‘The Wheel of Time’ Review: Despite a slow setup, the first season of opens up interesting possibilities for future seasons

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

Murtaza Ali Khan

It’s no secret that every major streaming platform and television network dreams to have the next ‘Game of Thrones’ as part of its portfolio. The Amazon original fantasy series ‘The Wheel of Time’ is another attempt to capture the space that’s been left vacant ever since the popular HBO series completed its epic run. The series is based on the American author Robert Jordan's high fantasy novel series of the same name and is produced by Sony Pictures Television and Amazon Studios, with Rafe Judkins serving as the showrunner. The series stars Rosamund Pike, Josha Stradowski, Marcus Rutherford, Zoë Robins, Barney Harris, Madeleine Madden, and Daniel Henney in the pivotal roles. The first season, consisting of eight episodes, recently premiered on Prime Video with the release of the first three episodes. The remaining five episodes are set to air on a weekly basis until December 24, 2021. The series has already been renewed for a second season.

Robert Jordan had originally planned ‘The Wheel of Time’ to be a six-book series but it eventually ended up spanning 14 volumes other than a prequel novel as well as two companion books. The first volume titled ‘The Eye of the World’ was published in the year 1990. Interestingly, the first novel in George R. R. Martin’s ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series came out only in 1996. Now, Jordan died in 2007 while working on the final volume in the series but his notes paved the way for Brandon Sanderson to complete the series. But instead of one final volume as planned by Jordon, Sanderson would publish three more volumes viz. The Gathering Storm (2009), Towers of Midnight (2010), and A Memory of Light (2013). The novel series has sold over 90 million copies worldwide, making it one of the best-selling epic fantasy series since ‘The Lord of the Rings’.

For the uninitiated, ‘The Wheel of Time’ follows Moiraine (essayed by Rosamund Pike), a member of the Aes Sedai, a powerful organization of women who can use magic. She takes a group of five young people on a journey around the world, believing one of them might be the reincarnation of the Dragon, a powerful individual prophesied to either save the world or destroy it. Now, ‘The Wheel of Time’ draws on various elements from Asian and European mythology, particularly the cyclical natural of time as well as concepts of balance and duality and respect for nature. Among the literally influences, Leo Tolstoy’s epic novel ‘War and Peace,’ which chronicles the 1812 French invasion of Russia and the impact of the Napoleonic era on Tsarist society, automatically comes to mind.   

‘The Wheel of Time’ is well known for its rather long narrative, meticulously created imaginary world and magic system, and a vast panoply of characters. So right from the word go, Rafe Judkins and team would have had their job cut out for them. Dealing with such a voluminous subject matter is no cinch to begin with. But when you think of adapting it as an episodic series spread across multiple seasons you have to deal with the constant risk of an impending failure. And if that’s not enough the endless comparisons to ‘Game of Thrones’ are bound to intimidate any maker. What complicates the matters is that most people don’t understand the difference between high fantasy and low fantasy. The former is set in an alternative, fictional world where the rules differ from those of the real world. On the other hand, the latter is characterized by being set in the real world (or a rational and familiar fictional world) with the inclusion of magical elements. The works of J. R. R. Tolkien, in particular ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ are widely regarded as archetypal works of high fantasy. Even though mostly the comparisons are being drawn with ‘Game of Thrones,’ it is actually ‘The Lord of the Rings’ that ‘The Wheel of Time’ can more closely be compared to: be it in terms of the setup or the wide array of characters on offer.

‘The Wheel of Time’ starts on a very slow note with not much happening in the first couple of episodes, except for a few occasional bursts of action. Remember, the world as well as the characters is completely alien to us at first and the makers are fully aware of it. Also, they have the luxury of taking their time for the setup owing to the episodic format. However, despite a rather slow setup, the first season has opened up exiting possibilities for future seasons. I can safely say this on the basis of six episodes that were made available to the critics as part of a special media preview. Now, it remains to be seen for how long Judkins can keep us hooked to Jordan’s ‘The Wheel of Time’.

A version of this review was first published at The Daily Guardian.

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