The Wheel of Time is one of the most popular and influential fantasy series in the genre’s history. Spanning 14 massive books and over 90 million copies sold, the pure length of the story and strength of the fanbase was always going to cause the adaptation to be an undertaking.
With only eight seasons, each eight episodes, time ironically is the biggest hurdle. So condensing, trimming, and rearranging are inevitable. Still, Season 1 seems to be taking too much liberty with the source material for many fans’ liking by adding non-canonical material. But does it work, fall flat on its face, or somewhere middling? Let’s take a look at everything accomplished or failed in this The Wheel of Time Season 1 review.
You can stream The Wheel of Time on Prime Video.
It’s important to preface with irregular hurdles this team faced in order get the product out there. When the pandemic first started, the show had filmed six episodes, and like much of the world, all production halted. Filming didn’t resume until several months later, leaving a significant impact on filming and post-production.
The show’s team has been very transparent with the fanbase about these issues. Issues range from the VFX team not having as much time as normal circumstances, to the inability to have trolloc extras in a battle sequence due to COVID restrictions.
Lastly, Mat Cauthon’s actor Barney Harris had to cease all involvement with the show. This led to noticeable rewrites in the script and a recasting of the character for season 2. There’s currently no information on why Barney Harris had to leave, but, sadly, the show is losing such a talented actor.
Note: This article will contain spoilers.
Story-An uneven charm
The Wheel of Time Season 1 attempts to adapt the 782 paged The Eye of the World and establish a foundation for the entire adaptation. The Eye of the World follows a group of small-town villagers forced on an adventure with Moiraine, a mysterious magic-wielding woman, and her warrior bodyguard Lan. Predictably, monsters out of nightmares attack their village. And Moiraine reveals the reason is that one of them is the Dragon Reborn, and the only way to protect their village and themselves is to go to the White Tower.
Given the length of the first book and the size of the cast that needs establishing in 8 episodes, how you devote your time is everything. Episodes 4,5, and 6 are entirely original, with mixed results. These episodes develop Moiraine and Lan’s character far more than book one ever does. We are introduced to the Aes Sedai as an organization and intimately explore the Warder bond.
The Aes Sedai, their Warders, and their politics are some of the more compelling aspects of The Wheel of Time’s world. Moiraine and Lan are two fascinating characters. And you don’t cast a star like Rosamund Pike to give her a reserve role. Pushing them into the forefront is an excellent way to sell a new audience on your story being unique.
Where this tactic fails is our Two Rivers group. The group needs more screen time to convey these characters to the audience. For example, we don’t see Nyneave’s protective nature of her friends enough. Most of her time on screen adhered to her romance with Lan or her contempt for Aes Sedai. Likewise, Perrin’s struggle with violence isn’t actualized enough.
The Wheel of Time’s canonical episodes 1-3,7, and 8 also present mixed results, mostly positive. The first three episodes establish a strong start. It efficiently moves the story forward while mainly staying faithful to the source material. The final two are decent send-offs but lack significantly in some areas.
Episode 7 presents a cringe-worthy love drama between Perrin and Egwene. Episode 8 flounders with wonky VFX, illogical and immersion-breaking battle tactics, too many fake-out deaths, and contradictory dialogue. The five women who eventually save the city watching all the men die is questionable. Although it’s made clear Lord Agelmar never expected the city to survive.
In the Blight, Moiraine tells Rand not to touch anything, for the Blight has consumed many young men in over their heads. But later on, she allows them to rest and lay down while still in the Blight. Contradicting itself in the same episode is poor writing that forces breaks in immersion.
Where the final two episodes succeed is by setting up Season 2, which adapts books two and three. Rand heading off on his own perfectly initiates Rand’s arc in book three, while the post-credit scene with the Seanchan army also sets up plot points of book three. Moreso, Padan Fain stealing the Horn of Valere expedites the beginning of book 2.
Characters and Performance-Time is of the essence
Deciding on Moiraine as the main character instead of Rand was a curious choice that bore fruit. The non-canon episodes are justified because of the focus on Moiraine. Through her, the show threads the themes with subtlety and deftness. Throughout the 14 book series, duty and sacrifice are central themes communicated primarily through the characters.
Moiraine has spent the last 20 years of her life searching for the Dragon Reborn, and her only confidant in the mission is the Amyrlin Seat and love interest, Siuan Sanche. They risk stilling if exposed. Delving into Moiraine’s relationship with Siuan is necessary, so her stakes are even higher. She assumes she will die at the Eye of the World, for an average person who stands between the Dragon and the Dark One is sure to perish.
The Stepin plot line in Episode 5 further hammers the theme of duty home. After seeing the extremes a Warder will go to after losing his Aes Sedai, dying at the Eye will surely mean a short life full of anguish for Lan.
Season 1 does a great job with Rand’s character. Rand has the most screen time out of the Two Rivers group and makes the most of it. The most critical aspects of Rand for this season the show communicated well, Rand’s compassion for his friends and his fear of being the Dragon Reborn.
