Westworld — the next Game of Thrones

Anthony Hopkins as Dr Robert Ford in Westworld

Westworld is an ambitious project for HBO who are desperate to find a replacement to the hugely popular Game of Thrones. The fantasy drama, which will air its final season in the spring of 2018, attracted a record 8.9 million viewers during its season 6 finale, up from its previous record of 8.1 million in the finale of its previous season.

While Westworld debuted to a much more meagre 1.96 million viewers, it can be compared favourably to other premieres on the network since 2011, only being beaten by The Newsroom (2.14 million), Game of Thrones itself (2.22 million) and True Detective (2.33 million). When the live television figures are added to the number of HBO Go and HBO Now streams, this is bumped up to a very impressive 3.3 million viewers. It’s a very promising start.

And it needs to be. The science fiction series, which is based on the 1973 film written and directed by Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton, has an estimated budget of around $100m per season. You can see from the very beginning, in its beautiful opening credit sequence and impressive cast list, that the station are expecting greatness. And if its first two episodes are anything to go by, and its momentum is kept up, greatness might well be achieved.

HBO’s Westworld

The show immediately sets itself apart from its movie origins. Sure, it is set in the same world and features a similar concept, of a wild west themed park populated by human-like automatons, but its creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy have deliberately changed the focus of the show from its human guests to its android hosts: the first episode is largely narrated by Evan Rachel Wood’s character Dolores, a naive and kindhearted daughter of a former law man, whose role is to be saved by the park’s guests.

Westworld is “a place with unlimited possibilities,” as Dolores describes to technician Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) at the beginning of the show. In this way it serves as a hyper-realistic version of Red Dead Redemption and the hugely popular Grand Theft Auto series, an open-world or sandbox game in which you are limited only by your imagination. Human guests enter the world, and as they venture further out from the central town the game increases in difficulty and in its wildness and savagery.

After each game is played, and its guests return to their lives outside the park, the automatons are mended and their memories reset to their original settings. But behind the scenes the hosts creator Dr Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) is tinkering with their code and adding new features which threaten to give the automatons more awareness than ever before.

Nolan and Joy ask us what happens if these android playthings remember all the harm done to them by Westworld’s human guests? What would happen if they overrode their Asimovian programming and rebelled against the humans?

What strikes me most about this show is how they have managed to take a concept that ran for just 90 minutes in 1973 and expanded it into format which could successfully run for seasons and seasons. After all, the hosts need not just be confined to Westworld itself, but could escape to the futuristic world of the humans outside.

And then there’s the question of whether some of its puppet masters are even human at all or machines like the Final Five in cult sci-fi Battlestar Galactica (my money is on at least one of them being so).

With a stellar cast, beautiful cinematography, great writing (so far), and a beautiful score from Game of Thrones composer Ramin Djawadi, this series may well end up being up there with George R.R. Martin’s fantasy epic.

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