December 17, 2021 The Wheel of Time (Episode 1-3 Review)
The highly anticipated small screen adaptation of Robert Jordan’s epic Fantasy series The Wheel of Time premiered November 19th, 2021 via Amazon Prime Video. The first three episodes were available immediately and the rest has debuting on a weekly basis. That said, for the sake of reader’s interest, this article will cover those first three episodes.
It is important to note that the series was for a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This delay may have been beneficial to the show, giving more time for the dust of the disappointing Game of Thrones finale to settle and leave audiences more open to a new Fantasy tale to delve on a cold winter’s night. This is a long story, rich in lore and complicated relationships, so settle in and get ready to explore Robert Jordan’s magnum opus.
For the uninitiated, The Wheel of Time is a 14 book-long series, a complex hero’s journey in a world filled with magic, monsters, politics, prophecy, and much more. It focuses on a prophetic being known as The Dragon – a person born as the reincarnation of an essentially superhuman-powered magic user, or channeler, who is born to be the leader of light in the ultimate battle of good vs evil. Long ago, The Dragon nearly destroyed humanity with his power, and all have lived in fear of his reincarnation ever since; not just for his strength, but his coming means the return of The Dark One as well. The story starts in the humble hamlet of Emond’s Field, where several unsuspecting young adults are about to have their world completely upheaved. According to prophecy, they are all candidates to be The Dragon Reborn.
Fortunately for them, the all-female channeler collective called the Aes Sedai, who are equally feared and respected by all, know of this and one has set out to find out which it is. Unfortunately, so do the forces of the Dark One, and they don’t plan on being so discerning.
Along with brief world history and introductions for the characters, that’s all the setup we get. The show moves fast and wastes no time getting things moving in violent fashion. This is a world of high fantasy, where magic is wielded liberally by those who have the ability. Fireballs large enough to engulf houses, wind strong enough to throw a person, and outright explosions of people like Dr Manhattan are all seen within the first few episodes. The show is effective in making clear why anyone who can channel is so feared – it’s really no different than having superheroes and villains walking among regular people.
The main characters from the Village are Rand al’ Thor (Josha Stradowski: Just Friends 2018), who is the lead in books, Mat Cauthon (Barney Harris: Clique series, Brighton Beach 2020), the roguish, fun member, Perrin Aybara (Marcus Ruthaford: County Lines 2017, Obey 2018), the strong, stoic type, Egwene Al’Vere (Madeleine Madden: Around the Block 2013, Mystery Road series), the ambitious and good-natured aspiring Wisdom, and Nyneave al’Meara (Zoë Robins: The New Tomorrow 2005, Black Christmas 2019), the current Wisdom, which is akin to a village healer and leader, adjacent to a mayor. It may feel like a lot to take in so fast, but the show does a good job of evening out screen time for their development to differentiate them for those new to the story.
One of the many departures from the book is the main character being Moiraine Damodred (Rosamund Pike: Gone Girl 2014, Hostels 2017), the Aes Sedai who comes to Emond’s Field to find The Dragon Reborn. This is likely for the best, as she is the driving force behind their flight from Emond’s Field into the world. Television has to move much faster than a book series, especially one as long and arduous as Wheel of Time, and she is best suited for being the one audiences experience most things through. This sacrifices a good amount of the mystique the Aes Sedai possess in the books, where they all share the same emotionless, authoritative, and direct means of communicating with anyone else, but Pike is magnetic in her role and makes it work.
The budget is not nearly that of Game of Thrones, but everyone involved in the production knows how to maximize what they have. The rustic village buildings and cramped, busy taverns look and feel as authentic as any. Additionally, the cinematography is top notch throughout. Filming was done in Prague, and the wide landscape shots as the heroes rush toward their destinations are stunning. The shots over the sets of Emond’s Field and the ruined city of Shadar Logoth are likewise impressive, and are essential parts in making this world feel more tangible.
Pike is great at carrying the narrative, which is good because none of the other young actors from the village stand out at first. This might be by design, as here there is some ambiguity about which of the five is The Dragon Reborn, but it’s not until the party is separated that we get to see them stretch out a bit. These are the parts that will hook viewers or not since they didn’t get enough time to care about them before they were immediately thrown into the fire. One standout is Moiranne’s warder, Lan Mandragoran (Daniel Henney: X-Men Origins: Wolverine 2009, The Last Stand 2013). A warder is like a bodyguard for an Aes Sedai but more – though a magical bond they share all feelings, and he is empowered by her through the bond. Their relationship is one of the most interesting both in terms of character and utility.
This series is very heavy on action. If magical battles and freewheeling spells are what you like in your fantasy, then you’ll feel right at home here. There will be a lot of questions for those new to the story, like why is it that only women use magic and male channelers are all hunted down by the Aes Sedai? What are the different divisions of the Aes Sedai and how do they relate to each other? More questions about the world at large and other factions and armies are sure to be asked, but the show is good at avoiding info dumping and pacing the viewers, letting the other factions like the Children of the Light come into play slowly but surely.
Overall, there is a lot to like thus far in The Wheel of Time. It will be interesting to see how non-reader fans take to the story. Aging up the characters was deemed necessary and that naturally changed some things about them and their relationships with each other, but without knowing what they are newcomers won’t be bothered by it. The script has some iffy dialogue, but makes up for it in the action department, and overall the story is compelling enough to keep viewers interested in the characters’ journeys.
For those looking for a high Fantasy series, The Wheel of Time must watch. For everyone else, The Wheel of Time is certainly worth your time for the first few episodes to see if it catches your interest. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives the first three episodes of The Wheel of Time 4 out of 5 stars.