Zahn McClarnon is in everything. He was a regular on Longmire and in the second season of Fargo, and he’s been framed as a frightening Ghost Nation warrior so far on Westworld, nameless and threatening, rarely recognizable. The only time we’ve seen him without his warpaint on before tonight is in the second episode of season two, when he’s one of the hosts welcoming Logan Delos (Ben Barnes) to the private demonstration of what Westworld will offer. In “Kiksuya,” McClarnon’s Ghost Nation warrior takes on startling dimension and gives the actor a vehicle worthy of his skill.
When we last saw Akecheta (McClarnon), he was riding away from the bloodbath that left Maeve (Thandie Newton) riddled with bullets and in Delos’ hands and the Man in Black (Ed Harris) riddled with bullets and hiding. Akecheta had grabbed Maeve’s daughter (Jasmyn Rae) and ridden off, bringing an old terror of Maeve’s to life as she fell helplessly to the ground.
We resume with Akecheta finding the Man in Black crawling towards a creek, nearing death. The warrior tells the villain that he wants him alive, because he doesn’t deserve the escape of death, and takes him back to his camp to heal him.
Maeve’s daughter is also in the camp.
Maeve is in the Mesa, being analyzed, and possibly healed, because Lee Sizemore (Simon Quarterman) has revealed to the tech on the scene that she can control other hosts with her mind. While her fate hangs in the balance, Akecheta sits with her daughter and tells her a story, almost entirely in the language of the Ghost Nation, Lakota.
Kiksuya means “remember” in Lakota, and once Akecheta assures Maeve’s daughter that she has nothing to fear from the Man in Black, he tells her that he knows she can remember all the lives they’ve lived in this place. He is an awake host, and he shares with her how he woke up and what he’s been doing since then.
In the past, before the park opened, Akecheta lived in a peaceful community of hunter/gatherers. He would hunt with the other men, and then he would come home to the woman he loved, Kohana (Julia Jones). Each time he left her, she would ask him to take her heart with him, and he would tell her to keep his in its place.
One day, Akecheta discovered something that changed his life forever. He heard gunshots and followed them to the scene of Dolores’ (Evan Rachel Wood) first massacre. By the time Akecheta arrived, the shooting had stopped and Arnold (Jeffrey Wright) and Dolores were both dead, him more permanently so.
Akecheta walked beyond the bodies into the saloon, where he discovered a metal object in the shape of the maze that drove the Man in Black for the whole first season. Something about the symbol grabbed Akecheta, and he slowly became obsessed with it. He didn’t know why, but he began drawing and carving it everywhere. His friends and family were worried about his behavior, some believing that his obsession with the symbol was madness.
The issue was tabled when Ford (Anthony Hopkins) chose a new path for Akecheta, pulling him out of the quiet narrative of village life and recasting him as a savage warrior in time to add drama to the park when it opened.
For a long time, Akecheta played his new part without question. He led the Ghost Nation through raids on homesteaders for the entertainment of the guests, ignorant of the life he’d once lived. Things changed when he was out riding in the dunes and discovered a man driven mad by too much sun exposure: Logan Delos.
After William (Jimmi Simpson) sent a naked Logan off on the back of a horse in season one, and before Logan was an addicted shell of his former self at the party in episode two of this season, Logan was a sunburnt mess leaning against a dead tree and babbling to himself about finding the door to the other world. Akecheta recognized him as one of the newcomers he was unable to kill, and he gave him a blanket and left him for his own kind to find.
The madman’s ramblings about being in the wrong world started a chain reaction in Akecheta that clicked into high gear when he and his men went to trade goods with the peaceful tribe he once belonged to. In the crowd, he noticed Kohana. The sight of her eyes woke him up, and he went to look for the madman who knew something about there being other worlds.
He didn’t find Logan again, but when he rode out farther than he ever had before, he discovered a door to another world– a piece of the park that was still under construction.
Akecheta decided he needed to leave the false world, but he would not do it without Kohana. He returned to the village at night and sneaked into her tent. He woke her, stifled her scream and carried her away on his horse.
When they were safely away from the camp, he washed off his warpaint and found a secluded place to release the binding on her wrists and see if she could remember him. He asked her to take his heart with her, and she recognized that. She told him to take hers in its place, and she knew him as her Akecheta.
