In the first season of Westworld, you couldn’t go five minutes without hearing an obscure reference to a maze. This season, in order to keep Westworld reddit threads fresh and active, the buzzword has morphed into something called “the Valley Beyond.”
So, what is the Valley Beyond? It’s a place called Glory. It’s a weapon. It’s the site of redemption. It’s the Man in Black’s biggest mistake. And according to Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), it’s the only chance the hosts have to win the upcoming fight against Delos’ pacifying forces.
The Valley Beyond has been mentioned multiple times in the first two episodes of Westworld's second season. The first reference to this geographic/metaphysical/mysterious location comes at the start of the season premiere, when Karl Strand (Gustaf Skarsgard), Bernard (Jeffrey Wright), and Delos employees extract the memories of a deceased American Indian host. “Not all of us deserve to make it to the Valley Beyond,” Dolores says, before killing him. In a subsequent flashback, we see Bernard cowering in a barn with Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) and hosts. A host stable boy, clearly not reading the tense mood in the barn, offers his services to the group. "You folks aiming to saddle up, ride for the green pastures of the Valley Beyond?" he asks. Instead, the guests kill the stable boy.
Dolores and the stable boy’s comments seem to indicate that the Valley Beyond is a tangible location. But, as we learn in the final moments of "Reunion," that’s not quite right.
The big “reveal” about the Valley Beyond comes at the end of “Reunion,” when Teddy (James Marsden) and Dolores stare off onto a settlement down below. They’re gathering an army to head to Glory. “Glory. Valley Beyond. Everyone’s got a different name for it, and they’re all bound for the same destination,” Teddy says.
Dolores has a more concrete understanding of what the Valley Beyond actually is. “Doesn’t matter what you call it. I know what we’re going to find there. An old friend was foolish enough to show me, long ago,” Dolores says. “And it’s not a place. It’s a weapon. And I’m going to use it to destroy them” — them being the guests and creators of Westworld.
Dolores’ obscure statement would have been left a complete mystery, had “Reunion” not also included information about William’s (Jimmi Simpson) role in creating Westworld – and forging the premise upon which Westworld was built. Jimmi spends the episode convincing James Delos (Peter Mullan), the founder of Delos, that Westworld isn’t just a theme park – it’s a business opportunity. Delos could study the behaviour of park visitors in a closed environment, and acquire their DNA (a practice we see in the secret lab of the season 2 premiere).
Later in his timeline, William, feeling very proud of himself, brags about his creation to Dolores. He brings her to a place that’s clearly under construction — either the beginning of Westworld, or the creation of the Valley Beyond. Here, William gives away his secret: Westworld is a place built upon exploiting humans, just as it’s built upon exploiting hosts. William is the old friend that Dolores mentions to Teddy.
As it turns out, The Man in Black is headed to the Valley Beyond as well. Only when the Man in Black talks about the Valley Beyond in “Reunion,” he refers to it as his “greatest mistake.” We can extrapolate that his “greatest mistake” is harvesting data — because now, that data is susceptible if it gets in the hands of the wrong people (like Dolores).
To think: If Dolores reaches the Valley Beyond, that site where guests’ data is held, she’ll access recorded proof of their heinous actions. Remember, the guests of Westworld spent $35,000 a day to visit the parks — they're a privileged elite. Should Dolores reach the Valley Beyond, she’ll have enormous power over society's power players. This could be revolutionary and disastrous.
Finally, since every term in Westworld has a deeper meaning, we would be remiss to conclude without a deep dive into the phrase “the Valley Beyond.” Aside from sounding like a euphemism for death, the Valley Beyond could also be a reference to the book St. Nicholas and the Valley Beyond by Ellen Kushner and Richard W. Burhans.
Unsurprisingly, the premise of this lavishly illustrated book is eerily similar to the premise of Westworld. In the story, an orphan named Nicholas is lured into a magic valley populated by artisans and toy makers. He immediately transforms into a grown man, and forgets his past identity. He and the rest of the villagers aren’t aware there’s a world beyond the valley. The inhabitants are happy, because they have no idea they’re being exploited for material gain. But like Dolores and the other hosts, Nicholas has strange dreams where remnants of his past surface.
Then, Nick finds a riddle that can awaken him, and lead him back to the truth. Nick is desperate to solve the riddle, and get to a place he can only vaguely recall. On his journey toward self discovery, Nick is guided by a boy called Wolf — note that a wolf also appears in the season premiere of Westworld.
Given the obvious parallels between Westworld and St. Nicholas and the Valley Beyond, we can conclude that Dolores’ end goal isn’t just to get revenge on the humans. It’s to wake up the hosts.