“The Wheel of Time” Adapting the unadaptable

Illustration by Adalyn Buchard

“The Wheel of Time” is a beloved classic fantasy book series by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. It is a sprawling epic similar to the likes of “Lord of the Rings” and “Game of Thrones.” The story follows five youths from the small village of Emond’s Field. They are forced to flee their home when they are targeted by a malicious force known as the Dark One for reasons they don’t understand. Caught up in this plot, they must rely on the guidance of Moiraine (Rosamund Pike), a character with unknown motives, who is part of an organization of women that wield powerful magic known as the Aes Sedai. With her help, the five youths begin to uncover mysterious powers within themselves and the part each of them will play in rooting out this ancient evil.

Any adaptation would inevitably face many hurdles bringing this series — which encompasses fourteen books and a prequel — to life. It certainly complicates matters when the story is forced to be condensed down into eight seasons which as the showrunner–Rafe Judkins–revealed is the plan. This is a monumental task at even the best of times, but due to the Covid pandemic, it brought further complications into the picture, temporarily halting production. That wasn’t the only setback they faced either with one of their lead actors — Barney Harris who plays Mat Cauthon — suddenly dropping out in the middle of shooting, which forced them to quickly find a way to write out his character, and left an awkward and all too noticeable mark on the series. 

As one can see, “The Wheel of Time” wasn’t dealt the best hand. Despite all of the difficulties, the show has proven to be a wild success with it becoming the most viewed Amazon Original premiere. For a time, it even beat out Disney’s “Hawkeye,” which is part of the mammoth Marvel universe. That being said, is the show actually any good? The answer is … kind of. 

This show has huge potential and there are moments where that clearly shines through. A world as developed as “The Wheel of Time,” is a great opportunity to get lost in the subtle world-building and the different types of cultures and factions that make it tick. Viewers get a sense of the scope of “The Wheel of Time” as the characters leave their sheltered village to venture out into a world of unknowns. That being said, there were several issues with the pacing, as if viewers were being rushed from one prop to the next with little to no explanation as to the significance. This left little opportunity for the characters to be given space to breathe and develop, a fact that couldn’t be saved by the standout performance of Rosamund Pike. Sadly, the cast had to work with what they had and what they had wasn’t much.

With each episode coming in at a cost of around $10 million one would think that the sets would look a little better, but even though they may be grand, there is a sense that all they are is just that – a set. It doesn’t feel as if this is a world that has been around for thousands of years. Everything feels too clean and new, the costumes look like they were ordered on Amazon. Then there is the CGI which looks clunky, as if it belonged on a show with half its budget. The magic, instead of being awe-inspiring, often came across as silly, not helped by the fact that it is accompanied with awkward movements that producers seem to think needs to be included in concepts such as this.

“The Wheel of Time” isn’t bad, but unlike the precursors it draws inspiration from, it isn’t memorable. If anything, it is a show that one can sink a few hours into if there is nothing better to do, or to play in the background while doing something more productive like the dishes. With the second season already halfway through filming perhaps there is hope that it will live up to the potential that is hinted at in the first season, or it can slowly fade off into the background to be forgotten in this era where there are numerous and better produced television programs.

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