It all started with a text chain.
Long before “Westworld” debuted its mysterious premiere episode or even dropped a trailer, the very first fan theories came from what may seemed like an unlikely source.
Since creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy didn’t share any secrets with their cast until the shooting scripts were doled out, series regulars Evan Rachel Wood, Jimmi Simpson, Shannon Woodward, and Jeffrey Wright were in the dark as to what would happen in subsequent episodes. So the group started predicting twists the same way so many friends did as the show aired: via text.
“Poor Jimmi,” Wood told IndieWire. “He was my rock during the whole first season, and he would just get an earful every day from me about the thousands of theories that I had.”
“It was very much the way Evan describes it,” Simpson said. “We were all just speculating. Shannon and Evan seemed to talk the most and have the most in depth reasons for everything. Half the time they’d be totally right, sometimes they’d be half-right and sometimes they’d be completely wrong.”
“Everything means something! Every little detail,” Wood said. “I would go on set and start looking at what’s on the walls.”
“Evan did have theories, yes,” Wright said. “But she was kind of waving in the wind there, like everybody else.”
Though she admitted most of her predictions were wrong, Wood claims to have guessed three big ones correctly over the course of the final three episodes [spoilers ahead]: The Episode 9 twist unveiling Bernard as a robo-copy of Arnold, as well as the secret identities of Wyatt and The Man In Black, exposed in the finale.
“I’m pretty sure she called Bernard early on, and she might have even called the big one for me,” Simpson confirmed.
Wright, meanwhile, was told about Bernard’s secret identities after the pilot episode.
“I was a bit of a cheat, relative to everyone else, because I had prior knowledge,” Wright said. “So everyone else was a little in the dark, and I did my best to keep them there. It wasn’t only until the reveals were made in the scripts that I kind of joined in on the text chain.”
Simpson, too, didn’t leap at the opportunity to guess what’s coming next.
“I was more like an audience member: I would stew in it while I had it and then I would wait for the next thing,” Simpson remembered. “I had an idea about my [big] theory — the one people talked about — before they did, and I just kept it to myself because it wasn’t happening yet. Why mix in that idea if it doesn’t need to be talked about yet?”
This same logic could be applied to fan theories in general, and often was as Season 1 rolled out. Many viewers dug deep into the details to come up with predictions, while others boxed themselves away from fan theories in order not to be “spoiled.” Some wanted to find the center of the maze before they were led there, while others didn’t want their viewing experience altered by wild predictions that might or might not come true. Anyone who invested in the experience had to pick a side.
As hosts and humans plotted against each other in “Westworld,” a war between fan theorists and purists broke out in reality; changing both sides’ perception of the labyrinthian mystery forever.
Fan Theories on Fan Theories
But why did “Westworld” spark so much intensity? Many shows put forth big mysteries paired with even bigger twists, yet none reached the same ferocious fervor so quickly. According to the cast, it’s all about the writers.
“We, from the start, were so taken by what Jonah, Lisa, and the team of writers were coming up with, that we dug into this stuff pretty hard,” Wright said. “I think that fans are doing that as well. It’s really a function of just that: the quality of the writing.”
“It’s a psychological drama,” Wood said. “It’s an obstacle course for the mind. I love stuff like that. I want to go on a journey of epic proportions, but what separates it is the psychology and the workout it’s giving your brain. It feels good to figure out the puzzle. We have master storytellers behind us, and I think that was their goal.”
Wood is absolutely right. Nolan and Joy were well aware of the chords they struck on the “Westworld” player piano, dating back to its conception.
“To tell this story, we dropped little hints in their character journeys that also doubled as hints for the audience,” Joy said. “[We wanted] to see if they [could] come to the conclusion faster, or sometimes right along with them. It really was a fundamental part of their journey.”
Nolan, who’s worked on secretive, twisty blockbuster films like “The Prestige,” “Interstellar,” and “The Dark Knight,” noticed a difference between those carefully studied narratives and this one.
“Most of the time when I’ve worked on storytelling like this, where you’re really grounding the audience in one character, or, in this case, the character’s understanding of the universe they’re in, you’re not doing it on a weekly basis,” Nolan said. “On all the films I’ve worked on, there’s always a [Reddit] community that gets in there and pulls apart the narrative and looks at every angle. That’s gratifying because you laid in the details, and it’s exciting when people play with it. Here we were dealing with the larger picture of people who were reporting about those theories [on a weekly basis]. It’s a tricky thing.”
“I was a little anxious that one of us would slip-up.”
