Amazon’s new Wheel of Time series attempts to adapt a sprawling and beloved fantasy series, with mixed results.
Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time is a classic and massive fantasy series. It has helped shape modern fantasy and is well recognized among genre fans.
This year, Amazon has brought the series to TV screens with a show adaptation. We are now four episodes in and halfway through the first season. Let’s give some initial impressions.
WARNING: Book And Show Spoilers Ahead
Episode 1: A Rough Start
They travel to the Two Rivers to try to find the Dragon Reborn, a mystical person who will either save or destroy the world. In the Two Rivers, we are introduced to the rest of the main cast, Rand, Mat, Perrin, Nynaeve and Egwene.
Shortly after meeting them, the town is attacked by Trollocs, this world’s version of Orcs. After a battle, the main cast leaves town to draw away the remaining Trollocs.
Overall this was my least favorite episode. It had some nice visuals and I appreciated getting more time with Egwene and Nynaeve than we do in the books. But the drama felt very CW-Teen-Show.
The episode opened with an odd voiceover that felt like a bad 90s recap and an unnecessary cold open. There were a lot of changes made to the people in the Two Rivers (vs the book) and everything felt very rushed. This was an episode that really needed to be two.
Episode 2: A Vast Improvement
This is a much more straightforward episode. The gang led by Moiraine (minus only Nynaeve who was captured by Trollocs) is on the run from Trollocs.
After escaping across a river they make for Tar Valon, a city that offers safety. However, Moiraine was injured in the battle last episode and is getting worse, at the same time the Two Rivers folk are plagued with horrific dreams.
Egwene also learns that she can channel (use magic) and could become an Aes Sedai. With Moiraine getting worse the gang is found by Trollocs and forced to flee into a haunted city. There, Mat finds a nice dagger and the group is split up by a magic attack.
Overall I thought this episode delivered on some great personal moments and had some amazing visuals. It ditched the weird CW feeling of the Two Rivers and focused on the adventure more. There was also signing, always a win, and some good world-building.
Episode 3: Uneven Ground
Episode 3 finds the group all split up and follows 3 separate storylines. In the best, Mat and Rand bicker like a married coupled and after finding an old mining town are confused for an old married couple.
We’re introduced to another main charterer Thom Merrilin who rescues them from Darkfriends, evil people who serve the Dark One. Thom is a classic character and not everyone is happy with how he showed up.
Meanwhile, Nynaeve has escaped after murdering some Trollocs and tracked down Lan, who is dealing with a dying Moiraine. She bounds with Lan and tries to help Moiraine, but it does little good, so they are forced to seek help from other Aes Sedai. Egwene and Perrin wander in a wasteland and it’s super boring.
The Mat and Rand storyline here was probably the best bit of the show we’ve seen so far. It was fun and showed off the world. It also had great characterization.
Unfortunately, the rest of the episode wasn’t as good. I’m happy to see Lan and Nynaeve bond and have an onscreen romance, but their storyline didn’t go many places. The third storyline was just boring.
Episode 4: Bad Magic
Once again we are split into 3 storylines. Mat, Rand, and Thom share a short storyline where they try to sleep at a farm, have some nice moments together and then get attacked by evil. Thom seems to die and Mat and Rand flee. It’s decent but short.
Perrin and Egwene are no longer wandering around on their own. Instead, they’ve fallen in with a cult of religious fanatics, but not the ones you are thinking of. Again I find the whole thing very boring.
In the largest part of the Episode Lan, Moiraine, and Nynaeve have found a camp of Aes Sedai transported a captured Logain Ablar, a man claiming to be the Dragon Reborn. Moiraine gets healed, and there are some more nice character moments.
We also get a lot of info on the Aes Sedai and some scheming. This is all cut short by a rather confusing and poorly spaced battle, in which Nynaeve discovers that she is a very powerful channeler as well.
Again this was a very uneven episode. Mat and Rand’s section was fine but short. Perrin and Egwene again had a very boring part to play. Lan, Moiraine, and Nynaeve went off-book entirely, and while they had some good conversations, their portion didn’t click overall.
The Change I like Best in Wheel of Time
Anytime you adapt from a book there are going to be comparisons to the source material and the changes made. This show is no different.
I think of all the changes, what I like most is getting to see the Lan and Nynaeve romance play out. In the book, this mostly takes place off-screen/page. It’s a bit jarring when you get to the end and they are madly in love with each other.
The show has developed this a lot more and made Nynaeve even more of a badass and equal to Lan. It’s very welcome.
The Change I Liked Least in Wheel of Time
Perrin’s wife. Sigh. This is just… really bad. For some reason, the show decided to give Perrin a wife named Laila. During the Trolloc attack in episode one Perrin accidentally kills her in battle, thinking she is another Trolloc attacking him.
This is a major change from the books, where Perrin does not have a wife (at least not at the start) and does not kill anyone in this way.
Now Perrin’s storyline is also about balancing being a builder (the hammer) vs a warrior (the axe). There are times where he is hunted by the people he kills in battle.
I’m sure the showrunners were trying to kick-start this by giving him a wife. But the fact is horrible on a lot of levels.
On a basic level, this is a pretty clear act of fridging. A female character was created just to be killed off and used as motivation for a male one. It’s bad and hamfisted.
But it’s also much worse than that. In the books, the main Two Rivers people are effectively kids. Though they are all 20, or close to it, they act a bit younger.
None of them have really come of age and all still live with family. The characters are archetypical farm boys and pretty blank slates.
They’re all bad with and a bit unconformable with women, but especially Perrin. And they’re all people who are going to be changed by the adventures facing them.
Giving Perrin a wife fundamentally changes him. What is he going to experience that is more traumatic than killing his own wife? He’s no longer a wide-eyed village boy, but a grieving widower.
On top of all that, since she was inserted for no real reason (he would have left without her existing) not only does her death not motivate anyone, but the characters barely react to it. Perrin looks sad about it a few times.
The rest of his friends mention it once or twice and that’s it. No one acts like their friend’s wife, and we assume also their friend, was murdered the other day. It’s bizarre.
But don’t just take my word for it. Brandon Sanderson, who wrote the final three books in the series, was also not a fan.
Final Thoughts on Wheel of Time
Overall the show is off to a rocky start. It’s got some good characters and some decent visuals at times. The cast is lovely and does a great job with what they are given. It has some real moments where it’s quite good.
On the other hand the writing never really hits that well and is pretty workmanlike. It had a very uneven start and if I hadn’t read the books I would have dropped it after the first episode.
It’s made some major changes from the book, and while some make sense to save time, others seem like mistakes. Even more baffling is the need to insert several new plots that aren’t in the book. With such a huge book series to adapt, it seems crazy to be adding more things in rather than focusing on adapting the established story.
It’s also a show that just feels rushed. It honestly needed more than eight episodes this season, ten to twelve would do better, so that it would have gotten a less rushed start. As it stands it’s not a bad show, but it’s also not a good one yet.
New episodes of Wheel of Time drop on Amazon Prime on Fridays.