The Wheel of Time is a massive, intricately woven fantasy series written by Robert Jordan. With over 90 million copies sold and marking it as one of the most successful book series of all time. Amazon has high hopes for the success of The Wheel of Time, and with a massive fanbase to help boost viewership, they’ve shown their hopefulness. The show has a whopping 10 million an-episode budget with huge sets, most noticeably the Two Rivers, which was torn down by the end of episode one.
The first three episodes of Season One launched on November 19th and are exclusive to Prime Video, with episodes dropping weekly until the end of the season. Many adverse fan reactions have come from book readers, as this adaptation isn’t a one for one retelling of the books. A lot has been rewritten, and some fans are having a visceral reaction to these changes. Other book fans have fallen into a range from satisfied to voraciously rewatching the three episodes (I’m the latter).
One of the biggest tasks of adapting The Wheel of Time is the source material. Specifically, book one, The Eye of the World, is unique compared to the rest of the 14 book series. Book One follows a more quest-like structure, as our party has a destination and goal, but most of the book is just traveling to get to said goal. The plot has been condensed and rearranged to help the transition to tv. The heart of The Wheel of Time is still easy to see, and the increase in pacing is by no means trashing the source material. It’s a new interpretation, a new turning of the Wheel. And these are just some of the changes from the source material.
You can stream The Wheel of Time on Prime Video
Story- A search for the Dragon Reborn
The Eye of the World is told from the perspective of one character for most of the book. Who is Dragon Reborn is still a mystery in book one, but it’s a lot more evident than the show. The show focuses far more on characters who didn’t get nearly as much screen time in book one to make this mystery more cloudy. But to make this change feasible for tv, some characters had to be rewritten partially. But those changes will be explained more later.
The Wheel of Time follows a powerful magic-wielder named Moraine, part of an organization of other magic users called the Aes Sedai. In the opening scene, Moraine monologues about a great calamity from long ago, where men caused the Breaking of the world, while the Aes Sedai were left to repair what was broken. She tells us that the ancient Aes Sedai remembered one thing, the man who was the cause of the Breaking, named Dragon. And now the Dragon has been reborn, and it’s her mission to find them before the Dark One does.
Her journey takes us to the Two Rivers, a quiet town of farmers sewn with tradition. Moraine has heard rumors of 4 ta’veren there but does not elaborate on what a ta’veren is. Here the rest of our main cast is introduced; Rand (Joshua Stradowski), Mat (Barney Harris), Perrin (Marcus Rutherford, Egwene (Madeleine Madden), and Nyneave (Zoe Robbins) make up the rest of our questing party.
Excluding Nyneave, Moraine quickly identifies who she’s looking for, but trollocs attack the Two Rivers, and one carries away a screaming Nyneave into the forest for a private snack. Thankfully, our ass-kicking magician and sword-bearing warder, Lan (Daniel Henny), display some fantastic on-screen chemistry while Moraine sustains a wound from a trolloc blade.
In the aftermath, Moraine tells the ta’veren folk that the ambush was intended for them precisely because one of them is the Dragon Reborn and the Dark One wants them. And her job is to stop anything the Dark One wants. So with no other option but to go with the lady who shoots fireballs, our Two Rivers group leaves home and begins their journey, marking the end of Episode 1.
The first episode does an excellent job at establishing the world, the characters and their motivations, and the overarching plot. Although it often stumbles with the delivery, it’s enough to get us started on our journey. The episode focuses on Rand and Egwene to focus on their relationship. But this comes at the expense of other characters’ screen time. Perrin and Mat are developed well, but Nyneave’s character-developing scene just felt off. The dialogue and delivery here are wonky, and the scene seems like it wants us to communicate some emotion, but it falls flat and feels incongruous to the rest of an overall solid episode.
With the almost impossible job episode one had with establishing the story and so many characters and their dynamics, episodes 2 and 3 offer a lot more character moments that show us who the characters are. These two episodes are also lighter in plot while still adding in plenty of exposition in natural ways. For a fantasy series, the first three episodes do a perfect job of avoiding info dumps.
An example of this is when Moraine talks to Egwene about her potential to be an Aes Sedai. Egwene is still upset about seeing the ferryman die and blames Moraine. To counter, Moraine explains the three oaths, a set of rules placed on Aes Sedai to keep them in check. She describes how the One Power itself binds the three oaths, and Aes Sedai literally cannot break them. Her explanation clears Moraine of any real blame while also introducing the three oaths to the audience.
