Spoiler-Free Review: A New Pattern For The Wheel of Time - Comic Years
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The Wheel of Time Spoiler-Free Review: The Pattern Weaves An Excellent Beginning To This Beloved Fantasy Adaptation

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BY November 19, 2021

The wind rises over the Mountains of Mist and The Wheel of Time spins out another pattern. There are many fans who already know this pattern, who dedicate themselves to studying every weft and weave of the story. We are the ones who have been waiting for decades to see the tapestry unfold on-screen. And now it is here, a new turning of The Wheel of Time in the form of a lushly detailed and beautifully executed adaptation on Amazon Prime. 

A Quick Synopsis For New Viewers

The Wheel Of Time books podcast novel Image via Tor Books.

The Wheel of Time follows Moiraine Damodred (Rosamund Pike). She is an Aes Sedai – part of an ancient order of magic-users, able to channel the One Power. All Aes Sedai in the current age are women. Long ago the male half of the Source was tainted, and now all men who can channel are driven mad. 

For 20 years Moiraine has been searching for a prophesied hero. The reincarnation of the most powerful channeler to ever live – a man called The Dragon. Moiraine’s search eventually takes her to a small town called Emond’s Field  – in the Two Rivers. There she finds five young people who are all contenders for the title of the Dragon Reborn. But which one of them is the subject of so much prophecy?

Who Is The Dragon Reborn?

Wheel of Time Photos Photo by Jan Thijs via Amazon Studios

The choice to keep the identity of the Dragon Reborn a mystery is one that fans of the books have hotly debated. In the books, it is fairly obvious who it must be. However, the first book – The Eye  of the World – actually teases this mystery quite a bit. The showrunners have made the choice to cut out some scenes that would make the answer to this question too obvious. What this does is give importance to all of the characters who might be a contender. In truth, all of them will change the world in dramatic ways. The Dragon Reborn is far from the only hero or protagonist of the series. 

The Show Looks As Epic And Awe-Inspiring As It Should

Wheel of Time Ensemble Photo by Jan Thijs via Amazon Studios

Rafe Lee Judkins brought us a Wheel of Time adaptation that stays true to the books, while streamlining much of the story. The fact that he is a fan of the series is to his credit and can be felt in every small detail. This is a richly detailed world, with care given to every aspect of production. The costume design is beautiful and feels authentic to the characters and setting. The cinematography is breathtaking, giving the series the epic feel that it needs. 

At times, the camera work is reminiscent of past big-budget fantasy adaptations. But don’t let anyone compare this to Game of Thrones. In truth, the The Wheel of Time adaptation is far more of a successor to The Lord of the Rings. We have a group of young people who leave their isolated and peaceful home due to danger and darkness in the larger world. A malevolent being called The Dark One threatens to break free from his prison. There are magic and monsters, and a whole lot of walking.

The Wheel of Time may have borrowed heavily from Tolkien’s formula when author Robert Jordan first wrote The Eye of the World. But this is a world that stands fully on its own, with a lengthy history, political machinations, prophecies, and complicated characters. The oral storytelling inherent in the text comes to life on-screen, giving history and context while still entertaining. A song becomes a story about the fall of ancient kingdom, one that naturally segues into the next location the characters visit. Another song gives important information about the the Dragon, while simultaneously introducing another key figure. It flows well, with fast-paced action and space to explore character dynamics.

The Actors Are Incredible And Bring The Characters To Vivid Life

Wheel of Time Lan Moirainie Photo by Jan Thijs via Amazon Studios

Casting for any large series like this is daunting. First, you need to find actors who fit the part. You can’t have too many big-name actors, because they need to be in for the long haul. You need actors who can sustain a show, meaning they’re engaging and likable. And I am pleased to report that The Wheel of Time adaptation excelled in the casting department. 

Every actor is bringing their best to the series and inhabiting the roles with gusto. You might expect that some of the younger actors would be weaker. We’ve seen this in other big-budget fantasy shows in the past. Some actors had to really grow into their roles. But in The Wheel of Time, everyone is already at the top of their game.

