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Fear Not, ‘Westworld’ Fans: Season 2 is Primed to Dominate the Emmys — Even Against ‘Game of Thrones’

Dragons beware: Dolores is comin' for ya.

Westworld Season 1 Episode 10 Evan Rachel Wood James Marsden Anthony Hopkins

John P. Johnson/HBO

Westworld” was an Emmy winner in 2017.

Despite not hearing its name called at the Primetime Emmy Awards, the HBO drama snagged five Emmy awards at the Creative Arts ceremonies the weekend prior. Yes, those five early wins were supposed to signal more to come on Sunday, September 17, but that didn’t happen. “Westworld” went home empty-handed, capping its total win count at five.

Now, however, is not the time for fear, “Westworld” fans. HBO’s big bet to replace “Game of Thrones” during its year-off from the Emmys had already beaten expectations by pulling in 22 total nominations — tied for the most of any program in 2017 with “SNL” — but its showing at the Emmys is more important for the future than the present. It all-but-guaranteed “Westworld” will be a major player in 2018. In fact, it might be HBO’s new frontrunner, surpassing two-time champion “Game of Thrones,” and here’s why:

This year’s nominations mean a lot.

The value of being the frontrunner in nominations cannot be understated. That “Westworld” was supported in categories across the board — from all those technical nods to multiple acting categories to a drama series nomination — shows how thoroughly it wooed the TV Academy.

And it won them over in a season that, according to critics, wasn’t among television’s elite. Season 1 averaged a 74 rating on Metacritc, which is perfectly respectable, but ranks as just the 64th best TV season of 2016. To be fair, that’s one point higher than “Game of Thrones” Season 6, but it’s also only two points ahead of the cancelled Cinemax drama, “Quarry.”

So if “Westworld” can pull in 22 nominations and five wins for a pretty good season, what will happen if Season 2 improves? Even if it’s considered on par with Season 1, HBO should be in good shape for a high number of nominees.

Once you’re in, you’re in.

For the most part, the Emmys act like a private club where once you pass the test, you’re in for life. Plenty of first-time nominees see dips in nominations in subsequent years (see “Mr. Robot” from Season 1 to Season 2), but it’s rare barring a disastrous second season.

That’s why it’s not too early to be talking about 2018. The quality of the seasons is important, to a degree, but we need look no further than “House of Cards'” presence in this year’s race — for a pretty poor fifth season — to see how much early admittance matters toward long-term success at the Emmys.

No one has seen Season 2, but this kind of love ensures voters will be watching, and that’s half the battle these days.

“Westworld” won five Emmys, a respectable sum.

Though major categories are always coveted, five Emmys is still a solid total. That’s as many as “Stranger Things” won — a direct competitor not only as a Netflix original, but as a genre TV show — and it equals the total of fellow HBO awards darling, “Veep.”

It’s enough to tie for fourth among Emmy-winning programs in 2017, and, more importantly, it keeps “Westworld” in good favor for next year. And next year could be a doozy.

Season 2 is set up to be better than Season 1.

The first season of “Westworld” both benefitted and suffered from a lot of world-building. It’s always fun to be introduced to a brand new universe for the first time, especially one as expansive as this, but all that table setting weighed down the show at times.

Season 2 is unshackled. [Spoiler alert for Season 1] The robots appear to be free from their oppressors, free to follow their own dreams (if they dream), and free from the expectations that exactly that will happen, eventually, probably in the finale. People were waiting all season for the robots to revolt, and now that they have, no expectations remain.

While such an open concept may be daunting for the writers, it should open up a twist-heavy drama to explore the roots of the series — what makes us human — and get away from the blunt exposition required to set up an intricate story. Plus, the gorgeous special effects (which net a lot of Emmy nods) aren’t going anywhere, and most of the nominated actors are set to return. The foundation of “Westworld” is intact, and still so many more worlds to be explored.

“Game of Thrones” is weak.

Whatever your opinion of Season 7, it’s fair to say most considered it less impressive than Seasons 5 and 6 — the series’ two Emmy-winning seasons. There wasn’t such a steep drop-off that fans have turned on the series, meaning there’s little risk of “Game of Thrones” missing out on a similar nomination tally to previous seasons.

But those nominations may not turn into wins. After a year off from the Emmys, many competitors have risen to challenge the HBO juggernaut, including this year’s winner, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” as well one of HBO’s own. “Game of Thrones” didn’t deliver a season good enough to guarantee a repeat victory as the best drama series, and that leaves the door open for “Westworld” — if it can do better.

“Westworld” has a key edge in positioning.

Finally, timing is going to play a critical factor in next year’s Emmy race.

“Game of Thrones” won’t be airing another season before next year’s Emmys, nor will it be airing its final season during voting periods. Season 8 isn’t expected until late 2018 at the earliest, meaning “Game of Thrones” won’t have the publicity boost of a new season as its previous season is contending for awards (a la “Orange is the New Black” annually or “Mr. Robot” last year). Maybe a trailer will drop, or some tidbits will come up at campaign events, but new episodes — and all the attention that comes with them — won’t be around.

“Westworld,” meanwhile, looks to get prime positioning. When “Game of Thrones” delivered its biggest Emmys hauls, it was released in the spring, alongside fellow juggernauts “Veep” and “Silicon Valley.” This technique — releasing seasons right as campaign season kicks in and just before nomination voting begins — has become so popular, a flurry of contenders tried it this year. “Fargo,” “Better Call Saul,” “House of Cards,” “Master of None,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and more all benefitted from airing episodes in April and May.

Lo and behold, “Westworld” Season 2 is slated for a spring release in 2018. That gives it an edge in topicality, publicity, and freshness compared to “Game of Thrones,” which will have been off the air for almost an entire year by the time winners’ ballots are cast.

So fear not, “Westworld” fans. Dolores may not have won the game in 2017, but she’s already taken control of the park.

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