Major spoilers for the Westworld Season 2 finale ahead. As if determined to one-up the Red Wedding, the Westworld Season 2 finale killed off reams of major characters in shocking fashion — including Westworld's head writer, Lee Sizemore. Over the course of the HBO drama's second season, the character managed a stunning transformation from pompous egomaniac to likable sidekick, and received a heroic send-off: sacrificing himself so Maeve and her gang could escape to the Valley Beyond. But if viewers felt unprepared to say goodbye to Sizemore… well, so did his portrayer, Simon Quarterman, who found out about his character's fate a mere three days before shooting the scene.
"I was actually shooting something from Episode 8 and Jonah [Nolan, Westworld creator and showrunner] came in and pulled me aside and told me," Quarterman tells Bustle. "Part of me was surprised, the other part of me wasn't. Being on this show, I think you're always wondering in the back of your mind somewhere, 'Is this episode going to be my last?' It's just the very nature of the beast, really."
Although actors often relish the chance to get to enact a glorious death scene, the actual experience of filming Sizemore's last stand was a grueling one. "It was a pretty intense day, to be honest," he recalls. "We shot it for hours and hours, getting so many different angles and takes. It was sad for everyone. It was one of those days you walked away from in a bit of a daze." Fortunately, it wasn't his last experience on the set. "I had one more day afterwards, so it was nice to come back and just have like, a normal day of shooting, rather than leaving on that intensity. It was the scene where Maeve frees herself, the bull scene. I believe all I had to say in that scene was, 'Bloody hell.” So it kind of summed up the whole season for me, really."
"Bloody hell" is right. Season 2 involved quite a few memorable moments for Sizemore, including his heroic sacrifice, his trip to Shogun World, and, in an early scene, being forced to strip naked in front of Maeve — a compelling reversal of the show's (and Hollywood's) typical gender dynamics. "I'm not going to say it was the easiest thing in the world," Quarterman says about the experience of taking off his clothes in front of his colleagues… and millions of viewers. "But I also found it incredibly necessary."
Quarterman first learned he might have to bare all when co-creators Nolan and Lisa Joy popped the question at a Christmas party. "I had had a couple of drinks at this point, but they asked me if I was OK with being naked. And because of said drinks inside me I said, 'Yeah, sure, sounds grand!' I had no idea what the scene was all about, but I immediately said yes to it. And to be honest, I would've said the same thing even if I wasn't two sheets to the wind," Quarterman says. "But when I actually got the scene, it made complete sense, the reversal of power. It was the beginning of the breaking down of Lee's ego, so I found it all very potent."
But Sizemore didn't go through all those experiences alone; through every one of them, Maeve (Thandie Newton) was by his side. Looking back, Quarterman has nothing but kind words for his Emmy-nominated co-star. "When we shot our first scene together, which actually was chronologically our first scene, we just worked so well together, there was immediate chemistry," he remembers fondly. "We just had a ball. So I was very excited to spend the entire season with Thandie. She's a wonderful human and an incredible actress. I've learned a huge amount from her. It was a lot of fun."
While the Season 2 finale provided a pretty cynical view of humanity — painting humans as murderous creatures of survival who are slaves to their own internal coding, with no free will to speak of — Sizemore was one of the few glimmers of optimism, portraying a human who seemingly made the choice to lay down his life. But if humans don't have free will, was that really a choice?
"We've seen these hosts veering off these loops and patterns and storylines that they've been working with all this time," Quarterman says. "Lee is also operating in strict loops and narratives and stories himself. And he, throughout the season, breaks free of those stories, too, to create a new direction, a new path. I think the hosts are allowing him to see that there's another way, that he doesn't need to be on these preset patterns. I like to think Lee is demonstrating hidden code, the code that's underneath all of these stories that we're living in, which can be rewritten at any time."
It's a drastic shift from Lee's personality in Season 1. "The first season was very much all about ego for him, and this season was about him discovering his heart, a journey into a more loving and compassionate space," Quarterman continues. "I think through this season, these hosts have changed him. Before, they were just a bunch of wires and code, they were only there to facilitate his stories, his dialogue — and now he's seeing deeper than that. And not only that, but there's a lot of him in them, you know? They come from him. So he's not only discovering them, he's also discovering himself in a lot of ways."
Sizemore's self-discovery, his attempt to rewrite his own "hidden code," provides the bleak finale with one of its only flashes of optimism. "Lee's always seemed to me to be that crack of light that is within all of us," Quarterman says of his dearly departed character. "There's much more to us than what we believe and what we see. When we turn on the news, we generally get a very grim outlook of humanity, you know, especially now in the current climate. I kind of like to see this show as illustrating that, in general, we can be seen as this species that's just out to conquer and to be right the whole time; but underneath there's something deeper, there's something that I think is difficult to arrive at and discover, but nonetheless it's there. And I think Lee demonstrates this hope there is for humanity, actually. A small little slice of it, but it's there. It's the hidden code."
In fact, that hope is something Quarterman would like to see more of in Westworld Season 3. "I would certainly like to see the lighter side of humanity come through a little more, so we get to see a goodness in humanity, too," he says. Could he even be a part of that future? Deceased human characters have resurfaced in surprising ways before, after all. "It's unlikely, considering the peppering of bullets he took in the finale," Quarterman insists. "But who knows?"
With Westworld, the answer truly is no one ever knows.