The Wheel of Time Adaptation: First Thoughts

If you’re a fantasy fan, and if you’re on book twitter, you will not have escaped the fact that the Amazon Prime adaptation of The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan was released recently – as of writing this, four episodes are out and I have Some Thoughts. This may just be me shouting into the void along with everyone else, and I know that I’m far from the only one, but I wanted to make a note of my thoughts so far, since I’ve read the first six books relatively recently. Also because my husband probably can’t cope with yet another monologue about characterisation and writing, so the wild web will have to deal with me instead. I did consider waiting until the entire first season was out, but I don’t actually know how many episodes are expected, and I don’t really feel like keeping track of my thoughts for that long. And I feel like four episodes is enough to judge the feel and general direction of the show. It goes without saying, but this post will be full of spoilers for both episodes 1-4 and all books, and I may be quite critical so if you’re really loving the show and don’t want to hear anything bad please don’t read on.

The show doesn’t open with Lews Therin breaking the world, which I was a little sad about because that entire prologue of madness and destruction was what drew me into reading the first book – I know they’re trying to keep who the Dragon Reborn is more of a mystery than the books did, but I don’t think starting with the Breaking would have spoiled anything and it would have more impact than showing the Aes Sedai gentle some random man. Starting in the present did have some advantages, though, because it showed Lan and Moiraine in their search for the Dragon and showed off some of the ruins of ancient civilisations. I really liked the setting, I feel like the creators really built on this idea of the Wheel turning and this being a developing, medieval-style world in some ways and a post-apocalyptic world in others. The Two Rivers village reflected this a bit, with the architecture being practical and simple, but still not quite the classic medieval village we might imagine from the book.

That’s where my enjoyment of The Two Rivers ends, sadly. I know that Robert Jordan was probably trying to create a Shire-like place, setting a scene of peace that would then be broken by the Trolloc attack. Even reading Eye of the World I wasn’t completely drawn into this, and the Two Rivers was just a place, but in the show I cared even less. There were a few elements of the cosy village: the grand inn, with all the villagers gathering together, the festival celebrations, the Women’s Circle… but they tried to inject a little too much grittiness into it. We also spend very little time in the Two Rivers, which in some ways I understand, but the first episode’s pacing was very off, with trollocs attacking about 5 minutes into Bel Tine celebrations and our characters barely established enough. All we know is that Rand and Egwene are a thing, and that the three boys are friends, but all their exchanges seemed very mechanical and like the parroting of phrases rather than genuine things young men who grew up together might say to each other.

And then, and then, Perrin is given a wife – Layla – and the moment she’s mentioned anyone who’s read the books knows she is doomed, because there’s no place for her in the story. I knew it was coming, but I was so shocked when it turned out Perrin accidentally kills her instead of her simply dying in battle. It was a horrible scene to watch and it’s one of the most upsetting instances of fridging I’ve ever seen (closely followed, in my recent memory, by the mother in Shang Chi – though I otherwise loved that film). Is it so inconceivable that a man might struggle with the concepts of violence and peace, and wanting to protect those close to him, without violently murdering his young wife? Men, let me know. Anyway, that was pretty bad, but they’ve just been milking it in every Perrin scene so far – even when Layla isn’t mentioned, you can see the reminder in Perrin’s face all the time, and I suspect they’ll keep using it until the eventual build up of guilt leads him to confess it to someone in a violent outburst – probably to Egwene, so she can take on his emotional burden. *Sigh*

Speaking of milking things, they give Mat much younger sisters than I believe he has in the books, and they have made his character to be both a bit of a scumbag and his sisters’ primary carer, because his cheating father and drunken mother aren’t capable. Now, I don’t know what books the show runners were reading, but Abell and Natti deserve better. You’re telling me the man who walked all the way to the White Tower to see if his son was okay was a useless drunk? And then whenever Mat does something questionable they just shove a scene of him thinking about his sisters, and everything is okay. The actor’s performance feels quite flat to me as well, lacking Mat’s chaotic energy, and I wonder why he’s not been recast for season two… I’ll be interested to see if his replacement does any better.

Rand has been very background so far, too, which is quite the change from being mostly in his head for a whole book. This is probably to make sure it’s not obvious he’s the Dragon Reborn, but it just makes him very bland, especially since the actor’s performance isn’t stellar either. I honestly keep forgetting about Rand, so I’ll reserve further judgement and just see what they do with him. Part of me thinks it would be absolutely hilarious if they just make someone else the Dragon. I do like that they’ve included Egwene in the possible candidates, though it does feel counter to the nature of the magic of Wheel of Time. The whole danger of the Dragon Reborn is the madness that comes from the taint, and so it wouldn’t make sense for it to be a woman – good intentions, not the best reasoning.

