'Westworld's' ratings fell during its messy season 2, and it shows viewers are frustrated

HBO
  • According to Nielsen, ratings for “Westworld” dropped during its second season, which ended Sunday.
  • In 2016, “Westworld” was almost as buzzy as “Game of Thrones,” but people seem to have lost interest due to its overly complex storytelling.
  • The decline in ratings isn’t a huge deal since the show is still a success for HBO, but the decreased interest might impact how the story is told in its third season.

In 2016, the critical and commercial success of HBO’s “Westworld” put it on track to become the next “Game of Thrones.” But unfortunately, it’s only decreased in popularity throughout season two. “Westworld” has fallen victim to the sophomore slump.

While the drop in ratings isn’t necessarily bad for HBO (the show won’t get canceled), it does put more pressure on HBO to find another mega-hit to replace “Game of Thrones” after its eighth and final season airs in 2019.

According to Nielsen, the linear audience for “Westworld” season two (including those who watched on-demand within three days of airing) averaged about 2.4 million viewers per episode. That’s down 16 per cent from the season one average in fall of 2016. The Nielsen ratings also show that the season two finale had 24 per cent less viewership than the season premiere did back in April.

On Sunday night, more people tuned into the BET Awards than the 90-minute “Westworld” finale – though it is important to note that a lot of people watch “Westworld” in the days or weeks after it premieres.

Still, it’s not a great trend.

During season two of “Game of Thrones,” ratings went up rather dramatically, with an average of 3.80 million viewers compared to season one’s 2.52 million average. Throughout season two, the number of viewers grew and grew, with 4.20 million tuning in for the finale.

The “Westworld” season two finale average had about 2.2 million viewers, but only 1.6 million without the encore and streaming on HBO Go and HBO Now included.

Initial reactions to season two of “Westworld” (including my own) were gushing. The first five episodes, which HBO made available to the press, promised an expanded world not reliant on confusing the audience. But it quickly turned to the same devices it relied on in season one. It didn’t allow the audience to know when things were happening, or to whom, or how, or why.

The show’s small but significant decline in popularity suggests that the overly complicated timelines, big host reveals, and a nonsensical post-credits scene turn off audiences as much as they did TV critics – because it’s already been done. There’s only so much work people are willing to put into their entertainment, and “Westworld” is too much.

Even some active “Westworld” fans on Reddit agreed that the season went a bit too far – or, at least, drove obsessed fans to go too far. One amusing Reddit post that went up a few days before the finale last week sums up the feeling: user RzK wrote a post in the r/westworld subreddit titled, “I think we’ve gone completely insane on this Subreddit.”

“I was there during the Breaking Bad investigation days, the Walking Dead, Game of Thrones,” the user wrote. “But we here have gone completely mental looking for clues to the point we’re shriveled up crazy people sifting through already sifted sand for even the most insignificant hint as to what’s going to happen in something we’ll eventually get to see.”

In its season two finale, “Westworld” set the reset button on its premise, promising a brand new story in the unknown real world outside of the Westworld park. Hopefully the writers will apply this fresh start to their storytelling in season three as well, and abandon the tricks it relied on for two frustrating seasons of television.

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