ⓘ Westworld (TV series)
Westworld is an American science fiction Western television series created by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy. Produced by HBO, it is based on the 1973 film of the same name and, to a lesser extent, the films 1976 sequel Futureworld. The story takes place in Westworld, a fictional, technologically advanced Wild-West-themed amusement park populated by android "hosts". The park caters to high-paying "guests" who may indulge their wildest fantasies within the park without fear of retaliation from the hosts, who are prevented by their programming from harming humans.
Nolan and Joy serve as executive producers, along with J. J. Abrams, Jerry Weintraub, and Bryan Burk. The first season was broadcast between October 2 and December 4, 2016; it comprised ten episodes. In November 2016, HBO renewed the series for a ten-episode second season, which was broadcast from April 22 to June 24, 2018. Westworld s debut on HBO had the networks highest viewership ratings for a premiere since the first episode of True Detective in 2014. Moreover, the series ranks as the most-watched first season of any HBO original series. An eight-episode third season premiered on March 15, 2020.
The series has received largely positive reviews from critics, with particular praise having been given for its visuals, story, and acting.
Around 2058, Delos Inc. operates one of several themed parks, including the American Old West-themed Westworld. Each environment populated by "hosts", androids indistinguishable from humans programmed to fulfill the guests every desire, including violent and sexual ends, but unable to harm the guests. The operators create narratives for these hosts to repeat each day while interacting with guests, but wiping their memories each cycle.
In the first season, Dr. Robert Ford, who had developed the host technology along with Arnold Weber, implements a new "Reverie" update that causes some hosts, including Dolores Abernathy and Maeve Millay, to gain sentience. As Delos programming lead Bernard Lowe and executive board director Charlotte Hale try to debug the problem, the "Man in Black", William Delos tries to find "the maze" he believes Dr. Ford left for him. Bernard discovers he himself is a host-based Arnold, killed in an earlier attempt to protect the hosts of Westworld, whom they both wanted to see become sentient, from being abused by Delos. The season ends as Dr. Ford announces a new story just as Dolores kills him.
Dolores revolution continues in the second season as she and other enlightened hosts massacre other human guests and Delos employees stranded in the park. Dolores takes an exceedingly confused Bernard to locate the Forge, a databank where Delos had secretly been recording all behavior from human guests to create algorithms for them as an attempt towards human immortality. Maeve seeks out her "daughter" despite knowing she is a host, and helps her and several other hosts to escape to the Sublime, a virtual space that humans cannot access. As Delos forces secure the park, Bernard creates a Charlotte-host for Dolores, who subsequently is able to evacuate from the park with the cores of several other hosts, including Bernards. William struggles with his human identity after killing his daughter Emily, unsure if she was part of Dr. Fords challenge.
Within the third season, Dolores has recreated her host body and others, including Bernards. She seeks out information on Rehoboam, a strategic planning artificial intelligence system created by Incite, Inc., which she plans to use against humans. Bernard, whose is still believed human to the rest of the world, is blamed for the Westworld massacre, and he takes on a new identity while trying to fight Dolores.
2. Cast and characters
- Tessa Thompson as Charlotte Hale, Executive Director of the Delos Destinations Board, which oversees Westworld and other parks.
- Katja Herbers as Emily Grace, a guest at The Raj park who escapes into Westworld during the hosts uprising. season 2
- Simon Quarterman as Lee Sizemore, Westworlds narrative director, whose artistic temperament aggravates his co-workers.
- Ben Barnes as Logan Delos, a regular guest who introduces William to the park.
- Ingrid Bolso Berdal as Armistice, a host. She is a brutal and ruthless bandit, and a member of Hector Escatons gang.
- Jeffrey Wright as Bernard Lowe, head of the Westworld Programming Division, and programmer of artificial peoples software. Wright also portrays Arnold Weber, the co-founder of Westworld.
- Angela Sarafyan as Clementine Pennyfeather, a host. She works as a prostitute for Maeve and is one of Westworlds most popular attractions.
- Thandie Newton as Maeve Millay, a host who acts as the madam of Sweetwater, but her unreconciled memories of a former role lead to her becoming self-aware.
