An adaptation of Robert Jordan’s best-selling novel series, it follows the adventures of five youngsters as they battle evil forces in an unnamed world set simultaneously in the distant past and distant future of Earth. One of these teens is also thought to be the reincarnation of the Dragon, a powerful individual prophesied to either save mankind, or destroy it.
All typical fantasy shenanigans, then. TechRadar got an early look at the show during its world premiere this week, so check out our spoiler-free review for more of our in-depth thoughts. For now, though, here are five things you should know about The Wheel of Time ahead of its November 19 release.
1. It’s not Game of Thrones
Okay, this one might seem obvious, but headlines and conversations around The Wheel of Time have been quick to draw comparisons between Jordan’s work and George R. R. Martin’s rival fantasy series, which itself was made into a massively successful HBO TV show.
Depending on your perspective, you’ll be pleased to learn that these comparisons are, for the most part, superficial. Yes, The Wheel of Time is an expensive live-action series based on a sweeping collection of fantasy literature, but the similarities really stop there. While Game of Thrones is more focused on the political warfare of multiple houses – beyond its dragons, the show could, conceivably, be historically accurate – The Wheel of Time is far more deeply rooted in high fantasy. That means you can expect magic, witches and wizards in place of silver-tongued charlatans and incestuous siblings.
If reductive comparisons are your thing, though, Amazon’s series more closely resembles Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy – it’s got orcs (here called trollocs), cutesy woodland villages and a full-on quest narrative, for a start. Once it gets going, contemporary influences like The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner bare their teeth in The Wheel of Time, too, as its band of likeable youngsters find themselves forced to navigate a series of hostile environments.
2. It’s not family-friendly
Those worried that the show’s high fantasy would equate to a low body count need not fear. The Wheel of Time is really, really violent – but in a good way (you know what we mean). In the first two episodes alone, we’re treated (or subject?) to decapitations, severed limbs, gargled blood and burning flesh. Hell, in one scene, our hero literally regurgitates a bat.
This level of blood and gore won’t be to everyone’s taste, of course, but we felt it provided a nice contrast to – and added to the reality of – the sillier elements of the story. As the stakes get higher in the show’s later episodes, too, we expect the deaths to get even more gruesome.
In the violence department, then: yes, The Wheel of Time is comparable to Game of Thrones (are you happy now?).
3. It’s full of future stars
Beyond Rosamund Pike, who plays Aes Sedai Moiraine in the show, most of The Wheel of Time’s cast are relative newcomers. There are a handful of familiar faces, Sophie Okonedo and Michael McElhatton among them (the latter, incidentally, starred as Roose Bolton in Game of Thrones). But its quartet of youngsters, who occupy the lion’s share of screen time, are, indeed, young adults – which is to its credit.
Josha Stradowski, Madeleine Madden, Zoe Robins, Barney Harris and Marcus Rutherford – performers who hail from all over the world – add a real authenticity to the strife of The Wheel of Time's central characters, and they’re not hamstrung by the familiarity of roles they’ve played elsewhere. Each will undoubtedly offer a different type of performance as the show moves along, but as confused teens grappling with the weight of expectation, they’re a perfect fit.
4. It looks expensive
Like those Game of Thrones comparisons, much has been of the eye-watering budget Amazon spent – and continues to spend – on The Wheel of Time. Reports suggest season 1 cost the studio upwards of $10 million per episode (there are eight in total), with the total bill coming to just shy of $100 million.
Sure, Amazon set aside $250 million just for the rights to its upcoming Lord of the Rings series, but $10 million an episode is no small change for a multi-season adaptation of a relatively unfamiliar IP (filming on season 2 is currently underway).
Luckily, the expenditure pays dividends. Sweeping shots of the mountainous Czech Republic could give David Lowery’s The Green Knight a run for its money, and the show’s costumes, sets and visual effects are up there with the best in the business. We weren’t overly fond of the skittish camerawork and squint-inducing lighting in an early battle sequence, but that’s a crime committed by many big-budget historical productions, these days.
5. It’s accessible to newcomers
Perhaps the most impressive element of The Wheel of Time, though, is its accessibility. For those going into its first episode with next to no knowledge of the source material, the show does a great job of translating the most crucial parts of Robert Jordan’s story onto the screen, and new audiences will find as much to admire here as those who’ve waited years to see his sprawling vision brought to life.
Unfamiliar viewers looking for a grounded and intricate political epic may come out of this one disappointed, but The Wheel of Time will undoubtedly prove a journey worth taking for old school fantasy fans – as well as those who just can’t wait for The Witcher season 2.
The Wheel of Time's first three episodes launch exclusively on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, November 19.
- Everything we know about HBO’s House of the Dragon
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Axel is a London-based Senior Staff Writer at TechRadar, reporting on everything from the latest Apple developments to newest movies as part of the site's daily news output. Having previously written for publications including Esquire and FourFourTwo, Axel is well-versed in the applications of technology beyond the desktop, and his coverage extends from general reporting and analysis to in-depth interviews and opinion.
Axel studied for a degree in English Literature at the University of Warwick before joining TechRadar in 2020, where he then earned an NCTJ qualification as part of the company’s inaugural digital training scheme.