*Contains episode one spoilers*
Last night the most anticipated TV show of 2016 made its debut on Sky Atlantic. Those that may not have heard of it yet, that show is Westworld, HBO's latest big budget offering that is hoping to fill the void left by Game of Thrones. Bold words, yes, could anything possibly gather the world's attention like the events of the Seven Kingdoms has?
It's certainly got the talent behind it to back it up, with Jonathan Nolan on writing duties, while JJ Abrahms produces. Not only that, but it has the almighty Anthony Hopkins as a lead, alongside other impressive names such as Ed Harris, James Marsden, Thandie Newton and Evan Rachel Wood. For those that recognise the title, the science fiction thriller is based on the 1973 film of the same name, which was written and directed by American novelist Michael Crichton.
It tells the story of a world where robots can cater to your every whim, and while the movie followed the story from the perspective of the humans, the TV series turns things on its head and tells the story from the robots point of view.
Within minutes of last night's opening episode, we were treated to sweeping landscape views as we're taken into a wild west style story, and already we can see where that budget went to, as it's as visually stunning as anything you'd get on the big screen. We see two young lovers reunited after some unknown amount of time apart, only for their shortlived reunion to be torn apart by a malevolent Ed Harris, as Westworld threw us straight into the deep end with murder and an unseen rape. How could things have ended so badly so soon for our sweet protagonists? Fear not, they awake tomorrow as if nothing has ever happened, doomed to repeat nuanced versions of the same narrative over and over in their own constant Groundhog Day. All while not even having the ability to swat a fly from their face - we already know where our sympathies lie.
Soon we are brought back to Westworld Towers where these life-like robots are created, and learn pretty fast that there's worry among some of their creators that they are becoming too human. Doctor Ford (Hopkins), the founder of the park, has added a few 'reveries' as they're called, to his robots, to make them appear to have more human-like characteristics. This 'evolving' has led to a glitch in the robots meaning they're now starting to remember, and given the nature of that park, those memories ain't good ones.
The powers-that-be of Westworld soon realise that it may be time to pull the plug on those that have been updated, and it's done in one foul-swoop in a relentless saloon shootout with the Rolling Stones 'Paint it Black' as the unexpected score. In the meantime, Ed Harris is on his own one-man mission as the 'Man in Black' to try find some other hidden depth to the world that we're not even sure exists, but he is undoubtedly going to all sorts of horrendous lengths to find out.
Back at the base, the newly returned robots have a bit of one-on-one time with their creator, and we get a glimpse of just how deep this glitch could go, when one starts quoting Shakespeare from a character he played in a narrative many years before.
It's clear, that whether Ford or the like want to admit it, there's a rebellion brewing, amplified in that spectacular mic-drop moment ahead of the credits, where Dolores returns to the everyday monotony of her world, only to instinctively swat a fly from her neck. It's not a kid being pushed out of a castle window, but it's enough to leave you open-mouthed and itching for more.
Is it the next Game of Thrones? It certainly has the budget to match, an equally impressive although far more well-known cast, and as much nudity and violence as you'd expect from a hour-long visit to Westeros. There's enough stories to build on there to create seasons of gripping sci-fi drama, as long as Westworld doesn't get entangled in its own web, which is a distinct possibility. The show got off to a rocky start when production was halted early last year to allow for rewriting, with executive producers Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy saying they needed more time to fine tune the final episodes. This bodes well for Westworld in some ways, in that at least those behind it are self aware enough to know when to pull back and reassess, but it is also a reminder of just how easy it is to get lost in a show that must create an engaging juxtaposition between a western and a sci-fi.
It's got some strong performances holding it up, and all the potential to hook in a respectable amount of viewers for at least one season, but after that, who knows?
Perhaps it will peter out or become, as some are saying, a long winded trip to Itchy and Scratchy land or 'Jurassic Park with robots'. However both of those scenario sound downright awesome to us, so Westworld, you have our attention.