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Westworld season 2 episode 1 & 2 spoiler-free review: Higher stakes and greater relevance

As the story expands outside of the park, we get a greater sense of why Westworld, which looks to be the central theme of the new season

"I look at the second season and it does have a very different pace, a very different outlook," Westworld co-creator Jonathan Nolan told me a couple of weeks back. "It's recognisably the same show but it has a different feeling and drive to it."

I have to say that these were welcome words ahead of the return of HBO's biggest show in the Game of Thrones off-season, as the first batch of episodes' serpentine nature was fun but often amounted to a barrage of information.

I hoped the show would actually take its foot off the gas a little in season 2, and indeed there is a more gentle cadence to the first two episodes, even though they pick the action back up right where we left off: complete chaos.

Trailer for Westworld season 2

The hosts have thrown off their code-based shackles and now careen around Westworld like zoo animals who have just realised they're not getting a cut from the cuddly versions of themselves available in the gift shop. The slaughter of several human board members and the subsequent mass host escape creates a multitude of responses among the characters. Dolores seems vengeful, Bernard - still trying to pass himself off as a human - bewildered, while the Man in Black (henceforth Old William) is pleased as punch that the stakes just got raised, with guests now having the potential and motive to actually shoot a hole in him, a delight that the viewer will probably share as the action in the show takes on greater consequence.

Maeve, meanwhile, who you may remember essentially cranked up all her XP to 100 last season, is as conflicted, furious and disorientated as anyone about her self-discovery, and yet unable to regard all the programmed life that came before as void. Her apparently untarnished love for her daughter is an interesting philosophical nugget going forward. Is her hardwired love any less real than the love we perceive, which may itself simply be the product of a piece of evolution and procreation-driven biological programming?

To explain where these quandaries and crises of self take the characters would be to stray into spoiler territory, but some intriguing storylines are set up. Episode 1 you might find a little anticlimactic, it mostly just establishing the lay of the land and the beasts within it, but episode 2 is one of the show's best episodes yet. Again, I don't want to ruin any enjoyment but I'll say this much: we jump back further into time than ever before, peaking outside the park, and these scenes are fiercely enjoyable. What's more, the entire show is suddenly given a jolt of relevance with one reveal in this time period. To cover my ass, here's Jeffrey Wright hinting at it the other day: "As things fall apart, we move into an exploration of why, why the park."

I'm still yet to reach 'Oh my God I need to watch the next episode right now' mode with Westworld, which gets twisted in its own cat's cradle sometimes and killed off its only truly enthralling character (Sir Anthony Hopkins' Robert Ford) last season, but it's a welcome return nonetheless, evoking the pleasure of watching someone play an exquisite video game, only you don't actually want to skip the cutscenes.

Westworld begins on HBO in the US and on Sky Atlantic and through NOWTV in the UK on 22 April.

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