Partway into first season, is 'Westworld' the 'Thrones' successor?

The science fiction drama 'Westworld' has now aired several episodes on HBO. Is it the heir to the massively successful HBO fantasy show 'Game of Thrones'?

John P. Johnson/HBO
'Westworld' stars Evan Rachel Wood.

“Westworld,” which is now several episodes into its first season, looks to be a critical and ratings success for network HBO. But can it attain the same status as its fellow genre show, and HBO’s biggest hit of all time, “Game of Thrones”? 

“Westworld,” which debuted on Oct. 2, takes place in what seems like an Old West world. In reality, the place is an amusement park where visitors can do whatever they want. The show stars Evan Rachel Wood, Ed Harris, Thandie Newton, and James Marsden and is based on a 1973 science fiction film of the same name. 

The HBO program aired its sixth episode on Nov. 6. The ratings were impressive for the show’s premiere, but the program airs on Sunday nights, the same evening as AMC’s massive hit “The Walking Dead,” and the show’s ratings declined when “Walking” recently returned. Despite the decline, viewership was still considered strong. 

Meanwhile, upon its premiere, “Westworld” received mostly positive reviews from critics. 

HBO’s biggest hit of all time, “Thrones,” seems likely to end within its next couple seasons ­– HBO programming president Casey Bloys said this past summer that the idea was to end with season eight of the show (season seven will air next), though the network later said, “Casey did confirm season 8, but didn’t really say for sure that’s the end.” (Earlier this year, during an interview about the season 6 finale, co-creator David Benioff said, “It’s two more seasons we’re talking about.”) 

So it seems safe to say HBO may be seeking its next hit. Can “Westworld” fill the void when “Thrones” does leave the network?

Wired writer Charlie Jane Anders wrote around the time of the show's premiere that “having seen a handful of early episodes, I’m already obsessed.”

But “will it achieve the same kind of iconic status as ‘Game of Thrones’?” Ms. Anders asked. “Where the fantasy saga’s debut managed to feel like a sharp political drama that just happened to have dragons, ‘Westworld’ just feels like … good science fiction – albeit science fiction that goes deeper, and further, than most. It’s asking timely questions about our relationship with technology and how we treat the powerless.” 

Meanwhile, Kevin Fallon of The Daily Beast felt at the time of the premiere, also having seen several episodes, that “‘Westworld’ is not the next ‘Game of Thrones,’ but it is worth watching.” The show is “pretty, often provocative, but sometimes so confusing that, unlike its notoriously complicated dragon-laden counterpart, it can even be boring,” Mr. Fallon wrote. Yet “even if occasionally baffling and a little disjointed, the very idea of the show and the production value is worthy of investment, even if there’s a lack of feeling to provoke intense passion for it,” he concluded.

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