What is Westworld? HBO’s Next Big Show, Explained

HBO’s new series by Jonathan Nolan and inspired by Michael Crichton’s 1973 film is coming in 2016. Get the scoop on Westworld.

HBO's new Science Fiction Western drops in 2016.

HBO’s new Science Fiction Western drops in 2016.

HBO’s next big show is coming in 2016, and it’s potentially the best modern mashup of historical drama and science fiction since Assassin’s Creed. It’s called Westworld, and if you want to get the jump on your friends, here’s everything you need to know about it.

The Reboot

There’s some high profile talent attached to HBO’s Westworld. The new series was created by Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan (brother to famed Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan and co-writer of the Dark Knight Trilogy). The ten episode first season was produced by J.J. Abrams, who is of course preparing to release Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It’ll star Anthony Hopkins (The Silence of the Lambs), Ed Harris (The Abyss), Evan Rachel Wood (The Wrestler), and James Marsden (X-Men), among some others you might recognize. So yeah, there’s some pretty huge talent attached to the show.

But what is it actually about? The official logline is: “Westworld is a dark odyssey about the dawn of artificial consciousness and the future of sin.” Bleh. That’s sort of vague and a little bland, but don’t shut down just yet. Westworld has the potential to be just the sci-fi mindf*** you need to compliment the fantasy and political intrigue of Game of Thrones.

The Original

A poster for the original film.

A poster for the original film.

The new series is actually based on a 1973 movie written and directed by Michael Crichton, the guy who wrote books like Jurassic Park, Timeline, Sphere, and CongoWestworld the movie starred James Brolin, Yul Brynner, and Richard Benjamin and was set in a futuristic trio amusement parks called Delos’ Worlds. Each of the three parks was a “world” to visit, a vacation destination where visitors could actually live in a world of the past, sort of like an extreme role playing game. While in one of Delos’ worlds visitors live in character and interact with the robotic inhabitants who look and act like real humans. If you’re getting a slight whiff of Blade Runner, you’re not alone.

The original film featured three worlds in the Delos park, Roman World, Medieval World, and West World. Medieval World was a Camelot-like world of knights and castles, jousts and feasts. Roman World was set in Pompeii (before Mount Vesuvius erupted, obviously) where it is heavily implied guests get to have orgies with the robots. (A report from Deadline about extras being paid to fondle each other, tells us this robot sex will most definitely be a part of the show as well.) And, of course, there’s West World, a recreation of an old west town filled with taverns and gunslingers.

As you may have guessed, the movie doesn’t keep things running smoothly. The park’s robots start to act up and become increasingly violent toward the humans, massacring guests in the film’s final act. (Roman World is the first to go, if you were still indignant about the robot orgy.) This plot may sound familiar as Crichton re-used it to better effect in his 1990 novel Jurassic Park, which was adapted in the beloved Steven Spielberg film.

Predictions for HBO’s Show

Ed Harris in Westworld.

Ed Harris in Westworld.

We haven’t seen anything of Medieval World or Roman World in the teasers, so it’s possible these will not be in the show…or at least not yet, if subsequent seasons use them to spice things up a bit. But it’s also possible that for simplicity’s sake, the show will drop the name “Delos Worlds” entirely, along with other worlds. There’s obviously going to be a major focus on the interplay between the science fiction reality and the Western faux-reality, and that’ll probably keep the episodes full by itself.

It seems like visitors to West World will still be physically in a new space rather than in some sort of Matrix-style virtual reality – the teaser from last August plainly shows robots in various states of completion, and removing real physical danger from West World would seem to undercut one of the big things the show has going for it.

On the other hand, it seems like the show will be pushing deeper than the movie ever did into questions of artificial intelligence and personhood. In that same teaser, Evan Rachel Wood’s character is answering questions about living in a dream while her body sits motionless despite a fly landing on her eye. Will she be the robot who bucks the system? Sure seems like it.

We can only guess at a lot that will happen in the series, but you can be pretty sure it will be very different than the film. We’re curious to see more (a lot more) from the series, but in the meantime here’s why we’re staying SUPER EXCITED for Westworld: it’s a science fiction western based on a film by the author of Jurassic Park and created by one of the writers of The Dark Knight and Memento with a star-studded cast in front of the camera.

Now please say we can get Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, HBO, it’s sort of similar…