Photo by Jan Thijs via Amazon Studios

Rosamund Pike is stellar in the role of Moiraine. Her face is often a stoic mask – as the Aes Sedai are known for. But it is easy to read her emotions in the smallest twitch of her brow or shift of those all-knowing eyes. She is world-weary and has little patience for stupidity or incompetence. Though she always remains calm, it’s clear she is desperate to find the Dragon Reborn – before it is too late. 

The Golden Crane Shines Again

Wheel of Time Lan Photo by Jan Thijs via Amazon Studios

Alongside Pike is the constant presence of Daniel Henney – who plays Lan Mandragoran. He is Moiraine’s Warder – a bodyguard and companion who is magically bonded to his Aes Sedai. In the books, Lan is more of a background character. But this Wheel of Time adaptation does Lan credit by establishing him as a main character from the beginning, and it is to the benefit of the show. Henney is brilliant in the role. He has the stoicism that is integral to the character. He also lends unexpected emotional depths to the Warder. You can sense that he has secrets, and deeply held grief, that affects his every action.

The Women Are Powerful And Complex

Wheel of Time Egwene Photo by Jan Thijs via Amazon Studios

The actors who play the core group of characters from Emond’s Field are also incredible. Madeleine Madden plays Egwene. She wants more from life than to run her father’s inn and marry her childhood sweetheart, a sheepherder. Madden imbues Egwene with the grace and intelligence that the character deserves. She may be a naïve girl from a small town, but audiences see she is destined for greatness. 

Wheel of Time Nynaeve Photo by Jan Thijs via Amazon Studios

Zoe Robins also shines as Nynaeve – the village Wisdom and local healer. She is considered a leader in the Two Rivers, despite her youth. And Robins brings the character to life in unexpected ways. Nynaeve is prickly, and Robins demonstrates that well. She doesn’t trust easily and is fiercely protective of ‘her people.’ Underneath her hard exterior and stubborn mindset is a warm heart, and Robins brings that necessary vulnerability to Nynaeve. 

The Ta’veren Will Change Our World

Wheel of Time Rand Perrin Mat Photo by Jan Thijs via Amazon Studios

And what about the boys? Barney Harris plays Mat Cauthon – a rogue and a gambler with a cheeky sense of humor. Harris is good in this role, deftly balancing Mat’s humor with the darkness inside of him. It’s difficult to get too attached to him however, since we already know that the actor was recast for season 2. The showrunners still haven’t said anything about why Harris left the role, but Dónal Finn certainly has big shoes to fill next season.

Wheel of Time Mat Photo by Jan Thijs via Amazon Studios

Marcus Rutherford plays Perrin Aybara – the local blacksmith. He is a big man, but exceedingly gentle for fear of hurting anyone accidentally. Perrin is slow to anger, but when rage overtakes him he becomes unrecognizable. Rutherford definitely has Peerin’s dark and brooding manner. Perrin is a tricky character, because so much of his struggles are internal. And with so many characters to flesh out, it can be difficult to get inside one person’s head for too long. 

Wheel of Time Perrin Photo by Jan Thijs via Amazon Studios

Rutherford is doing well as Perrin, but I think he might need a bit more time to settle into the role. However, the (questionable) changes made to his backstory will dramatically affect some of the later relationships he forms. So it will be interesting to see how that plays out. 

A Wool-Headed Sheepherder Steals Our Hearts

Wheel of Time Rand Photo by Jan Thijs via Amazon Studios

And then there is Josha Stradowski – playing Rand Al’Thor. He is Egwene’s childhood sweetheart, the sheepherder mentioned above. Rand is content with the simple life. He looks forward to a future where he can marry Egwene and raise children. Rand strives to do the right thing, even when it’s hard to know what that is. Stradowski excels in this role, imbuing Rand with emotionally complex layers from the first moment he appears onscreen. He can say much with a flick of a gaze or clench of his jaw. And those cheekbones are so sharp that they could cut glass. 

Stradowski is also the actor that reportedly read the most books of the series. And it is to his credit that he has immersed himself so deeply in the world. There are shades of future Rand haunting his performance. It adds extra depth to this seemingly simple sheepherder.

How Does The Show Compare To The Books?

