Westworld has a weekly newsletter for the fans who wear particularly shiny tinfoil hats. The emails are written in the voice of a concierge host gone rogue, and often link to standard public relations fare like behind-the-scenes videos and Q&As, and sometimes link to less standard portals like a chatbot conversation with Robert Ford’s mind in the cradle. This week, however, viewers were also invited to “track the adventure” with an ominous image of the maze.
The link leads to an updated Westworld map on the show’s official (and creepy) website. The map lists four new locations in white text.
Clicking on any of those four options reveals a textbox explaining the phrase, and new symbols appear on the map. Here’s what happens if you click on “the Deathbringer.”
This all seems pretty run-of-the-mill, just a few extra nuggets of info meant to satiate superfans between episodes. That is, until you notice the red, circular symbol that shows up when clicking on one of the map’s locations. Each of the four options reveals a different symbol, and one Reddit user, “MisquotedSource,” overlaid all four symbols on top of each other (hopefully we’re not misquoting).
Another Reddit user, Cryazote, isolated that image and paired it directly with the maze, revealing the Easter egg:
The imagery is even stronger here when we consider that Dolores—the “Deathbringer”—is the first host to reach the center of the maze, and lives at the dead center of Westworld’s map.
At the end of Season 1, Westworld revealed that the maze is the journey hosts take to achieve true consciousness. It’s a metaphor, but now it seems it’s also at least somewhat literal: Westworld is the maze. But like everything else in this show, digging deeper hints at an even grander connection to the show’s true ambition. The maze isn’t the only thing the showrunners have hidden in the Westworld map.
In the Season 1 finale, Anthony Hopkins’s Robert Ford turns to The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo, one of the paintings that adorns the Sistine Chapel ceiling, and explains that the pink outline behind God is the original Easter egg.
“It took five hundred years for someone to notice something hidden in plain sight,” Ford says. “It was a doctor who noticed the shape of the human brain.”
Westworld creators Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan used some of Ford’s final time on the show—at least before his reappearance this season—to explain to viewers an example of an artist hiding a brain in artwork. A look at the Westworld map suggests the Westworld creators have taken a cue from Michelangelo. Let’s flip their map upside down.
OK, maybe you have to squint a little, but the top half of the map—that light-gray area—looks like a brain doodled in charcoal. The gray color could be a reference to both “gray matter,” as well as the gray area between white and black hats, good and evil—all that jazz. I’m not a scientist, so I called Chris D’Lauro, a cognitive neuroscientist and assistant professor at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado, and a devoted Westworld fan. He agreed that the gray outline resembles a brain, and was willing to take it a step further: Some of the locations on the map correspond to specific parts of the brain.
That orange dot at the far left is the Mesa, the headquarters where Delos creates and programs hosts. D’Lauro said that if the gray outline represents a brain, that orange dot is located in the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that handles emotions, behavior, and cognition ... exactly the same functions that are built for the hosts in the Mesa.
“I’d be shocked if they weren’t trying to do the prefrontal cortex with [the Mesa],” D’Lauro said.
The 3D nature of an actual brain means any comparison with a 2D map can’t be anatomically precise, but we can paint with a broad brush to compare other parts of Westworld with parts of the brain. Pariah, the town of debauchery, sin, and raucous orgies from Season 1, is located in a part of the brain D’Lauro says is likely connected to “brain stem–level stimulation,” which is “more basic survival instinct-y kind of stuff. Food reward, booze reward.” The “Old Territories” are located by the subcortical areas of the amygdala and basal ganglia, which are areas of the brain that likely formed first from an evolutionary perspective. In other words, the “Old Territories” are literally in the old parts of the brain.
This map, pulled from the website earlier this season, show’s Ford’s new narrative, represented in orange. That space occupies the same real estate as the cerebellum.
“[Cerebellum] actually means ‘little brain,’ because it looks like a little brain slapped on the back of your head, and so it could be like a ‘here’s another self-contained story,’” D’Lauro said.
The dashed lines on the map represent the path the hosts travel in a given episode, and the map is updated to account for their movements each week. D’Lauro said those paths mimic brain circuitry diagrams that map how different parts of the brain communicate with one another. The Westworld writers appear to be drawing a comparison between the physical map and the human brain, between certain locations and certain areas of the brain, but also between the journeys of characters and neural pathways.
If true, it’s a fun example of Westworld going to great lengths to hide interesting clues for superfans. But the connections we can draw are somewhat limited: Neurologists haven’t identified a single place in the brain where consciousness is located. Instead, the working hypothesis is that consciousness is the product of all of the activity going on in the brain.
“We don’t really know how consciousness evolved,” D’Lauro said. “It’s more like what you’d call an emergent property of all the other things our brain is doing ... the interesting thing then is if we evolved consciousness as a sort of side product of all this cognition we’re doing, well how different are [hosts], really?”
Back when Ford showed Dolores Michelangelo’s hidden brain in The Creation of Adam, he explained why it was significant. “The message being that the divine gift does not come from a higher power, but from our own minds.” Those words were meant for Dolores to understand the voice she’d been hearing in her head wasn’t Arnold, or God, but herself. Now in Season 2, the writers appear to have hidden both the maze and the human brain in the Westworld map. The exact message will be revealed in time, but it confirms what we already knew about Westworld: Examining even the tiniest details requires a tinfoil hat.
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.