Like TV Shows themselves, the hype surrounding Amazon’s The Wheel of Time has its own set of tropes. If you’ve been keeping tabs even remotely, you’ll understand just how important this adaptation is to fans of the book series. Robert Jordan’s fantasy is a monumental piece of storytelling that spans 14 books, the last three of which were completed after his death. And comparisons to Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings and George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones are frequent, the latter more so because it’s one of the most well known big-budget fantasy series based on a book to exist as a TV Show while also having a significant impact on making studio executives understand the importance of one uber-successful show. But fans don’t care for that sort of stuff. They want a series that’s faithful to the books while being as good and as popular as it can be so that the network sees it through the end. Producer Rosamund Pike herself emphasized on how crucial it is that they do not mess this up.
Unlike Game of Thrones however, The Wheel of Time is complete, giving showrunner Rafe Judkins full clarity on how the show ends. Unfortunately, like the former series, I haven’t read The Wheel of Time at all, which led to my trepidation to approaching the series. I was caught between trying my best to research every aspect of it before diving in, or reading up the bare minimum and let the show guide me towards the details. Part of it stemmed from the fear of coming across as uninformed in my reviews and possibly angering or upsetting fans of the community. Fortunately, I resolved that dilemma and, deciding to keep research aside, I jumped into the show right away, one episode at a time, as with Game of Thrones. Of course this means I’ll always be several steps behind and without much knowledge of how the series unfolds in the future, but it should at least make for an enriching TV experience if the show turns out to be good.
So for all those looking for comparisons to the book, you’re not finding it in my reviews. You’ll also likely not find any hints towards future setups, only guesses. But for those like me who haven’t read the books yet and are still wondering whether to take the plunge towards the show, these reviews should hopefully help you decide better. Likewise, for those wondering just how accessible the show is, once again, you’ll get a better understanding here than in some of the other reviews penned by book fans out there as I’m literally writing from the perspective of a curious TV Show watcher without critiquing the shows’ faithfulness. Without any futher build-up then, let’s go.
The Wheel of Time pilot episode does a fairly decent job overall of laying out the core conflict and stakes of the overarching story, while simultaneously delivering things that newbie fans of a fantasy series would expect from a show of this stature. After the breaking of the world that left men unable to wield the power of magic without being driven to madness, the ones leftover with the ability are hunted down by the Aes Sedai, a powerful organization full of women capable of channeling immense magic. Moiraine, the most powerful of them, is on a quest to find the Dragon Reborn, a chosen one of sorts that will bring an end to the looming darkness that threatens to rear its ugly head after being caged by the “Dragon” years ago.
Her quest leads her to Emond’s field, a peaceful village that’s part of the Two Rivers, where she spots five characters, either of whom could be the chosen one. Here’s where we’re introduced to our show’s leads – Rand Al’Thor, Perrin Aybara, Mat Cauthon, Egwene Al’Vere and Nynaeve Al’Maera. The remainder of the episode is set in Emond’s field where we see the aforementioned characters live out their lives until all hell breaks loose with an attack by Trollocs that requires the collective efforts of everyone and some intense channeling by Moirane to fend off.
The biggest issues I have with The Wheel of Time premiere are the inconsistent pacing and what looks like an information dump at times. The latter is to be expected given the immense amount of setup the show needs to establish for folks like me, but it could have been done slower and smoother; I found myself rewinding and rewatching the opening likes by Pike’s Moirane multiple times just to fully grasp the bits of history that it contained. The episode starts off hurriedly with the Aes Sedai chasing two men, then dances between frenetic pacing and dialogue, before returning back to fantasy-action with the Trolloc attacks. With barely any build-up done towards it, the stakes become incredibly low and it’s hard to feel anything except going through the motions.
