‘Westworld’ vs. ‘Game of Thrones’: Which HBO Show is Better?

Westworld - HBO

Westworld | HBO

It’s (still) the show that everyone is talking about. Even after six-plus seasons, fans of HBO’s fantasy series Game of Thrones can’t seem to get enough. Since debuting in 2011, the show — based on author George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series — has continued to deliver record-breaking numbers for the network and has become a global phenomenon that is virtually unmatched in recent years.

Countless accolades have followed, with many critics and fans proclaiming it to be among the best television shows ever made. With just two seasons left before the epic tale of the land of Westeros comes to a close, that status is relatively safe, barring the unlikely case of a Lost-esque decline in quality.

Close up of Ed Harris's face in Westworld

Ed Harris in Westworld | HBO

However, while Game of Thrones remains HBO’s flagship series (and with good reason), the network needs to plan for the future. After all, if HBO hopes to remain as relevant as ever, it needs a show with the (pardon the archaic term) watercooler appeal of Game of Thrones.

Though comedy series like Veep and Silicon Valley perform well, the only other drama series that HBO had on its schedule until recently was The Leftovers. That series may be respected and have a distinct vision of its own, but it cannot compare with the success of Game of Thrones. Now it seems that HBO may have found a heir apparent for the series in its new sci-fi show, Westworld.

Ed Harris in Westworld

Ed Harris in Westworld | HBO

Based on the 1973 film written and directed by novelist Michael Crichton, the show centers on a Western theme park inhabited by humanoid androids known as “hosts.” Guests pay exorbitant sums to visit the park and are, for the most part, free to do whatever they wish without threat of retaliation by the hosts. This premise opens up the possibility for Westworld to explore a number of fascinating themes, from the morality of cloning to what it means to be human. Moreover, the gifted ensemble cast includes such acclaimed performers as Evan Rachel Wood, Anthony Hopkins, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, and Ed Harris as the mysterious “Man in Black.”

Since debuting in early October 2016, the show has generated significant buzz for its high production value, strong performances, and the potential inherent in the world it creates. With such rich themes and ample room to explore its characters and central mysteries, Westworld could literally go anywhere in the coming years, and showrunners Jonathan Nolan (The Dark Knight) and Lisa Joy (Burn Notice) haven’t even started to pull back the curtain for what the show may have in store for audiences. However, how does the show compare against Game of Thrones? Is it really superior to the stories of Westeros?

Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones

Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones | HBO

WINNER (so far): Game of Thrones

Not so far. As much as Westworld has limitless possibilities ahead of it, it still has some work to do if it hopes to surpass the cultural impact and universal acclaim that Game of Thrones has amassed over its six-year run thus far. The world Martin’s novel created simply has such a complex and rich tapestry of character dynamics in play that it can’t be challenged by such a young series. Moreover, Game of Thrones has captured the collective imagination of viewers in such a rapturous way that it may very well be a long while before any television series — let alone one on the very same network — can compete with the story that it continues to tell every season.

If Westworld had already lived up to the potential of their early episodes and developed into something as satisfying as Game of Thrones, then perhaps this match-up would have been a fairer fight. There’s simply too much of a chance that Westworld could fall flat in its execution or lose its narrative direction sooner rather than later.

Jon Snow wearing furs, looking startled, and running to the right of the frame in the snow

Game of Thrones | HBO

Remember, True Detective was a revelation in its first season, but subsequent years have lacked the same cache, and the show has become the target of aggressive criticism. Though we still maintain that Westworld has what it takes to become an enduring HBO staple for years to come, Game of Thrones has launched so many careers and brought fantasy television into the mainstream like no show before it.

It feels like the kind of series that comes around all too rarely, and we can’t imagine that HBO would land another show that can surpass it in such short order. Still, we’ll stay tuned to see how Westworld pans out. We’d love to be proven wrong.

Follow Robert Yaniz Jr. on Twitter @CrookedTable

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