Escape this reality. Live without limits.
Despite what the “Welcome to Westworld” brochure says, SXSW fans who make the trip to Sweetwater — a fully-realized recreation of the fictional town at the center of HBO’s hit sci-fi drama, “Westworld” — are given two rules before entering the park:
- Don’t break anything.
- Don’t touch anyone.
While the truly debaucherous fan base who’s looking to kill and canoodle their robot hosts may be disappointed, that brief (and twisted) regret is immediately overshadowed once you step off the bus. After a 30-minute ride outside of Austin, registered guests enter the welcome portal (see the photo above), walk through a train car (complete with hosts who yell things like, “Do I look like a fucking picture frame?” if you try to take a photo), and enter the town of Sweetwater.
Created in five weeks by a 40-person crew, the town features the Mariposa Saloon, where guests can play a hand of blackjack, the Hotel Coronado, which offers cocktails, meat, and beans (more on this later), a photography studio, a post office, and more. There are any number of inconspicuous hideaways meant to be overlooked — but don’t. The 60 actors, six stunt people, and five bands (plus six horses) were operating off a 444-page script, so even though you can have any kind of conversation you want with the hosts, what happens in the town has been meticulously plotted out by HBO.
Rodrigo, your host for the “motor carriage” ride to town, gives one other instruction to arriving guests: “Sweetwater is full of secrets.” Over the course of 90 minutes, IndieWire did its best to suss out the promised easter eggs, hints, and secrets for Season 2. If you want to live the experience in photos, check out our gallery, but here’s what we learned about the new season in our extravagant, nearly limitless new reality:
1. Samurai are coming, and not just to SamuraiWorld…
Much was made of the brief glimpse of samurai during the “Westworld” Season 1 finale, and even though creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy are notoriously close-mouthed (even about confirming their own hints), it sure seems like Samurai will be a part of Season 2.
Note the use of “samurai” and not “SamuraiWorld”: At the activation, a rogue samurai was wandering through Sweetwater, perhaps hinting that the samurai aren’t contained to their own world in Season 2. He walked around town, silently looking at various hosts and guests, but the cowboys and cowgirls on hand didn’t interfere with him. Eventually, he ended up inside, but that doesn’t mean he’s meant to be there.
Is Delos losing control of their parks? Will one world bleed into another? Will cowboys be fighting samurai, or will the hosts bond together to destroy their robot masters? Well, if the SXSW park is to be trusted, it sure looks like the latter…
2. The hosts are starting to see what they’re not supposed to see.
One of the fundamental operating principles of Westworld is that the hosts do not know they’re hosts. This point was used to set up a number of juicy twists in Season 1, but by the end, Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) has solved the maze and looks ready to start a rebellion.
So far, it seems to be working.
While this critic was sipping an old fashioned with dinner, two cowboys came charging into the bar in a huff. They cut the line, grabbed a couple of drinks, and started talking loudly about their position in life. Though the room noise muffled some of what they were saying, it was clear these two men knew they were hosts.
“We’re just the freaks,” one said, noting how they’re “part of the sideshow” while the humans get to do whatever they want. It was unclear how much they knew — for instance, they didn’t specifically say they were “hosts” or robots, but they definitely recognized they were there to serve the humans, as their programming intends — and they ran out of the room (chasing a woman) before anyone could ask any questions.
3. Chaos reigns.
The deeper you get into the park, the more problems arose. The concert, bar, hotel, and most official landmarks all seemed to be operating fine — though the banker did say he couldn’t help me because they’d “briefly” run out of money — but if you walked off the beaten path, there were secrets to discover.
One especially creepy example of this was when you walked to the edge of Sweetwater and found the graveyard. There was a woman compulsively tracing patterns in the dirt. After staring at it for a second, it became clear they were numbers: a zero (with circles inside circles) and a four, above two two’s, or 04 and 22, 4/22, April 22 — the release date for “Westworld” Season 2.
