As a huge fan of HBO’s Westworld, and producer of Geeks Of Doom’s own Westworld podcast, Violent Delights, the concept to actually visit Westworld’s town of Sweetwater was nothing short of a fan’s dream come true. HBO’s team made that dream a reality with their SXSWestworld experience this year at Austin’s SXSW.
My journey began in Austin’s Eastside Tavern with a check-in at Delos’ Mesa Gold Station for drinks and networking with fellow Westworld travellers. There, a Delos host selected a hat for me (between white and black) to reflect the tone my journey would take. I was given a black hat. After hors d’oeuvres of Frito pie bites and drinks, a lighted sign announced our group was ready to board the shuttle to Sweetwater. As me and my fellow passengers boarded the shuttle, we were handed brochures of the resort recommending visitors to keep a sharp eye out for hidden details, and coins to spend on drinks and perhaps, to loosen the tongues of townsfolk.
Once we arrived at Sweetwater (about 15 miles from our departure), we were ushered into an orientation antechamber similar to where William was prepped by Angela. A host admired us coldly as we passed through. From there we stepped into an appointed railcar where we were greeted by Silent Al, a host who asked us where we were coming from and told me to pass a message to the proprietor of the photography studio, thus kicking off a scripted narrative that the host denizens of the park were all playing out.
We stepped off the railcar and into Sweetwater proper. The park was huge, covering a couple of acres in ramshackle frontier buildings. Props littered every storefront, each of them containing little easter eggs, like the can of condensed milk that brags that it’s “Walter’s favorite brand.”
Wandering around the park, there were dozens of activities to participate in, each staffed by hosts who were running their own scripted roles. I checked into the post office and found a letter addressed to me. A chill ran down my spine as I read that I was being watched, like every guest there.
Passing by the sheriff’s office, I noted that periodically random guests faces would show up on ‘Wanted’ posters nailed to the facade, for charges such as gravedigging and other malicious acts. An altercation broke out at the Coronado saloon between two dusty gangsters, seemingly over a woman. A peek behind a door guarded by a keypad lock revealed a hidden room where a Delos technician was busily diagnosing a ‘drone’ host. At the Mariposa, a player piano banged out renditions of Radiohead tunes, driven by a bloodstained paper roll. A musical trio played an eerie synthwave score while guests dined on tins of smoked beans and beef jerky. Some guests sat for a shave at the barbers while others, like myself, dug up the grave of Dolores Abernathy looking for buried gold.
A host, dressed in anachronistic Japanese samurai garb wandered the park speechlessly creeping out guests by invading their personal space. Over the course of two hours, the disparate scripted storylines the hosts were running under converged into a standoff at gunpoint between two sets of hosts in the town square. Things got heated and one host shot and killed the other. Suddenly, from the crowd, a woman dressed in dark blue with white lace trim stepped forward, analyzed the fracas and revealed herself to be a Delos technician in disguise. As she attempted to contain the situation by directing the hosts to “freeze all motor functions”, it became clear they were no longer in her control as they began to crowd he menacingly. She panickedly called for an evac team and a group of bunny-suited technicians stepped in from the town’s outskirts to pull her away. A technician called out “initiate evacuation protocol”, and all hosts immediately ceased their advance, turned to the guests and coldly directed them toward the park’s exit while thanking them for visiting Westworld. All guests boarded the shuttle back home, taking sweet memories of Sweetwater with them.
During my visit to Sweetwater, Westworld’s showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, and stars Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, and Jeffrey Wright crashed the proceedings, bringing an entourage of camera crews with them. The hosts scripted narratives were momentarily thrown off as guests clamored around the shows stars.
Check out a gallery of my visit to Sweetwater, as well as videos of the show’s climactic ending and the visit from Westworld stars and showrunners below.