Same with some other things – I’m loving the various ethnicities represented, and I’ve noticed they’ve tried to make it more queer norm, but the attempts seem a bit clumsy. First was the innkeeper lady hinting at Mat and Rand being a couple, despite the fact that both of them were flirting with her at different points (side note – that woman’s performance was stellar and I was obsessed with her look). Then the moment in the fourth episode with the two Warders of the same Aes Sedai reclining together and then leaving with the Aes Sedai, both showing her clear affection. This would have been tender except for Nynaeve saying ‘The three of them don’t…?’ and the other Warders laughing. Made it cheap, I guess. I did like seeing the Aes Sedai camp in episode four though, because in the books we hardly ever see interactions between Warders and this made them more human and showed a more equal relationship between them and their Aes Sedai than the book does. Lan became more human while bantering with the other Warders, and the show certainly didn’t waste time setting up the Lan and Nynaeve storyline.

To be honest, it’s probably the thing I’ve been enjoying the most. Their relationship in the books has many problematic aspects, but I’m going to hope the show sidesteps some of them – they started well by giving them a very Aragorn and Arwen moment when Nynaeve tracks Lan down in the woods and holds a dagger to his throat. Peak angsty romance in the making. Also, both actors are very pretty, so I will forgive them many trespasses, with their pining eyes and clenching jaws. What I didn’t like about Nynaeve’s character was the way they made it look like she was killed by the trollocs in episode one, to make it even more surprising when she shows up. I ask you – what was the point of that? At first, I thought it would be to show her doing some cool magic to save herself, but she just ends up running, so why not just have her go after the group to make sure the others were safe as she originally does instead of making me watch a woman have a traumatic experience for no reason?

A few other negative points, and then I promise I’ll end this post with positives only:

  • The introduction of the wolves to Perrin’s plot was done very strangely, and just like the time spent in the Two Rivers, it felt very rushed and then was dropped as soon as they come across the Tinkers. Also, no Elyas?? His whole character is the way Perrin starts to realise his affinity for wolves, so where is he at?
  • Speaking of the Tinkers, I am disappointed. They even have the incredible Maria Doyle Kennedy playing Ila and the script just must not have been great for that first Tinker scene because if I hadn’t seen other performances by her I’d think she couldn’t act very well. They were very drab and harsh, and I feel like putting one random dancing around the fire scene doesn’t quite make up for it. I do like Aram, though, with his slightly unhinged energy.
  • Thom had a rocky start too, but I think I’m warming a little to him.

And now for some final positive notes:

  • 10+ for the show’s intro, because it is visually stunning and I love that they’ve made it a tapestry and embraced the strands of the wheel so much for it.
  • Shadar Logoth was very cool to look at, and most of the other city locations we’ve seen so far have been spot on.
  • The Whitecloaks so far have also been spot on, they are perfectly villainous, especially Eamon Valda. I hope the show does something a bit more nuanced with them, but for now I will just say I love their costumes.
  • Logain – I love Logain, I love his conviction, his actor’s portrayal, and I love the way they visually show the taint in his weaves. I suspect we won’t see him again for a while but I look forward to when we do again.

Overall, I’m glad I watched episode four before writing this (I had planned to just talk about the first three episodes that were released initially) because things have become more interesting. I feel like in episode four things branched off enough from the book in a way that I could appreciate as a separate thing, and I think going forward I’ll just have to try and divorce the show from the books or I will go mad. I think the things that irked me the most in the first few episodes were the changes that didn’t seem to carry any reasoning behind them, and just seem to be there to either be shiny or just keep some suspense for those of us who already know the story, but it’s not like we’re watching it to be surprised, we’re watching it to see a visual representation of a story we’ve enjoyed reading.

If you got this far, thank you for reading. This was mostly for me to work out my thoughts and pinpoint what I liked and didn’t like – something when watching you just get a vibe and it’s interesting to dissect that afterwards sometimes. I’m sure many others could say more articulate things about themes and motivations, but I’ll leave it at that and see where the show goes from here. And now, to catch up on the last few episodes of Everybody Hates Rand to see if they have any thoughts on the show so far.

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