HBO's new drama Westworld just premiered on Sunday, but it's already building as much buzz as any new fall show. The pilot episode, titled "The Original," was the highest-rated premiere of any HBO show since True Detective in 2014, and the series currently boasts an 87 percent critic score on Rotten Tomatoes. Most reviews agree that the series started strong.
It appears that HBO, like many of the western-meets-science fiction show's ravenous guests, is hungry for more subscribers and even higher ratings before the next episode. Westworld's impressively sprawling, unsettling pilot is now available to anyone with an internet connection, subscriber or not.
Just two days after the premiere of 'The Original,' HBO has put Westworld's pilot episode online to watch for free. "Sample Westworld Now," the headline for the video of the premiere reads. Keeping in line with the show's themes of indulgence and the allure of human desires, the free episode's description reads: "Explore a world in which no human appetite, no matter how noble or depraved, can be indulged. Begin watching the first episode for free." The full episode release comes after HBO released the show's opening credits online for free.
Like any pilot episode, "The Original" mostly lays the groundwork for the setting and themes of Westworld and offers creative, compelling ways to show how the futuristic theme park works and how the characters, both human and automaton, will interact with each other. There is still plenty of fleshing out to do with all the major players, most notably Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood), Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins), and the violent, mysterious Man in Black (Ed Harris). The premiere certainly offers enough mystery and production values to possibly convert non-subscribers.
HBO is betting big with Westworld as it continues to seek another tentpole-caliber show on par with Game of Thrones, which will not be on the air until the summer of 2017. Westworld has a reported budget of over $100 million for the first season with about $8-10 million allotted per episode, according to the THR. That kind of price tag will undoubtedly put a lot of pressure on Westworld to succeed in ways that the cancelled Vinyl did not, but a single viewing of the pilot episode will show that the budget was put to good use.
Clearly, HBO hopes that releasing the Westworld premiere online will make some unsubscribed viewers become subscribers to the network, whether through their cable service or online with HBO Now. The pilot episode was a big success, but far from a guarantee to make a given viewer decide to fully commit to the network. Piracy will also always be an issue, as it is with Game of Thrones, but that show has already proven that you can be successful even with millions of viewers downloading the show without subscribing. The ratings and reviews for the pilot episode show that Westworld is off to a very strong start.
Westworld continues Sunday, Oct. 9 with 'Chestnut' at 9 p.m. on HBO.