Westworld Bits: Showrunner Interviews, Behind-The-Scenes Videos, And Fascinating Theories And Philosophizing

You know something is good when it ends up getting its own "Bits" feature on /Film. So, welcome to Westworld Bits! In this edition:

  • Showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy discuss the second episode.
  • A new gallery of images from episode three, "The Stray."
  • An HBO featurette explores the nature of our relationship to A.I.
  • Breaking down the opening titles with one of the people in charge of creating them.
  • Two new posters from New York Comic-Con.
  • One of the most fascinating takes on the show's philosophy yet.
  • Westworld is also proving itself to be a hit overseas.

Westworld was a smash hit with American audiences, giving HBO one of its strongest debuts shows in years. Now, it seems that the success is spreading to other markets as well. The Guardian reports that the series had the strongest debut yet for Sky Atlantic in the U.K., surpassing shows like Game of Thrones and Fortitude. The article notes that the number of viewers for the first episode is also expected to increase in the coming days:

However, in an indication of how rapidly viewing habits are changing, the bulk of Westworld's viewers tuned in after it was first broadcast either recorded or on-demand, with just 448,000 watching live. The total number of viewers for Westworld in the first week is likely to increase further as Sky's Now TV and and Sky Go app are not included in the catchup figures.

The series still has a way to go before it can match Game of Thrones' regular numbers, but it's a start.

westworld chestnut

Entertainment Weekly spoke with Westworld showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy about the second episode of the series, "Chestnut." Although they dive into every corner of the episode, I appreciated this quote from Nolan about introducing new versions of the original 1973 movie's lead characters in the second hour rather than the first:

We wanted to get that perspective in the show. We wanted to start with the hosts, make it clear where our allegiance lies. They're very different characters than the original film. But since the Western is such an inherently male fantasy, when we thought about whose perspective we wanted to come into this park through, the idea of two bachelors like in the original film seemed perfect.

"Where our allegiance lies" is a very interesting phrase and suggests that the inevitable robot uprising will be presented in a far more sympathetic light than in the original movie. Meanwhile, Joy spoke about Westworld reflecting the ongoing evolution of video games and the violence within them, a subject I tackled in my recap this week:

People are very accustomed to playing a video game and plowing down a bunch of other characters in it and cheering because that's how you win. But as the visuals become more and more sophisticated, you start to feel empathy, and it could get harder and harder to shoot – and should it? We've been looking at VR and it's a whole new level of immersion. Watching it in a virtual reality environment it made me feel more morally complicit in my actions. Even if the characters are not entirely lifelike, what does it say about you that you can abandon yourself to the nihilistic act of destruction. It's becoming a more relevant question.

You can (and should) read the whole interview at the link above.

HBO has released a new Westworld featurette titled "Reality of A.I." and it's far better than the simple puff piece you're probably expecting. The four-minute video finds the cast and crew of the series discussing the technology and philosophy at the heart of the series. Questions like "Who are the real monsters?" and "What is our responsibility to educate artificial intelligences?" are brought up. Dark futures are pondered. Creepy footage from future episodes is teased. This is the rare promo video that actually feels like it's helping to create a proper conversation about the show it's advertising.

westworld anthony hopkins

As much as I love reading fan theories digging into Westworld's various plot-driven mysteries, I'm even more in love with the philosophical discussions it is inspiring. Take this article published over at the Daily Grail, which suggests that the series is Gnostic parable. In short:

Gnosticism holds that, rather than Earth being the perfect creation of a supreme being, we are instead living in a prison of sorts, created by an impostor: 'the Demiurge', a lesser deity than the true God. Escape from this realm is through a process of awakening to this fact, or gnosis ('knowledge'). Or to put it simply: questioning the nature of your reality.

