Amazon Prime Video’s expansion into the fantasy genre has been unusually slow for a high-profile streaming platform. While its competitors, including Netflix, have churned out numerous big-budget fantasy shows and movies, Amazon’s large-scale offerings have been few by comparison.
But that’s about to change. With two high-cost (and potentially high-stakes) fantasy shows releasing in the next year, Amazon is going all-in on trying to compete with Netflix shows such as The Witcher and Shadow and Bone. With its Lord of the Rings adaptation not arriving until September 2022, though, Amazon is pinning its hopes on another fantasy series to deliver a telling blow to its rivals: The Wheel of Time.
Based on Robert Jordan’s beloved high fantasy book series of the same name, The Wheel of Time could be the streamer's next big ‘must-watch’ series. But, given its unwieldy lore, multiple narrative threads, and seemingly infinite number of characters, fans have wondered if the 14-strong novel series’ story could ever be adapted in a precise way.
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If you’re one of those fans, allow us to put your mind at ease: Amazon’s The Wheel of Time is a wonderfully realized adaptation of Jordan’s sweeping and imaginative source material. It captures the richness of the books’ fantastical world, expansive plot and morally complex characters, and does so while retaining the core essence of what has made The Wheel of Time novels so popular.
Set in an unnamed world – though it’s routinely known as the Randlands or World of the Wheel – The Wheel of Time follows the adventures of Moiraine (Rosamund Pike), a powerful sorceress who belongs to an all-female organization known as the Aes Sedai.
Alongside her Warder Lan Mandragoran (Daniel Henney), a bodyguard who’s intrinsically linked to her by the One Power that she can wield, Moiraine embarks on a quest to find the Dragon Reborn, a mighty warrior and the only individual who can stop the Dark One from consuming the world.
- Based on Robert Jordan's popular fantasy book series
- Developed by Rafe Lee Judkins
- Produced by Amazon Studios and Sony Pictures Television
- Streaming exclusively on Amazon Prime Video
- Season 1 contains eight episodes
- Season 2 is already in production
When her mission leads to a village known as the Two Rivers, which is soon attacked by the Dark One’s forces, Moiraine realizes that one of five young adults must be the Dragon reincarnated. Leading the quintet – Rand al’Thor (Josha Stradowski), Egwene al’Vere (Madeleine Madden), Nynaeve al’Meara (Zoe Robins), Perrin Aybara (Marcus Rutherford) and Mat Cauthon (Barney Harris) – on a world-spanning journey to determine who the Dragon is, Moiraine must also work out if that individual will save everyone from the Dark One, or join his side and destroy life as they know it.
And that’s as plainly as The Wheel of Time’s plot can be described. Simply put, The Wheel of Time is a dense, expansive narrative: multiple storylines intersect at various junctures, thousands of characters come and go within Jordan’s 14 tomes, and numerous locations are toured at a somewhat breathless pace. And that’s before you take into account the books’ rich and unique approach to magic-users and other fantasy elements.
So it’s pleasing that Amazon’s adaptation has streamlined the novels’ labyrinthine story and worldbuilding as much as possible. From the opening minute of the series’ premiere, we’re treated to a summary of events, courtesy of Pike’s Moirane, that precede The Wheel of Time’s overarching plot. It’s only brief, but it instantly sets the scene for what’s currently at stake in the Randlands, and means that audiences don’t have to sit through a lengthy preamble about its past.
The removal of filler material makes for tighter storylines, too. Dispensing with lengthy walks to inns and other locales, which would ordinarily slow the plot down, allows Amazon’s adaptation to capture the richness of the novels without getting stuck in the minutiae; their inclusion may be vital for the novels, but such content is unnecessary for TV.
The show’s weaving narratives also alternate at a reasonable pace. Episodes don’t get bogged down in one storyline for too long, which keeps things ticking (pun intended) along nicely, and gives us plenty of time to learn about the series’ main characters – including their personality types, strengths and weaknesses, and where their moral compasses lie.
That isn’t to say that there aren’t some pacing issues. The Wheel of Time quickly and unnecessarily jumps from one instance to the next in some cases, particularly before and during action sequences. While this can be attributed to the editing process, it’s still disorienting on occasion.
While much of the novels’ padding has been removed, Amazon’s adaptation can also feel a tad ponderous at times. But, sometimes it needs to be. The show’s plot will likely be difficult to follow for viewers who haven’t read the books, so some scenes require lots of exposition to keep audiences in the loop. This slow-burn approach, then, is necessary in some cases, but The Wheel of Time’s problem is that it does this in some scenes where explanations aren’t essential, which can sometimes make it feel like a drag.
