SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “The Riddle of the Sphinx,” the fourth episode of the second season of “Westworld.”
Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) may have recalled strangling Elsie (Shannon Woodward) at the end of the first season of “Westworld,” prompting him and much of the audience by extension to believe she was dead. But the second season hinted that her fate, like so many things in the series, was not as simple as first assumed.
Early in season 2 Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) found her tracker was still active, indicating she was somewhere in the theme park grounds, and the fourth episode revealed she had been chained in a cave during the massacre, which effectively, kept her safe.
“I always knew I was coming back,” Woodward reveals to Variety. “I didn’t know the specific details until I saw the script, but I knew the basic idea of how it would happen. I was surprised people thought I was dead [because] they never saw me dead. It made sense to get me out of the way at the time, but it just never crossed my mind that I might be dead. But that was my own perspective, and I guess it could have just been wishful thinking.”
Woodward, who says she “grew up being on Reddit” and is a “total fangirl in the general sense,” admits she was made aware of a number of audience theories about Elsie’s fate and the show in general when people started Tweeting them at her. But she tries not to pay too much attention to them, in part because being on the show and going on “Westworld” threads online feels “voyeuristic” — but also because she says she’s “horribly hard on [herself] as it is.”
“At the end of the day when I go to go home and we’ve worked this really long day, it’s like, ‘Oh man, a lot of people are going to watch that.’ It makes the days worth it because you’re not just throwing stuff into the void, but certainly we go to work and we see these scripts, and for me, that alone is enough pressure,” Woodward says. “I just don’t want to fail [the writers]. I see my job as they’re making a painting, and I’m just a color of paint that they chose.”
And Elsie is an integral part of that painting because, as Woodward points out, she plays the audience. “Elsie is asking all of the questions that the audience wants to,” she notes. “I like to imagine myself as the human representative. I’m assuming most of the audience watching is human and representation’s important!”
But Woodward also thinks Elsie is a version of co-showrunner Lisa Joy, which made the fact that “The Riddle of the Sphinx” was her return episode even more special because Joy directed it.
“Lisa was who I first met and read for, so I always kind of saw this character as her, to an extent, so when she would come to rehearsal, I would watch her behave,” Woodward shares. “So having her there, especially because this is the A-story in the episode, directing me was a relief. I was never worried I would go off-track. She was always there to steer me. She’s a wonderful director, and we all love her so much, it was exciting.”
Woodward adds that since the second episode of the series, Elsie has been a problem-solver. Back then, she noticed something wrong with her hosts and wanted to rebuild Dolores from the ground up. “Maybe it would have been a rom-com if everyone would have listened to Elsie!” Woodward jokes about the show.
But in the second season, despite being “very capable and driven and always focused on the task at hand, even when it maybe is a bit too dangerous,” she’s a bit more of a fish out of water — like all of the characters, Woodward says.
“I think the nature of what’s exciting about this show is it’s about the birth of a new species and constantly questioning the nature of your reality. I think you’re meant to learn as you go,” she says. “The hosts are getting to decide who they want to be and the humans are out of control in their element. And I don’t think that’s anything anyone [in the story] could have expected. …The nature of the whole season is watching them decide who they want to be.”
Despite the “new ground” Woodward says Elsie has found herself on during the fourth episode, “balancing the information she feels she needs to immediately obtain in order to move forward and try to change things, and also extracting as much information as she can from Bernard while being as humane towards him as she can”; despite being concerned about how “unreliable” Bernard now is; and despite the seeing the dangerous hybrid James Delos (Peter Mullan) became when attempting immortality, she still wants to figure out exactly what is going on and how she can help.
“Elsie is definitely protecting herself in this situation, but she’s being very vocal about what she wants, and she wants to go to the [Mesa] and stop this,” Woodward says. “She wants to get to the bottom of this mystery, as she has since episode 1.”
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