In just a few episodes, HBO’s Westworld hasn’t just provided fans with a story — it’s created an immersive, mysterious universe. Is it any surprise that fans are fascinated by a futuristic theme park in which Deadwood fantasies can come true? While showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy riff on the central concept of Michael Crichton’s 1973 film to comment on heroism and villainy in the human spirit, they’ve been purposefully vague about exactly how Westworld works, leading to a flood of questions about the exact rules of the place. Based on the episodes that have aired and interviews done by creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, here’s what we know so far regarding what you can and cannot do in Westworld.
Rule #1: You Can’t Shoot Other Guests Dead (and the Hosts Can’t Shoot You)
This one seems the most clear-cut, even if it does open up other questions. The guns in Westworld do serious damage to androids but only have the impact of a BB gun to humans. Nolan called them “simunitions” while previewing the show to the Television Critics Association over the summer — they merely sting humans but they blow holes in hosts. So guests can go crazy during a Wild West shoot-out and not have to fear for their lives, which could be one of the reasons the Man in Black (Ed Harris) is seeking a deeper level of the game — he wants a greater challenge. One question the weapons issues raises, though, is how Delos, the company that manages Westworld, might handle non-firearms. What if a guest or a rogue host goes after a human with an axe? Or a knife? Can a host push a guest off a cliff or would their code stop them from doing so? There are a lot of ways to die in Westworld that don’t involve simunitions, and those might come into play in future episodes.
Rule #2: The Overseers Control Your Journey
Don’t just plan to go to Westworld and kill every host you see. Just as you can’t see what’s behind the curtain at the Haunted Mansion, there are some game-play rules embedded in the structure of this adult theme park. When the Man in Black goes off-script in episode two, Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) makes it clear that he has an “all-access pass” to the park, which implies that most people do not. Would security agents like Stubbs step in and stop other guests? Are there commands that could be relayed to the hosts to intervene? We don’t know at this point, but one can easily envision drunken guests pushing the rules far enough that someone or something has to step in. Every theme park has an asshole or two.
Rule #3: You Enter at Your Own Risk
Can you imagine the accidental body count at a place like Westworld, especially after you factor in drinking at the saloon? Even with simunitions, humans must surely die when they visit. They can fall off cliffs, get run over by horses, or possibly even get killed by fellow guests — the show has been a little unclear about the potential of guest-on-guest violence, although one imagines that the hosts and/or operators would step in quickly. And, again, we’ve heard about that “critical failure” from three decades ago that likely involved guest harm or even death. Nolan has made it clear that the guests entering Westworld must sign extensive liability waivers. Interestingly, he’s also implied that the hosts have been designed to keep the dumb guests alive. As he said, “So if you’ve got a drunken guest who’s careening towards a cliff edge, you’re more likely than not to have a host nearby who, without breaking that narrative, is going to find a way to gently steer them back.”
Rule #4: You Can’t Stay for Too Long (Unless You’re the Man in Black)
While the Man in Black seems to have an unlimited park pass for reasons still vague, other guests can visit for up to two weeks, according to the premiere episode, at the cost of $40,000 a day. While hosts reset on specific timelines (some seem to be every day, while others do so at the end of narratives), guests have to get out of Westworld after 14 days. So hosts not only need to make the most of their time there, but shouldn’t get attached to anyone they meet. There’s no putting down human roots in Westworld.
Rule #5: The Game Gets More Difficult the Further You Get From Town
It’s been referenced more than once that the game gets more complex and intense as one leaves the town at its center. Right at the beginning of episode one, we hear a guest tell another guest, “This is basic. Level one. You ride out of town, that’s when the real demented [stuff] begins.” Think of it like different sections of a theme park. While there may be prostitutes in the saloon, that’s nothing compared to what’s going in the desert. So if you bring your kids to Westworld, stick near the hotel and saloon. And if you’re looking for a darker vision of the Wild West, head for the hills.