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?
The show takes them through three major locales and only Tar Valon is noted for having many travelers and diversity in the book series, yet all three show a world-breaking melting pot of Hollywood diversity hires. Not to say anything of the acting (which I thought was quite good for most of the characters), but as a fan of the series and a writer of similar settings, it doesn’t add up and seems more like Hollywood meeting quotas than telling the story or carrying about representation. The series boasts many ethnic groups across the multi-continent world, but I would bet each group, however homogeneous it was originally written, will be ethnically well mixed when they appear on the screen.
The next nitpick is on obvious gender tokenism. Dragon Reborn is always a man in the books, not undetermined as it is in the show. That’s why there is a due process for men who can channel as they made a point of demonstrating and discussions during the show. You wouldn’t want to gentle (remove magic ability) or kill the Dragon Reborn if he can save the world. But if it’s a 50-50 on whether the Dragon Reborn is male or female, all men get progressively more mad as they channel, and every soul that dies is spun out again by the wheel (reincarnated) at some point, then you could simply kill every male channeler until the Dragon is reborn as a woman who can train in the White Tower. So it breaks the lore and logic to depart from the source material here.
Also, Egwene and Nynaeve are not ta’veren in the book, just the three boys. This, however, I am totally fine with as nothing breaks with this change so Hollywood can score points for legitimate representation here. I’m interested to see if they actually assign ta’veren influence to the two women as well, since in the books the three young men can do some pretty interesting things. It’s not just a talking point in the books, so we shall see what comes of it in later seasons of the show.
Lastly, another ever-present Hollywood trope is romance. The book series (while maybe slightly dated since it started in the 90s) delved into the complex relationships and social roles of men and women. The show skirts right past the men and women, rolling their eyes at one another or playing anywhere near traditional gender roles but heaps on a double scoop of steamy romance. First spoiler, Lan and Nynaeve get it on… in episode seven, about 75% of the way through the show or what would be The Eye of the World book. These characters do get together in the series, but it is much later after a great deal of tension is built up between them. But why build a relationship for 5 seasons, constantly throwing in the third wheel Moiraine (who Nynaeve hates but Lan serves with his life) to up the ante? Nope, you’ve spent close to one hour on screen together; just get busy. This is TV, and you are attractive. They also do this to Rand and Egwene. In the books, they were sweet on each other as kids, but by the time the story starts, they are pretty sure they won’t end up together. By the end of the first book (The Eye of the World), they know it and Rand has met two of his three future lovers, one of which was included in the show (although they cut out any hint of romance to come with her) and none of which are Egwene. But Rand and Egwene have to get it on as well for our modern audience instead of developing their complex plutonic relationship with each other and other characters as it was done in the book. Shame on us for making Hollywood think we wanted that. Also, Perrin loves Egwene because Hollywood saw a character associated with wolves and instantly thought of Twilight. Just some additional romance drama that I did not need or want and is, of course, not in the book. All three of these characters end up being with other people in the series, with no romance between them at all.
The Book was Better
So other than forced diversity and romance, there were other structural changes to the story, some of which I didn’t mind, while others I detested. Quick nitpick, the last episode starts with a flashback to Lews Therin Telamon who is addressed as the Dragon Reborn, but he is the original Dragon… that’s an easy one, people, just google it. Seriously, this part is subtitled so I honestly expect someone to bring it to the attention of someone who can fix it and the extra word in the subtitles can go the way of a certain Starbucks cup.
As for true changes, Perrin is married and he and his wife are the Blacksmiths for the village. The biggest issue I have with this is that it cuts the recurring characters blacksmith Haral Luhhan and his wife Alsbet Luhhan who are major influences in Perrin’s story. Why Perrin being married doesn’t bother me too much *SPOILER* Perrin kills his wife by accident in combat. I loved this change. Perrin’s character arc in the book series is him battling between his desire to be a peace-loving blacksmith and his destiny of being an ax-wielding berserker. Perrin killing his wife with the ax just adds more juice to his internal conflict. His nature as a ta’veren keeps pulling him into roles of leadership and combat despite his desires to just work the forge and lead a simple life, and his character arc is married to his growth and acceptance. But Hollywood had to have its way, so in episode seven when Perrin is later accused of always loving Egwene and that even being a part of his marriage, I immediately wished he had never been married and his love life was handled how it was in the books. His future partner in the books is a great character and their courtship is also quite entertaining.
