IS WESTWORLD THE NEW GAME OF THRONES?
With ratings sky-high and a new season commissioned, Westworld is officially a hit. But does the sci-fi Western match HBO’S other blockbuster show for quality?
Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Pick a side.
YES JAMES WHITE, CONTRIBUTOR
LEAVING ASIDE THE obvious similarities for a moment — the outbreaks of bloody violence, the clothing-optional scenes — Westworld is a more than worthy successor to the triumphs and tragedies of Westeros. In just one season, the show has developed into a complex, compelling and vibrant series, full of scenes and ideas that stick in your brain long after the credits have rolled.
The show has been accused of being overly concerned with impenetrable mysteries and lacking characters you can truly connect with in the manner of an Arya Stark or Tyrion Lannister. Which is abject rubbish: the fascinating storylines, played out through clever writing and careful drip-feeding of information, kept you thinking. Some fans figured out a few of the bigger reveals earlier than the creators might have wished, but that didn’t remove the power of the first season finale, which had plenty more on its mind.
And as for connecting to characters? If you don’t feel for the ‘hosts’ — the human-like AIS populating the titular park, including Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and Maeve (Thandie Newton) — as they struggle with the hellish nightmare that is their reality, you must surely have a heart made of pure, chilly titanium. Have you checked for the quiet whirr of cogs and gears?
Death is a constant on Game Of Thrones, and while Westworld’s hosts don’t necessarily have to worry about that (James Marsden’s unfortunate cowboy Teddy isn’t the only one to die regularly during the show), that makes it no less impactful. Our heroes (and they are the heroes of the show, make no mistake) suffer through looping, traumatic lives, die horribly and are then brought back, a situation that only worsens as they start to wake up to what’s going on. And peppered through the first season, we’ve seen the human characters fall to conspiracies and the final masterplan, orchestrated by Anthony Hopkins’ Dr. Robert Ford. The co-creator of the park helps the hosts start the robot revolution, one sparked by a bullet straight to his brilliant, calculating brain.
The cast is uniformly excellent; the production design and visuals are jaw-dropping, with nods to both classic Westerns and science-fiction stories, and the show has proved it has plots to spin for years to come. If that’s not the platonic ideal of the zeitgeist-prickling show, and a worthy replacement for Thrones, then what is?
NO OLLY RICHARDS, CONTRIBUTOR
TO ILLUSTRATE THE difference between Westworld and Game Of Thrones, you only need to ask one question: what is the show’s story? Game Of Thrones, from its first episode, established it was about the battle for the Iron Throne. Every episode has brought us closer to finding out who would claim it and why they want it. After a whole season, Westworld hasn’t truly told us what it’s about. We know the robots believe they’re real and don’t want to be killed for entertainment anymore. They’re now fighting back. Okay, but what is the endgame of that fight? What are we aiming for? It’s not clear.
Westworld has much more in common with Lost or Heroes, and like those it confuses teasing with storytelling. It’s not trying to help us get to know its characters better, but to continually show us that what we thought we knew about them is untrue. They exist to facilitate twists, props in parlour tricks. There is nobody to invest in. The humans have mostly been dispatched and the heroes are now exclusively the ‘hosts’, whose stakes couldn’t be lower. Dolores, Maeve and Teddy all have the same motivation: to prove they are more than machine. There is no variation in their stories because they haven’t lived lives. They haven’t formed relationships. Death or suffering in Game Of Thrones has consequence. When Joffrey dies, it has multiple knock-on effects for others who love or hate him. If a host dies, it affects nothing. Each individual’s existence matters only to them. It makes the show a series of dead-ends.
Westworld is a great idea for a TV show, with lots of huge themes to explore. What is it that makes us human? Without fear of consequences, what are we capable of? A great idea, yes, but a frustrating show, because it’s only glancingly interested in exploring those themes. If it wanted to investigate them it would balance the robots with empathetic humans
(see: Ex Machina). Westworld is more concerned with examining itself as a TV show, continually rearranging its elements like a Rubik’s Cube being twisted by someone who has no idea how to solve the thing but just likes the colours.
Game Of Thrones is a story of people who all want the same thing, power, for very different reasons. The stories within that are infinite. Westworld is a saga of automatons that all want the same thing, autonomy, for the same reason: it’s better than what they currently have. That’s empty. Like the hosts, Westworld has no soul.
Is Westworld too artificial, or does it have heart?