It seemed like Ford's death was one of the few that was final on Westworld, especially once viewers saw his decomposing body in the early episodes of Season 2. It doesn't get more final than that. However, everything might have changed in "Phase Space," when Bernard came across Ford in the last few moments. But is Ford still alive on Westworld?
Ford isn't alive in the most technical sense. When Dolores shot him in the head in "The Bicameral Mind," that was the definitive end of the human Robert Ford. But it seems as though he has found a way to live on within his greatest creation, and he might still be controlling things from beyond the grave.
Fans have heard quite a lot about "the cradle" in Season 2; it's something like a super hard drive, though that's a simplistic way to put it. It stores all of the hosts' storylines but it also tests them, allowing for simulations before any narrative is introduced to the actual park. In an effort to understand what was wrong with the system, Bernard had Elsie plug him into the Matrix. And that was where he found Ford: inside the cradle. Ford isn't alive, but he's also far from gone.
Bernard's entrance into the cradle was particularly violent. He was strapped into a machine that sliced off the top of his head so it could extract the small, spherical object that acts as a host's brain. He woke up in the simulation shortly after, which was clear because the scenes looked distinctly different from the rest of the episode. The aspect ratio wasn't the same as usual, leaving two black bars at the top and bottom of the frame to differentiate it from everything else that happened in "Phase Space."
In the simulation, Bernard was on the train as it arrived in Westworld with all the other newcomers. He walked through Sweetwater and took in all the typical loops of the show's earliest days, including Dolores on her daily errands and Teddy spotting her from afar. Then Bernard saw a greyhound loping through the streets. Ford, as many fans likely remember, had a greyhound as a boy, something his own child robot counterpart had in Season 1 as well.
Bernard followed the dog into the saloon, where Ford sat at the piano playing a song. He was only seen briefly in the piano's reflection, offering a greeting to his old friend before the episode ended. But the promo for next week makes it clear that Bernard and the simulated version of Ford are going to have some kind of conversation. Ford explains in the trailer that "what is about to happen will not be your fault," but without specifics it's impossible to know what he's talking about exactly.
It's also difficult to figure out what a simulated version of Ford means for the show. Did he have his consciousness uploaded to the cradle or is he merely a fictionalized version of himself? James Delos' consciousness was kept on hand to try and immortalize him inside a host body; perhaps Ford hung onto his own brain with designs of doing the same. Is he actually controlling the park from within the cradle, or is he just here to have a friendly chat with Bernard and put him on the right path?
Many fans speculated that Ford's time on the show wasn't over when Dolores pulled the trigger. Now that he's back, it only opens up more questions. Westworld will never be free of Ford's influence, but it's uncertain right now just how far his reach extends.