SPOILER ALERT: This story contains details about tonight’s season 2 finale of Westworld on HBO

From the moment Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) died at the end of Westworld‘s season 1, a robot apocalypse has ensued throughout this past season, with hosts and humans as collateral damage. And while the Delos SWAT team appears to have quelled the android uprise, we’re left with the notion at the end of tonight’s 1 1/2 hour episode 20, “The Passenger”, written by husband and wife Westworld creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, and directed by Frederick E.O. Toye, that our world is about to be stirred up by the likes of robo-Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), robo-Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson), and the venerable host Bernard (Jeffrey Wright).

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However, the most jarring part of tonight’s season 2 finale came in the post-credits epilogue. Doubts are raised greatly here about the Man in Black’s (Ed Harris) humanity and whether or not his real daughter Emily (Katja Herbers) even died in the penultimate episode (Joy provides some insight and teases in our interview below).

He arrives to the park’s Forge nerve center in shambles and finds himself in a similar studio where the host of the park’s owner James Delos was tested (and failed). We find Emily questioning Black’s reality, a role typically reserved for a human. She informs him that he’s not living in a simulation, and that she has to check his diagnostics for “fidelity”. Though Emily was scanned as a human in episode 19, that whole technology is for naught as we see robo-Charlotte foil the scanners as she boats to the real world.

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Prior to all of this, Maeve (Thandie Newton) attempts to lead the hosts to the Valley Beyond in a very Moses-like metaphor. Similar to the way that heaven is described in the Bible, the Valley Beyond is a similar place: Many are called, but few are chosen to pass through the heaven’s pinhead needle gate. Those making the segue include Maeve’s daughter as well as Ghost Nation warrior Akecheta (Zahn McClarnon) and his loved one. Their bridge is closed, and Westworld is flooded by Dolores (hence the shot in the season 2 opener where we see the hosts drowned in a lake).  Meanwhile, Bernard, who as a host has all the free will a human could envy, shoots Dolores, enables robo-Charlotte to shoot the real Hale before fleeing the park by boat. She resurfaces with Dolores and Bernard in the latter’s opulent home that sits adjacent to a city’s Central Park.

Below, Joy expounds more on anything you may have been confused about tonight, as well as what to expect in season 3 of Westworld.

Wait a second, isn’t Dolores in Charlotte? Why are they standing together in the end?

JOY: What Dolores has done is that she’s smuggled herself out of the park while impersonating Hale. She has put herself back into her body, and yet Hale is still there. The question is where is Hale now? And that’s a question we’ll be visiting next season.

As Charlotte buzzes away from the island, in a bag she carries several pearls from The Forge.

JOY: In those pearls are a handful of hosts that she is smuggling out of the park. Which hosts they are, we’ll be exploring.

We see the Man in Black digging in his arm, and he’s not in a lot of pain. Does that make him a host? We see that there’s actually a back-up of him that exists.

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JOY: This season we’ve been seeing him in a lot of pain and as he digs into his arm, he suffers from madness. He himself doesn’t know if he’s a host or not. We’ve basically had two time lines this season in the classic film noir structure. We’ve seen him playing the game and figuring his footsteps to the Valley Beyond, but he’s become confused on his side of reality, questioning his nature. If you immerse yourself in the game for too long, do you lose the sense of what is real and not real? He struggles with this and it leads to the moment where he kills his daughter Emily thinking she might be a host. He was in fact mistaken, and he’s digging into his own skin for answers and doesn’t find any wires by the time Dolores arrives. By the end of this time line, he’s being shipped out into the real world. He did kill his own daughter, he’s in the prison of his own skin, locked in his own confusion and guilt.

The chapter that occurs after the credits [editor’s note: Where the Man in Black arrives in an apartment that looks a lot like the one that housed android James Delos being interrogated by daughter Emily as though she is the human, and he the robot] is a little piece of what to come in the future. It gives full closure of the timelines by validating what happened in the park as the Man in Black leaves.

And Bernard?

JOY: He’s leaving his home in the end to be in the real world. Dolores is being totally upfront with him. That they escaped the park, and even if they’re working as foes, it will take both of them to survive. The real world is what we’re investigating next season.

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Tessa Thompson told Deadline at the beginning of the season that “women rule supreme this season, it’s all about the women”. That said, how much did the Time’s Up era inspire the season 2 writers’ room?

JOY: By the time Time’s Up started as a movement we had written all the scripts and were shooting. I’m inspired by that movement today and every day. The series is a reflection of a movement that’s been occurring in society before Time’s Up. It’s been women struggling in all forms of oppression, there’s been networks to cope with it, and there’s been a lot of suffering. The fact is that I’m a human being alive in the world and I’m a woman and I know these things. I’ve been affected by them. Fiction has always been a way of examining society and its flaws and trying to expose them. You find pains and struggles reflected in art.

Human-wise…who’s even alive? There was a big bloodbath. Even the noble Delos tech employee Elsie was shot dead. Lee Sizemore is dead. Ashley Stubbs looks like he’s alive.

JOY: There is management outside of the park. Like any corporation, the brass isn’t centralized at the business operation. There’s more people to meet. Sylvester (Ptolemy Slocum) and Lutz (Leonardo Nam) survived, good on them. The series deals with a large period of time, and in a story about A.I. you’ll say goodbye to humans along the way.

We see all these James Delos hosts. Will they be walking around in season 3?

JOY: They weren’t physical copies, but occurring in this digital space that Dolores and Bernard entered. As we saw in episode 4, the mind tended to reject their bodies when bringing these humans back to life. He went insane and that hasn’t worked thus. 

Westworld co-creator Lisa Joy
Photo by John Johnson

Was there an alternate ending? Was there a version of tonight where some character arcs ended differently?

JOY: I don’t think so. We got to all of our endings. It’s a long finale, and we managed to cram a lot in there. We told the story that we set out to tell. This chapter is now finished and we have a small fleet of hosts in the real world.

Jonathan Nolan and Space X CEO and Tesla co-founder Elon Musk are close friends. They had a panel at SXSW this spring. Musk has said that A.I. is humanity’s biggest existential threat. Have his theories inspired the Westworld writers’ room?

JOY: For me, the series is a morality tale about the fear of humans. The protagonists I empathize with the most are Dolores and Maeve. It’s the examination of human nature, this unique experiment and the extreme human experience. From the A.I.’s point of view, you see some of the humans’ flaws in stark light. There’s violence and tribalism and a lot of darkness in humans which the series explores. It also makes the light brighter, when you see Maeve’s character sacrifice all she has to save her daughter; a parent’s overwhelming love for a child. There’s a human instinct programmed in her, and she choose to preserve and understand the beauty of it, the beautiful thing about being human. It’s fun writing Lee Sizemore as narcissistic idea under duress which is what happens when you’re the worst of mankind, but sometimes you see the best manifest itself.