And in not-so-short:

But is Dr. Robert Ford (wonderfully played by Anthony Hopkins) the Demiurge, or is it perhaps more the Delos corporation that runs the theme park (which, we learn from dialogue in this episode, has greater plans for robotic AI than just a theme park)? Ford at times comes across rather sympathetically in episode one (though other moments in the trailer perhaps not so much); he seems to feel some kin to his creations and perhaps, as he nears the end of his own life, he desires to put the spark of free will into the robots. Hence the 'Reveries' that are programmed into the new, problematic update – gestures and mannerisms that are based on deep memories that the Hosts' conscious mind cannot supposedly access. While their inclusion is, at face value, meant to make them look more human, are they actually the key to making them human (whether purposefully, or purely as an accident)?

Make sure you click the link above to read through the whole thing. Even if you don't agree with this reading of the show, I love that Westworld can inspire this kind of writing.

westworld images bojana nokakovic james marsden

A batch of new images from the third episode of Westworld, titled "The Stray" have arrived online. We know from the released synopsis that this episode will follow Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth) and Elsie (Shannon Woodward) as they venture into the park in pursuit of a missing host while Teddy (James Marsden) is programmed with a new backstory that sees him leaving Sweetwater behind. Most importantly: the episode is directed by Neil Marshall, who has made his fair share of terrific movies and has directed some of Game of Thrones' best episodes.

The AV Club sat down with writer Ed Brubaker, who is best known for his work on comic books like Criminal, Fatale, and The Fade-Out (he also created the Winter Solider during his acclaimed Captain America run). However, he's also a supervising producer on Westworld and he spoke about landing his job on the series:

So I went in and met, and did the whole thing. You go in, and you meet with the showrunner, and you get interviewed, and you talk about stuff. It's kind of just chatting, basically. And then like a week later, I got the call that I was being offered a job on the show. I was lucky—I was an outside-the-box hire. Because I had done a bunch of development, and written a few movie scripts that were in various stages of maybe getting made, and had a huge comic career behind me, I was able to come in at a place where it wasn't like I was starting at staff writer. For me, the pilot is one of the best TV pilots that's ever been made. Probably in the top five that I've ever seen in my life. It's HBO. Jonah Nolan and Lisa Joy, who are just amazing writers. I just wanted to learn how really great TV gets made.

You can read the whole interview at the link above.

Art of the Title has posted an extensive interview with Patrick Clair, the creative director of Elastic, the company behind the opening titles of Westworld. Clair, whose team has won Emmys for their work on True Detective and The Man in the High Castle, went into extensive detail about the designing the sequence, which blends frightening glimpses of technology with western iconography:

Jonah's got this brilliant writer's mind and he dug into it and started throwing out some ideas that were more emotionally challenging than I would have been willing to walk in and pitch. That's when I felt like we were let off the leash, in a real way but also in a very collaborative way. That's when we started to dig into the idea of the host who becomes redundant, who is somehow killed at the end. It took us a long time to come to the idea of him going back into the milk bath, but this idea that there was this player that we made redundant was kicked up.

The idea of digging into these robot lovers — robots who were created for the purpose of human pleasure and vice, these kind of dark human things — the idea of them sneaking off for their own romantic, sexual trysts was pretty cool and interesting. Obviously that's where you get that "All is Full of Love" connection.

Then playing with the iconography of the galloping horse across a Western landscape, but done in such a way that it's this grotesque skeletal creature being assembled by robots. All of these things started to come up as we sat in this room over near Warner Bros. and thrashed ideas back and forth. It was a process that had enough time to breathe. We started with them in February and we delivered a few days before it went on air [in October]. It was really satisfying and exciting.

You can read the much larger interview at the link above and it is very worthy of your time.

westworld logo

Two new Westworld posters made their debut at the New York Comic-Con and they're stylish and surprisingly wry. The depiction of cowboy imagery utilizing circuitry is expected, but I'm head-over-heels in love with the taglines that are so dumb that they loop in on themselves and become awesome. I want to buy a drink for whoever wrote "Every hero has a code" and "Some places make you feel alive." Insert Italian chef kissing sound here.