Wheel of Time Episodes 1-3: Rushed Ambition

I didn’t realize there was a Wheel of Time TV series starting back when I first started the books. So I accidentally prepared myself for this. May as well put it to use.

Adapting the Wheel of Time was always bound to be one of the most difficult tasks anyone could possibly attempt. Robert Jordan’s vision was so huge, filled with so much detail and so many characters, that bringing it to the screen was always going to be hard. The Eye of the World alone would prove difficult, let alone all fourteen books (fifteen if you include New Spring). You could have argued it was impossible.

And you can still make that argument. Because these three episodes are… rough.

The Dragon has been reborn. Moraine of the Aes Sedai and her Warder Lan search for him in order to prepare for the Last Battle. This brings them to the Two Rivers, where they discover not one, but four candidates that could be the Dragon. All doubts vanish when an army of Trollocs attacks the village in order to kill them. Now, Moraine and Lan must lead Rand, Mat, Perrin, and Egwene to the safety of the White Tower. But the question remains: which one of them is the Dragon Reborn?

This version of the story goes in some interesting new directions. Rather than making it obvious who the Dragon Reborn is, like the books did, they decided to make a big mystery of it. One that might actually work pretty well for people who haven’t read the book. That is just one example of the changes made. Yet it still manages to capture the themes of Robert Jordan’s original work really well! At least so far.

The best thing about these initial three episodes is, without a doubt, the characters. They’re mostly quite true to the source material. In some cases, I’d argue they’re even improved! Rand and Egwene have an actual physical relationship instead of the will-they-won’t-they dynamic they shared in the book version. We see how comfortable Moraine and Lan are together; they have an entirely platonic relationship, and seeing how comfortable they are together is an absolute delight.

Mat easily gets the best of it. Let’s be honest: Mat kinda sucked in the first two books. Here, they gave Mat some much-needed depth. Seeing him do bad things for the sake of his sisters and dealing with the guilt of it is really compelling! Book Mat was arguably the worst character at this point in the story, but show Mat might be the best!

Although I do wish he would say ‘blood and bloody ashes’ instead of ‘bollocks’.

It’s not all good, though. Perrin’s character has gotten some rather pointless and ill-attempted changes. They gave him a wife! That he shares all of one scene with before he accidentally kills her! Now he gets to deal with the guilt of that throughout the season. It feels like they’re trying to give him something to deal with in the initial half of the story before he has to deal with his arc with the wolves. Maybe it will prove worth it later on in the season. But in these three episodes, it feels like a waste of time.

Going back to the positive side of things, the group chemistry of this cast is phenomenal! Rand, Mat, and Perrin all feel like genuine childhood friends; their personalities work together incredibly well, whether they’re having a heart-to-heart or getting at each other’s throats. I’ve already mentioned Moraine’s dynamic with Lan, which is great. Nynaeve and Egwene don’t share a ton of screen time, but the two work well together. The only one I have a problem with is Rand and Egwene; their scenes are fine, but their relationship doesn’t always come across as believable.

All of this is possible thanks to the amazing cast. Rosamund Pike is the perfect Moraine, Daniel Henny the perfect Lan. Marcus Rutherford masterfully captures Perrin’s quiet thoughtfulness and emotions. Barney Harris is hilarious as Mat and manages to balance the comedic relief with the somber guilt of his character excellently. Honestly, I have no complaints about the cast whatsoever. At least not so far.

Shifting gears a bit, this show is shot really well. There’s a ton of fantastic shots here. From awesome establishing shots to some pretty cool action shots or tense moments of dread. The cinematography and editing is really solid.

The Wheel of Time also uses a lot of practical effects. Every Trolloc is an actual suit, which is incredible given the variety between them and the sheer number of them. The Fade has had limited screentime, but it looks just as creepy and evil as they were described as being in the books. The costumes and sets all look equally phenomenal. This is a good looking show!

Mostly. As with every show and movie of the modern age, there is CGI. Now, it isn’t too offensive for the most part. It’s often used to add extra animation and life to the practical effects, like the snarl of a Trolloc or the screech of the Fade. But when the CGI has to do all the work, like with the Channeling or some of the more gruesome deaths, it can be pretty jarring and unappealing. As is to be expected from a fantasy show on its first season.

There’s also some really nauseating shaky-cam in the action scenes. I get that they’re trying to create a sense of chaos and discombobulation. Those feelings are captured, sure. But when I feel sick watching a show, it can be hard to appreciate or even feel the emotions its trying to invoke.

With that, I think I’ll launch into my most major criticisms now.

The pacing in this show is a nightmare. Whereas the books are extremely slow, this show can be extremely fast. This can undercut some of the more memorable moments from the source material. For example, Moraine doesn’t need to convince the Two Rivers folks to let her take the main four away. She just points at a giant army and everyone is like “Okay, let’s go!”, which kind of undercuts the themes of Wheel of Time.

I also hate how the first episode opened. Moraine just rapid-fire exposits the entire premise of the series, then we get a terrible scene with the Red Adja that features one of the worst lines I’ve ever heard in modern television. That scene genuinely made me worry that the show would suck. Luckily, it picks up from there. But the opening is super weak.

The quick pacing also makes the story much harder to follow if you aren’t familiar with the source material. Why would the Trolloc army not attack the village after Rand and the others left? In the book, that’s explained, but in the show, the army just knows. Thank the Light for the village folk, amirite?

So far, the Wheel of Time show has been a decent adaptation. Far from incredible, mind you. It’s a show that may prove far more difficult to watch for anyone unfamiliar with the source material. Still, it has potential. We’ll see how it continues to evolve as this season progresses.

Hopefully some of the changes they make prove to be for the better. Like… maybe change the ending to The Eye of the World? Please? Just a little?

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