The Westworld finale concluded with three significant scenes: In the first, a newly conscious Dolores shoots Ford, in the final step needed for the hosts to take control of their world. In the second, Maeve, having just boarded the train to freedom, chooses to get off and search for her daughter. And finally, in a surprise post-credit addition, Armistice loses an arm, but lives to fight another day. It's fitting that the show should end this way. After all, women have been at the center of this narrative since day one, when Dolores first brought herself back online. In fact, nearly every macho male character — guest or host— has been foiled by an even more successful woman. William, who has pledged to help Dolores find what she's looking for, actually ends up realizing his true potential thanks to her. Teddy, whose core directive is to protect Dolores, is saved by his so-called damsel in distressed when she decides to free them all. Then we have Maeve, who — as a brothel owner is used to giving her body over to men — ends up controlling an army of them. Lee Sizemore, dickhead-in-chief of narrative, submits first to Theresa Cullen's will, and then to Charlotte Hale's. Arnold couldn't stop Ford without Dolores. Hector, our favorite sexy outlaw, is out-gangstered by Armistice. Even the almighty Ford, who has engineered the setting for the violent host uprising, can only find freedom from sin through Dolores, whom he's wronged.
What happens to those men once they realize the women don't need their help?
Westerns are a traditionally male medium. John Wayne, the ultimate guy's guy, certainly never asked a woman if she needed to be rescued before scooping her up onto his horse. These men see women as a way to give their lives meaning. If women are victims, then they can play the knight in shining armor. Just look at William. He comes to Westworld as a "nice guy," eager to help this lost blonde lamb find her way. Through her, he finds purpose.
What makes Westworld so interesting is that it flips that narrative, asking: What happens to those men once they realize the women don't need their help? For Teddy, it means becoming the sad sidekick with a tendency for multiple dramatic deaths. As Angelica Jade Bastién points out in her piece for Vulture, Teddy is a relic from the past: "On another show, from another time, like the long-running Gunsmoke from the 1950s, he’d be the lead. Instead, on Westworld he’s an android host with a tendency to die in nearly every episode in increasingly gruesome ways." Suddenly, Teddy is the damsel in distress, and Dolores is the gunslinger. For the Man in Black, it means the hard reckoning that Dolores is finding her own way, without him, which causes his life to descend into violence, chaos and hair-loss. He's not the mastermind we thought he was, but rather a walking mid-life crisis; a man who needs the woman he once (still?) loved to show him the way.
Likewise, men come to the park to exploit women's bodies. They can shoot them, rape them, torture them, with no consequences whatsoever. It is, as co-creator Lisa Joy told us when the show first began, the ultimate conclusion of the "what happens in Vegas," idea. Sexual violence on HBO is nothing new, of course, but what's masterful about Westworld is that rather than make women the victims of this narrative, the show allowed, or rather encouraged, them to fight back. Evan Rachel Wood, who recently spoke out about her own psychological and sexual abuse, actually gave a hint of this early on, when she told the Hollywood Reporter: "I don't like gratuitous violence against women at all," she said, adding that "as the show progresses, the way [violence is] being used is very much a commentary and a look at our humanity and why we find these things entertaining and why this is an epidemic, and flipping it on its head."
By putting women into positions of power within the administration of the park, Westworld established a norm of women in charge.
And wow, is it ever refreshing. Throughout the season, women have taken control of their narratives. We saw Dolores slowly taking back control after a sexual assault — the pivotal moment in her quest for sentience is when she pulls a gun on the bandit about to rape her in the barn, something she's experienced countless times before — and coming to terms with her past by retracing the steps she took with Will all those years ago. We followed Maeve's journey to consciousness, and clapped as she subdued first the bumbling Felix and Sylvester, and later, her fellow hosts — many of them male. (Side note: I was truly worried, once I realized that Ford was behind both Dolores' search for the center of the Maze and Maeve's escape, that all this female badassery would be nullified by one power-hungry old man. But thankfully, the two were allowed some final agency, with Dolores making the choice to launch the host rebellion, and Maeve stepping off the train to find her daughter.) And let's not forget Theresa Cullen and Charlotte Hale, who, while at odds with each other, were definitely both forces to be reckoned with within the Delos organization. What's more, by putting women into positions of power within the administration of the park, Westworld established a norm of women in charge. We never see how Theresa and Charlotte rose up within the Delos ranks. Season 6 of Game of Thrones was celebrated for having its women finally take charge. But where powerful women like Cersei Lannister, Daenerys Targaryen, and Sansa Stark have had to plot, fight, and claw their way into positions of power, Charlotte and Theresa's authority is simply a fact, not to be questioned or second-guessed. In the age of Trump, the significance of this cannot be overstated. Of course, Westworld falls into the sci-fi genre, a type of storytelling which has been known to promote women into positions of power precisely because it adds to the sense of displacement and dystopia. So while the show does a great job of empowering women, it also falls into a longtime trope which relegates strong female characters to imaginary worlds. If Westeros and Westworld can embrace bold, fierce women, why can't we all?