Episode 2 introduces the Whitecloaks, a cult of narcissistic zealots. Moraine deftly falls into her noblewoman act when the group comes across some Whitecloaks. Rand has a crazy dream where he pulls a bat out of his mouth and sees a scary man with fire for eyes. He wakes up to the bat still there and learns his friends all had the same dream, bats there when they woke.
Rand, a stubborn farm boy who has no idea what the hell is going on, blames the lady who can call lightning out of the sky. Then he has an outburst of anger, demanding Moraine tell them what she’s planning. Here establishes Moraine and Rand’s dynamic and Rand’s general mistrust for Aes Sedai. You might want to get used to that dynamic.
After a beautiful song from our Two Rivers folk and a speech from Moraine about the history of Manetheren, the party travels on and camps for the night in some ruins as Moraine questions why Lan has them so close to the abandoned city, Shadar Logoth. A pack of hungry trollocs awakes the gang, but Moraine won’t wake up, as her wound has gotten progressively worse.
They flee into Shadar Logoth and make camp. Mat finds a weird dagger and takes it, even after Lan tells them not to touch anything, and explains the history of the abandoned city. A permeating, sentient blackness turns one of the horses to ash and forces the group to flee the city, effectively splitting the party into three groups. Lan makes camps and tends to Moraine, and Nyneave sneaks up on the Warder and holds him at knifepoint, demanding to know what he’s done to her friends, which marks the end of episode two.
Episode two was more exposition-heavy with almost no action, as our party is mostly traveling from camp to camp. Rand’s bizarre dream with bats establishes the mistrust between the Two Rivers folk and Moraine. To those who haven’t read the books, this is important because it further demonstrates the mistrust common people have with Aes Sedai. What makes this episode work following the pilot’s action-packed ending is precisely the lack of violence. As an adventure story, it’s vital to have moments that evoke the feeling of travel, like wide panning shots of riding on horseback through the Czech Republic and conversations by the campfire.
Episode three skips around following our three different parties: Perrin and Egwene, Rand with Mat, and Nyneave with Lan and Moraine. Most of the screentime follows Mat and Rand as they find a mining town called Breen’s Spring. Mat thinks they should go home, and the entire journey is a sham, while Rand wants to go to the White Tower because he knows that’s where Egwene will go.
Episode three is by far the best story-wise. Mat and Rand’s plotline is the most engaging of the first three episodes. The duo shows the chemistry the characters have and the cast members themselves. The joke delivery is flawless and truly gives the feeling of a long-term familiarity between the two. Mat’s agitation shows the dagger taken from Shadar Logoth is starting to affect young Matrim, while Rand professes his wavering morality to Dana. Rand begins to question his role in the Pattern, giving us Rand’s first internal struggle that doesn’t pertain to Egwene.
After passing a strangely dressed dead person in a hanging cage at the town’s entrance, the boys find an inn. They make acquaintances with the barmaid Dana and a Gleeman named Thom. But Thom sort of steals Mat’s money after Mat got it stolen by some random guy in the bar. The boys then ask Dana for lodging in exchange for some labor.
After work, Mat returns to the dead person in a cage, as he spotted a big jewel on the body earlier. Thom interrupts before Mat can do anything, and the Gleeman says the dead person is an Aiel and was murdered because the townsfolk feared what they didn’t understand. In what is again, subtle exposition hidden into important character moments, Thom tells Mat of the Aiel and their honor-bound ways. He tells Mat he’s there to bury the Aiel and asks what Mat is doing there.
Shamefully, Mat explains he needs money to get home. Thom sympathizes and turns around to let Mat scavenge. After the deed is done, Thom tells Mat to help him bury the body, as it’s the least he can do after taking from the dead. Mat then asks for his stolen money back, but when Thom goes to comply, Mat shows he’s already pickpocketed it back.
This scene does a lot more than just exposition. I won’t mention why, but the dynamic between Thom and Mat is one of the most important in the series. The scene does an admirable job of establishing that dynamic and Thom’s character while reinforcing Mat’s. Thom is a well-traveled man, hence knowing who the dead person was and why the people feared him. Suggesting Mat bury the body and turning around to respect Mat’s shame exhibits Thom’s sympathy and morality.
Mat might seem devious at times, but stealing isn’t an act of selfishness. His main goal is protecting his sisters and providing for them, even if it requires stealing from the dead. This scene is perfect in its writing, as it is engaging and gives natural characterization and exposition.
Characters and Casting- Rewrites for the better
Returning to the rewritten content is Perrin, a shy and gentle blacksmith with some real internal issues. Most of Perrin’s significant character moments happen internally. In the books, rarely does he talk about his inner struggles. Instead, he thinks on them and figures them out on his own.