As much as Amazon’s adaptation has retained plenty of the novel series’ elements, it takes some creative liberties with its story arcs. The show’s first season doesn’t only adapt the first book, The Eye of the World; it also draws from the second novel, The Great Hunt, and tweaks the timeline of when certain events occur, where particular characters are introduced, and what role they play in proceedings. Such alterations may divide The Wheel of Time’s fan base and, ultimately, some may not fully endorse – or may be disenchanted by – the direction that the show takes.
Still, Amazon’s adaptation has to appeal to established fans and newcomers alike. With the series’ chief creative team wanting to tell a story that general audiences can enjoy as much as diehards, some plot revisions are unavoidable, regardless of how unfaithful some fans may think they are. And, for the most part, they fit seamlessly into the primary plot, which makes them less noticeable.
As for the aforementioned action scenes, The Wheel of Time’s sequences are anything but family friendly. Battles are brutal, ferocious, and lend a grittiness to proceedings that some fantasy shows are reluctant to lean into. Some are particularly hard-hitting – one lengthy, barbaric fight sequence in episode one may startle viewers in its gratuitousness – and give rise to shocking moments that certainly leave their mark.
Such surprises aren’t solely reserved for the show’s fights, though. The Wheel of Time subverts audiences’ expectations throughout, delivering frequent emotional story beats and shocks that showcase the internal and external power struggles between its main characters and within the wider world.
The events that Moiraine and company endure – and there are plenty of them – make the characters relatable, though, especially the Two Rivers’ quintet. Rand, Egwene, Nynaeve, Perrin and Mat are plucked from relative obscurity, and thrust into a situation where the stakes couldn’t be higher. As an audience, we can’t relate to that specifically, but we can sympathize with characters who have the weight of expectation placed on them. And their predicament illustrates how different people will, or won’t, rise to the occasion. These are people torn between their quaint lives and their supposed importance to the entire world, so the pressure is bound to tell one way or the other.
Understandably, there’s a naivety about these individuals, so it’s easy to overlook some of their less-informed decisions. There are moments, however, where the likes of Mat, Rand or even Lan make impulsive choices that are out of character – they don’t make sense to the wider narrative and feel like ill-placed plot devices and, like some of the show’s pacing, it’s off-putting.
Thematically, The Wheel of Time is a series that’s reflective of modern-day society, too. Despite its fantasy-based, medieval aesthetic, its exploration of geopolitics and distrust are particularly resonant. Reincarnation, the concept of yin and yang, the cyclical nature of time itself in the series’ world, and the legacy we leave behind are also examined in great detail, painting a picture of a fictional world that draws on real-world historical influences as well as real-life issues that are prevalent today.
What we think
The Wheel of Time is a sweeping and visually striking coming-of-age tale that feels like a fitting tribute to Jordan’s works. It’s much more than a fantasy show, too, with dashings of romance, a serving of underrated comedic moments, and a torrent of drama that delivers a moving, pulsating and compelling entry-point to the late author’s vibrant but intricate fictional world.
The expansive nature of Amazon’s adaptation is where it really shines, though. The production’s sheer scale and scope is Game of Thrones- and Lord of the Rings-esque, and it’s clear that The Wheel of Time takes particular cues from them, including its political, horror and action sensibilities; there’s even a bathtub scene to rival The Witcher, such is the range of fantasy shows that The Wheel of Time has taken inspiration from.
To simply describe The Wheel of Time as a clone of any of the above, though, is to do it a disservice. It’s very much its own series, even if comparisons to George R. R. Martin and J. R. R. Tolkien’s legendary book series, and subsequent big- and small-screen adaptations, are merited. There’s a richness and lived-in vibe to The Wheel of Time’s world, and it’s so vast that there are bound to be spin-off shows if Amazon’s mainline series is a hit among fans.
Sure, it may seem like your typical action-packed, thrilling story about good versus evil, but it’s much more than that below the surface. With the jury still out on Amazon Prime’s Lord of the Rings adaptation, even before it launches next September, the streaming service could use a big-budget, state-of-the-art fantasy show in its back catalog – and The Wheel of Time definitely fits the bill.
The Wheel of Time’s first three episodes will launch exclusively on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, November 19. Subsequent episodes will be released weekly.
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