Comparisons to Game of Thrones are inevitable at this time so I’ll say this. With the limited budget that GoT had (seeing as it was just kicking off fantasy TV), it had to ensure that every battle was worth its salt. Consequently, all of the show’s battles and fight sequences became memorable for trying out something new, whether it was in its epicness, fight choreography, visual effects, scale, the chess moves. Every fight had a significant build-up towards wtih which, coupled with the show’s willingness to bump off every character, raised the stakes phenomenally. In contrast, the final attack in the premiere felt incredibly generic, with run-of-the-mill choreography without a sense of anything special, not something you’d expect from an adaptation that carries this much weight. It’s also too early for us to feel any connection to the leads, let alone the romances that they foster, but that’s hardly something I can fault the premiere for. I’d give it a few more episodes to see how much I’m able to empathize and connect with the leads and their struggles.
The abrupt shifts in pacing tend to mar the experience a bit. Usually, you’d have complaints that a series moves slow but there’s too much that happens too quickly in under an hour for it to register emotionally. It’s hard to digest that some time spent with Moiraine, the Aes Sedai, is convincing enough for the four leads to part ways with their families and simply believe that one among them is the Dragon Reborn. They even don’t get to say their families goodbye; just moments ago, Thom Al’Thor was tended to by his son Rand and Egwene and we’re supposed to believe just part ways for good, just like that. Also, as directors, you’ll be having a hard time convincing me that any of the leads are expendable in the first episode itself so the urgency and severity of the threat of Trollocs is a hard sell.
That doesn’t mean it’s all bad though. Speaking of the aforementioned sequence, I liked the sense of chaos that it tried to portray with the Trolloc attacks. It was hard getting clear, stable looks at these orc-like creatures but maybe that was the intent: to add to the suddenness and unpredictably of the attack and highlight the unpreparedness of the village folk. Moirane’s channeling sequences in the attack and the way she wove the threads of magic definitely felt epic at some level, providing a good tease of what we can expect in more weighty and game-changing square-offs. And while the battle itself was chaotic, the episode overall had some breathtaking cinematography and visuals to instill a strong sense of scale of the world we’re inhabiting. It’s an amazing realization to see that visuals that could once only be thought of in a Peter Jackson film have now graced the small screen.
The score by Lorne Balfe is equally responsible for lending the show its epic quality. There are a lot of new themes introduced which I suspect we’ll be hearing more in the following episodes. I’m particularly awe-struck by the score and chants around the channeling sequences in which the score, to me, added to their epicness a lot more than the visuals. The scores accompanying the vast landscapes are also pleasing but I’d love to hear it more for it to register. Now the only thing missing is a lengthy intro-sequence that will introduce us to the show’s central theme score. The series premiere intro only consisted of the show’s logo animated with the title so I’ll wait and see if the series has any plans for an intro.
The part I was most worried about was whether I’d be able to follow the show. With so much history and 14 books worth of material, just how accessible could the show be for newcomers. I must admit that while certain bits definitely feel like they would benefit the book readers more, I found the proceedings to be quite accessible even for an absolute newcomer like me. A bit of googling will inevitably help. And if you’re watching this officially on Amazon Prime, don’t forget to check out The Wheel of Time Origins – an animated series of webisodes that lay out the backstory of different events in more detail. It has its own unique animated style but the webisodes are made in similar vein to the blu-ray extras of Game of Thrones that fleshed out more of the world every season.
But overall, I’m pleased to admit that not only is the show accessible, it’s overall quite enjoyable. It’s too early to comment on how well the characters play out and whether we really have the next Game of Thrones ahead of us, but already, some interesting setups are in place for the show to follow. Perrin in particular, has to now live with the massive guilt of the accidental death in the frenzy around the attacks. Egwene has her way to go with overcoming the self-doubt and uncertainty she feels about herself and her place in the grand scheme of things. And despite her animosity towards Moiraine over the fate meted out to her parents years ago, Nynaeve, whenever she resurfaces, has to work with her as Moiraine searches for the Dragon Reborn. There’s room for conflicts and understandably, with 14 books worth of material, these won’t be the only storylines and characters we see or meet through the show.
On the whole, despite the rocky start, I feel positive about The Wheel of Time as a series. And as an outsider to this piece of fiction, I’m getting aboard the hype train for now. With the initial hesitation of starting my watch out of the way, it’s now time to hop on to subsequent episodes and take it slowly, one episode at a time.