Decoding the Westworld Character Journey: William

From savior to scoundrel

William in Black Hat on Westworld

William (Jimmi Simpson) enters Westworld determined to be the hero. He disagrees with Logan’s (Ben Barnes) treatment of the hosts, preferring to see them as people and not objects to exploit. William’s attraction to Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) seems sweet at first, but his obsession causes him to embrace his violent side and commit atrocious acts to find her. Eventually, he becomes disillusioned and embraces his darker side – becoming the villainous Man in Black.

The White-Hatted Hero

William Catches Dolores on Westworld

From the moment William appears onscreen, he is in constant juxtaposition with his future brother-in-law Logan. Logan views Westworld as a place to indulge his deepest, darkest fantasies with no repercussions. William, however, is reluctant to shed his moral code while in the park – even rebuffing the advances of his greeter host, Angela (Talulah Riley). Logan tells him, though, “This place seduces everybody eventually. By the end, you’re gonna be begging me to stay because this place is the answer to that question that you’ve been asking yourself… Who you really are. And I can’t fucking wait to meet that guy.” Had Logan known how the trip would end up, I don’t think he would have been so enthusiastic.

As they enter Sweetwater, William continues to be the good guy – he is polite to the hosts and tries to restrain Logan’s violent impulses. Logan thinks William is too afraid to go after what he wants, too afraid to “make a mess”, which hinders him in the real world too. Logan happily engages in reckless behavior, while William plays it safe; remaining true to his fiancée by rejecting Clementine’s (Angela Sarafyan) attempts at seduction.

William gets the chance to be a hero, however, when he kills an outlaw and saves Clementine. Logan is glad to see William finally take some initiative and start experiencing what the park has to offer. When he decides to go on a bounty hunt, Logan protests but reluctantly tags along. While they are out in the woods, Dolores stumbles into their camp and falls into William’s arms. They argue over whether to take her back to Sweetwater, but Logan insists they bring her, saying she was likely sent to them to give William a sense of purpose.

As William talks to Dolores, he is intrigued that she longs for something different. He assumed that the hosts were confined to zones, or paths, but Dolores feels she is being led somewhere else, where there is a place for her “beyond all this.” William admits he understands, saying “I know that feeling – that you really don’t want to go back to your old life.” He is starting to feel more alive in the park than he does in the “real” world.

Succumbing to Temptation

William and Dolores Train on Westworld

After they acquire the outlaw they were hunting, Slim (James Landry Hébert), Logan kills their guide, saying they should return Slim to Pariah for a more exciting adventure. William is furious that he killed an “innocent man,” but Logan stresses they are all robots and it’s just a game. He convinces William to go “black hat,” saying Dolores won’t care how he plays and that he shouldn’t worry about impressing her. William agrees to go along with the plan.

In Pariah, they meet Slim’s boss, El Lazo/Lawrence (Clifton Collins Jr.); he convinces them to steal nitroglycerin from Union soldiers to give to the Confederados. During the robbery, William is forced to shoot unarmed men and Slim is killed. Later on in a brothel, Logan tries to convince William to continue on to the fringes of the park where the Confederados are waging war against the Revolutionaries. When William refuses, Logan berates him for being too passive. He insults William for feeling guilty over killing an unarmed man, and says that he doesn’t respect him and doubts his sister does either.

Dolores and William soon learn that El Lazo duped the Confederados and kept the nitro for himself. The Confederados find Logan and proceed to beat him up for the deception; when he pleads to William and Dolores for help, William refuses and runs away with Dolores. They reach a train and find El Lazo already on it with the stolen nitro. They make an uneasy peace, with El Lazo asking them to call him Lawrence, as they head toward the outskirts of the park.

During their journey, Dolores opens up to William, saying she doesn’t want to go back to her old life. William sympathizes, as he is struggling to reconcile his life back home with how the park makes him feel. He tells her that Westworld “doesn’t cater to your lowest self, it reveals your deepest self. It shows you who you really are.” William reluctantly tells Dolores about his fiancée which upsets her, and she leaves. William runs after her saying, “how can I go back to pretending when I know what this feels like?” He kisses her and they make love; William has now been fully seduced by life in the park.

Taking a Dark Turn

Jimmi Simpson as William, Evan Rachel Wood as Dolores Abernathy

They proceed to Escalante, the town buried in sand. Dolores appears confused and upset, and William doesn’t understand what’s wrong with her. He grabs her gun when she raises it to her head, and she becomes hysterical. William fears she is going insane and wants to take her back to Sweetwater, but suddenly they are surrounded by Confederados – and Logan. He takes them prisoner and carries them back to their camp.

William pleads with Logan to let them go, and to help him convince the park ownership that Dolores is “different” and should be allowed to leave. Logan is angry and upset that William seems to have forgotten all about his fiancée, and he vows to make William understand that nothing in the park is real. Logan cuts Dolores open, exposing the machinery inside while William screams at him. Dolores manages to break free and run; William urges her on, saying he will find her.

Becoming the Man in Black

William and Logan on Westworld

Logan cuts William’s bonds and tells him that he just wants him to see reality. The park seduces everyone, but William has to understand it’s all a game and the hosts don’t have real feelings – they are only robots, incapable of love. William assents and they embrace, but when Logan wakes up from his drunken stupor the next morning, he finds the entire Confederado camp has been killed in the night. William walks through the dismembered corpses to stand over Logan with a large knife, saying he is in charge now.

We see the rest of the story told from the Man in Black’s (Ed Harris) perspective. William sets off to find Dolores, with a bound Logan in tow. Logan insists she’s dead by now, but William argues that she is alive and needs their help. They find Lawrence and enlist him in their search; he leads them to an encampment of soldiers who have information on Dolores. Logan scoffs, and William hits him for it before dragging him to his feet.

Later, William interrogates a man in the middle of camp, surrounded by dead soldiers. The man implies Dolores was raped and left for dead, so William kills him. He sets off again in search of her, dragging Logan along behind. Eventually William ties a naked Logan to a horse, saying he is too impulsive and unstable to run Delos. William tells him he’s going to take over and buy Westworld, before setting the horse loose at the edge of the park.

William eventually makes his way back to Sweetwater, where he finds Dolores whole and safe. He is overjoyed to see her, but she has since been reset and doesn’t recognize William at all. At this point, William puts on a black hat and is confirmed to be the Man in Black. How many times did he come back to the park – hoping that Dolores would remember – only to have his hopes crushed over and over again?

Conclusions and Predictions

Man in Black and Dolores on Westworld

William’s transformation to the Man in Black is heartbreaking, because he seems to have real feelings for Dolores. He believes she is different, and she is – she does achieve consciousness. Unfortunately for William, this process takes over 30 years too long. William had long resigned himself to the fact that the hosts were just playthings for the guests, and that Westworld was just a playground. He spent his life suppressing his darkest desires in his “real” life, only to unleash them in the park – and on Dolores.

Whatever love William and Dolores had for each other is gone. Dolores could never forget the violence he inflicted upon her, and Willam has worn the black hat too long to go back to being the hero. He wanted a game with real stakes – in which the hosts are aware and can fight back – and now he has it.

It would be nice to believe he’ll empathize with them and help them in their rebellion, but that’s something young William would have done. He disappeared long ago, and the Man in Black took his place; he is much more likely to side with Delos to crush the hosts’ uprising. After all, as he says in the premiere, “Winning doesn’t mean anything unless someone else loses. That means, you’re here to be the loser.”

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