This Monday, “Westworld” fans and TV journalists were confronted by a daunting prospect: Executive producers Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy pledging that if they received enough upvotes on Reddit, they would release a video that would spoil every major plot twist of the upcoming Season 2.
Nolan had been hinting for a while that the producers were considering a unique approach to the fan theory culture which has grown into a frenzy on Reddit and other platforms. In March, he hinted at the idea at SXSW, and later refused to give IndieWire specifics, but the co-creator said they were “just trying to find the right way to engage. We love those fans and love the energy there, so we’re trying to figure out the best way to channel it.”
So the possibility of spoilers existing before the show premiered — which felt pretty real for a few hours (except for a few smart people) — made us all consider the kind of impact it would have on how we would watch, cover, and hopefully enjoy the show… up until the moment when the actual video, “Westworld Season 2 — A Primer” was released and the whole thing was revealed to be a Rickroll-inspired hoax.
In the days since the reveal, what’s intriguing is that the people you’d expect to be most frustrated — the fans — seem to have enjoyed the joke.
As of writing, the original Reddit posting of the video to the “Westworld” subreddit has over 1,500 points, with a 92 percent upvote rate. In the /r/television subreddit, a similar post has an 80 percent approval rating, while /r/videos lists it at 68 percent.
Even on YouTube, which is hardly a nesting ground for positivity, there are 8,100 up-votes and only 260 down-votes, approximately — not at all a bad ratio, given that it has received over 500,000 views. And the vast majority of the comments seem to be written by people either pretending to be in on it or delighting in being pranked. (Lots of people are big fans of the dog — rest in peace, Bento.)
Overall, it seems the “Westroll” event will be looked back on with a lot more fondness than another HBO publicity stunt. It was just over a year ago that the network made a big announcement about the penultimate season of its flagship series “Game of Thrones,” specifically the date we could expect its return. Typically important but not earth-shattering news, HBO made sure we were paying attention — by literally burying the information in a block of ice.
The stunt, which lasted for over an hour, didn’t exactly endear the show to journalists — who found themselves watching so they could report the premiere date as soon as humanly possible — or to fans, who just wanted to find out when the ice would melt.
This Wednesday, via the highly scientific means of a Twitter poll, IndieWire asked this question: “Which recent publicity stunt was the most aggravating?” Because the “Westworld” incident was fresh on peoples’ minds, the TV team expected voters to lean more heavily toward the more recent event. Instead, with 40 responses over three hours, the vote went overwhelmingly in favor of “Game of Thrones”:
OKAY! A poll: Which recent publicity stunt was the most aggravating?
— Liz Shannon Miller (@lizlet) April 11, 2018
The “Game of Thrones” live stream hit 160,000 live viewers at least once during the initial broadcast, and the hosted videos’ counts number in the millions — because “Game of Thrones” was perhaps the only show on television which could get away with a stunt like that.
Similarly, part of why the “Westworld” stunt was so believable was that of all the shows currently on the air, “Westworld” was the one where this might actually work.
To some degree, the initiatives were apples and oranges, as it was the “Westworld” producers who drove the execution of the “Westroll,” while “Thrones” star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau told the Daily Beast that “Thrones” executive producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss thought the ice cube stunt was “embarrassing.”
If the “Thrones” stunt had been less beset by technical difficulties (including a live stream that cut out several times) would it have been more successful? Perhaps, except the “Westworld” maneuver was also interesting in that it did genuinely make us wonder what would happen if a show creator were to take this approach in the future. Would it genuinely disrupt our enjoyment of the series, knowing what was going to come next? Or would it make us appreciate the moments leading up to the big reveals more?
They might have both been pranks, but “Westworld” presented us with a lot more to consider — larger existential questions that went beyond pure spectacle. That speaks to the quality of the prank, to be honest: It truly reflected the show it was about.