WARNING: This post contains spoilers through the ninth episode of Westworld.
The penultimate episode of Westworld’s stellar first season aired last night and it was a doozy. Over the course of an hour, questions were answered and mysteries solved. Some of the most widespread theories were proven correct while others are now left to languish in the realm of “What if?” it had been like this instead. But one question remains — okay, lots of questions remain but one that is particularly driving me to distraction — and that is why on Earth Westworld has been playing coy with the fate of Elsie Hughes (Shannon Woodward). We are meant to assume she’s dead, but if Game of Thrones has taught us anything it’s that you can’t assume anything about a death unless it happens on screen. Hell, in Westworld you might not even be able to safely assume a character is dead even then.
Yet the writers haven’t even given us this much with Elsie. To recap, Ms. Hughes went off on a mission to discover who was sending Delos secrets out of the park. Her adventure ended when an unknown assailant attacked her. We later learned her attacker was Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) acting under the orders of his creator Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins). In a flashback in last night’s episode, Bernard remembers strangling Elsie but is ripped from the memory before she even loses consciousness, much less dies. This is all before the death of Theresa Cullen (Sidse Babett Knudsen). Time can be difficult to track in a show like Westworld, especially given we’re dealing with several timelines, but it’s safe to assume Elsie has been missing for a while, allegedly on leave, with no one the wiser to her disappearance. The fact that leave lasts this long (or longer) lends credence to another theory of mine, but I digress.
At first I thought the end game here was for Ford to replace Elsie with a host copy of herself in a nod to 1976’s Futureworld. That could still be the case, since Ford is clearly making someone in his underground bunker. But after the attack on Security Ken Doll aka Ashley Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) by rogue American Indians from the Ghost Nation tribe, I’ve amended my theory. I think Elsie Hughes is alive.
Elsie a programmer at Westworld who specializes in host behavior. Not only that, but she’s gifted enough that she’s been promoted to be Bernard’s assistant and smart enough to know when something fishy is going on. That makes her dangerous. Of course Ford would want her out of the picture (though why he seems to want Delos secrets to continue to leave the park remains a mystery). But then why not just show her death? Even if the goal was to have a host clone take her place, there’s little reason to keep the death a secret. In fact, I could argue showing Elsie’s unambiguous demise would only heighten any future reveal that she’s been “returned to service,” so to speak.
But what if Elsie escaped. Either because Bernard malfunctioned and was unable to murder his friend (unlikely, as he murdered his lover with no hesitation) or because Elsie realized what Bernard was and took control of the situation. Using voice commands, brute force, her wits, or a combination of all three, Elsie then fled into the wilds of the park to recover and regroup. Weeks later, she turned on her location knowing Stubbs or another member of security would come looking for her. Not one to be idle, Elsie reprogrammed the Ghost Nation tribe to defend her and/or capture Stubbs without hurting him so she could assess if he’s trustworthy to help her blow this conspiracy wide open.
To what ends remains uncertain but if Elsie is alive, she’s the only person outside the Machiavellian web of deceit that knows things are not as they seem. And Westworld has made it clear that Stubbs doesn’t trust the hosts to not turn violent at some point, making him a good ally if things hit the fan while Elsie attempts escape and/or corporate espionage. If we’re very lucky, perhaps Elsie, Maeve (Thandie Newton), and Peter Abernathy (Louis Herthum) will all make to the last train out of town before the season ends.