Throwing Shade: Mythology in Westworld

WARNING: If you haven’t watched Westworld Season 1, Episode 4, beware of spoilers.

“Dissonance Theory” has answered the most questions of any Westworld episode to date. But in doing so, it’s left us with a new, glaring question: who are the shades?

Maeve’s been plagued with nightmarish memories of her time in clean-up for the last two episodes, but this is the first time we’ve seen her single in so completely on one specific figure: the shade.

During a particularly terrifying memory of her time with Westworld’s Undertakers (employees whose sole responsibility is to clean and repair the Hosts), Maeve zeros in on the likeness of one. She proceeds to furiously sketch the monster in an attempt to make sense of this memory—only to find out that she’s already drawn, and hidden away, several versions of the same character before.

When she discovers that outlaw Hector Escaton has spent time with a Native American tribe in Westworld, and that shades are considered religious figures to this tribe, Maeve sets her plan into motion. She’s told by Hector that Shades are beings brought from the underworld to oversee the “real” world of Westworld. But like Dr. Ford said, all good stories are rooted in truth and Westworld’s Shades are no different.

In Greek mythology, a shade was a ghost-like being that resided in the underworld. Typically created from the soul of a deceased person, a shade’s unfortunate fate doomed them to an eternity in the shadows by the river Styx. In Westworld, the Shade’s primary motive has yet to be confirmed. “Oversee” could mean any number of things, but it does suggest that the Arnold code may be affecting more than just Maeve and Dolores.

If we think of the Westworld shades as the Undertakers, “oversee” becomes a pretty spot-on description of their actions; an “overseeing” of the hosts after their darkest times at the park.

Hector mentions that the “dreamwalkers” of the tribe (a story for another time) believe the ability to see the puppet-masters (a.k.a. shades) is a blessing, and that Maeve has this gift. Maeve is quick to correct him and even quicker to cast aside any remaining vestiges of the naïve host we once knew. By the end of the episode, she’s found a bullet lodged in her stomach, something left there by a rushed clean-up job from the Undertakers, and has declared that when it comes to the hosts in Westworld, nothing truly matters.

But what does an overseer do better than, well, oversee? If the Undertakers are truly overseeing the hosts, could Maeve’s realization be sending her on a path to permanent removal from the park? Or will she be the leader of an Arnold Code-based riot for the self aware hosts? Only time in a dream-filled sleep will tell.