Opening credits are a curious thing in this era of modern TV. Some, like FX’s Atlanta or HBO’s Here And Now, focus primarily on the title card, with the weight of its appearance informed by the context of the previous scene. Others, like, say, Mad Men, stick to their template and don’t deviate. HBO’s Westworld, then, has gone an interesting route, leaving the music and general aesthetic unchanged while also changing a few key aspects of the accompanying imagery.
Eagle-eyed viewers of last night’s season two premiere may have noticed the changes, but for those who abandoned Ramin Djawadi’s lovely piano-and-strings score in favor of more snacks or another recap of season one’s relentless fuckery, Vulture has spoken to Patrick Clair of Elastic, the production studio behind the titles, about what’s new.
Most emotionally satisfying for Clair was swapping out the couple having sex during season one to an image of a mother and child. “The idea that these beings and creatures could have the sophistication and independence to fall in love was really compelling,” Clair told Vulture. “The idea that we could take the lovers—the emotional core of what we’re trying to do with the main titles—and change that to be a mother with a child, was a really interesting change, and one we relished.”
It also makes sense in terms of the second season, which is much less concerned with sex than season one. Rather, a huge thrust of the arc is Thandie Newton’s Maeve striving to find her daughter from a previous incarnation of her character, as well as, in future episodes, Evan Rachel Wood’s Dolores trying also to reconnect with her own robo-father, Peter.
Elsewhere, Clair discusses the Man in Black’s hat—which, in his words, is “tragically falling into the abyss”—and the “pearl,” which functions as the brain of the host and will also serve an important role this season.
And then there’s the most obvious change: The swapping out of a horse in favor of a buffalo. For that, Vulture recalls a red carpet interview with co-creator Jonathan Nolan, who describes buffalo as “a tragic symbol of the west.”
He continues: “So as a metaphor for our hosts, the idea of a life form that’s supposed to share the west with human beings, and the humans weren’t terribly keen on keeping that dynamic alive, I thought it was a perfect addition.”
Well, that dynamic is certainly shifting this season, and we saw a whole slew of buffalo in last night’s premiere. You know what Chekhov said: A buffalo introduced in the opening credits must go stampeding somewhere around episode three.
[Note: A previous version of this story identified the production company behind the Westworld title sequences as Antibody, not Elastic. We regret the error.]