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Television

The Wheel of Time Begins with an Overabundance of Exposition

Ashley gets you ready to devour Amazon’s newest high fantasy show, Wheel of Time!

Prime Video’s long-awaited adaptation of Robert Jordan’s epic fantasy book series The Wheel of Time is set to premiere Friday, November 19th. The Wheel of Time series spans fourteen novels, the final three completed by fantasy/science fiction author Brandon Sanderson after Robert Jordan’s passing in 2007. Prime Video’s first season of The Wheel of Time adapts the first book in the series, The Eye of the World. I had the opportunity to screen the first episode early to give you my spoiler-free insight into the pilot episode. 

Moiraine Damodred and Lan Mondragoran

We are introduced to this world with a voice-over by Moiraine Damodred, played by Rosamund Pike. Moiraine is an Aes Sedai, an order of women with the ability to wield the Source (magic in this world). Her quest is this: to find the Dragon reborn, the man who broke the world. She needs to find this reincarnation of the Dragon before the Dark One gets to him or her first. Moiraine has the Dragon’s reincarnation narrowed down to four people who have come of age in the village of The Two Rivers. She, along with her companion and warder Lan Mondragoran, played by Daniel Henney, arrive in the town on the eve of the Bel Tine festival. We meet the four young villagers Moiraine is assessing; Rand (Josha Stradowski) a sheepherder, Egwene (Madeleine Madden) newest member of the women’s circle of Two Rivers, Mat Cauthon (Barney Harris) a gambler, and Perrin Aybara (Marcus Rutherford) a blacksmith. One of these four is destined to be the Dragon reborn, but before Moiraine has answers, the village is attacked by the Trollocs, soldiers of the Dark One. After a bloody battle, Moiraine convinces the four to follow her and Lan back to the White Tower where the Aes Sedai reside. She assures them it’s their only hope to lure the Dark One and his army of Trollocs away from the home and people they love.

Rand, Perrin, and Mat

I read The Eye of the World prior to watching the show, but I made sure to preview this episode with a non-book reader so all experiences of viewers could be considered. This introduction to the world of Wheel of Time is exceptionally uneven. I live and die by the writing adage, “show don’t tell,” so it’s frustrating to have a lot of really important world-building spewed in voice-overs or as exposition. As a reader, I know what they’re talking about, but non-book readers are going to have a difficult time understanding why things are happening and what the motivations are. The entire plot hinges on the actions of the Dragon and the Dark One in the past and more effort should have been made to ensure the audience had time to digest the information being carelessly lobbed at them.

In my humble opinion, the episode would have been far more successful if they had employed the same style of prologue that Lord of the Rings did, where a voice-over is employed, but vignettes of the action are filmed to give the viewer a more fleshed out understanding of all the history that impacts the story going forward. When Moiraine simply speaks it as a monologue at the opening, it leaves much to be desired. I also took great issue with the inclusion of sexualized relationships that aren’t present at this point within the book series. It felt like a cheap ploy to shortcut and establish a connection between characters that was wholly unnecessary. Many fans of high fantasy have long wondered about the effects Game of Thrones left on the television industry. I can only hope that this adaptation only includes this small misstep and doesn’t try to emulate something it isn’t. In short, the first half of the episode is clunky; the pacing is off, some acting from side characters is questionable, and much of the dialogue feels too quiet in boisterous scenes.

Egwene and Nynaeve

However, I promise it is not all doom and gloom. At about the halfway mark, things absolutely make a change for the better. The design and execution of the Trollocs are incredible. They’re terrifying and menacing in the best way. Having a clear enemy to fear and fight gives a much-needed jolt to the story’s pacing and gives all of our characters the chance and agency to show what they’re made of. The “why should I care” version of you from twenty minutes ago is suddenly on the edge of your seat enjoying the impressive action and brilliant magic. We’re finally given some much-needed answers and by the time the credits roll, you’ll be ready to see where this adventure is going to take this group of promising future chosen ones.  

Moiraine Damodred

I’m very thankful the second half of the pilot improved upon its quality of storytelling. I will be giving The Wheel of Time another chance to wow me in episode two in hope that it has ironed some of its kinks out. I know that there is adventure and magic awaiting us, and I hope Prime Video does Robert Jordan’s tale justice. 

“The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow.”

-Robert Jordan, The Eye of the World

The Wheel of Time premieres Friday, November 19th on Amazon’s Prime Video streaming service. Warning for brief nudity and battle gore.

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