The “Westworld” co-creators offered to spoil the whole show—to prevent spoilers

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
Image: HBO
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Update (April 10): It turns out that Westworld co-creator Jonathan Nolan was, in fact, joking. When his post hit 1,000 upvotes, he released a “Rickroll” video of cast member Evan Rachel Wood (Dolores) singing Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” followed by about 15 minutes of a dog sitting at a piano. He did not actually spoil the entire season of the show.

It’s unclear what point Nolan was trying to make apart from annoying his fans and journalists who have to cover this sort of thing. The larger point about the challenges that arise when storytellers interact with rabid online communities still stands, however.

When Westworld showrunner Jonathan Nolan told a crowd at SXSW that he “love[s] to fuck with Reddit as much as possible,” we didn’t think this is what he meant.

During an “Ask Me Anything” on the discussion website today, Nolan and his co-creator Lisa Joy offered to spoil the entire second season of his HBO sci-fi robot drama if his post reached 1,000 upvotes (essentially the Reddit equivalent of a “like,” though posts can also receive downvotes). As of press time, the post had almost half the necessary votes.

Because the offer seemed too weird to be believed—and Westworld has already demonstrated a penchant for elaborate, viral marketing campaigns—Quartz asked HBO if it could confirm that Nolan and Joy’s proposal is indeed real. The network’s only response was the following: “This is an initiative from the Westworld showrunners. We suggest you stay tuned to Reddit for their next move.”

For now, the details are still fuzzy, and Nolan and Joy’s argument for intentionally spoiling their own fan community even fuzzier:

‘Theories’ can actually be spoilers, and the line between the two is confusing. It’s something we’ve been thinking about since last season. The fans of Game of Thrones, for instance, rallied around and protected the secrets of the narrative in part because they already knew those secrets (through season 5).

We thought about this long and hard, and came to a difficult (and potentially highly controversial) decision. If you guys agree, we’re going to post a video that lays out the plot (and twists and turns) of season 2. Everything. The whole sordid thing. Up front. That way the members of the community here who want the season spoiled for them can watch ahead, and then protect the rest of the community, and help to distinguish between what’s ‘theory’ and what’s spoiler.

There are a few head-scratchers in this logic. The first: the comparison to spoilers in the Game of Thrones community. The reason that the strategy of spoiler-informed fans weeding spoilers out of purported theories (thus ”protecting” the narrative from unspoiled fans, as Nolan and Joy advocate) worked on Thrones was because they were based on books. Those books preceded the HBO show, and therefore spoiled it for anyone who hadn’t read them.

Westworld, though loosely based on a 1973 film of the same name, is its own beast, and doesn’t follow a known template like Game of Thrones. If someone’s Westworld theory turns out to be correct, it’s likely because that person just guessed correctly—not because they were disingenuously injecting real spoilers into their theories and passing them off as predictions (as has happened in countless online fan communities, from Lost to Game of Thrones). Some accurate theories, within a thicket of incorrect theories, aren’t necessarily spoilers.

As I wrote last year, shows like Westworld cannot outsmart the internet hivemind. Out of the thousands of theories postulated on sites such as Reddit and Facebook, a few are bound to end up being right or nearly right. But you don’t know which ones are right and which ones are wrong until either the show itself reveals the truth or… someone in the know points it out to you. Nolan and Joy are, in effect, saying that the only theories they want allowed are incorrect theories. What’s the fun in that?

Nolan had to know how much attention his post would create within the Westworld online community. If his supposed goal is to actually prevent fans from getting spoiled, he picked an awfully ostentatious way to do so. More people will end up seeing (or hearing about) Nolan’s spoiler-filled video than if no such thing were to exist.

Whether this is an honest experiment by a storyteller, an HBO-sanctioned marketing stunt, a grand social experiment, or just an epic troll job, one thing is still clear: It’s becoming increasingly tricky for both creators and fans to navigate the communities of certain shows in the age of social media. Perhaps Nolan and Joy earnestly want to start a conversation about spoilers. Or perhaps they just want to drum up more interest in Westworld, which premieres April 22.