In episode 7, Tam’s fever dream and flashbacks throughout the season reveal that Rand is the Dragon and has been suspicious since the first episode. It makes his actions prior more understandable. Such as his outburst at Moiraine, which seems like he’s mad about Moiraine being so cryptic, shows he also fears what will happen to him when he gets to the White Tower and his fate as a man who can channel.
Another example is his shortness with Egwene early on, as she had previously committed to leaving Rand to become a Wisdom. So what appears to be Rand mad about Egwene’s decision, in reality, is also Rand anguishing over how their relationship will change if he is the Dragon.
From episode 1, we see Rand’s compassion for his friends. He was pitching in with Perrin to give Mat some money, taking care of Mat when he’s sick even though Mat was a potential channeler, and sticking up for Mat when others doubt Mat’s temperament.
The ending of the The Wheel of Time Season 1 makes Rand’s compassion for his friends vital. The Dark One tempts Rand with dreams mired in selfishness. The life with Egwene he desires more than anything. But Rand realizes it’s not the right choice because that version of Egwene is inauthentic, as Egwene desires reaching her full potential more than anything. Rand’s coming to terms with Egwene’s true nature and knowing it’s unattainable marks his growth. Compared to an earlier Rand who expressed his anger about Egwene leaving, this Rand is more mature and acknowledges her desires.
This conclusion is a callback to a conversation in Episode 1 when Rand dreams of a life with Egwene while she professes her intentions to become a Wisdom. Often the show calls back to another scene in a way that highlights the cyclical nature of The Wheel of Time. Like starting and ending an episode with a funeral, beginning the series with Nyneave telling Egwene what it means to be a woman, then bringing this up again when Nyneave sacrifices herself for Egwene.
The cyclical nature that’s foundational to The Wheel of Time’s lore pervading into the show’s writing exemplifies how the show can succeed on all levels and displays the potential if all cylinders click into place.
Perrin is where the show failed to establish a character. The height of Perrin’s character comes in Episodes 3 and 4, and both moments were characters talking to him, rather than him talking. Of course, there’s no problem with other characters helping flesh out a character. But it does highlight his lack of screen time and lines.
— The Wheel Of Time (@TheWheelOfTime) December 28, 2021
The season attempts to give Perrin meaningful development, but it falls insignificant and unmemorable. In episode 8, we see Perrin ranting to Loial about how he feels useless in the current conflict, now adhering to the Way of the Leaf. Later in the episode, Perrin picks up an ax, which tells the audience he is progressing with his struggle with violence. The main reason this falls flat is solely due to lack of screen time. Every character would’ve benefited from more time, but this is due to the legwork Season 1 did in eight episodes.
Cinematography and Sound-Wondrously whimsical
Cinematography is above average but still lacks aspects that prevent it from being excellent. Sets can often feel too cramped and regulated to only a few rooms. The White Tower is a prime example. While the set itself possesses beautiful and authentic-looking architecture, its scarcity limits the overall quality.
Some of the outdoor locations were visually stimulating from pure beauty and contrast. After our party split at Shadar Logoth, the varying environments convey the distance separating our group.
The color grading is contrary to the norm in high-budget television. Most shows favor a more neutral color grading, while The Wheel of Time whimsically embolden colors, immediately communicating the High Fantasy tone the show is trying to accomplish.
The CGI can be very satisfying to look at sometimes, and then a few scenes later can be noticeably worse and even occasionally bad. Think golden dragon in The Witcher bad. It isn’t noticeable most of the time, but it’s immersion-breaking when it is. Moiraine’s fireball or Nyneave and Egwene fighting the boar-faced trolloc in Episode 1 is a prime example of this.
Sound design is another mixed bag, but mostly positive. The soundtrack is unique and adds to the fantastical mysticism of the show. But sometimes, the soundtrack is overused in scenes where there doesn’t need to be music.
Editing and Pacing-Too much too fast
Pacing for most of the season is excellent. Most episodes feel concise and rarely become overly ambitious. But if the ones who do, Episodes 1 and 8 are the main offenders. The breakneck speed both episodes move at is jarring, and editing is the main reason why the pacing feels inconsistent.
Editing is inconsistent and can be immersion-breaking, as scenes that should’ve been in one cut break into multiple. I suspect the lack of cohesion in episode 8 is partly deliberate and pretty representative of the books. In the climaxes of the books, many perspective changes happen more frequently than usual. Shifting perspectives gives battles an extremely frantic feel and builds tension. The plot is being delivered piece by piece as each character’s climaxes occur and resolve simultaneously.
Another example is episode 4 when Logain’s army shows up. Throughout the battle, constant cuts and shaking camera movements invoke a feeling of chaos. The difference is that episode 8 does this for the entire episode, which doesn’t have nearly enough fighting to justify the number of cuts.