There’s a moment in The Wheel of Time Episode 2 that finally sold me hard on Prime Video‘s lavish new fantasy series. After running away from their desolated small town, dodging the fangs of vicious monsters called Trollocs, and avoiding capture by a group of religious fundamentalists obsessed with torture, four friends begin numbly singing an old song. It’s called “Weep for Manetheren” and none of them know its meaning. Rand (Josha Stradowski), Egwene (Madeleine Madden), Mat (Barney Harris), and Perrin (Marcus Rutherford) just know it’s comforting. That’s when Rosamund Pike‘s Moraine, a member of the magical order known as Aes Sedai, monologues for three minutes on horseback about the legend of Manetheren.
It’s an incredibly nerdy moment that I never thought I’d ever see on television. An Oscar-nominated actress retells the ancient story of the courage of a fallen people. It’s quiet and powerful and impossible not to hang on her every word. The “Weep for Manetheren” monologue is the moment that I fell hard for Amazon’s Wheel of Time. It’s a scene that manages to capture the two best parts of all great fantasy: vast world-building and compelling characters. Those are the qualities that The Wheel of Time book series and its author Robert Jordan are so revered for. It’s tough, though, to know what the average TV viewer, used to the cynicism of Game of Thrones and sarcasm of the MCU, will make of such an earnest saga of friends embarking on a clear-cut quest to save the world. Amazon’s The Wheel of Time is the show that Robert Jordan fans want, but who else does?
The Wheel of Time takes place in a post-apocalyptic future called The Third Age. In this time, the world is guarded by women known as Aes Sedai who wield what is called the “One Power.” Men who touch the One Power are doomed to go insane, which makes them feared. In fact, it is said that the Second Age ended when the most powerful One Power user known as The Dragon broke the world in his all-consuming madness. In The Wheel of Time, though, people believe in the power of reincarnation. Souls are reborn after death and replay the beats of lifetimes long lost. Moiraine is an Aes Sedai who has devoted her life to finding the “Dragon Reborn,” the reincarnation of the Dragon who is destined to break the world once more or save it.
Moiraine’s quest takes her to a small hamlet known as the Two Rivers. There, farmers and sheepherders live an idyllic life, full of drunken tavern nights and happy endings. Moiraine believes her Dragon Reborn could be one of five 20-somethings in the town: sappy lovesick shepherd Rand, spirited and ambitious Egwene, sweetly stoic blacksmith Perrin, mischievous gambler Mat, or Nyneave (ZoÃ« Robins), the local town “Wisdom” with the power to “listen to the wind.” However Moiraine isn’t the only person who has taken up an interest in the young folks of the Two Rivers. The Dark One himself â a shadowy demonic presence â has dispatched an army of monsters to kill these potential challengers before any talents emerge.
After a horrific attack on the town, Moiraine and her Warder Lan (Daniel Henney) convince the four younger folks to embark on a mission to Tar Valon, the seat of Aes Sedai power where they should be safe. What happens, instead, is a harrowing journey that splits the youths and challenges them in ways they could not hitherto imagine. Each episode of The Wheel of Time makes things harder for the kids by expanding the world, introducing new foes, and adding to their woes.
If the basic thrust of The Wheel of Time‘s beginning reminds you of Frodo and his buddies fleeing the Shire, that’s not a coincidence. Author Robert Jordan specifically wrote the first book in the Wheel of Time series, The Eye of the World, to be an American homage to Tolkein’s classic epic. And the first season follows many of the beats of that story, from the mysteriously black-hooded hero guarding our young charges to the place of safety that turns into a cursed trap. Tonally, like Tolkein’s work, The Wheel of Time is also wholly serious about the dichotomy of light versus dark and good versus evil. It’s not a series that attempts to deconstruct the fantasy genre, but pay homage to its sincere roots. If you’re not familiar with The Wheel of Time‘s own legacy in the genre, it could feel cheesy, clichÃ©-ed, or even cringeworthy.
As a first time book reader â I started in June and am part-way through Book 10 right now â I was absolutely enchanted by Amazon’s Wheel of Time. The main cast perfectly embodies the characters who have been taking up space in my head for months and showrunner Rafe Judkins cleverly juggles the show’s extensive lore. There are some very bold changes made from the books that may turn die hards off, but overall, the show captures the spirit not of The Eye of the World, but The Wheel of Time as an expansive tapestry of characters, cultures, and legends. My main quibbles with the show come down to some less-than-stellar effects, oversaturated lighting, and a spoiler-y choice that I understand the logic behind, but dislike the messaging. All told, The Wheel of Time has way more to woo book readers than repel them. (Especially when it comes to all things Lan and Nyneave…)
The Wheel of Time‘s biggest issue might come down to its loyalty to the source material and what its ardent fans (including yours truly) like about it in the first place. Jordan’s approach to fantasy has gone slightly out of vogue over the years, with the genre embracing hard core cynicism, the deconstruction of tropes, and the lush romance of YA. Even people who consider themselves fantasy fans might find the world of The Wheel of Time to be quaint, if not nigh on impenetrable. Wheel of Time fans will be the first to admit the series, with its traditional approach to fantasy, isn’t for everyone. Heck, it’s a 14+ plus book series with more character names than you’ll find in many local yellow pages. It’s literally not for everyone.
Amazon obviously wants The Wheel of Time to be a colossal Game of Thrones-esque hit. The irony is that’s kind of impossible. Those two series sprung up side-by-side in the early ’90s. Robert Jordan and George RR Martin weren’t just contemporaries â they were friends â and they had very different ideas of how they wanted to remix the fantasy epic. While Martin’s gritty, skeptical, and brutal look at the genre appealed to an HBO audience, I’m not sure Jordan’s romantic, mystical, and hopeful version will be as ubiquitously embraced. The Wheel of Time can’t be the next Game of Thrones. It’s just not in the source material’s DNA. But Prime Video’s series has the chance to be the first true Wheel of Time, and that excites this all-too-earnest nerd to bits.
The Wheel of Time Episodes 1-3 premiere on Prime Video on Friday, November 19. New episodes premiere weekly on Fridays after that.
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