FlixChatter TV Review: The Wheel of Time (2021)

Reviewby_Laura

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When Ruth asked me if I wanted to review Amazon Prime’s new series, The Wheel of Time, I had to think about it. Anyone who read my JordanCon post from a few months ago knows I’m a fan of the Robert Jordan‘s books the show is an adaptation of. I don’t want to come across as biased or get too hung up on discussing the show as an adaptation, since a good show should stand on without requiring its viewers to be familiar with the source material. Obviously not all viewers will be familiar with the books, so I will do my best to review this as a stand-alone show. That said, some terms are hard to describe to people who haven’t read the books, so I want to give a special shout-out to my JordanCon friends group chat for helping me with the following summary. You’re all the best, and I can’t wait to see you in April!

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The Wheel of Time follows Moiraine (Rosamund Pike), a member of a mysterious order of magical women called Aes Sedai, and her warder (a sort of bodyguard) Lan (Daniel Henney) as they search for The Dragon Reborn, a person prophesied to save the world or destroy it. Their search takes them to the small town of Two Rivers, where five young men and women- Rand (Josha Stradowski), Mat (Barney Harris), Perrin (Marcus Rutherford), Egwene (Madeline Madden), and Nynaeve (Zoë Robins)- are caught up in a dangerous and life-changing journey. 

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I won’t say this is a perfect series- with only 3 episodes available so far, there’s obviously room to grow- but it’s off to a very promising start. Its greatest strength is easily its cast. I already loved Rosamund Pike and knew her versatility would lend itself well to the role of Moiraine, and she and Daniel Henney have incredible chemistry. The relationship between an Aes Sedai and her warder is an interesting one, and the wrong actors could easily mess it up, but these two perfectly convey the platonic but deeply loving friendship between them.

The young cast portraying the Two Rivers group are fantastic as well. Despite Zoë Robins getting the least screen time of the five so far, she’s easily a stand out, giving an absolutely fierce performance. Madeline Madden exudes this quiet strength that is so perfect for her character, and I’m so excited to see more of her. Josha Stradowski gives a subtle and likable performance. Marcus Rutherford practically radiates this inner warmth in every scene he’s in. And Barney Harris has incredible comedic chops while still bringing a solemnity to his character. A different actor (Dónal Finn) will be playing Mat in season 2, and while I’m sure he’s an excellent actor, he’ll have some big shoes to fill.

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The show is visually stunning as well. The sweeping scenery and creatively designed sets are gorgeous. The Trollocs (flesh-hungry animal/human hybrid monsters) are sufficiently horrifying. I’m obsessed with the costume design; the clothing is unique but reflective of the environment the characters are in or from, and it’s so refreshing seeing an epic fantasy where the characters aren’t all dressed in generic medieval garb. 

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As I said though, the show is not perfect. There are definitely some pacing issues, especially in the first episode where the ending feels annoyingly rushed. It gets better in the next two episodes, but there’s still room for improvement. The “dead wife” motivation for one of the main characters is more than a little cliche, and having a woman killed after barely 5 minutes of screen time to drive a man’s character arc isn’t a great look. There’s also been some discussion of colorism in the casting; while there are several people of color in main roles, there are only a few actors with darker complexions, and they’re cast as either villains or victims. Even if it was unintentional, it’s understandably upset people, and hopefully more care will be taken in casting going forward.  

Overall, though, The Wheel of Time is a beautifully produced and incredibly acted show, and I’m so excited to see the rest of the season. 8 episodes doesn’t feel like enough, but they’ve already started working on season 2, so at least we know we’ll have more to look forward to. 

4/5 stars

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Have you seen The Wheel of Time yet? Well, what did YOU think?

The Wheel of Time – 5 Things to Know Before the Series Arrives this Fall

Reviewby_Laura

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Hey, FlixChatter readers, Laura here! I got home about a week ago from a long weekend in Atlanta, where I attended JordanCon, a fantasy convention centered around author Robert Jordan‘s Wheel of Time series. I’d never gone before this one, but I really wanted to attend this year, since it would be the last one before the TV adaptation drops on Amazon Prime.

