How not to adapt a fantasy epic: a review of the first season of The Wheel of Time
Episode 1 First Season Episode: 3/5 Stars
Episode 2Review Score for Episode 2: 3 5/5
Episode 3Third Season | Third-Rated Reviews
Episode 4 Season 4 Episode 4 | Critic Score: 3 5/5
Episode 5Season 5 Episode 5 | Review Score 3/5
Episode 6Review Score: 3 | Episode 6 5/5
Episode 7Season 7 Episode 7 | Critic Rating: 3 out of 5
Episode 8Season 8 Episode 8 - 1 5/5
Many media outlets have been searching for the next big thing ever since Game of Thrones ended its run in 2019. Like the "next big LOST" fad of the mid-2000s, the current fantasy obsession is with recapturing that elusive "lightning in a bottle."
For many fantasy fans, rumors about The Wheel of Time were always in the background while Netflix's The Witcher did a good job adapting both the book and game, creating a sort of hybrid Frankenstein's monster of the pair. Robert Jordan's fantasy epic seemed poised to break out on the platform with the help of Amazon Studios and a whopping ninety million dollar budget.
Universal Studios had planned to make a film out of The Wheel of Time back in 2004, but the rights to the IP were subsequently passed around to other production companies before finally landing at Amazon for an 8-episode TV series.
The best of The Wheel of Time perfectly captures the awe and visual beauty of fantasy worlds; fantastical lands are presented as alluring and lore-rich. This first season's low points make Season 8 of Game of Thrones look like a masterpiece.
The Wheel of Time is a generally satisfying fantasy series. It is neither shockingly bad nor remarkably good. A resigned shrug in an otherwise enthusiastic audience; a fantasy program that exists and does its job, entertaining, but failing to make the significant cultural impact on the medium that many had hoped for.
Reading the first half of the first book and talking to many other avid readers and fans of the genre led me to the conclusion that The Wheel of Time essentially strips the essence of Robert Jordan's novels and replaces it with generic fantasy fluff and big narrative reveals. alterations to the story's structure and characters that serve only to weaken the work.
The season finale in particular is a textbook case of bad fantasy writing, and it's a terrible way to cap off an otherwise enjoyable show.
Comparisons to The Lord of the Rings saga were inevitable after the first season aired due to The Eye of the World (Book 1)'s structural similarities to Fellowship of the Ring. Thus, the story's primary appeal can be overlooked to some extent.
The Dark One stands at the center of this, and he or she threatens to engulf the world in darkness unless the Dragon Reborn, a prophetic magic-wielder in a world dominated by mages called Aes Sedai, can bring about a rebalancing of forces and thwart the shadows. Mat, Rand, Perrin, Nyn, and Egwene are our five young protagonists. Some of them will become the Dragon Reborn. The question is, which one?
This question serves as the series' binding thread as Aes Sedai leader Moiraine travels to Two Rivers to enlist new recruits for the dangerous journey across the world to the White Tower.
The story's pacing also leaves a lot to be desired in The Wheel of Time. The first episode flies through its story in record time, but the next four episodes try to catch up by slowing down and making us care about the characters. And yet, throughout it all, new peoples, concepts, locales, and mythologies are added. Half of one episode is devoted to the funeral of a character we barely knew. Some very strange decisions were made in the making of this.
While the setting and costumes are beautiful, the story's most important elements, such as making us care about the protagonists, caring about the stakes, and feeling fear for them, are all but lost. Because he does so little of note throughout the season, Perrin fails to elicit any sympathy by the finale. The series also employs a deus ex machina device at the very end, which not only negates everything that has come before it but also removes any possibility of death. I hate to be a spoiler, but it turns out to be a bad ending.
That's not even mentioning the dubious treatment given to the season's main antagonists. Even though Trollocs and Fades are meant to be world-ending threats, they can be defeated, their armies wiped out, and their threat dismissed by inexperienced magic users. However, episodes before and after that chapter might paint one or two as dangerous enough to wipe out an entire human army. The show's incoherence persists throughout its eight episodes, building to an ultimately disastrous and unsatisfying climax.
The Wheel of Time is a 90 million dollar investment that should have performed much better than this, which is why I'm being so harsh on the show. The problems could be overlooked if Wheel of Time had been a low-budget production like The Shannara Chronicles, but unfortunately, it is neither.
Despite my major complaints, I think most people will find something to enjoy here. You'll be whisked away to many different locations thanks to the stunning visuals, solid acting, and compelling plot. Watching it in one sitting rather than dwelling on what's happened over the course of a few episodes can help mask some of the show's flaws due to the pacing.
However, as we saw with Foundation earlier this year, even with stunning visuals and a solid story, it is difficult for a television show to stand out in the sea of exceptional offerings currently flooding the airwaves.
The Cycle will continue, and so will the various attempts at fantasy. The Wheel of Time isn't a show that will be missed greatly, but it will generate plenty of interest for a return season. The majority of those rumblings, however, will come from viewers hoping the show can make amends for its disastrous conclusion. The season finale of Game of Thrones manages to be even less satisfying than the rest of the season. That is no easy feat
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