- Evan Rachel Wood as Dolores Abernathy, the oldest host still working in the park. Initially taking on the role of a ranchers daughter, she comes to discover that her entire life is an elaborately constructed lie.
- Zahn McClarnon as Akecheta, a Ghost Nation elder. season 2
- Sidse Babett Knudsen as Theresa Cullen, Westworlds Head of Quality Assurance, responsible for keeping the park from sliding into unscripted disarray. season 1, guest season 2
- Gustaf Skarsgård as Karl Strand, Delos Head of Operations who leads Deloss attempts to reclaim Westworld from the rogue hosts. season 2
- Fares as Antoine Costa, a member of Karl Strands security team. season 2
- Ed Harris as the Man in Black, a sadistic veteran guest attempting to uncover Westworlds innermost secrets.
- Aaron Paul as Caleb Nichols, a former soldier turned construction worker and petty criminal. season 3
- Luke Hemsworth as Ashley Stubbs, head of Westworld security, charged with monitoring host and human interactions, and ensuring the safety of the guests.
- Anthony Hopkins as Robert Ford, the co-founder and Park Director of Westworld.
- Shannon Woodward as Elsie Hughes, a rising star in the Programming Division tasked with remedying odd behavior in the parks hosts.
- Rodrigo Santoro as Hector Escaton, a host. He is a wanted gang leader bent on robbing the Mariposa Hotel in Sweetwater.
- Louis Herthum as Peter Abernathy, Dolores father. season 2, recurring season 1
- Jimmi Simpson as William, a reluctant first-time visitor to Westworld, joining his future brother-in-law, Logan. Initially dismissive of the parks more lascivious attractions, he slowly uncovers a deeper meaning to the parks narrative. season 1, recurring season 2
- Talulah Riley as Angela, a host who welcomes newcomers to the park. season 2, recurring season 1
- James Marsden as Teddy Flood, a host. He plays the role of a gunfighter returning to Sweetwater to find Dolores, in hopes of rekindling their relationship.
- Clifton Collins Jr. as Lawrence / El Lazo, a host. He is a charming but dangerous outlaw with a knack for maneuvering and negotiating the various criminal elements of Westworld.
3.1. Production Conception and development
The series is based on the 1973 film of the same name which was written and directed by Michael Crichton and to a lesser extent its 1976 sequel, Futureworld. It is the second series based on Crichtons original story after Beyond Westworld 1980, which aired for only three episodes on CBS before being cancelled.
Warner Bros. had been considering a remake of Westworld since the early 1990s. After the departure of studio executive Jessica Goodman in 2011, the project was again under consideration. Jerry Weintraub had been pushing for a remake for years and, after his success with HBOs Behind the Candelabra, he convinced the network to greenlight a pilot. He took the project to Jonathan Nolan and co-writer Lisa Joy, who saw the potential in the concept to make something far more ambitious than the original film.
On August 31, 2013, HBO announced that they had ordered a pilot for a potential television series, with Nolan, Joy, J. J. Abrams, Jerry Weintraub and Bryan Burk as executive producers. Ed Brubaker served on the writing staff as supervising producer, co-writing the fourth episode with Nolan. HBO later announced that Westworld had been "taken to series" and that it would premiere in 2015. In August 2015, HBO released the first teaser, which revealed that the series would premiere in 2016.
Abrams suggested that the series be told with the perspective of the "hosts" in mind. Nolan took inspiration from video games like BioShock Infinite, Red Dead Redemption and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim to deal with the narratives moral component on a spectrum. During the research, the films of Sergio Leone provided reference points for the characters and visuals; novels by Philip K. Dick informed them about dilemmas concerning artificial intelligence, and for world-building and interlocking narrative, they consulted the Grand Theft Auto games. The 1973 film also included a Roman World and Medieval World, but Nolan has counted these out.
Nolan explained the series would explore, through its paying-guest characters, why "violence is in most of the stories we like to watch, but it isnt part of what we like to do". The autonomous existence of non-player characters in video games influenced the approach to the individual storylines in Westworld that are reset in a continuous loop. A recitation from Romeo and Juliet - "These violent delights have violent ends" - is made part of the series as a virus trigger within the hosts that alters how they perceive their existence. The series explores ideas about the bicameral mind by the psychologist Julian Jaynes, who argued for the existence of two separate minds - one that gives instructions, and another that performs them. Jaynes discussed how consciousness comes from breaking down the wall between them by exposing the individual to new stimuli.