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While we don’t have a trailer or exact release date yet, show-runner Rafe Judkins said on the virtual SDCC panel that the first season will drop in November. So here are a few important things to know before the show arrives:

1. There is no brief way for me to describe the plot.

The Wheel of Time is made up of 14 books and a prequel published between 1990-2013, and they are long; the paperbacks average 826 pages each, and there are 2,782 named characters in the series. All this to say there is no concise way for me to summarize the story, but I’ll try my best to explain how it starts, since the first season is supposed to be a combination of the first two books: when a mysterious woman named Moiraine (Rosamund Pike) and man named Lan (Daniel Henney) arrive in the small farm town of Emond’s Field, 5 young men and women’s lives are changed forever as they are swept up in an epic journey. I know that’s vague, but it is literally the best I can do without going into too much detail. 

2. It’s not “the next Game of Thrones.

Several media outlets have already compared The Wheel of Time to the HBO hit based on George R.R. Martin’s famous book series, and while I kind of understand their reasoning, I’m worried it will give folks who haven’t read the books the wrong impression. Those comparing the two properties might be trying to say it will be the next hugely successful TV fantasy series, and obviously we all hope that’s the case, but plot- and theme-wise, I don’t think it’s accurate to compare them. Firstly, Wheel of Time is a lot more straightforward fantasy than Game of Thrones was. Yes, Game of Thrones has dragons and ice zombies, but most of the focus was on the politics. Wheel of Time leans a lot more heavily into the magical aspect of the world. Secondly, the tone is a lot different. Obviously I can’t say what the show’s tone will be like, but the books at least aren’t nearly as dark and gritty as Game of Thrones, and I doubt the show will be either.

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3. This isn’t the first TV adaptation of The Wheel of Time.

Back in 2015, Red Eagle Entertainment released a “pilot” (it’s referred to as a mini movie on IMDB) based on the prologue from the first book in the series in order to prevent the rights from reverting back to Robert Jordan’s estate. It aired on FXX  late at night (we’re talking cheesy infomercial air times). It was a greedy, lazy move that was made without consulting Harriet McDougal, Jordan’s widow and editor, and to this day it is derided and mocked. You can actually watch the whole thing on YouTube, but it’s pretty awful, and it doesn’t give you any idea what the source material is actually like, so I’d recommend just watching Recappa Sedai‘s reaction video to it on YouTube instead, because it’s hilarious and much more entertaining. 

4. The cast is very diverse.

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Back in 2019, Amazon started sharing casting announcements for the show, and several of the main characters- specifically Madeline Madden as Egwene, Zoë Robins as Nynaeve, and Marcus Rutherford as Perrin- are people of color. While many were thrilled with the casting, there was, of course, an unfortunate racist backlash on social media, especially on Facebook, from whiny fans complaining that the characters were written as white (they weren’t, at least not explicitly) and that this was all just an attempt at “political correctness,” among other, much nastier comments.

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Honestly, I could write a very heated essay on this whole section, but to keep things concise, I’m just going to mention a few excellent points brought up in a JordanCon panel on race in the series:

  • There are 78 characters in the books whose skin color is described as something other than pale.
  • Robert Jordan was a historian and had a military background, so it’s easy to assume he built a world where people would look different.
  • He mixed and matched cultures and skin colors throughout the book, so trying to attribute skin colors to characters is kind of silly.
  • Writers often only describe skin colors other than white, making white the “default,” which shouldn’t be the case.

5. The fandom is amazing.

On our first night in JordanCon, one of the attendees told us on that the people there were some of the best he’d ever met. At the time, it sounded like a bold statement, but less than 24 hours into the convention, I could tell he wasn’t exaggerating. Wheel of Time fans are some of the warmest, friendliest, most welcoming people I have ever met. Are you someone who has read the series multiple times? Great! They’ll want to chat with you about it for hours. Are you just starting the first book? Awesome! They’re excited for you to begin that journey and want to hear your thoughts along the way. While some book purists are worried the show will bring in fans who don’t care enough about the source material, most are just happy to have new blood in the community, people who get to experience the story through a different medium and hopefully gain an interest and appreciation for the books over time. So if you end up liking the show, get involved in the fan communities, especially #TwitterOfTime, where I’ve met so many lovely people (several of whom I actually got to meet in person at JordanCon). I promise will be welcomed with open arms.

Check out some of the photos Laura took at JordanCon:

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Are there any book fans who want potential watchers of the show to know going into it? Let me know in the comments!