Updated: Jan 9
Amazon Prime’s The Wheel of Time has finished its first season. The show was well-received according to Rotten Tomatoes, and I considered it quite entertaining. On my first viewing, there were no glaring plot holes or jarring developments that jump out when only considering the show and not the source material. Truly, I think Hollywood can chalk one up in the win column and if you are looking for a fantasy fix because you already binged season 2 of The Witcher, I would recommend it. The book series is quite long and complete unlike GOT, but not unlike GOT, I think it will get milked for all its worth until the actors and writers are tired of it. All that being said, I am a fan of the book series and I do have several issues ranging from nitpicks to truly irksome and I blame modern trends in film for most of them.
They made good TV
I want to start with the positives. As a fantasy nerd, I have two big questions when a book gets adapted to a visual medium: how does the magic look and how do the monsters look. I think the show scores points on both of these. Channeling and weaving the one power is often referred to as the weaving of threads. I think just about every time someone used the one power in the show it looked great visually. They even had a rather intricate weave at the end when a shield was weaved, but we don’t need to get into that now. The one thing that is tricky with this is that men and women use different sides of the same coin when it comes to channeling and they cannot see each other's weaves, but obviously in the show, the audience sees it all. There is a moment when one character is believed to have used the power, but it was actually a different character of a different gender. It would have been easy to identify the person who actually weaved if men and women couldn’t see each other’s weaves as in the book and solved the riddle of the dragon a bit early for everyone, but whatever.
The monsters deserve some praise as well. Unfortunately, the scarier of the monsters, the Myrddraal (also called Fades), were your typical CGI monsters that could have been in any modern Sci-Fi property. They were scaly smooth, with big mouths and long thin limbs. They honestly don’t evoke much. The Trollocs however, were great. They did not rely on CGI, which actually allows more creativity and uniqueness, which for the trollocs (who can have varied looks but none of which would render well with CGI) it was an excellent choice. I was super excited to see them on screen.
Now the first real nitpick is forced diversity. For background, I am biracial and, as a young person, struggling with issues of belonging, exclusion, and identity was common for me. Perhaps due to that subconscious battle, one thing that I became very aware of growing up and consuming media in the 90s and early 2000s was tokenism. In real life, I’m all for diversity and even affirmative action because I’m a student of history. However, when I can see a thinly veiled attempt to throw someone “different” on screen, my mind goes to tokenism. In my eyes, this happens often nowadays. While other people talk positively about the representation they perceive, I think we need to be honest about what good and proper representation is and not thank Hollywood anytime someone who looks isn’t white appears on the screen.
That disclaimer/explanation aside, The Wheel of Time is egregious in trying to show its diversity of casting, and as a writer and world builder as well as a fan of the book series, it irks me. I was one of the people who gave JK Rowling flak for using tweets and interviews to attempt to rewrite the Harry Potter series as more inclusive after it had already been written. In that case, I can understand an author wanting their modern urban fantasy to look less monotone. This, however, is a low-tech, medieval, high fantasy. Travel is difficult and dangerous, and immigration is uncommon. Why then is there a rainbow coalition in Emond's Field, a mountain village so remote they don’t really consider themself a part of the kingdom they are indeed claimed by? Why do two characters (Matt and Egwene) who are both from that remote village, who are both noted as having the old blood of Manetheren (the ancient kingdom that covered the Two Rivers region, including Emond’s Field) completely different races? Why does the bi-racial child not look remotely biracial?