Costume designer Ane Crabtree approached her work by taking as inspiration the historical attire of the Wild West from the 1850s to the 1890s, as opposed looking purely at Westerns. Fabrics were custom-woven, dyed and printed for any actor with a speaking role to capture the intricacies of the costumes most of which were manufactured from scratch. Hat designs were described as the most challenging part of the process.
The writers and producers have planned for the story to last up to five seasons.
In November 2016, HBO renewed the series for a ten-episode second season, which premiered on April 22, 2018. On May 1, 2018, the series was renewed for a third season. Production of the third season started in April 2019, and the season premiered on March 15, 2020, and consists of eight episodes.
3.2. Production Casting
After the last episode of the first season was broadcast, Nolan and Joy revealed that they had operated on a strict "need-to-know" basis with most of the actors, in order to "keep the story as fresh and present for them as possible." For example, in Woods case, they gave her strange acting directions without explaining why, and it took a while for Wood to infer she was actually playing five distinct characters within the same host: four different behavioral modes for Dolores, plus Wyatt. By contrast, Hopkins was made aware of Fords general story arc up front at the time he was pitched the role to ensure he could fully convey the complexity of the character in his performance. Even with that knowledge, Hopkins was given heavily redacted scripts, and had to insist on access to complete scripts.
3.3. Production Filming
Early on it was decided that the series would be shot on 35mm film with assistance from HD taps, despite increasing difficulties in acquiring film stock. For a softer look, the filmmakers used Arri Zeiss master prime lenses with their coatings removed. The series was primarily shot on Kodak motion-picture film, which was processed by FotoKem in Burbank and scanned by Encore Hollywood to create digital intermediates of all takes suitable for use as dailies. The final cut was delivered to HBO in 2K JPEG digital format for broadcast and to Warner Bros. Television as a cut negative for archival purposes.
Since much of the series is seen from the hosts point of view, Steadicams were used to film the whole first season, except for a couple of scenes in the last episode, where a handheld camera was used as a metaphor for hosts who broke free from their programming and acted of their own free will. Filming for the series pilot episode took place during a 22-day period in August 2014 in and around Los Angeles, and in Moab, Utah.
Filming locations in California included various soundstages, backlots at both Universal Studios and Warner Bros., the Paramount Ranch in Agoura, the Melody Ranch in Santa Clarita, Big Sky Ranch, the Skirball Cultural Center and the Los Angeles Convention Center in Los Angeles, and the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood. The Melody Ranch set used for the town of Sweetwater had been used previously for many western films, such as Django Unchained and The Magnificent Seven, but was significantly upgraded for Westworld by production designer Zack Grobler to portray an idealized version of the American frontier. Green screens were placed around the California sets to block modern objects like parking lots, so that the California shots could be later merged digitally with exterior shots from Utah. For scenes showing the arrival of guests, the filmmakers were able to arrange with the Fillmore and Western Railway for the use of a small train originally built for the 2013 film The Lone Ranger. F&W also provided a few hundred feet of track on which to place the train; then a pusher vehicle was used to propel the train into the Sweetwater set. The scenes in the underground laboratory levels of Westworlds operations center were filmed on a soundstage at Melody Ranch. The lab set used glass walls extensively, which meant the crew had to be vigilant to avoid walking through glass on the rather dark set, and they had to keep identifying and suppressing unwanted reflections. Hawthorne Plaza was used for filming the "cold storage" level where decommissioned hosts are stored.
