while production design had a heyday in hiding initials and labels throughout shots; all of which were subtle foreshadows to bigger reveals down the road.

If Deadwood fans had to rewatch episodes in a given week to reprocess its Elizabethan-scripted dialogue, than Westworld fans had to rewatch so they could decode the slight-of-hand timeline shifts. The series appeared as though it was taking place in current day, but if you watched Dolores’ get-up closely, you’ll realize that depending on what she wore — pants or prairie get-up — indicated that the action was being played out in different time periods. Westworld‘s avant garde form of storytelling caught the attention of the WGA today which lauded the show with two noms in the drama and new series categories, and HBO reports that the first season across all platforms at 12M viewers is the best-ever for an original series. 

So will this nuanced, complex storytelling style continue into Westworld‘s Season 2? Boardwalk Empire went from a baroque storytelling style in Seasons 1-2 to a kinetic, live-wire pace in Season 3.

From our conversation with Nolan, it sounds like he’ll ease up just a tad.

Essentially Westworld‘s Season 1 was a “prologue,” per Nolan, with the episodes playing around with this amnesiac mind-set that the androids possess; like children they can’t decipher between reality and memory. “We’ll continue to play with this idea in terms of the hosts’ capacity, along with audiences’ understanding and participation right out of the gate,” promises Nolan.

“When Lisa and I conceived this show, we were taking advantage of this amazing moment of television we’re in. There’s an anything-goes sensibility and audiences look for things that subvert expectations and go in different directions. With a big ensemble show like this, there was an opportunity to reinvent a show, season on season. It’s the same mind-set that applied during the Dark Knight movies. Each movie, to keep it fresh, had a subtle, different genre.”

“When we were shooting Episode 2, I had a conversation with the network that we couldn’t do this every year; it’s a different animal and we’re fortunate to be working with a network that defies expectations,” says Nolan, who stopped production of Westworld during the first season so he could get its plotting and tone just right. Unlike his show Person Of Interest on CBS, Westworld because of its Days Of Heaven-meets-Unforgiven scope required more assembly time and couldn’t be put on a conveyor belt. Luckily, a network like HBO is about making shows for posterity, not for ratings sweeps.

Last night marked the second time Nolan directed during the course of the series since its pilot episode, which was shot two years ago. The time between episodes allowed him and Joy to oversee various elements of showrunning and to be a consulate to the actors.

“You don’t get that when you’re working on a movie, but here we could react to what the actors were giving to us,” adds the co-creator.

What we saw last night took approximately four weeks of shooting time, but filming the finale intertwined with that of Episodes 8-9. Like Mr. RobotWestworld is shot by location, with a handful of episodes shot at once. While Mr. Robot‘s creator Sam Esmail directs all the episodes under his watch, Westworld works differently with several different directors like Stephen Williams, Michelle MacLaren and Richard Lewis all meeting on set at the Paramount ranch. There the group will discuss sequence and tone, so that each episode is matched properly.

Much like on Game Of Thrones, Westworld directors face 180 situations, which is par for the course: On one day, Nolan found himself directing intimate scenes between Evan Rachel Wood, Anthony Hopkins and Jeffrey Wright, and on another he’s shooting a big action spectacle like Dolores’ shooting spree at Ford’s retirement party.

In regard to Westworld‘s robot revolution being the anchor for Season 2, all Nolan promises is that “Westworld isn’t always what it seems to be.” For now, we can just expect these androids to retaliate against their gods.

Being flexible is key. The co-creator adds that in mapping out Season 2 with his staff, “You can’t be programmatic, you have to have that gap, and change to what your actors are doing.”

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