The Wheel of Time, is the newest sprawling fantasy epic to hit our screens, and after years of work the first three episodes have finally aired. “Leavetaking”, “Shadow’s Waiting”, and “A Place of Safety” are a solid introduction to the massive world created by Robert Jordan. The book series holds a record; with 14 books, a prequel, and clocking in at over 4.5 million words, adapting this from page to screen was a massive undertaking. Amazon Prime Video put their trust in show-runner Rafe Judkins, long-time book fan, who had the impossible task of bringing this world (known as Randland to us book fans) to life. While I am a newer book fan, I anxiously awaited the premiere, and I am pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed it. The core of the story shines through, and passion from Rafe definitely trickled down to the cast, who all embrace their roles beautifully. Of course there are changes from the book to the series, and of course not everything looks exactly like I pictured it, but I loved these first three episodes and sat there like a kid on Christmas with a goofy grin almost the entire time. This review will include spoilers, so read at your own risk.
Leavetaking – Episode 101
The world of Randland is vast, so getting a solid introduction to our main characters in a timely fashion was crucial. In a small mountain village, we are introduced to Rand, Perrin, Mat, Egwene, and Nynaeve – also known as the Edmond’s Field 5. The story weaves itself around these 5, bringing viewers to new regions, characters, creatures, and terrors along the way. But this quiet little town is about to be rocked, in more ways than one. A powerful Aes Sedai, Moiraine, and her Warden Lan have a arrived in town, an unexpected visit that puts some of the townsfolk on edge. From there this episode is a whirlwind of action, the small town of Edmond’s Field is attacked by Trollocs (creatures created by the Dark One)- sending our five young protagonists on the start of their adventure. You see one of these five young individuals is The Dragon Reborn, and the Dragon has the power to save the world from the Dark One, or break it completely. “Leavetaking” is a bit of an information dump, introducing us to the main characters, the White Cloaks (a zealot religious group), the powerful Aes Sedai, and what the touch of the Dark One can do to the world.
I really enjoyed the pacing of this episode, it felt quick and chaotic but not rushed. The chaos that our main characters are feeling translated well to screen, and this episode was able to deliver a lot of information in a fairly quick amount of time. There were some changes from the book of course, the two most notable being with Perrin and Mat. Perrin is married in the show and ends up accidentally harming (and killing) his wife during the Trolloc attack of Edmond’s Field. Mat’s family dynamic has also taken a drastic change from their book-selves. Instead of being a respected horse trader, Mat’s father is shown to be an unsavory cheater and his mother a raving drunk. I understand why these slight changes to their backgrounds needed to happen, it takes books upon books of inner dialogue for some of their particular character traits to build – and on screen that simply was not going to work. These changes quickly let viewers see the why behind some of the overarching character themes in a more direct manner. Another change that really works is making the White Cloaks a more powerful threat against the Aes Sedai, yes the One Power and being able to access it is a huge advantage – the show needed something other than the Dark One to play opposite of the Aes Sedai.
Shadow’s Waiting – Episode 102
After fleeing from Edmond’s Field, Moiraine and Lan are forced to lead the villagers into Shadar Logoth to escape the Trollocs and the Dark Ones view. Each of the four (Nynaeve having been taken by a Trolloc at the end of “Leavetaking” are having nightmares, but none of them know who the Dragon Reborn might be, or if Moiraine Sedai is even telling the truth about one of them being the Dragon. Either way, they are being chased and watched, and sometimes the only way to safety is on a questionable path. In true fantasy fashion, the party is forced to split as a darkness awakens in Shadar Logoth, sending the story spiraling in a few different directions. Rand and Mat are separated from Perrin and Egwene during their escape from the city. Lan, warder to Moiraine, has only one thought on his mind – saving his Aes Sedai – and does not try and keep the group together. Nynaeve, the Wisdom from Edmond’s Field has a motherly instinct to protect the other 4, tracks Lan down and demands that the Aes Sedai return her people safely. This episode feels less chaotic while still having plenty of action. There is more character development as our 4 villagers interact more with Moiraine and leave the comfort of Edmond’s Field for the first time. There is mistrust with Moiraine, but also between themselves as the idea of the Dragon Reborn looms over them.
A Place of Safety – Episode 103
“A Place of Safety” was a perfect place to end the Season 1 premiere of The Wheel of Time, enough story material to get viewers invested in the world of Randland, without giving too much away. I loved this third episode, we begin to see the depth of the overall world, I squealed at the shot of an Aiel, and was even happier when Gleeman Thom Merrlin explains to Mat more about their (misunderstood) culture. On the other side of the coin, Perrin and Egwene come across the Tinkers, a group of traveling clansmen who reject violence and are in search of an old song, one that would bring peace to the world. I am a big fan of Thom in the books and though I didn’t expect the show to create my Thom, they did a damn good job with this casting. This episode still has a lot of introductory information, but it doesn’t feel overwhelming – just the right amount of action and book clues to keep new fans engaged and old fans appeased.
A note from the heart
I know how scary adaptations of your favorite book can be. Things are bound to be cut or be changed, characters won’t look exactly like you thought and the one small detail that you think cannot possibly be changed without ruining it all – could be different. I personally think that Rafe has done many things right and many things well. I don’t love the change to Mat’s family, Abel Cauthon is supposed to be a respectable/good man, and to see him portrayed otherwise was hard, BUT that small tweak makes Mat’s character and development make more sense. Perrin’s change not only gives viewers a look into something that book readers needed pages upon pages of dialogue to express, it makes his later story line better in my opinion. The actors in this series have a true passion for doing the books justice, Rafe must have spent hundreds of hours deciding what changes could help the screen version and what things needed to be done perfectly one to one. It is no small task to turn something so utterly massive and epic into a tidy 8 episodes meant for the screen. You may be on the fence about certain things, you may not agree with everything, but this series is finally a show, and blood and bloody ashes they did a fairly great job and hitting all the right notes. I promise that if you tune in next Friday for episode 4, “The Dragon Reborn” – your jaw will hit the floor. May you always find water and shade, I’ll see you here again next week to share my thoughts on that amazing episode.
The Wheel of Time airs Friday nights on Amazon Prime Video.
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