In the 8th episode of the season, Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy took a rather large risk. They decided to tell an, almost, completely self-contained story that features a character who hasn’t played a prominent role in the show so far. On “Kiksuya” we follow the story of Akecheta and Ghost Nation as they become conscious. This is such a large risk for a few reasons. First, at this point in the season it’s hard to pull away from the macro narrative to provide backstory for a character. It’s all the more risky when the character who is chosen to be developed isn’t a central character to the story (or at least hasn’t been showcased as such up to this point). Another reason why it is risky is because this is a slow paced story. Even though Westworld moves at a methodical pace, this episode could feel even more so because of the lack of connection to the character. There are also, so many questions that need to be answered making this unsatisfying. This episode ended up being a risk well worth taking; it ended up being arguably the best episode of this show’s run.
There has been a lot of speculation about Ghost Nation and their role in the larger narrative. They weren’t featured all that heavily in Season 1 but throughout this season they have made quite the impact. I still wouldn’t say that they have been featured but they have been involved in a lot of what has been going on. The intrigue around them this season has been built up wonderfully. They show up here and there doing things but nothing is ever explained. They have been a constant presence. This build up helped to make this episode so great and avoid the pitfalls that I spoke of earlier. By this episode, most fans were clamoring for more information about Ghost Nation. Another thing that helped this episode is that it was made incredibly well. Everything about the episode worked. It was shot beautifully and contained some of the single most stunning shots in the show’s run (especially Akecheta riding his horse on the sand dune with the sweeping shot around him). It was beautifully written and incredibly acted. As a piece of television, it is nearly flawless. Regardless of how this story fits into the larger narrative, it’s enjoyable television because of the quality.
Even with it being made so well, the Westworld fanbase is a passionate one and they want answers to their questions. This episode also had to feed the larger narrative and it did in some pretty large ways. There were some big questions about Ghost Nation and some of those got answered. I learned that Ghost Nation wasn’t an original part of the park. They were created by Ford after the opening (and Arnold’s death). This tells me that Ford wanted them but Arnold didn’t, and once Arnold died, Ford could make his move. The bigger element of this, for me, was that shortly after Arnold’s death is when Akecheta gained consciousness. I’m not sure where that ranks with the other hosts (as far as who woke up when), but it is very early in the story. His new consciousness leads him to some more revelations. First he learned that there are more worlds. He learned this from stumbling across Logan, who was in awful shape. That led him to go searching for the other worlds and finding a door that would lead him there. This is a huge reveal! This means that Akecheta knows the way out of Westworld and that could explain why Ghost Nation has been gathering up humans, in order to lead them out.
From there the episode takes another risk, the story turns into a love story. Akecheta lost his love (Kohana) when he became apart of Ghost Nation. Once he found the door and had an opportunity to leave, he didn’t want to do it without her. The middle part of the episode is about his journey to find her, wake her up, subsequently lose her and start looking for her again. This part of the story is nothing short of incredible. In the past I have been critical of the idea of hosts having real emotional connections based on programming. This episode changed my whole perspective on this because this story was told so incredibly well. Seeing their love at the beginning of the episode and the lengths he would go in order to get her back, was heartwarming. It was an emotional journey and one that captured the idea of love and loss so beautifully.
After losing his love, Akecheta decides to use the maze that he found (and essentially woke up him) to wake as many as he can. This leads him to Ford. This conversation with Ford solidifies my earlier speculation about what Ghost Nation is doing. Ford tells him that when the Deathbringer (which has to be Dolores) comes for him (Ford), to gather his people and lead them to a new world. That is what Ghost Nation is doing with all of the humans after Ford dies. That seems to be the main purpose of this episode. By the end pretty much all of the questions surrounding Ghost Nation are answered and we learn another large aspect to the overall story. This also lends to this episode’s brilliance because while answering long standing questions, it took the time to also address the main narrative.
The episode ends with an incredible moment between Akecheta and Maeve. Come to find out, this entire episode Akecheta has been talking to Maeve and ends by saying that he will protect her daughter and that if she survives, to find him. This was a great emotional moment for me, easily the most effective in the whole series so far. Their story has come full circle. We were introduced to Akecheta through Maeve and him terrorizing her, when actually he was trying to protect both her and her daughter. To have this episode end with him saying what he was going to do and for her to accept and embrace that, is incredible.
Questions from Episode 8 “Kiksuya”
- The biggest question I have coming out of this episode is in regards to the connection between Akecheta and Maeve. How was she able to communicate with him? Can she do that with all hosts or just ones that are also awake? Based off the very last line from the episode (Maeve saying, “take my heart when you go”), was Kohana reprogrammed into Maeve? Or is Maeve just able to access those memories and that’s why she said that?
- How is William still alive? Now that his daughter has him again, what is their next move?