How Does Godless Compare To Westworld?

Warning: General spoilers ahead for Godless and Westworld.

I don’t know if you realised this, but, Westerns are kind of having a moment. While we’re personally loving the Laura Dern-starring Shatterbox Anthology short film The Good Time Girls, there’s more to this trend. The latest addition to the pack is Godless, Netflix’s story of good, evil, dust, and horses in an 1800s mining town made up of women. The Michelle Dockery-led period drama follows the pop culture dominance of HBO’s epic Westworld, which melds Western tropes with futuristic twists.

Considering the pedigree of Godless and Westworld — both are produced by Academy Award nominees — it’s easy to see how they’re probably going to end up in the same sentences until the end of time. And, considering how aggressive their respective networks are about Emmy campaigns, they’ll definitely be going head-to-head when it comes to the awards show next year.

Despite all the surface similarities between the Westerns, there are still some major differences between the two. Keep reading to find out how Godless and Westworld actually compare to each other. The results will surprise you more than that one time Bill McNue (Scoot McNairy) randomly found the exact band of outlaws he was looking for in a river.

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The Women

This is a conversation that has eaten up many a minute in the Refinery29 offices. While Godless was marketed a woman-led Western, it doesn’t exactly fall into that category. Rather, it’s a woman-full Western, where its ladies are constantly reacting to the violence, whims, and fates of the men around them. Alice Fletcher (Dockery) comes into a fortune because a man gives it to her, the women of La Belle kick ass because men come to ruin their town, and even the most in-charge woman, Mary Agnes (Merritt Wever), gets that agency because her husband died.

On the other hand, the leading women of Westworld drive their own action. While men attempt to project their own desires and ideas onto robots like Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton) and Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood), their attempts fail. Maeve leads an all out rebellion in the Delos offices and rejects whatever corporate espionage coding was written into her system. Dolores goes on some timeline-bending adventures and gains sentience, closing season 1 by firing the first shot in the Westworld park’s robot revolution. These women don’t react to wars, they start them.
The Men

As the Godless finale “Homecoming” proves, the Netflix show is a drama about men, their blood feuds, and their horses. Why else would the limited series end with a shot of outlaw dreamboat Roy Goode (Jack O’Connell) completing his (manifest) destiny of making it to the Pacific Ocean rather than, say, the ladies of La Belle rebuilding the town men burned to the ground? Other than Roy, his father-figure adversary Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels) and his eventual ally sheriff Bill McNue are all active figures in their own story. With their respective lengthy trips throughout the West, each man makes things happen rather than allowing things to happen to him.

In Westworld certain guys are the leading men of their stories — like the Man In Black (Ed Harris) or Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) — while others are puppets, like Teddy Flood (James Marsden) and Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright). Also, pretty obviously, not all of these guys are cowboy-adjacent, since Westworld takes place in the future.

However, the threat of physical and sexual violence hangs over many of the men in both of these shows.
The Western Itself

Godless is a tried-and-true Western, with its old-timey towns, New Mexico vistas, and endless string of gun-toting outlaws. The series shows flashes of influence from many of the genre’s greats, like 1953’s Shane, about a kindly reformed gunslinger who saves a town with his quick trigger-finger, Clint Eastwood’s 1973 film High Plains Drifter, with a similar plot to Shane, or 1971’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller, which centres around a mining town. Godless actress Samantha Soule admits to watching the latter two for inspiration.

Westworld on the other hand, simply cribs the generic Wild West themes we’ve all come to associate with the time — you know, brothels, over-the-top accents, insane amounts of violence created via horseback — in the same way Disney World uses the world’s general ideas about international cultures to craft Epcot. In reality, Westworld is Jurassic Park if all the killer dinosaurs cosplayed as killer robots and you swapped out all the curious families for debauched adults.

This makes sense, since writer Michael Crichton dreamed up both properties. The late writer penned both Jurassic's novel and original movie, along with 1973’s Westworld, which HBO's fantasy epic is of course based on. So, if modern-day Westworld has a single cinematic influence, it's not vintage Eastwood — it's Yul Brynner's melting face.
The Intrigue

Both of these shows give viewers multiple flashbacks to explain who their characters are today. Only one of them does it in a way where you’ll probably start questioning reality and spouting feverish theories on Reddit. Godless is not that show. Here, the intrigue comes in explaining how Roy and Frank’s relationship got to a point where it’s so bad, multiple towns have been destroyed over it by the end of the limited series (R.I.P. Creede, Colorado, and Blackton, New Mexico).

In Westworld, the intrigue is so vast, you truly need 10 episodes to even begin to understand it. There are questions over who’s a robot, who’s not, can the actual robots have sentience, and, seriously, what timeline are we looking are here? Since Westworld only creates more questions as it goes, it’s a good thing season 2 is on the television horizon.
The Themes

The technical tagline of Godless is “Welcome to no man's land.” But, as we’ve gone over, there are actually so many men here, and they act like everything is their land. So, the true theme of Godless is, “Men are why we can’t have nice things.” The category of “things” for the ladies of La Belle includes control of their own mines, protection from unimaginable swathes of brutal violence, and, simply, a quiet, fire-free town.

There is also the Godless theme of Why Jack O’Connell Should Be Your New Favourite Netflix Bae, but I doubt creator-director Scott Frank was purposefully going for that one.

Westworld, though, has so many themes and threads and purposes, it languished in production for two full years before first landing on your TV screen in late 2016. Among the many aims of the Jonathan Nolan, Lisa Joy, and J.J. Abrams-produced series, the leading goals are to meditate on technology, consciousness, and what will happen when those two inevitably meet.
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