The creators of Westworld are good at what they do – but so are the fans. For those plugged into the din of the Westworld subreddit, the first season proceeded like an ecstatic cat-and-mouse game between fans and solutions to Westworld’s puzzles, carefully planted in each episode. Eventually, fans were able to unravel the season’s central mysteries, long before the season laid out its solutions. There’s an entire Reddit post in which fans boast about the twist they predicted first — an admirable feat, considering I watched the entirety of the first season with the expression of the “thinking face” emoji.
Last night, not long before the season 2 premiere on 22nd April, Westworld’s creators, married couple Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, were prepared to take a drastic step to prevent the cycle of too-accurate theories from proliferating and ruining the fun. During last night’s Reddit AMA, the creators offered to reveal the plot of the entire second season, should their post get 1,000 upvotes. In the following post, Nolan explained their reasoning. Essentially, Nolan and Joy were going to task the fan community who chose to watch the video with “protecting” the other fans from spoilers.
“‘Theories’ can actually be spoilers, and the line between the two is confusing. It’s something we’ve been thinking about since last season. The fans of Game of Thrones, for instance, rallied around and protected the secrets of the narrative in part because they already knew those secrets (through season 5),” Nolan wrote in his post.
“We thought about this long and hard, and came to a difficult (and potentially highly controversial) decision. If you guys agree, we’re going to post a video that lays out the plot (and twists and turns) of season 2. Everything. The whole sordid thing. Up front. That way the members of the community here who want the season spoiled for them can watch ahead, and then protect the rest of the community, and help to distinguish between what’s ‘theory’ and what’s spoiler.”
At first, it seemed like Nolan and Joy were actually going to follow through with their proposal. Last night, hours after the initial AMA, Nolan posted a link to the video in a Reddit thread along with the message, “All right guys. We left this in your hands. Some may feel this is a drastic step, but I, for one, love and trust this community.” For two whole minutes, it seems that this 25 minute-long video was exactly what Nolan had promised. Jeffrey Wright gives a play-by-play narration of his character, Bernard’s, movements, as he walks through Westworld. He mentions a cryptic door, and a maze. “Can he remember Dolores?” Wright asks of his character, with tremendous seriousness.
Then comes a twist that no one — not even the master theorists of r/Westworld — could have predicted. Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) begins to sing Rick Astley's “Never Gonna Give You Up," and is accompanied by Clementine Pennyfeather’s (Angela Sarafyan) sweet, sweet piano accompaniment. The following 22 minutes are of a dog named Bento sitting in front of a piano with the Westworld soundtrack playing in the back — as we discover at the end of the video, Bento recently passed on.
This video — titled "Westworld Season 2: A Primer" was more than just the highest production quality rickroll (and most honourable “in memoriam” video) ever. It was also a brilliant move on Joy and Nolan’s part. Even if the creators and fans are locked in a cat-and-mouse game, this video proved that ultimately, everyone's on the same side. It’s a relationship of mutual respect: Fans love Westworld, and Westworld's creators love fans enough to troll them spectacularly.
The existence of such a video also forced fans to briefly reconsider their relationship to TV. It was, to deploy a metaphor, the forbidden fruit of Westworld. Were the fans ready to experience the adrenaline rush of knowing, and then go through the rest of the season with only a fraction of the glee? Were they ready to give up their habit of theorising? For many redditors, this wasn’t an easy choice. “It took me like 6 balked tries and some real soul-searching about the way I interact with TV before clicking the link,” wrote ughsicles.
Obviously, as that redditor pointed out, the internet and fan culture has changed the way we interact with TV and works of pop culture. Part of any committed fan’s job is to watch the episode of Westworld or Game of Thrones or Sherlock – and then to study theories. Shows are the source material; Reddit (and the media sites that spin articles from Reddit theories) are the class discussion.
The relationship is reciprocal. Creators are aware of fans — sometimes, in their opinion, too aware. Back in 2014, George R. R. Martin admitted that fans pieced together a twist in the Song of Ice and Fire books. “At least one or two readers had put together the extremely subtle and obscure clues that I'd planted in the books and came to the right solution,” he told The Telegraph. This sent Martin into a tailspin about the future of the story (which, apparently, he’s still chugging away on). "What do I do then? Do I change it! I wrestled with that issue and I came to the conclusion that changing it would be a disaster, because the clues were there,” he continued.
Westworld’s creators seem to be taking a similar approach to Martin, in that while they’re aware of fans, they won’t let them dictate the future of the story. During the AMA, one user asked Nolan and Joy whether “Season 2 [was] written more cryptically just to throw off plot hunters from here and the rest of the internet.” Nolan responded with a simple “nope,” and then alluded to the "proposal" that he’d announce later in the evening — the video that added a hilarious, meta layer to the game of figuring out Westworld.
Since the video didn't actually contain any spoilers, the quest to figure out Westworld before the season ends is still on. This video proved that, for all the fans' savviness, the creators are still one very crucial step ahead.