As one can imagine, studious viewers asking questions online and off put the pressure on everyone in the know to keep “Westworld’s” secrets safe. While perhaps an easier task if the actors and creators were left alone during the 10-week rollout, Nolan, Joy, Wood, Wright, and Simpson all agreed to dozens if not hundreds of interviews from the press while fielding fan theories tossed at them on social media.
“I was really stunned when they started calling out such specific things [after] Episode 2,” Simpson said. “And I was engaging with people who were watching the show, but I wasn’t engaging with those questions. So I reached out to Jonah and Lisa and asked, ‘Are people going to start tabulating the algorithms of my tweets not returned about this particular theory and figure out that’s the one I’m avoiding?’ And they said, ‘That’s a good call. We’re going to send everyone a prepared concept of what you should do with theories — truthful or not.'”
And that is in fact what they did. “[The guidelines] were basically ‘don’t be a liar’ and ‘just get through it,’ plus a couple options, but it was more about appreciating the thought put into [the fan theories] without giving away anything in the response,” Simpson said.
For example, Wright remembered talking about Bernard specifically as a “computer programmer” instead of a “man.” He didn’t want to give away anything, but at the same time, he didn’t want to lie to the fans who were putting all this time and effort into solving the maze that was “Westworld” Season 1.
“I was a little anxious that one of us would slip-up and confirm too much,” Wright said. “I’ve tried not to be too deceptive. I’ve tried to be pretty straightforward, but not misleading.”
Of course, vague or otherwise inconclusive statements in interviews only fueled the fan theory fires. Articles were written online about the most popular fan theories or the most likely to be proven true. Before long, the weekly affirmation or denial of popular theories became an expected Monday morning task — or chore, depending on your attitude toward theorizing. As the week progressed, new or revised theories started to come out.
And it was here that fan theories first started to concern the creators.
“In a lot of shows like this, over the years, a lot of the theories haven’t really added up to much,” Nolan said. “So I think everyone felt safe playing with theirs. I remember when people first started talking about the Man in Black and Logan (Ben Barnes) saying, ‘This is the craziest theory yet!’ And yet, it’s exactly where we were going with the narrative.”
Nolan added that “Our only concern then, really, is about whether or not a theory winds up [being true]. Look, at a certain point the theory’s obviously a spoiler, and there’s a kind of detente in terms of how spoilers are reported or relayed to the audience. For the audience that want to get under the hood like that, to figure out what’s happening, that’s great. [But] they constitute a relatively small portion of the audience, and so, the only thing I was bummed out about occasionally was when you see a quote/unquote ‘theory’ that was clearly a spoiler show up in the headline of an article; which means there’s no spoiler alert, there’s no ability to stay away from it, it’s in your face for the people who are trying to stay away from spoilers.”
Ideas Overshadowed by Twists
This specific burden of blame lays squarely on editors and reporters. The show’s construction invited such wild speculation, and assertions from the creators that all the answers were right in front of you from the start only fueled desire for discussion, debate, and confirmation. So it was up to online outlets (like and including IndieWire) to protect the purists while alerting the theorists to new information.
Can a harmless theory really spoil the fun? Does all the focus on fan theories, twists, and exposing secrets take away from the broader questions about humanity at the core of “Westworld”?
“I did have that thought,” Simpson said. “In Episode 2, when a lot of people were calling things out, I was like, ‘Oh, shucks man. The whole thing is waiting eight episodes to find that out, and that’s not going to be fun for them.’ But then I lost that a week later when I saw that the theories were flying around, but that was not curbing the enjoyment and the experience.”
“I get the sense that people are multitasking in all this,” Wright noted. “They’re not missing the themes that are being explored, they’re just taking it all in; enjoying following the bread crumbs down into the maze, if you will, and also experiencing the emotional, intellectual and meditative qualities of the show at the same time.”
“I was so invested in what this show meant as a whole, and that’s what made me want to figure it out more,” Wood said, creating a compelling argument for how theorists and purists can unite behind the show’s broader messages. The debate over how much fan theories help or hurt the show may still be at the center of the maze, but it’s up to each of us, individually, to decide what’s best moving into Season 2.
“Certain things you just won’t be able to guess,” Wood said. “They need to be explained to you. You’ll never be able to really connect the dots. You can have a feeling, but until it’s really laid out, it’s just not going to make sense to you. So, you know, keep trying.”
And the actress who started a text chain with the first fan theories, who studied walls of the set looking for clues, who relished being right just as she was excited to be wrong — she laughed.
Maybe we all should, too.
Additional reporting for this piece was conducted by Liz Shannon Miller.