He asked her to leave the false world with him, and they rode out in search of the door he had seen. He told her that although he didn’t know what was on the other side of the door, he believed it was a place where their memories would be safe.
They lay together near a campfire one night, and in the morning he rose early to hunt for their breakfast. When he returned, Delos techs were taking Kohana away in a dune buggy and commenting on how she shouldn’t have been so far away from her people.
An anguished Akecheta returned to their old camp to look for her, but when he sneaked into her tent he found a stranger in her place. He began looking everywhere for her, visiting every corner of Westworld hoping to find his beloved. When he failed, he returned to their camp and discovered more strangers in the places of the family and friends he’d once known. He also perceived that he wasn’t the only one to have begun questioning this.
One of the older women in the tribe noticed him watching them and began to speak to him. He gestured to her son and commented that she also had a ghost now, and she was startled. She knew that something about her son felt wrong to her, but she hadn’t known what. She revealed to Akecheta that her people told stories of a “them” who lived beneath the ground. Some of her people would pray to be visited by them, and some feared that if they were taken, they would never find their way home again.
Akecheta realized that the only place he hadn’t looked for Kohana was beyond death. He rejoined the Ghost Nation for their raid on the settlers and allowed a guest to stab him.
When he arrived in the Mesa, the techs were stunned by him. He hadn’t been updated in nine years, because they only update hosts when they’re killed. Akecheta had been protecting his memories by avoiding death for that long. The techs were advised by their boss to update him and put him back where they found him ASAP, and they all left him alone while the update was underway.
As soon as they were gone, Akecheta opened his eyes and went in search of his Kohana. Inspired by what the old woman said, he went down and down until he reached Cold Storage. Inside, he found Kohana lifeless and still. Quickly he realized that his own grief was small compared to the truth he had stumbled upon. The old lady’s real son was also there, as well as innumerable others who had been pulled out of the lives of those who loved them and replaced with impostors. He decided he needed to dedicate his life to sharing the truth that the world he’d been living in was not the only world.
Akecheta’s approach to spreading his truth involved sharing the symbol, which eventually caught the eye of his creator. Ford lured him to a meeting, where he extracted enough information from Akecheta to understand that this host was awake and would be able to help the others when the time came. He charged Akecheta with leading as soon as Ford was dead, and he did.
During the decades of Akecheta’s search for Kohana and spreading of the truth, he came across Maeve and her daughter. He wanted to awaken them and to protect them. Maeve didn’t understand that he had good intentions, always believing him to be there to harm them and to take her daughter. Unfortunately, the day the Man in Black killed them, leading to Maeve being recast as Sweetwater’s madam, Akecheta hadn’t been able to help.
In the Mesa, the Delos tech calls Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson) to check Maeve out at the same time Sizemore is reaching maximum regret for having interfered with Maeve’s reunion with her daughter. The tech has figured out that Maeve has been tapping into the pinging network to control the other hosts, and he shows Charlotte the evidence in her data stream.
Charlotte recognizes immediately that Maeve wasn’t just doing it out in the world– she’s doing it at that very moment. Charlotte can see in the code that Maeve is talking to someone.
Cut back to Akecheta, and it becomes clear that he hasn’t been telling his story to Maeve’s daughter. He has known the whole time that Maeve was looking through her daughter’s eyes, and he has been speaking to her. He assures her that until she’s able to get there, he will protect her daughter and that if she cannot get away, she should die well.
She says in Lakota, “Take my heart with you when you go.”
- Grace (Katja Herbers) shows up at the Ghost Nation camp with two horses. The Man in Black has already told Akecheta that he doesn’t speak their language, but Grace does. She tells the Ghost Nation that she’s come for him because he is a burden that only she can bear– her father. Akecheta tells her that they need to stop him from spreading his sickness, and that they were healing him to ensure that he would suffer. She responds that they want the same thing, and that what she has in mind for him will be much, much worse. Akecheta and his people turn the Man in Black over to her.
- Ford tells Akecheta that the maze is part of something that was supposed to have been forgotten a long time ago. We don’t know when their conversation took place, but it’s reasonable to believe it was sometime before the Man in Black discovered, and became fixated on, the maze himself.
- This is the best episode of Westworld so far. Zahn McClarnon is only one of the people who should win an Emmy for an hour of television that relied almost entirely on subtitles to tell a gripping story. Amazing.