Every work of fantasy fiction is either following or responding to Lord of the Rings. For example, Game of Thrones (and more importantly, the novel series) are a direct response to Tolkien’s work. George RR Martin wanted to introduce more realistic concerns to a world like Middle-Earth (taxes, diseases, poverty, etc). In the inverse, The Wheel of Time feels like following Tolkien.
(Writer’s Note: I have a chronic and untreated addiction to fantasy. I love both types.)
The Wheel of Time debuted on Amazon Prime on Friday, November 19. Amazon released the first three episodes all at once, and the subsequent episodes will be released weekly. The story takes place on a world without a name, but fans have taken to calling it The Randlands after the main character Rand Al’Thor. The story is an epic fantasy in which the main characters travel through various beautiful and terrifying locations while fighting monsters and evil sorcerers. It’s very Tolkien-esque with a lot of 1980s themes instead of Tolkien’s 1930s themes.
For example, magic has been corrupted in the Randlands so that any man who uses magic loses his mind. That means magic is the sole purview of women. The Aes Sedai are an elite group of lady wizards who exert incredible influence over the world. As a result, the Randlands are much less patriarchal than Middle-Earth. I presume that to be the 1980s sensibilities.
The television series also brings in some 2020s sensibilities in its casting. In the source material, I don’t remember any characters being non-White. It’s been a long time since I read the books, but the main characters are certainly written to be white. In the television series, the cast has been diversified. This is a welcome development since the fake worlds of sword-and-sorcery have been almost exclusively populated by White actors.
The first three episodes of the series are solid works of fantasy in the vein of Lord of the Rings. There are monstrous bipedal killers, Trollocs, that could easily be Middle-Earth orcs. They’re imposing and frightening, but the CGI left a little to be desired. When the Trollocs move, they tend to move with that loping awkward gait indicative of CGI. Overall, they look pretty good.
There are medieval-type folk songs that the travelers sing on the road, furry cloaks, sweeping landscape shots, and a wizard guide. It hits all the fantasy elements. Moiraine (Rosamund Pike) serves the wizard guide role. She’s like a pushier Gandalf. Pike does a great job playing a veteran warrior/noblewoman with very little patience. However, her movements while slinging around magic look a little awkward; perhaps, some martial arts training should have been included. The CGI magic swirling around her looks a tiny bit fake as well.
That’s a recurring problem in The Wheel of Time and most other fantasy. Since bright, twinkling magic is inherently fake, it often looks a little bit fake. It’s not distractingly bad, though.
The main characters do a good job portraying old friends, but their big decisions seem to move a little bit too quickly. That brings me to my main concern. The Wheel of Time series is 14 books long, and they’re not short books. However, the first series is only eight episodes long. For contrast, Game of Thrones had 73 episodes to cover seven books and still had to cut entire plotlines and characters. Can Amazon cram epic fantasy novels into 8-hour chunks in a way that is satisfying and sensible? I’m skeptical but the first three episodes are so good that I’m willing to watch them make the attempt.
Also, thank The Light, the series is already finished. Hopefully, they won’t find themselves painted into a corner and just start making silly decisions like Benioff and Weiss. If you like Lord of the Rings and The Witcher or if the dragons are your favorite part of Game of Thrones, this show won’t disappoint.