His character broaches considerable difficulty in adapting to television, as internal narration is almost always corny. Perrin’s conflict in the series centers on a struggle with violence and leadership. So his backstory has been rewritten to address this. When leaving the Two Rivers in the books, Perrin has an average family and is shy and innocent. Perrin in the show has a wife he accidentally kills in the trolloc ambush.
This change gives the audience an understanding of his hesitancy from the beginning. Without it, Perrin’s struggle with violence and leadership would feel unearned.
Marcus Rutherford has the fewest lines of the four Two Rivers kids, yet his performance said so much with so little. His eye movement and gestures showed his sense of guilt, fear, and sorrow that served as a constant reminder of Perrin’s grief.
Mat Cauthon is also a character who provides some difficulty when adapting to the screen. He doesn’t get his first chapter until the third book, as Robert Jordan changed his plans for the character early on. Mat also has an average family in the books and leaves the Two Rivers a mischievous prankster who is always getting in trouble.
In the show, his dad is openly unfaithful to his mother, who’s an alcoholic. His family is impoverished, and Mat resorts to stealing to take care of his sisters. As seen in episode 2, we know Mat finds a weird dagger. But in the books, Mat has no real reason to take the dagger. It’s pretty dumb, honestly. Mat having to take care of his sisters provides a basis for his greed and provides a morally grey character in a cast full of righteous characters.
Mat is probably the most liked character in the series among the fanbase. These changes make him a more compelling character while buying time until getting to source material that has chapters from his perspective.
Barney Harris is the most vibrant performance of the cast. His constant look of he’d rather be somewhere drinking and dicing than here, the delivery of his jokes, and the conflict on his face at crucial moments are all top-notch. His Mat Cauthon is the perfect comedic relief for such a dark and brooding show. Sadly, Mat has already been recast as Barney is leaving the cast after season one.
Making Rand and Egwene’s relationship more serious is a welcome change. Rand is quite awkward with Egwene in the books, as they haven’t started dating. However, there’s a mutual love between the two that feels too close to a romance manga. This show is too dark for childish romances, and it would be a white sheep in a herd of black sheep.
The change also adds more weight to the rift in their relationship, as most of the character moments in the first two episodes are on their dynamic. Egwene wants to become a Wisdom, choosing a greater purpose than living out their lives on a farm with Rand. In Episode One, when Rand is contemplating his life on a high point, and Egwene finds him, he tells her how he’s reflecting on his life he could’ve had with Egwene when she starts to tell him she’s going to choose to be a Wisdom over him. But he cuts her off and says he already knows.
This scene was well acted and written, as Rand accepting Egwene choosing duty over him is true to his character and hers. One of the central themes in the books is duty and sacrifice, and Egwene is our first of many up-close representations in the show. No matter how much Egwene loves someone, if it comes down to chasing her path or being held back to a life of normality, Egwene chooses the former every time.
Rosamund Pike as Moraine is exactly how I envisioned it when reading the books. Regal, imposing, and calculating. Perfect as the mysterious magic-wielding guide for our journey In Episode Three, Moraine’s role is minuscule as she’s unconscious from her injury, but her presence in the first two episodes is strong.
Editing and Pacing- Uneven but promising
The editing and pacing in episode one seem to be off compared to the following two. The first episode in a fantasy series shares the burden of establishing the brunt of the exposition, as the world, characters, plot, and power system have to be introduced while somehow avoiding info dumps. The show has abided by the “Show don’t tell” rule outside of the opening scene with the Moraine monologue and a few other scenes.
But for whatever reason, the camera work in episode 1 doesn’t seem as natural as the other episodes. There is often an unnecessary cut to a different camera, but this may be due to the heavy action sequence at the end and entire scenes being cut for the final version. The pacing in the first episode is also noticeably faster than two and three.
Cinematography and Sound- Fantastical in all aspects
The sound design is unique to other fantasy shows, filled with angelic singing in the Old Tongue, the language spoken in the Age of Legends. The music isn’t overbearing and effectively enhances emotions rather than telling the audience what they’re supposed to feel.
The cinematography is inconsistent, primarily in episode 1. Some of the CGI is noticeable, but most of the CGI is high level. These issues become less prevalent after the pilot, so it’s not the biggest offense. The range of environments gives the audience the feeling that our party is making ground while also providing great backdrops for the handmade sets. The camera filters used seemed to accentuate colors, giving the show a fantastical feel, especially when compared to the color grading on fellow adaptations like Game of Thrones or The Witcher.