'Westworld' can be HBO's next 'Game of Thrones' — but must avoid the pitfalls
One of the programmers of Westworld, the titular Wild West utopia in HBO's latest drama series, is thrilled to debut a new storyline for the world. It involves a bloody, brutal shootout that leaves many Hosts — artificial beings that comprise the futuristic theme park — dead before the lead bandit, Hector Escaton, is poised to deliver a monologue the programmer was particularly proud of developing. But just as Escaton's about to speak, a bullet goes through his neck and the Host is dying on the ground. One of the park's well-paying guests just couldn't resist.
The sordid humor of the moment aside, it's a fitting meta-commentary for Westworld the show, which has to withstand considerable hype after a lengthy production process and early comparisons to Game of Thrones. Sunday's promising premiere mostly laid the framework for the life of the Hosts, the programmers and some of Westworld's guests. Yet already, the show is teasing too many storylines that could disjoint the overarching narrative.
Does that problem sound familiar? It should: Game of Thrones' biggest pitfall is its scope, as well. The show's sprawling storyline takes place on two fictitious continents. Characters can disappear for seasons and join what Reddit lovingly refers to as the series' "SS Abandoned Plotlines" (looking at you, Gendry).
But Game of Thrones stays centered thanks to two big motives at its core: Several characters are vying for the Iron Throne, while subsequently ignoring a looming White Walker threat that could wipe everyone out.
Conversely, Westworld can't follow that model — at least from what it's teased in the premiere. The show is juggling three big, disparate ideas at once.
The Hosts are slowly discovering their reality is the artifice of a prison, in which they're subject to whatever the guests of Westworld want from them, even if it's murder or rape. This could, in theory, lead to some form of rebellion against the guests and the theme park's creators.
The creators, meanwhile, have potentially planted the seeds of rebellion in the Hosts by updating their servers to make them more human-esque. In turn, it speaks to the endgame for creating Westworld — as their own employees have indicated, it seems like there'd be more at hand than simply creating a theme park for the wealthy elite. They're probably right.
Then there are the secrets to the world itself. Like finding hidden storylines in an expansive video game, the mysterious Man in Black (Ed Harris) has been coming to the park for decades, but he's just beginning to learn about a game within the game. He scalps one of the Hosts, uncovering a hidden map that's sure to be the first of many steps during his violent crusade for answers.
It's nearly impossible that Westworld won't struggle to tie this all together neatly. Frankly, it's hard enough to watch the Man in Black rape and murder his way through one episode. An entire journey for his character, alongside the Hosts' rebellion and the inner turmoil of the park's employees, could prove overwhelming through a 10-episode season.
But there are still a lot of things to like about Westworld: There's the contrast between the stunning Western landscape and the claustrophobic, dimly lit employee headquarters. There's Evan Rachel Wood's mesmerizing lead performance as the original Host questioning her reality. These are reason alone for viewers to stick around.
However, for Westworld to truly stake its claim as HBO's next big, Game of Thrones-esque hit, it needs to shoot down some of its disjointed ideas, much like the park's trigger-happy guests.