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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Let's talk about Westworld's timeline-obliterating post-credits scene

Illustration for article titled Let's talk about Westworld's timeline-obliterating post-credits scene
Photo: John P. Johnson (HBO)

[Note: As implied by the headline, this post discusses key plot details from the season two finale of Westworld.]


For people interested in Westworld’s ongoing relationship with pop music, the use of a real Radiohead song as a way to signal the show’s emergence into the real world during last night’s finale was a nice touch. Hopefully Thom Yorke’s melancholy warbling glued you to the couch long enough to watch the entire credits play out, because the show appended a very Marvel-like post-credits stinger that seemed to exist largely outside of the plot of the preceding episode.

It starts with William (Ed Harris), in increasingly ragged shape, staggering out of an elevator. Earlier in the episode we had seen him head into the elevator after getting his hand blown off, only to sort of disappear when the doors opened; we saw him later in a recovery tent, indicating that he had survived the war, at least, but with little else guaranteed. Greeting him when the doors open is his daughter, Emily (Katja Herbers), who he murdered in the previous episode. The Forge, which was once flooded, is now drained and seemingly overrun by some greater external calamity, indicating that—well, something is amiss. “Oh fuck, I knew it,” William says. “I’m already in the thing, aren’t I?”

Emily replies, “No, the systems’s long gone. This isn’t a simulation, William. This is your world. Or what’s left of it.”

They head to the test room where, in one of the season’s best episodes, we had watched Logan test host versions of Delos, illustrating the cognitive plateau problem. Eventually that turned into a horror flick of flashing red lights and skipping, freaked-out Roxy Music clips. There are a few subtle differences between that room and this one—like, for example, the fact that the hourglass had white sand in Delos’s version, but black sand in William’s.

William quickly surmises that he’s in his “fucking park,” then asks, “How many times have you tested me?” Emily says, “It’s been a long time, William. Longer than we thought. I have a few questions for you. The last step is a baseline interview that allows us to verify.”

At that point, if you’ve been watching all of season two, you can pretty much recite the question and response that would close out the season: William asks, “For what?” and, Emily says, “Fidelity.” We are left with one final image of Ed Harris’s beautiful scraggly face before the cut to black. He appears to be trapped in some sort of hellish, long-running loop, much like Delos was, his consciousness being continually replanted into new hosts and forced to relive what most haunted him: the daughter he murdered.


Episode director Fred Toye told Vanity Fair that originally the scene was in the middle of the episode somewhere, but it proved one complication too many for people to keep up with. Moving it to a post-credits scene more clearly delineated that this is a plot thread outside of the larger saga of the second season. Showrunner Lisa Joy said this was very intentional, in an interview with The Wrap: “The reason we put it after the credits was because we wanted to be like, ‘No, you have it. You have the story and the timelines. This is some shit that we’re going to do next’ is what that other thing was.” She continues:

But he’s in a very different timeline. The whole place looks destroyed, and then she explains that all of that stuff happened long ago. That was real. But now something has happened and the Man is now the subject — or some iteration of the Man is now the subject — of testing. The roles have become completely reversed.

And we get the feeling that, in the far-flung future, the Man has been somehow reconjured and brought into this world and he’s being tested the same way the humans used to test the Hosts. And that is a storyline that one day we’ll see more of.


So, in other words: It was all real, the Emily in this scene was definitely a host, it was definitely in a far-off, new timeline, and it’s definitely at least an element of next season’s plot. Consider it something like the nod toward “other parks” tucked into all the action of the first-season finale, in other words—a guarantee that, despite the show’s title, its interests are far broader than a cowboy theme park.

Clayton Purdom is a writer and editor based in Columbus, Ohio.