But that’s not all she had to offer. Right behind her was a grave that read, “Dolores Abernathy,” Evan Rachel Wood’s character, and (matching what happened at the end of Season 1), if you took the wandering preacher’s advice and “dug a little deeper,” you’d find a familiar maze buried in the ground.
As you pieced together what to do, the woman and her friend got in a fight with the preacher, who they said was pretending to be a Catholic in order to take confessions, which he’d then turn around and use as blackmail. Or, he’d simply just shoot people and use their corpses to fill up his graveyard. When asked about this accusation, the maze, and the numbers in the dirt, the preacher shorted out; stuttering “oh, four, two, two” over and over again until he reset, begged your pardon, and continued on as if nothing happened.
4. The drone hosts are going to be a big deal.
As seen in the first “Westworld” Season 2 trailer and discussed briefly in previews, the ominous, muscular, and blank-faced “drone hosts” have generated a lot of buzz, and they were a presence in Sweetwater — if you knew where to look.
A strange cave-like room near the end of town appeared to be empty. A number of people walked in and out of it without discovering anything, and apparently not questioning why such a structure would exist. But if you looked closely at the walls, one bump appears to be separated from the rest — a little too separate. Pushing it aside reveals a big red button, and if you press the big red button, the wall slides away revealing a hidden room, a technician, and… a drone host.
Nothing particularly notable happened in the room — the technician appeared to be working on the drone — but its presence further emphasizes the role they’ll play in Season 2. At the very least, it confirms the shot wasn’t one fabricated to throw theory-driven fans off the trail.
5. “May you all rise to a new day.”
While the samurai and disgruntled cowboys hinted at problems in the park, the most prominent event to happen during IndieWire’s time there illustrated that things were working fine. After a standoff outside the Hotel Coronado, one cowboy fired a shot into another, killing him on the spot. The crack of the gun was loud enough to startle everyone watching, but what happened next was even more surprising.
This wasn’t host-on-host crime, but a guest (played by an actor) completing a mission in the park. After the cowboy collapsed to the ground, the shooter let out an excited cry and celebrated with his buddy. He said he’d finally beat the game after seven tries, and his friend noted how Sally was going to be pissed she missed this.
“I hope the baby shower was worth it,” he said.
As soon as they left to go get drunk at the saloon, a costumed woman shouted, “Cease all motor functions,” and the hosts in the audience immediately froze. White-suited men and women emerged from a nearby house and started inspecting the corpse, talking about how long they’d worked on him and reminiscing about his many adventures.
After the scene was cleaned up, the same woman who gave the instruction to “cease all motor functions,” said, “May you all rise to a new day,” and the hosts resumed their day-to-day lives.
6. “Westworld” can crack jokes, too.
Guests don’t leave the park empty-handed. In addition to the black or white hat handed out (based on a personality assessment administered during registration), there’s a letter waiting in the post office and a photography studio where you can dress up in even more cowboy garb.
But anyone who dines at the hotel should take a closer look at their can of beans. The “Maiden Brand Beans” sport the tagline, “fuel for the human machine” on the front, but the best easter egg is on the back: A recipe for “liver and beans” lists ingredients like ” 1 human liver” and says it’s an “old favorite of our founder,” Dr. Robert Ford. Ford was played by Anthony Hopkins, who won an Oscar for his performance as the cannibal-killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter in “The Silence of the Lambs,” a man who has a penchant for pairing beans with liver.
The kicker? At the very bottom, the instructions tell consumers to “pair with a nice chianti!” Apparently “Westworld” Season 2 is going to bring the jokes.
The “Westworld Live Without Limits” SXSW experience runs Friday, March 9 through Sunday, March 11. For information about additional ticket releases, follow @WestworldHBO on Twitter. Once new appointments become available, fans can register at DiscoverWestworld.com. Fans can also follow @Lyft on Twitter for a special code that will unlock free Lyft rides to the park. Limited appointments will be available through Lyft each day the activation is open.