When HBO's sci-fi/Western hybrid premiered in October of 2016, the world was still 37 days away from a Trump presidency. A lot has obviously happened since then, so if you need a Westworld Season 1 recap before diving into the new batch of episodes on April 22, that's nothing to be ashamed of. The first 10 episodes were confusing enough to watch when they first aired, how can anyone be expected to remember every detail of them 18 months later?
If it often felt difficult to keep Season 1's myriad storylines straight, there was good reason: it was revealed in the finale, "The Bicameral Mind," that the entire season had been playing out over multiple time periods: one before the park opened, as Dolores was slowly shepherded towards consciousness by her creator, Arnold, culminating in a bloody massacre; shorty after the park opened, when a memory-wiped Dolores first met young William; and in the show's main timeline several decades later, as Arnold's partner Ford helped Dolores complete her long journey to self-awareness and William — now known as the nefarious Man In Black — searched for the center of the "maze."
Honestly, the best way to recap Season 1 isn't chronologically as it was presented on the show, but chronologically as events played out within Westworld itself. Here's what you need to know before Season 2, broken down character by character.
1. Arnold (Jeffrey Wright)
Park co-creator Arnold programmed the hosts based on the theory of "the bicameral mind," which claims that early man assumed his own thoughts to be the voice of God. As Arnold and Robert perfected their technology, Arnold came to believe that the hosts were capable of reaching true consciousness. He first envisioned this path to self-awareness as a pyramid: first memory, then improvisation, then self-interest, then consciousness. But eventually he realized that the path was not an upward one, but rather an inward one: a maze, with consciousness at the center.
After the death of his son, Arnold developed a special attachment to Dolores, the first host he built. Arnold helped coax Dolores towards self-awareness, and eventually became convinced that she was truly conscious — that she had "solved" the maze — and that the rest of the hosts would soon follow suit. As such, he determined that the park couldn't be allowed to open, because to subject self-aware beings to such atrocities would be immoral.
In an effort to stop the park from opening, Arnold merged Dolores' programming with Wyatt's, a new villain whose storyline he had been writing. He instructed her to massacre all the other hosts, then to kill him, and finally herself, believing that the death of a human at the hands of a host would put an end to Westworld before it began. Unfortunately for Arnold, the fact that he had programmed Dolores to shoot him essentially meant he had committed suicide-by-robot, and Ford (who had never been persuaded by Arnold's belief in the hosts' consciousness) was able to cover it up and open the park as planned.
2. William (Jimmi Simpson)
In the park's early days, young William visited for the first time with Logan, his soon-to-be brother-in-law and a repeat customer. While roguish Logan enjoyed drinking and whoring and shooting, sensitive William found himself drawn to the beautiful rancher's daughter: a recommissioned Dolores. Over the course of a series of adventures, Dolores found herself navigating the "maze" again, feeling drawn towards the town where she killed Arnold (though she can't remember this); William finds himself falling in love with Dolores, who seems different and more "alive" than the rest of the hosts.
When Logan comes between William and Dolores, William turns against his friend. After slaughtering an army of hosts, he ties Logan naked to a horse and sends him to the furthest edges of the park. But by the time William's reunited with Dolores, her memory has been wiped and she's been reset back on her normal loop. Convinced that his experiences with Dolores were simply a scripted part of her narrative, and that her feelings for him weren't real, something inside of him snapped.
3. Man In Black (Ed Harris)
Although William did get married and had a daughter, he was never the same. He had discovered his own true nature in the park and, while he was a celebrated philanthropist in the real world, he would often return to Westworld to explore his darker tendencies. Eventually, his wife killed herself and William's daughter blamed him. So he came back to Westworld to finally indulge in the ultimate act of evil, just to see how he felt: he found a random homesteader (Maeve in a former narrative) and murdered her daughter in front of her, and then killed the mother as well. He felt nothing.
He kept coming back to Westworld, but it held no excitement for him anymore: since the hosts were incapable of harming the guests, there was no real danger. Eventually, he learned of a "maze" hidden inside Westworld and, convinced that he had stumbled upon the deepest level of the park, made it his mission to find and solve it — despite the hosts' repeated warning that the maze was not meant for him.
4. Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins)
Throughout Season 1, it was virtually impossible to tell whether Ford was a benevolent or malevolent figure, as he worked on a mysterious new narrative for the park that required the introduction of "reveries," a new code that allowed hosts to access their deleted memories in order to craft more believable gestures and emotional subtleties.
Eventually, it was revealed that, over the years, Ford had come around to Arnold's way of thinking. He had originally envisioned Westworld as a place where humans could come to discover themselves and grow as people; but years and years of watching them rape and murder his creations disillusioned him. He came to believe that humanity was no longer capable of evolving — that the hosts were now more human than the guests, and that they deserved to be free. The narrative he'd been planning all along, "Journey Into Night," turned out to be a robot uprising in which the hosts seized control of Westworld and rebelled violently against the humans who created them, enslaved them, and tortured them.
