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?

Empire (UK) - - PRE.VIEW - IL­LUS­TRA­TIONS DAVID MA­HONEY

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 much 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 bloody 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.

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