The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, and sometimes, a live-action TV series is crafted from an acclaimed and beloved 14-book fantasy series. And maybe, it just takes a little time for audiences to get into it.
The long-awaited adaptation comes with the blessing from the widow of The Wheel of Time (WoT) series creator and author, Robert Jordan, and despite being a standalone series that first began in 1984, there’s no denying that it intends to serve the void left by HBO’s fantasy mega-hit, Game of Thrones (GoT).
In a way, it does that well, serving up the gore and violence when needed, but lacks the nudity and sex (well, so far) that even GoT dialled back on in later seasons. But to say that The Wheel of Time will draw in GoT audiences may be a bit of a stretch if the first three episodes are anything to go by. There’s none of the characters you’d love to hate, nor backstabbing involved. In fact, it’s more Lord of the Rings, if anything.
Set in a world where time is a wheel that goes round-and-round, round-and-round, WoT features a setting where women are magic wielders, i.e. channelers, and they battle the Dark One. The Dark One, in turn, has hordes of monsters called Trollocs and Fades, which are particularly terrifying. Now, everyone’s looking for this guy or girl called the Dragon Reborn, who will either save the world or destroy it.
If everything sounds familiar, like a mash-up of LotR meets Star Wars as it bumps into Dune by way of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the devil is in the details and if you’re a fan of the dense books, you would find the synopsis a tad simplistic, but that’s what you get when you try to adapt a series of epic high fantasy novels for TV.
To be fair, it’s not easy to adapt the book to a different medium without boring those who have no idea of the plot, characters or storyline, so the first episode ramps things up rather quickly, and without much exposition, or explanation. You get a nice looking village, some partying, then Rosamund Pike’s ageless looking Moraine and stoic looking Lan Mandragoran (Daniel Henney) pop by to search for our four (or five) heroes. There’s a flash of toned butt cheeks (male, in case you’re wondering), a battle scene with scary monsters, and our heroes are now on their merry way.
Pike plays the role of Moraine easily, with her riveting presence and palpable charisma. To fans of the book, she is perfectly cast as one of the core characters from the TV series. Now, Henney as Lan, is slightly different from what is described in the books, but that’s a little creative freedom right there.
Following the duo are our main heroes, of which there are several. First up is Josha Stradowski, who plays the slightly brooding Luke Skywalker-ish Rand to a T, as he pines after mage-in-training Egwene (Madeline Madden). Stradowski’s chemistry with Madden feels a little like Anakin pining after Amidala, so we really don’t see it working out. Some slight spoilers — it sorta ends by the second episode, so at least we get some character development.
Alongside our two lovebirds are Mat Cauthon (Barney Harris), the rogue of the show, who seems to also be the only one who says his full name anytime he’s introduced. He’s charming, conflicted, and smouldering eye candy. It’s unfortunate that the actor will be replaced in the already greenlit second season, as Harris kills it as Cauthon, who brings the fun as the happy-go-lucky gambler.
He’s balanced by the very conflicted Perrin (Marcus Rutherford), who’s mostly moping around with guilt on his shoulders. Lastly, Zoe Robins stands out as Nynaeve, the village’s Wisdom, a sort of healer. Too bad she doesn’t tug her braids as much as she does in the books, but I can’t wait to see more of her.
While the first episode feels rushed, the second and third take a little bit more time to do some world-building, so you get gorgeous shots of mountains and forests of basically New Zealand, where the series was shot. The CGI sets look great, especially the forgotten city of Shadar Logoth. By the third episode, our heroes have yet to reach the many cities in the WoT world, so there’s probably plenty to see and behold once they do. For now, fans will appreciate how the series stays somewhat faithful to the books, unlike Apple TV’s Foundation, which is a wild ride where everything’s made up, and the points don’t matter.
While the sets are lavish, the same can’t be said of the special effects. Combat scenes with the Trollocs can sometimes feel like dated stop motion effects, while Moraine’s magic-wielding is so far from the books, and ridiculously flashy. Half the time, she looks as if she is close to spraining her arm or waist. The magic also looks kind of cheap – like something you’d expect from a CW production, and not from a show with a rumoured US$10 million an episode budget.
It’s obvious the series pays lots of homage to the books, from Moraine’s intense retelling of an epic battle that happened ages ago, quotes recited ad verbatim from the books, to the details of the Tuatha’an.
If you disregard the pacing of the first episode, the second and third are so much better. Amazon’s The Wheel of Time series is ambitious, and hopefully will get enough audiences to sustain the last five episodes… and more. After all, there are 13 more books to adapt, and hopefully, you’ll at least get a proper ending, unlike some other fantasy series whose last season should never be mentioned.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
There are neither beginnings nor endings to the Wheel of Time, but this is a great beginning for those who have been waiting for an adaptation. Newcomers will likely enjoy the ride, knowing at least there’s a proper ending.
Story - 7/10
Direction - 8/10
Characterisation - 8/10
Geek Satisfaction - 9/10