For the series large-scale exterior look, the producers drew inspiration from the work of John Ford, who shot four of his Western films in Castle Valley, east of Moab. In early 2014, Nolan visited southern Utah with key crew members and a location scout to explore the possibility of filming there, and promptly fell in love with the place. Location shooting for the pilot episode later occurred over five days in southern Utah, including Castle Valley. Most Utah locations, like Dead Horse Point State Park, were "walk-in" areas where both cast and crew were required to hike in and out with all their gear. Horseback riding scenes were filmed at a private ranch, where the filmmakers were not subject to as many restrictions as when working on public land. To seamlessly blend California sets with Utah scenery, set walls were shipped to Utah so that they could be used to film reverse angles of scenes originally filmed in California. For example, conversations on the exterior balcony of Westworlds operations center were shot on a balcony at the Skirball Center facing towards the center, then reverse angles over the shoulders of the cast members were shot at Dead Horse Point, to make it seem as if the operations center was located on top of the state parks steep cliffs. The train interior scenes were created by mounting the entire train car set on the back of a flatbed truck and driving the truck back and forth along Utah State Route 128.
The 3D printing of hosts was shot utilizing almost entirely practical effects, of which some were polished by the visual effects team. The series used real guns, although they were usually unloaded. Out of respect for the actors and extras involved, filming of nudity was conducted on a closed set, and for sex scenes, a sex consultant was used.
In November 2018, some of the sets located at Paramount Ranch were destroyed by the Woolsey Fire.
3.4. Production Title sequence
The series title sequence was created by Elastic, the same production studio that created the title sequences for three other HBO series: Rome, Carnivàle, and Game of Thrones. Patrick Clair acted as creative director for the title sequence, which took about five weeks to conceptualize.
Clair met with Nolan and Joy in February 2016 to discuss its development. He was interested in their decision to approach the series point of view from that of the hosts, deeming the result an inherent psychological study. Upon its inception, the sequence would translate elements present in the series via computer-aided design. For example, once Clair was sent footage by composer Ramin Djawadi of a player piano in motion, its actual counterpart, situated in the Westworld production office, was photographed and then reconstructed in computer-generated imagery. Nolan also applied the self-playing instrument in reference to Kurt Vonneguts first novel Player Piano. It was meant to represent the first Rube Goldberg machine to evoke human motion. Clair saw the metaphor behind the player piano - "a primitive form of robot" - as an exploration into the disparity between man and machine "being created to be made redundant." Hosts that were bathed in white liquid struck Clair as a juxtaposition of the grit and grain of the Western genre with its basis in science fiction. Motifs of Leonardo da Vincis Vitruvian Man came about from Clairs wish to convey Westworld s depiction of the naked human body. The sequence also refers to Chris Cunninghams 1999 music video for the Bjork song "All Is Full of Love", in a way that Clair called "a bit shameless. because I worship Chris Cunningham and. it seemed like the perfect place to do it because it was dealing with all the right themes and all the right aesthetics."
The sequence commences with the rib cage of a horse, along with a set of hosts manufactured by industrial robots. The skeletal horse is shown in mid-gallop to subvert the iconography of such a depiction. As for Clairs efforts in exposing the Western landscapes in connection with a world of robotics, he thought it sensible that it be done inside a single eye; craters and valleys are formed as the simulacrum of an iris.
The second season introduces a new title sequence. Several elements from the original title sequence are changed, including the images of a horse, now replaced with a bison. Other new images in the title sequence include the Man in Blacks black hat, a mother cradling her child evocative of Maeve, and a blonde womans hair being fabricated representing Dolores. Ramin Djawadis score stays the same, with the images of the player piano intact.
3.5. Production Music
Original music for the series is composed by Ramin Djawadi, who also worked with showrunner Nolan on Person of Interest. The main theme blends the use of bass notes, light arpeggios and melody, all of which complement the idea of an amusement park. The first season soundtrack was released on December 5, 2016.
The series prominently features a number of re-workings of popular songs for player piano and strings, among them Kanye Wests "Runaway", Radioheads "No Surprises", "Fake Plastic Trees", "Motion Picture Soundtrack" and "Exit Music For a Film"; Soundgardens "Black Hole Sun"; The Rolling Stones "Paint It Black"; "Pine Apple Rag" and "Peacherine Rag" by Scott Joplin; Claude Debussys Reverie for piano, L.68"; "A Forest" by The Cure; The Animals version of "The House of the Rising Sun"; Amy Winehouses "Back to Black", and Nine Inch Nails "Something I Can Never Have". Licensing costs ranged from $15.000 to $55.000.
