Writer Dan Dietz Breaks Down Shogun World
By Allie Waxman
Westworld was never the only experience Delos, Inc. would offer its deep-pocketed guests. The introduction of new worlds has long been a dream for showrunners Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan. Nolan has never shied from discussing his deep appreciation for Japanese cinema, particularly the films of Akira Kurosawa: “It comes down to being obsessed with Japanese cinema, as a kid, and earnestly wanting to make an homage to Kurosawa and the other films I grew up watching.”
The showrunners tapped writer Dan Dietz to pen the show’s first trip into the long-awaited Shogun World. Below, the “Akane No Mai” writer shares the intricacies of Shogun World and the opportunities offered by a new park.
HBO: What was your reaction to finding out you were writing Episode 5, much of which takes place in Shogun World?
Dan Dietz: It was kind of my inner anime, manga-nerd dream come true. My very first entertainment job was writing American dub scripts for Japanese anime imports and it was fantastic to be able to dip my toes in that world by writing this episode.
HBO: What’s the relationship between the mythologies of Westworld and Shogun World?
Dan Dietz: In the same way that Westworld is a pastiche of different myths of the American West, we wanted to extend that idea to Shogun World. First and foremost, what [Westworld showrunner] Jonah [Nolan] told me was that we wanted to base it on Edo period of Japan, but loosely. At the end of the day, this is a theme park. It’s Robert Ford’s vision of the narratives he wants to tell and the experiences he wants the guests to have.
HBO: Where did the idea for the “doppelbots” come from?
Dan Dietz: As we started working on the episode, we thought it would be fun if several of the characters in Shogun World were riffs on characters in Westworld. It points to the fact that this is a corporate-created theme park where they have too many stories to create and not enough time to do it. It also gives you the pleasure of watching familiar characters and stories through a completely different lens. We had a lot of fun with [exploring] the ways Akane and Maeve are similar and different. We wanted to use [the doppelbots] as an opportunity to bring out central aspects in each of the Westworld characters we know and love. We had a good time exploring what happens to artificial intelligence when it meets its double; How does that affect its experience of the world? Does it break down, get upset or, find itself strangely drawn to its double?
HBO: Do you have a favorite moment in the episode?
Dan Dietz: Watching the recreation of the robbery of the Mariposa in the Japanese town was a fun moment, but my favorite is actually a much quieter scene. It’s when you see Maeve and Akane as mothers, when they find Sakura putting her makeup on and they discover that horrible burn tattoo. It’s been such an adventure up to this point with thrills and tension, it’s so easy to forget that these are emotional beings — even if they are artificial intelligence. You have two mothers trying to take care of this young woman and also take care of each other. The moment asks questions about what these relationships mean; Sakura isn’t Akane’s daughter, they’re not technically real people, and yet, their relationships are real and beautiful. Where do you locate the truth about what we mean to each other? How do you define freedom? Is freedom being free of danger? And is freedom worth it if you lose the relationships and the emotional bonds that make life worth living in the first place?
HBO: The scene, ironically, is very humanizing.
Dan Dietz: That was our goal. We have a moment, not too long afterwards, where we see the Shogun killed in a way that highlights that he’s a robot. After the intimacy of that human moment, we wanted to give a moment that highlighted not only the violence of this world, but also returned to the root fact that these are artificial beings. We wanted to force the audience to live with both truths: they seem human, but they’ve also been built by humans.
HBO: What can you tell us about the ending of the episode?
Dan Dietz: We wanted everything to explode so that Maeve winds up being a goddess of death by the end. We wanted her to ascend to a whole other plane of power by the end of this episode — something that can be shocking, surprising, and hopefully riveting and grotesquely beautiful at the same time. It’s super exciting to watch her discover something new about herself. So much of her journey in Season 1 was internal, so for Season 2, it was wonderful to give her new territory within herself.