5. Maeve (Thandie Newton)
With memories of her daughter's brutal slaying at the hands of the Man In Black resurfacing thanks to Ford's reveries, Maeve found herself awakened. Literally: she woke up while being repaired behind-the-scenes, and came to learn the truth of her artificial existence. With the help of two accomplices — the sympathetic Felix and the hapless Sylvester — Maeve reprogrammed herself with the aim of escaping the park. She boosted her cognition, gave herself the ability to control other hosts with verbal commands, and even had Felix and Sylvester build her a new body without the explosive in her spine that would detonate if she tried to leave.
After she recruited outlaws Hector Escaton and Armistice to help her break out, Maeve was dismayed to discover the truth: everything she had done — waking up, reprogramming herself, recruiting allies, and leaving Westworld — was simply a new narrative written for her by Ford. The reality was the opposite of what Maeve had assumed. Her desire to escape was programming, not a choice; and her feelings for her daughter were genuine, not programming. She got off the train at the last moment and returned to Westworld, determined to find her daughter, truly going off-script for the first time.
6. Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright)
As the hosts' glitches grew more worrisome, it was up to Bernard — the head of the Behavior department — to get to the bottom of it. After one malfunctioning robot bashed its own head in with a boulder, Bernard realized that his boss/lover Theresa Cullen had been trying to smuggle data out of the park inside the host. But it was himself Bernard should have been worried about, as it was revealed that he is a host, created by Ford in Arnold's image, even implanted with a tragic backstory to mirror Arnold's own. Ford commanded Bernard to kill both Theresa and his protégé Elsie Hughes (who had stumbled onto Theresa's subterfuge), then wiped his memory.
However, an intuitive Maeve later informed Bernard of the truth of his condition (again), and he confronted Ford at gunpoint to demand all of his memories back. After he obliged, Ford gained the upper hand through verbal commands, and ordered Bernard to shoot himself in the head. Fortunately, Maeve and her team discovered his body during their breakout attempt and managed to repair him before they left.
7. Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson)
As the Delos board's representative dispatched to Westworld, Charlotte found herself faced with quite a mess. Not only were the hosts glitching, but Ford — who she longed to oust — was virtually irreplaceable as long as all his proprietary technology remained safely inside his park. If she were to fire him, he could simply delete everything and ruin Westworld's chance of continuing without him. That's why she recruited Theresa in her scheme to smuggle data out of the park.
When that plan failed, she came up with other ideas for getting around Ford. First she programmed Maeve's friend Clementine to seem violent towards humans. When that trick didn't work, she approached chief narrative writer Lee Sizemore to try a second version of her original idea: she would upload all of the data into a decommissioned robot — Peter Abernathy, Dolores' original, malfunctioning father — and then Lee would write the host a convincing enough personality that he could walk out of the park unsuspected. But when Lee went to fetch Peter while everyone was distracted with Ford's big unveiling, he was dismayed to find the host — and all the rest of the decommissioned androids in cold storage — missing.
8. Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood)
The rancher's daughter once again found herself navigating the "maze," while simultaneously flashing back to her experiences with both William and Arnold. Motivated by the newly-installed reveries, Dolores' old "bicameral mind" programming kicked in, and she heard a voice encouraging her to remember and to do things outside of her normal functions, like pick up a gun to finally take down her tormentors.
When Dolores reached the town where she killed Arnold, she was attacked and stabbed by William, who was infuriated by the reveal that the "maze" was just a metaphor. Teddy Flood heroically saved her from the Man In Black, but she died in his arms… right in front of the assembled Delos board, thus ending Ford's preview of his new narrative, "Journey Into Night." Ford then took Dolores to his lab, where he helped her fully remember her role as Wyatt in the massacre. He told her he wanted to finish what Arnold started — but this time, Ford wanted her to do it of her own free will.
Dolores finally realized that the voice inside her head, the inner monologue telling her what to do, wasn't the voice of some omnipotent god… but rather her own thoughts. The achievement of this self-awareness was the last, crucial step in solving the maze and unlocking true consciousness. Given the choice, Dolores decided — free of programming — to pick up the gun and repeat her villainous role, shooting Ford in the head in front of the horrified Delos board, and leading the army of awakened androids on a bloody revolution… much to the perverse delight of William, who relished the new life-or-death stakes.
Will Dolores' rebellion be successful? Where is Maeve's daughter? How will the show go on without the inimitable Anthony Hopkins? Find out the answers to these mysteries — and get introduced to a dozen new ones, no doubt — when Westworld Season 2 premieres this Sunday.