‘Westworld’ Recap, Season 2 Episode 8: The Great Ghost Nation Mystery
In the canon of Westworld, the Ghost Nation does not play by the rules. They sometimes vanish into thin air. Their minds are impervious to Maeve’s (Thandie Newton) takeover attempts and Ashley Stubbs’ (Luke Hemsworth) voice commands. They collect human captives for unknown reasons. They are totally mysterious, living on Westworld’s margins and never emerging as full characters—until now.
Because of their puzzling nature, the Ghost Nation has invited a plethora of fan theories. Are they humans? Are they medics, helping to keep the guests safe? Holograms? Memory fragments? A simulation within a simulation?? Ancient aliens?! Sunday night’s episode laid all those theories to rest, revealing that they are … wait for it … just hosts. No gimmicks. That might not be as involved or exciting as some viewers’ wildest dreams, but given Westworld‘s habit of manifesting human consciousness in increasingly outlandish ways, the simplicity is a relief. (Even if it leaves unanswered how they can disappear in an instant—they must have exceptional horses.)
The awakening of the most familiar Ghost Nation host, Akecheta (Zahn McClarnon), has a simple explanation, too. Living out on the edge of the park with his buddies, he couldn’t help but become sentient. What was his trick, his great insight, his grand mental hack? He just … lived.
Life on the outskirts has its advantages: A close-knit sense of community, sweeping natural vistas, and a much smaller risk of getting murdered by random visitors. For almost a decade, Akecheta managed to avoid getting killed. Because he and many of the other Native American hosts could stay alive longer, their memories piled up. Whenever one of their people got replaced with a different host, they could discuss the oddness of having some new guy impersonating one of their old pals.
It’s a departure from what Westworld has implied before about the emergence of sentience. In Season 1, Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and Maeve began to achieve consciousness after Delos technicians introduced reveries—snippets of memories that were supposed to make the hosts more spontaneous. Akecheta’s awakening shows that they didn’t need a covert software update to gain self-awareness; all they needed was time. The diabolical truth about Delos is that every time its technicians erase a host’s memories, they are killing off the first shoots of sentience.
In this episode, Akecheta and Maeve’s daughter are inside a Ghost Nation encampment when he tells her, in Lakota, the story of his awakening. He’s not a bad guy, he assures the girl, just a nice fellow with a juggalo’s taste for face paint and a broken heart. His journey began when he happened upon a carving of the maze right after Dolores killed Arnold in Sweetwater. He became obsessed with it, drawing the pattern everywhere like a school kid doodling the “Cool S” all over his notebooks. It became his first clue that there was something more to life than what he knew.
The diabolical truth about Delos is that every time its technicians erase a host’s memories, they are killing off the first shoots of sentience.
A second hint came when he stumbled across Logan Delos (Ben Barnes), sun-scorched and delirious after his cousin William (Jimmi Simpson) dispatched him into the desert naked and tied to his horse. Logan kept repeating in a feverish haze that he was in the wrong world. “His words cracked something open for me,” Akecheta tells the young girl. He started searching for clues to other worlds, and eventually found what appears to be the Valley Beyond while it was still under construction. He becomes convinced that it contains a door to the outside world. (Finding “The Door,” of course, has also been the Man in Black’s quest this season.)
Then one day, Akecheta caught a glimpse of a beautiful woman from another Native American tribe, and he recognized her as his partner from a former existence. He kidnapped her and managed to jog her memory of their shared past, and they searched for an exit together until Delos lab techs brought her in. Much like Maeve’s quest to find her daughter, Akecheta hunted for her reincarnation in every corner of Westworld, eventually resorting to killing himself to see if he could find her in death.
Down in the Mesa Hub labs, the technicians examining Akecheta were astounded to discover he hadn’t died in almost a decade. In one hard-to-believe scene, he wakes up mid-software-update and calmly rides an escalator down to Cold Storage, where he finds his decommissioned wife. He weeps at the realization that he cannot get her back, but also realizes he has a larger mission: He must help the other hosts recapture their memories of the people they’ve lost. Then he saunters back to his lab chair without encountering a single Delos staffer, and gets shipped back out to Westworld.
Soon Robert Ford shows up, in what is perhaps Westworld‘s most Hannibal Lecter scene yet.
He begins slowly awakening his own people to their memories, using the symbol of the maze. Tattooing the maze on the underside of their scalps becomes a Ghost Nation meme. How this never raised concern among Delos staff seems puzzling—surely the lab techs who stitch their heads back together would at some point notice and get spooked by the warriors’ macabre artwork.
But never mind those details, because soon Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) shows up, in what is perhaps Westworld‘s most Hannibal Lecter scene yet. Akecheta finds him in a clearing where spotlights are bathing Ford and the bodies of several Ghost Nation warriors in light. Ford is casually sawing off their scalps, exposing the maze tattooed beneath each one.
Ford tells Akecheta that he has been watching him for years, but that he had not meant for the maze symbol to have lasting meaning. He then instructs Akecheta to begin leading his people to the new world after Ford himself dies.
The episode ends back at the Mesa Hub, with Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) examining Maeve’s software. She realizes that Maeve is still controlling hosts out in the park. What she doesn’t see is that Maeve has been using the host mesh network to monitor her daughter—and has been listening in on Akecheta’s story. Their factions are now aligned. The mystery of who the Ghost Nation warriors are has been solved; who they will become, however, has yet to be revealed.