Wheel of Time Poster Photo by Jan Thijs via Amazon Studios

At last we arrive at the million-dollar question. How exactly does the show compare to the books? I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. This adaptation should be viewed by long-time fans as a new turning of the Wheel of Time. There is a nice moment in the first episode with Rand and his father Tam (played with subtle perfection by genre veteran Michael McElhatton) where the two of them discuss the eponymous wheel. 

This philosophical concept of eternal recurrence is baked into the world. The adaptation deftly explains returning souls to life through cycles of reincarnation. But as Tam tells Rand, everyone must live the life they are given in the present moment and try to do better than the last turn of the wheel.

This is a concept that the showrunners have clearly taken to heart. While the books are an incredible wealth of source material, there are always elements that can be improved. Some of these changes are small, tweaks to characterization or story. A few are larger, with entire storylines excised or pushed to next season. Others are brought into focus, including many elements that were merely referenced in the books but brought vividly to life on-screen. 

A Matter Of Focus

Wheel of Time Thom Photo by Jan Thijs via Amazon Studios

It all comes down to a matter of focus. The books are long, there are hundreds of characters and locations, and a ton of history to cover. The show-runners manage to weave so much lore into the six episodes I watched (out of eight total). There are the Aes Sedai of course, the women that anchor this group all have their own goals and ambitions. But they aren’t the only organization ostensibly working to fight darkness. There are the ominous Whitecloaks, with their charismatic and cruel leader who wants to wipe out the Aes Sedai. There is Logain, the False Dragon who drives home the danger of men who can channel. Above all, character is key, and the show reflects that.

Much of the focus in the first season is on character development and growth. All of these young people leave their home and have to grow up quickly. They will all be utterly changed by what is to come. So it is essential to lay the foundation of the characters’ relationships early on. The relationships between all of the characters from Emond’s Field feel real and vital. 

The Importance Of Relationships In The Wheel of Time

Wheel of Time Photos Photo by Jan Thijs via Amazon Studios

Every character from the Two Rivers is deeply connected, their weaves tangling together in the pattern. The camaraderie amongst all of the characters is deeply felt. This group of friends have been together their entire lives. You can see it in every exchange. The chemistry amongst all of the actors is excellent, and they work extremely well as an ensemble.

Rand and Egwene’s relationship is also vital to the adaptation of The Wheel of Time. These two clearly love one another deeply. But they also have hard choices to make, ones that will affect the future of their relationship in dramatic ways. The moments of pain and strife between them are deeply effective. I also really appreciate how the show establishes a close relationship between Nynaeve and Egwene in the first episode. They already have the mentor/apprentice relationship, and this is part of what spurs Egwene’s independence.  With sisterhood being such a big theme throughout The Wheel of Time, it is vital to establish this bond between them early on.

A New Turning Of The Wheel

Overall, The Wheel of Time adaptation on Amazon Prime is an excellent translation of its source material. The caliber of the cast and the thoughtfulness of the showrunners make for a lovingly crafted series. It is by far the best fantasy show that I have ever seen on television.

As the story weaves in new ways, I can only hope other book fans are as delighted as I am to see all of this come to life. Newcomers will also find much to enjoy in this new epic fantasy series. There are compelling characters and relationships that you want to root for; a fully realized world that will captivate you, politics and mysteries to intrigue you, and magic that will enchant you. 

The Wheel weaves as it wills. There are no beginnings or endings to The Wheel of Time. But this is an excellent beginning.

Aes Sedai Symbol Wheel of Time Image via Tor Forge

The Wheel of Time debuts new episodes weekly on Amazon Prime.

Stay up to date on on Amazon’s adaptation of The Wheel of Time by following Comic Years on Facebook and Twitter.

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Emily O'Donnell is a writer and photographer with roots in some of the earliest online fandoms. She cut her genre teeth on the Wizard of Oz books at the tender age of 6 years old, and was reading epic adult fantasy novels by the age of 10. Decades later, she still consumes genre fiction like there is no tomorrow. She is delighted to be living through the golden age of sci-fi and fantasy popularity. She is unashamed of the amount of fanfiction that still lingers online under her name.

AdaptationsAmazon Primeamazon studiosEpic FantasyFantasyRafe JudkinsThe Wheel of TimeTV Review

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