Other than Perrin’s troublesome situation and Rand and Egwene’s unnecessary romance, I think the Two Rivers folk were generally well portrayed. Rand, Nynaeve, and Egwene seem faithful to their characters (outside of their romantic relationships). Matt was good as well, although for an unknown reason they decided to cut him from the last two episodes save the mandatory put every important character on screen for 3 seconds so we can see where they are ending the season montage. Other characters were good or okay or bad or just cut, but Lan and Moiraine were honestly tragic and I’m not sure who was worse. It wasn’t the acting; the actors did fine, and it felt like they had a good idea of how their characters were meant to be: cool, calm, and collected. But then a combination of writers and directors just said “Nah, we got other plans” before taking the ideals of Aes Sedai solemnity and badass warrior stoicism and making them cringingly relatable and less impressive.
Moiraine first appears like the powerful enigmatic woman of mystery that she is, but midway through the show both her appearance and demeanor seem panicked and desperate. If you have read the books, you would never associate these words with Moiraine or most of the sisters of the White Tower. Hollywood also decided that she and her best friend Siuan had to become lesbians, for more representation, I’m guessing. They are not in the books and they both end up with men, one of which was briefly in the show. Lan is portrayed as a guy who wants people to think he is the cool, quiet type but who is not. Comparing the book to the show, Lan is chatty on screen. Like Moiraine, in the books, Lan says nothing he doesn’t have to and since Moiraine is almost always with him to explain things to the less worldly characters, that’s very little. As such, his words have real gravitas. A rebuke from Lan is devastating, while his praise is worth twice its weight in gold. The only thing rarer than Lan’s words are his emotions. His courtship with Nynaeve is a thing of beauty and the way it forces Lan out of his comfort zone just brings joy to the reader. But they’re just gonna get it on in season one because viewers, I guess, lack the patience of readers. Lan also has a strong theme around duty, which is one of the things that keeps him at arm’s length from Nynaeve for so long, but I failed to notice that theme in the show.
Last, we must factor in the major cut to Caemlyn and the huge change to the finale at the Eye of the World. I think cutting out some of the fluff around our unnecessary relationships would have allowed more of the finale’s epicness to occur but just making a 10 episodes season with an additional episode for both Caemlyn and the Eye of the World would have been my choice if I could make such decisions. I don’t see how the showrunners intend to not address Caemlyn, which makes it odd that they didn’t introduce it in its natural place. Simply put, the party all meet up again in Caemlyn and not Tar Valon and then many things happen in Caemlyn. One of the series’ main characters Elaine, who should have been introduced in this season of the show, is introduced in Caemlyn as well as five other important characters and that’s just my recollection. I’m sure there are a few I missed. Caemlyn will have to be introduced at some point. They also could have given some more info on Loial the Ogier (who is introduced in Camelyn) because by the end of the show I still had no clue who or what he was or the significance. But the book takes the time to make sense of it all.
The issue with cutting the finale as they did is threefold: they appear to have killed some supporting characters who are still alive in the books at this point, they fail to display the extent of the Dragon Reborn’s powers, and we do not meet the Forsaken. Yeah, do you remember that one scene where someone is looking at a mural (or I can’t even remember what kind of art it was)? It was of the Forsaken. They are his most powerful servants and one of the three main antagonistic forces of the entire series. Here is a major spoiler that wouldn’t be a spoiler if the show had bothered to address it as the book does:The random guy Rand kills at the end of the show is not the Dark One, it is the Forsaken Aginor. In the book, the rest of the team works together with another cut character to kill another of the Forsaken, Bathamel. It would have been a far better ending than what we got with Nynaeve melting like an overheated battery only to be unmelted, both events that defy the actual mechanics of the magic system in the books.
It’s just another turning of the wheel
Overall, as I said before, the show is entertaining. It’s a tough pill to swallow if you read the first book, The Eye of the World, and that’s made even tougher if you read the entire series. But it was enjoyable to watch when I just accepted that like Game of Thrones, there would be some departures from the source material. GOT felt like it had fewer alterations in the first two seasons and that series felt more grounded in good storytelling than in the film industry relying on tropes and trying to appear woke for brownie points. Still, I will watch the next season that they set up and will probably rewatch this entire season beforehand. What can I say, they made a good TV show, I just made the mistake and reading the books first.
I asked my friend who got me into The Wheel of Time series years ago how he was dealing with all the changes and he had a great response.
“I take it as the show is a different turning of the wheel than we read.”
Hopefully, that bit of wisdom can make it more palatable for anyone else who is a fan of the books.