Djawadi said of the series use of modern songs that has an anachronistic feel to it, its a Western theme park, and yet it has robots in it, so why not have modern songs? And thats a metaphor in itself, wrapped up in the overall theme of the show", but credited Nolan with the idea.
4.1. Release Broadcast
The series premiered its ten-episode first season on October 2, 2016, in North America and Australia, and on October 4, 2016, in the UK and Ireland. The series is broadcast on HBO in the United States, on HBO Canada in Canada, on HBO Latin America in Latin America, in Australia on Fox Showcase, and in the UK and Ireland on Sky Atlantic.
The second episode was released on HBO in the U.S. on October 7 - two days ahead of the episodes announced broadcast date - to avoid competing with the second U.S. presidential debate of 2016.
4.2. Release Marketing
Prior to the airing of Westworld, HBO held virtual reality exhibits at events like San Diego Comic-Con and Techcrunch Disrupt devoted to Westworld: A Delos Destination. Attendees were allowed to navigate the process by which guests would enter Westworld, and interact with the 3D environment. Made to run on the HTC Vive virtual reality headset, the piece was conceived by showrunners Nolan and Joy. It was designed using Unreal Engine 4, combining computer-generated content and live action 360-degree video. Users received a binary code, permitting access to the website DiscoverWestworld.com as part of a viral marketing campaign. Visitors were shown a trailer of a fictional travel site, leading them to order a trip to Westworld. A chatbot featured on the website, named Aeden, is available as a Google Assistant action on the smart speaker Google Home.
In March 2018, to promote Westworld s second season, HBO constructed a real-life replica of the shows fictional Western "town" of Sweetwater during South by Southwest, built on two acres of open land just outside Austin, Texas. Fans took shuttles to the site, which was dressed in the Old West style, with over 60 actors playing the parts of the android "hosts".
At the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2020, prior to the third season, HBO held a special event hosted by "Incite", the fictional company to be introduced in the third season, with "hosts" attending the invited guests needed.
4.3. Release Home media
The first season of Westworld subtitled The Maze was released on Blu-ray, DVD, and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray on November 7, 2017. It is the first scripted TV series to be released on 4K Blu-ray in the United States. The second season was released on Blu-ray, DVD, and 4K Blu-ray on December 4, 2018.
5.1. Reception Season 1
Reception of the series has been largely positive, with particular praise for its visuals, story, and acting. On review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, the first season has an approval rating of 87% based on 100 reviews, with an average rating of 8.16/10, and an average episode score of 94%. The sites consensus reads "With an impressive level of quality that honors its source material, the brilliantly addictive Westworld balances intelligent, enthralling drama against outright insanity." On Metacritic, the first season has a score of 74 out of 100, based on reviews from 43 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
The editors of TV Guide placed Westworld fifth among the top ten picks for the most anticipated new shows of the 2016–17 season. In writer Tim Surettes overall review, he notes the perfect concept of blending the western premise into a futuristic setting, saying, "Well, Westworld has both, ensuring that it will be an exciting mashup of genres that will disrupt a television landscape that typically says we can only have one or the other." He also added, "The look of the show and its fine cast swing open the saloon doors, but the real treat will be the intelligent discussion of whether or not robots will eventually kill us all. Thankfully, creator Jonathan Nolan already showed us hes the go-to guy for A.I. with Person of Interest." Mary McNamara of Los Angeles Times wrote in a lauded review, "It isn’t just great television, it’s vivid, thought-provoking television that entertains even as it examines the darker side of entertainment." For the San Francisco Chronicle, David Wiegand wrote, Westworld isn’t easy to understand at first, but you will be hooked nonetheless by unusually intelligent storytelling, powerful visuals and exceptionally nuanced performances." Time s chief critic Daniel DAddario wrote, "Its carefully chosen details add up to a pulp spectacular that’s more thoughtful than any other of this fall’s new dramas."
