TL;DR – This is a show that looks amazing but always feels like it is just about to click together but does not quite get there
Disclosure – I paid for the Amazon Prime service that viewed this episode.
The Wheel of Time Review –
I have been at a bit of a loss for a while now, leading to me spending nights just binge-watching Alone, which is not a good headspace when you live alone in the middle of a global pandemic. Realising that it was probably not good for me to continue down that road, I decided to focus those energies elsewhere and catch up on some of the Fantasy shows that I missed last year. The first of the three is Amazon Prime’s dive into the 14-book world of Rober Jordan.
So to set the scene, 3000 years before the start of the series, there was a battle to lock The Dark One (Fares Fares) away for good, only it backfired. The Dragon was tainted and, as legend stated, ‘broke the world’. This legacy is felt to this day as men still can’t channel the One Power without being driven insane eventually. However, prophecy has stated that the Dragon will be reborn again and will heal the world or break it apart again. This is the mission that Aes Sedai Moiraine Damodred (Rosamund Pike) and her ward al’Lan Mandragoran (Daniel Henney) are on as they race to find the Dragon before others of her sect, or even the Dark One finds them. As fate would have it, five people fit the bill for the Dragon, Nynaeve al’Meara (Zoë Robins), the Wisdom of Emond’s Field, her apprentice Egwene al’Vere (Madeleine Madden). Egwene’s love interest Rand al’Thor (Josha Stradowski), and his best friends Perrin Aybara (Marcus Rutherford) and Mat Cauthon (Barney Harris). However, before Moiraine could tell which of the five could be the Dragon, an army of Trollocs attacked the village. Now we will be looking at the season as a whole, so there may be some [SPOILERS] ahead.
The Wheel of Time series is one that I had heard about before this and had been tempted, but the 14 books felt like a bit too much of a commitment when I don’t know how they stuck the landing, and well, look anything with 2784 named characters can be daunting from the start. This is my way of forwarding that I am coming to this series purely as it exists as a visual medium, not as an adaptation. From talking to people, I know that some changes have made sense if you have read the books, and some are head-scratching. However, I will just go on the vibe I get from what is presented to me.
When it comes to a show like this, it can live or die in how it presents its lore to the audience. Too much too quickly, and it becomes overwhelming. Too little, and it becomes a vague mess. We get a show that can hit and miss on that front with The Wheel of Time. From the start, it did do an excellent job of giving the framework of its lore. Women can channel magic. If men do, they go mad. There is a cyclical worldview regarding time and rebirth and that the world is at the cusp of another turning point. But within that framework, there are many names and terminology that you have to try and incorporate into your understanding. Also, I think the most significant missed opportunity was not including more of the fact that this is fantasy series set in the ruins of a future science fiction world. There is one big hint and one engaging flashback, but when you have shows that can do it so much better, like Adventure Time, well, it can be frustrating.
From a worldbuilding perspective, I think we get a lot of interesting structures in a feudal society with competing for noble and religious networks of power. One of those fundamental power structures seems to decline, allowing rebels and inquisitors to carve around the countryside. For most of the first season, there is the tug that we must go east, which means you don’t need to detail your world as much as otherwise. However, a lack of geographical placement in the show hurts how it all locks together. From a production perspective, the show is clearly drawing from several cultural sources regarding its costume and character design. It is close enough to feel recognisable, but I don’t think it wades completely into appropriation territory.
The story itself is pretty simple, even if there are layers of complexity added. The primary thrust of the story is that the Dragon will be reborn. It is probably one of the five from Emond’s Field in Two Rivers. Moiraine has to keep the five safe and return them to the White Tower in Tar Valon. However, there are enemies, including her own people, that they have to dodge along the way. Meanwhile, the five don’t trust Moiraine at all, which like fair. First, the problem with this is that it is obvious who the Dragon will be from the first episode, removing a lot of the tension. The second is that once they get to the White Tower, everything seems to both slow to a crawl and accelerate. However, I did enjoy the politics in and around the Tower.
Overall, I liked the cast, and I liked that they gave them actual motivations for their actions. Marcus Rutherford brought a lot of pain and guilt to the role of Perrin Aybara because he accidentally killed his wife in the first fight. This is sadly a genuine part of the show because if you are not trained (and even when you are), it would be incredibly easy to hurt the people around you when you are fighting in the dark and are not used to fighting. Barney Harris is compelling as Mat Cauthon, who is poor in a town that is incredibly poor and has a real reason to want to go back home. However, it is odd that he just kind of nopes out ¾ of the way through the season. Zoë Robins kills it as Nynaeve al’Meara and gives one of the more nuanced performances throughout the season. As an Australian, I must rep for Madeleine Madden as Egwene al’Vere, but also she is fantastic. I also liked whatever was going on between Rosamund Pike & Daniel Henney. The one thing that did not work for me, Josha Stradowski, was as Rand al’Thor. He was just too straight-laced for the role, I know they were going for naïve, but they overcorrected.
In the end, do we recommend The Wheel of Time? Yes, but with some reservations. Look, I enjoyed my time in this show, even if some of the characters did not work, and they did a poor job explaining the geography. However this is the type of show I can gel with, but if it is not your jam, that might be a bigger barrier for you.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of The Wheel of Time
Directed by – Uta Briesewitz, Wayne Yip, Salli Richardson-Whitfield & Ciaran Donnelly
Written by – Rafe Judkins, Amanda Kate Shuman, The Clarkson Twins, Dave Hill, Celine Song, Justine Juel Gillmer, Amanda Kate Shuman & Katherine B. McKenna
Created by – Rafe Judkins
Production/Distribution Companies – Sony Pictures Television, Radar Productions, Iwot Pictures, Long Weekend, Little Island Productions & Amazon Studios
Starring – Rosamund Pike, Daniel Henney, Zoë Robins, Madeleine Madden, Josha Stradowski, Marcus Rutherford, Barney Harris, Kate Fleetwood, Priyanka Bose, Hammed Animashaun, Sophie Okonedo, Kae Alexander & Fares Fares with Lolita Chakrabarti, Michael Tuahine, Michael McElhatton, Johann Myers, Naana Agyei Ampadu, Mandi Symonds, David Sterne, Juliet Howland, Christopher Sciueref, Petr Simcák, Litiana Biutanaseva, Abdul Salis, Stuart Graham, Pearce Quigley, Alexandre Willaume, Álvaro Morte, Clare Perkins, Izuka Hoyle, Peter Franzén, Daryl McCormack, Narinder Samra, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Taylor Napier, Emmanuel Imani, & Miguel Álvarez
Episodes Covered – Leavetaking, Shadow’s Waiting, A Place of Safety, The Dragon Reborn, Blood Calls Blood, The Flame of Tar Valon, The Dark Along the Ways &The Eye of the World