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Is HBO’s ‘Westworld’ the new ‘Game of Thrones’?

Jessica Morris ‘19 / Emertainment Monthly TV Staff-Writer

On October 2, HBO aired its newest drama: the science-fiction thriller, Westworld, based on the 1973 film of the same name. Westworld features a reputable cast, with actors such as Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, and Anthony Hopkins in leading roles. Most recently, despite being overshadowed by the premiere of AMC’s The Walking Dead, the episode of Westworld, titled “Dissonance Theory,” still brought in 1.70 million viewers.

The series takes place inside a fictional Western-themed amusement park, also called Westworld, that is populated by androids referred to as “hosts.” These hosts are intensely lifelike, but they are programmed by the park’s operators to follow storylines and behave in certain ways. Wealthy guests visit the park, taking pleasure in the atmosphere and revelries offered by Westworld’s android inhabitants.

Photo Credit: HBO
Photo Credit: HBO

However, the hosts are now approaching sentience, which is the cause for the show’s primary conflict. While the human guests of the park are free to engage in violent and abusive behavior toward the hosts without consequence, the robotic hosts are proving to not be so robotic at all. Instead, they are beginning to remember the terrible things done to them.

Hosts, guests, and the people behind the park are all featured in the show. Wood leads the cast as Dolores Abernathy, a host who is now realizing her world is a manufactured lie. Teddy Flood (James Marsden) and Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton) are two other prominent hosts in the series, who have both suffered considerably at the hands of rich guests. Cruel guests like the sadistic Man in Black (Ed Harris) are made prominent as well. And, at the helm of the park is its creator, Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins). Ford’s intentions regarding the park are often difficult to discern, making him a mysterious and intriguing character.

Since before its premiere, Westworld has been compared to HBO’s smash hit, Game of Thrones. Knowing that Game of Thrones will be ending in two seasons, HBO is desperate for another hit to keep its subscriber count up. The show Vinyl (produced by Martin Scorsese) was meant to be the network’s saving grace, but it was cancelled. That’s where Westworld comes in. But, can Westworld come close to capturing the popularity of the now iconic series that, frankly, made fantasy ‘cool’ again?

While Westworld is quite different, being pure science-fiction rather than fantasy, it does share some similarities with Game of Thrones. For one, it boasts a sky high budget. The budget for this first season of Westworld was somewhere around $100 million. Clearly, HBO was banking on the show being a success. This past season of Game of Thrones had a budget of over $100 million, the highest yet for the series.

Photo Credit: HBO
Photo Credit: HBO

The team behind Westworld is also nothing to scoff at. Both Jonathan Nolan and J.J. Abrams serve as producers on the show, with Nolan having directed the pilot episode. Ramin Djawadi, best known for his work on Game of Thrones, is also the composer for Westworld. And, again, the show has a tremendous cast. With this much talent, it will be shocking if Westworld doesn’t garner a few nods at this year’s Emmy Awards. As Dolores, Wood easily gives one of the best performances of her career.

Ultimately, the issue with Westworld might be that it’s just not a show for everyone. What makes the show most compelling is not the incredibly cast or special effects, but how much it forces the viewer to think. Westworld has already gained an impressive fan base online. On sites like Reddit, fans have come up with hundreds of theories for the show. Doing this seems to be the best way to engage with the series.

But, with Game of Thrones, both casual and super fans can watch and enjoy the same show. It features an elaborate plot, but is still fairly straightforward. Viewers leave with at least some questions answered at the end of each episode. That doesn’t happen with Westworld. There is also the question if Westworld can succeed as a multi-season show. Game of Thrones had thousands of pages of material to work with, Westworld does not.

Though off to a good start, the worry with Westworld is that it will fall flat next to Game of Thrones and be cancelled as a result.

Westworld airs Sundays 9/8c on HBO.

Series Grade (thus far): A-

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