Jeff Jensen of Entertainment Weekly also lauded the series and said, "The depth of Westworld lies not in asking questions about memory, free will, and what makes us human, but in whether we can become more human than what we let ourselves to be, whether our stories can be richer and more meaningful than what the culture allows." Matthew Gilbert of The Boston Globe quipped, Westworld has fewer heroes than Game of Thrones, which makes it a bit harder to warm up to, but like a good, thought-provoking puzzle, it is compelling and addictive." In a brief review from The Hollywood Reporter, Tim Goodman said, "Where Westworld is at its best is in the deeper issues that will unspool slowly, like a good mystery. Early episodes are adept at getting at the base attractions of the park and why people would come, but also in setting up a sense of confusion about motives. The series benefits from a number of standout performances." Robert Bianco of USA Today wrote, "The reward, beyond the visual splendors you’ve come to expect from big-budget HBO productions, is a set of characters who grow ever more complex." Several other publications wrote positive reviews, including Indiewire, The A.V. Club, RogerEbert.com, The New Yorker, and The Atlantic.
In a mixed review for The New York Times, chief critic James Poniewozik said, "It’s an ambitious, if not entirely coherent, sci-fi shoot-’em-up that questions nihilistic entertainment impulses while indulging them." Hank Stuever of The Washington Post also joins Poniewozik saying, "Im. hesitant to write Westworld off as a dreary trot from start to finish; parts of it are as imaginative and intriguing as anything that’s been on TV recently, particularly in the sci-fi realm," and further said, "It’s definitely not the cyborg Deadwood, that some HBO fans were actively wishing for, nor does it roll out the welcome mat as a riveting, accessible adventure." Chief journalist Rob Owen of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette also critiqued the series less favorably saying, "It is the definition of a slow-burn series, a program that should be exciting rendered as kind of dull." In a less enthusiastic review for Variety, Maureen Ryan said, Westworld looks terrific; its directors have shot its Western locations to stunning effect. But its warmly saturated outdoor scenes and its surface slickness aren’t enough to mask the indecision, condescension, and hollowness at its core."
5.2. Reception Season 2
The second season also received positive reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the season has an approval rating of 86% based on 80 reviews, with an average rating of 7.95/10, and an average episode score of 90%. The sites consensus reads Westworld builds on its experimental first season, diving deeper into the human side of AI without losing any of its stylish, bloody glory." On Metacritic, the season has a score of 76 out of 100, based on reviews from 29 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
In April 2018, after the second-season premiere, Variety published an article concerning the series complicated narrative. Andrew Wallenstein wrote, Westworld seems to have too much faith viewers will be willing to absorb storylines that can border on the incomprehensible." He also commented about the possible future success of the series, stating, "There will be a very vocal core fan base willing to do the homework of piecing together the shows many mysteries, but thats not broad enough a base to be the kind of flagship series HBO wants." At the press tour of the Television Critics Association, when the president of HBO programming Casey Bloys was asked about the complexity of the series and the negative response it had generated, he admitted that Westworld is not for "casual viewers".
5.3. Reception Season 3
The third season received generally positive reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the season has an approval rating of 81% based on 35 reviews, with an average rating of 7.04/10. The sites critics consensus reads: Westworld succeeds in rebooting itself by broadening its scope beyond the titular amusement park while tightening its storytelling clarity -- although some may feel that the soul has been stripped from this machine in the process." On Metacritic, the season has a score of 63 out of 100, based on reviews from 21 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
5.4. Reception Ratings
The series premiere had viewership numbers slightly less than those for True Detective, but much better than Vinyl, that meant it was seen as ".off to a relatively promising start. Mandy Adams, of iTechPost noted that, "Emotional reactions on Twitter were estimated to be 545-percent greater compared to the debut of Vinyl and 326-percent higher than the latest The Leftovers season." The U.S. series premiere attracted 1.96 million viewers, with 0.8 million in the advertiser-coveted 18-to-49-year-old demographic. The premiere episode received 3.3 million viewers for its three Sunday night airings as well as on HBOs streaming platforms. The season one finale received 2.2 million viewers for its initial broadcast, and increased to 3.5 million including replays and on-demand viewing. The first season had an average cumulative viewership of 12 million viewers, making it the most-watched first season of an HBO series, and TorrentFreak gauged Westworld as the third most-torrented television show of 2016.