If you're a fan of HBO's #Westworld, you've probably spent the last few weeks scratching your head over any number of crazy timeline theories. Are we seeing the events of present day? Or 30 years ago? Or even a whole other time frame? To quote Dolores: "When are we?!" I don't know, Dolores. I just don't know.
But what I do know is a little about the history of the wild west— and it tells us more about the historical time period of the park itself than even its creators are willing to reveal.
It's important to note that Westworld isn't intended to be entirely historically accurate. Rather than a retelling of actual events, it's a thematic reimagining of an America long gone; when violence, mayhem and debauchery ran rampant, and disputes were solved with pistols rather than intellectual debate.
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Setting The Story Straight
The park actually combines a large dose of truth with its fictional narratives. While the many storylines are somewhat of an amalgamation of different historical events, the true stories behind the tales provide helpful clues about which era the park is supposedly set in. Take a look:
1. Just Ask Aeden
Discover Westworld, the fictional tourism site that accompanies the show, is often rife with Easter Eggs and insights in to what goes on behind the scenes at Delos. If questioned about the park's war narrative, the site's helpful chat bot Aeden responds with the following message:
"War is a complicated and harrowing game encompassing complex narratives that pull from the Texas annexation, Civil War, Reconstruction, the Mexican Revolution, and other historical skirmishes. The War game is the hardest in the park."
The events Aeden lists are all real historical occurrences, they cover a wide range of time from the mid-1800s to the early-1900s. If you're feeling a bit rusty on your American history, read on to see how these events are incorporated in to the park's many storylines:
2. Civil War
Evidence of the Civil War is rife throughout the park, from Union army recruiters on street corners to ambushes by dastardly deserters. The American Civil War took place from 1861-1865, and while this isn't evidence of an exact time frame for the park, it does give some context for the setting.
For example, when Teddy and the Man in Black are captured for impersonating Civil War soldiers, Teddy has a flashback to his army days fighting alongside Wyatt, when they were "sent to put down the natives" in Escalante. Escalante is indeed a real place, and it was the setting for part of the Black Hawk Indian War of 1865. The Black Hawk Indian War was preceded by a steady rivalry between native tribes and American settlers, resulting in the loss of many lives— including the massacre of 531 Shoshone people. Sounds a little like the mess Teddy found himself caught up in.
As for the other "historical skirmishes" mentioned by Aeden, the Texas Annexation was the acceptance of Texas as the 28th state of the United States following its independence from Mexico. The blurred Mexican-Texan border in Westworld's Pariah is a clear ode to the state's roots.
And in the South, the Reconstruction refers to the time period between the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 (Lincoln's order to free all slaves) to the events immediately following the end of the Civil War. This certainly explains the lack of slavery in Westworld.
Since the park apparently wasn't horrifying enough with hundreds of rich homicidal guests running around, Westworld's narrative department decided to throw in a few cannibals for good measure.
Cannibalism is first referenced when discussing the former storyline of the host who plays Dolores' father. Apparently, he once played the leader of a cannibalistic cult in what was known as 'The Dinner Party'. The reason for his retirement from that narrative are unknown, though it may have something with the reported incident of self-cannibalism in the Delos Terms and Conditions. The notorious Wyatt is also said to be partial to munching down on his "moist" victims.
Of course all good stories contain an element of truth, and the real wild west had more than a few tales of people eating each other. John Johnson was one of many notable cannibals in the 1800s. After leaving his wife home alone while he went on a hunting trip, she was murdered by the Crow tribe.
This tragic event tipped Johnson over the edge; he completely lost his mind, going on a decades-long murderous rampage that often ended with his victims being eaten. In an even stranger turn of events, he ended up serving in the army as a Union soldier. Wyatt, is that you?
4. Cowboys And Indians
The park's most notorious tribe of Native Americans, the Ghost Nation, are not based on one specific tribe. But it's clear to see where the inspiration came from: The Ghost Dance, a religious movement that gained popularity amongst many native people. It was intended to make the white settlers leave their land by rising up the dead to fight the invaders.
Sticking to the Civil War time period, the Dakota War of 1862 has some similar themes to those shown in the park. The bloody struggle between the United States and the Dakota people were the result of broken treaties that led to displacement and poverty amongst the tribes.
The Dakota people retaliated in a united attack against the settlers one night, killing 800 men, women and children. This kind of violence is shown in Maeve's dream, when she is attacked and scalped by Ghost Nation Indians. After fleeing inside, the Indian follows her, but transforms in to the Man in Black.
Historically, though Indians did practice scalping, it was more widely used amongst white settlers against them, with bounties for Indians not uncommon. This could mean that Maeve's dream could be a reference to this adopted practice at the hands of US soldiers.