TV series review: The Wheel of Time – season 1 (Amazon Prime, 2021)
Tl;dr: Mixed emotions (SO MANY FEELS). It’s not perfect, no, but I really, really like it.
With streaming services putting out quality original content and TV in general has upped the game so that TV is no longer the ugly step-sibling of cinema, the turn has finally come for Robert Jordan’s epic fantasy series The Wheel of Time to be adapted. The production of the first series was hit by COVID lockdowns after the first six episodes had been filmed, so they had to put filming on hiatus for about a year before they could continue. At that point one of the main actors had to bow out for reasons that haven’t been publicly disclosed (the general sentiment I’ve seen on social media, and agree with, is that he did a great job and we’re sad he won’t be continuing, but we wish him well), so it put a spanner in the last two episodes.
Then there’s the whole “how do you fit all this into only eight one-hour episodes?” but I think on the basis of how many views it’s had (especially compared to the arguably limited reach of Prime) they might decide that the gamble has paid off and they can put more money into following seasons and allow both higher production values as well as more/longer episodes. Watch And Find Out.
Unlike the first book, which starts out as being from one character’s viewpoint so we always knew who was going to be revealed as the Dragon Reborn, the show tries to keep the mystery alive by making it into an ensemble piece straight from the get-go. The original Dragon being the reason why male channellers (magic users) now can’t use the One Power (magic) without going insane and being a risk to both themselves and everyone around them. Some 3000 years later only women are “allowed” to channel, and they form part of the order known as the Aes Sedai.
Moiraine Damodred (Rosamund Pike) is one of them and together with her Warder (bodyguard) Lan Mandragoran (Daniel Henney) she has spent the past 20 years searching the lands for the prophetised Dragon Reborn, whose existence heralds the coming of the Final Battle between the Light (good) and the Dark One (evil), and the Dragon Reborn is basically going to be the deciding factor – the Chosen One.
In a remote village in the mountains of the Two Rivers are the main suspects, four 20-year-olds: Egwene al’Vere (Madeleine Madden), who has only just become initiated into the Women’s Circle; perpetually down on his luck Mat Cauthon (Barney Harris), quiet blacksmith Perrin Aybara (Marcus Rutherford) and shepherd Rand al’Thor (Josha Stradowski). There is also the town’s Wisdom, Nyneave al’Meara (Zoë Robins), but she’s technically too old to fit the profile.
To confirm Moiraine and Lan are on the right track, a hoard of the Dark One’s beastly footsoldiers attack the village, and the five young Chosen One potentials are forced to flee. They head east, aiming for the city where the Aes Sedai have their headquarters, but things rarely work out exactly as planned.
Which of the four (or five) is the Dragon Reborn? And will this person help save the world, or help destroy it?
The Wheel of Time is one of my favourite ever book series, so there are a lot of expectations for an adaptation to live up to. Have they delivered? Sort of. (I’ll write another post to elaborate.) First off, I love the cast. Does it bother me that Lan doesn’t have blue eyes or that three of the main five are people of colour? Not in the slightest. My concern is whether or not they can do the characters justice, and boy howdy did they do a good casting job! I think they’re all phenomenal, to the point where it really feels as if they are the book characters come to life, and that’s more than I could hope for. I can’t wait to see them getting stuck into their respective character arcs!
Loial (Hammed Animashaun) is adorkable. Liandrin (Kate Fleetwood) will be interesting going forward. I don’t think Alanna (Priyanka Bose) was introduced in the books until a lot later, so I’m wondering what she’ll be doing. I’m glad they’re giving Logain (Álvaro Morte) more to do in the series. Did they spend too much time on Stepin (Peter Franzén) and too little on Thom (Alexandre Willaume)? Yes, although Stepin’s arc was important to show the bond between Aes Sedai and Warders, because that will come into play later. Siuan (Sophie Okonedo) is so regal that she feels born to sit on the Amyrlin Seat. The way you saw Padan Fain (Johann Myers) in the background of certain scenes makes for great re-watching material. “They’ve made me like Aram!” (Daryl McCormack) I’ve seen several people say, but I don’t remember him being unlikeable? Min Farshaw (Kae Alexander) will reappear later, but I’m interested in where, because she wasn’t in the Borderlands in the books. Eamon Valda (Abdul Salis) has single-handedly made the Whitecloaks far more sinister then they’re portrayed in the books. Like, they’re still awful people that you’d rather stay far away from, but they feel a lot more threatening here.
As I’ve started to re-read the first book it’s interesting to see how much detail I had forgotten but that actually have made it into the show, like Rand originally carrying a longbow and quiver. Yes, there are some big changes that even someone who hasn’t read the first book in probably 15 years will still react to. Most of it good, because let’s be honest, some of the book series hasn’t aged as well as we might have hoped.
There were things that Robert Jordan himself would have done differently in retrospect, which the series is honouring. His long time editor – and widow – Harriet McDougal is one of the producers (along with Brandon Sanderson, who was tasked with finishing the series after Jordan’s death in 2007) so I feel confident the show is in good hands.
What I particularly like about The Wheel of Time as a series, and perhaps that’s part of the reason the books appeal to me so much (the reincarnation theme another), is that not only is it a rich and varied multicultural world, it’s hopeful. It gets seriously dark in places, so it certainly can’t be classed as fluffy by any means, but it has a generally positive outlook.
There are so many more things I’d like to say about this show, but to summarise: it isn’t perfect, but it’s only a first season and it that’s usually what it takes for shows to find its feet. Transforming a complex multi-character epic taking place over 4.4 million words is a mammoth task and this is a really good start. I love to see the characters and the world I first fell in love with when I was 14/15 come to life, and I’m really looking forward to season two.
The way they’re adapting it, with mixing up the timelines a bit, means that even though I’ve read the books more than once I still can’t be sure exactly what happens next, because it isn’t a word for word adaptation (which bothers some readers to a frankly disturbing degree). It means even though those of us who know the books can be surprised, which I’ve found I actually quite like.
The soundtrack is fab (it’s on various music streaming services) and I love the use of the Old Tongue for the lyrics. Having lyrics in English would have taken me out of the story too much, I think.
There are neither beginnings, nor endings, to the turning of the Wheel of Time, but it’s a beginning. And yes, hearing those words spoken at the end of episode one had me on the verge of tears. It’s finally here. It’s finally happening. These characters are like old friends, and now they’ve finally come to life before my eyes. I’ve already watched each episode twice, so who knows how many more times I’ll watch it before the next season drops?
4 out of 5 serpent rings, and where is the merch? Lady needs some merch, you guys. I even want a Brown Ajah ring, despite vastly preferring the look of the rings from the books.