The Wheel Of Time Season 1 Review – How not to adapt a fantasy epic

Season 1

Episode Guide

Episode 1 – | Review Score – 3/5
Episode 2 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 3 – | Review Score – 3/5
Episode 4 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 5 – | Review Score – 3/5
Episode 6 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 7 – | Review Score – 3/5
Episode 8 – | Review Score – 1.5/5

 

 

Since Game Of Thrones finished airing back in 2019, many publications have bee clambering for the next big thing. Much like the “next big LOST” phase in the mid-2000s, finding that illusive lightning in a bottle again is all the fantasy craze right now.

While The Witcher released on Netflix and did a solid job adapting both the book and game, becoming a sort of hybrid Frankenstein’s monster of the pair, rumblings about The Wheel Of Time were always in the periphery vision for many enthusiasts of the genre. With the might of Amazon Studios and an eye-watering 90 million dollar budget to play with, Robert Jordan’s fantasy epic looked set to light the platform up in a big way.

Originally The Wheel of Time was planned to be adapted into a movie adaptation by Universal Studios in 2004 and since then this IP hot potato has been pushed and pulled between different studios, eventually landing with Amazon as an 8 episode series.

At its best, The Wheel Of Time faithfully captures the wonder and visual beauty of fantasy worlds to perfection; faraway lands look both enticing and rich with lore. At its worst, this first season makes Game Of Thrones Season 8 look like a masterpiece.

The Wheel Of Time is, for the most part, okay. It’s not disastrously terrible and it’s not particularly amazing either. It’s a proverbial muted shrug in an otherwise animated crowd; a fantasy show that exists and serves its purpose to entertain but struggles to hit the cultural impact on the medium many people predicted.

As someone who has read half of the first book, and actively engaged with many avid book readers and fans of the genre, The Wheel Of Time essentially takes the core essence of Robert Jordan’s novels and rips it out, replaced with generic fantasy fluff and big narrative, structural and character changes that do absolutely nothing but harm the story.

Worldbuilding aside, the finale in particular is a classic example of how not to write fantasy – and it really is an awful way to end what’s otherwise a perfectly acceptable season of entertainment.

This first season was always going to draw comparisons to Lord of the Rings, just because of how similar in structure The Eye Of The World (Book 1) is to Fellowship of the Ring. So for that, some leniency can be taken over the main narrative pull of this one.

At the center of this is the Dark One, a powerful force that threatens to engulf the world into darkness unless the Dragon Reborn – a prophetic magic-wielder in a world dominated by mages called Aes Sedai – can restore balance and thwart the shadows. Five young men and women are our main protagonists; Mat, Rand, Perrin, Nyn and Egwene. One among them is destined to be this Dragon Reborn. But which one?

This question forms the glue that holds the whole series together, as an Aes Sedai by the name of Moiraine travels to Two Rivers to recruit them and embark on this perilous journey across the world to the White Tower.

The pacing of The Wheel Of Time’s story also leaves a lot to be desired. After rocketing through its first chapter at breakneck speed, the subsequent four episodes then play catch up, screeching to a halt and trying to build up affection for these characters. All the while though, new races, ideas, locations and mythology is thrown in the mix. There’s even a big funeral for a character we’ve barely spent any time with too, and half of that particular episode is dedicated to mourning this stranger. There really are some odd choices made with this one.

While the visuals are pretty and there’s some gorgeous costuming, the crucial parts of this story – like empathizing with characters, getting invested in this world and feeling real threat for these characters – is completely lost. By the end of the first season there’s absolutely no reason to care about Perrin, who does barely anything of note all season long. Likewise, the series also throws a last minute deus ex machina device our way, which not only undermines what’s happened prior to that, it also eliminates the threat of death too. I’m trying not to go into spoiler territory here but it really is bad.

That’s to say nothing of the questionable way the main antagonists are handled this season. Trollocs and Fades are supposed to be world ending menaces and yet inexperienced magic wielders can take them down, wipe out armies and brush aside their threat. And yet, an episode either side of that chapter may portray one or two as menacing enough to wipe out a whole human army. This inconsistency plagues the show all the way through its 8 episodes, culminating in a disastrous and disappointing finale.

Normally I wouldn’t go so hard on a show but The Wheel Of Time is a 90 million dollar venture that should have done much better than this. Had this been a low budget affair like The Shannara Chronicles then the issues could have been forgiven but Wheel Of Time is an expensive project that struggles to rise above mediocrity.

Despite my big gripes with this, there’s definitely enough here to like. The world looks amazing, the acting is pretty good and there’s a consistency to the story that whisks you off to numerous different areas. At times that pacing actually helps paper over some of the issues, and watching as a binge-watch rather than stewing over the events of an episode or two does help.

But as we’ve seen from Foundation earlier this year, pretty visuals and a competent enough story isn’t enough to stand out next to so many other amazing shows on TV right now.

The Wheel will keep on turning and fantasy efforts will come and go. The Wheel Of Time is not one that will be sorely missed but will undoubtedly build up a good buzz for a second season. That buzz though will mostly be from fans eager to see if this series can rectify the damage done from its truly disastrous finale. A final episode that’s somehow worse than Game Of Thrones Season 8? That certainly takes some doing!


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  • Verdict - 4/10
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5 thoughts on “The Wheel Of Time Season 1 Review – How not to adapt a fantasy epic”

  1. I personally started reading WoT at book 5 (by luck). And at that point, the story was amazing.

    Robert Jordan used to do a quick recap because he wasn’t sure if his books would remain in print, and the recap was all you needed to jump in, in the middle.

    I did eventually read the first books… And I’m pretty sure I would not have continued if I had started with the LotR copying mediocrity of book 1.

    If they wanted something more Game of Thrones though, they should’ve gone with Sword of Truth – which is rather like Wheel of Time, but with the gender based antagonism of the main characters removed, and with the general idiocy of everyone in the series also mostly removed.

    Seriously, half the engagement value of WoT is that you’re frustrated with these characters. All of them self centered. All of them small minded… Not like typical ideas of heroes at all.

    If the main characters were just open with each other, a lot of things would be easier for them – but nobody trusts anybody (kinda in violation of the moral qualities that normally make “good” teams successful)

  2. I can solemnly swear that as a book fan and a viewer I’m pretty disappointed from the show so far. Especially after seeing the last episode. There were a few great moments, mostly on episode 4, there were some ok moments, the kind I can live with those, but there were so many REALLY BAD moments that honestly made me laugh in embarrassment for the show. My overall rating for the show drops to 4/10.

  3. Well where to start…… Me and my brother have read these books on multiple occasions and when Robert passed we thought we would never get to see how this fantastic series would end. Brandon Sanderson stepped up and did just as good a job as Robert and ended the story magnificently.

    Now onto the horror that is this show: Why does Perrin have a wife at the start the series. This one baffled both of us and I have to agree that Perrin’s character was never in the show or reflected what he is like in the books. So to add his wife was beyond any reasoning.

    Mat again started as I would have thought but by episode 6 they decided to do their own thing with him also. No need again.

    Egwene and Nynaeve nothing really wrong with their character arcs apart from where they link and wipe an army when at this point both can barely touch the source and have had no training at linking.

    Moraine being blocked/Severed from the source at the end??? why on earth was this put in?

    Rands character was okay but not enough focused around him to show the development of him slowly realising he might be the one. its only the end of book 2 that he begrudgingly starts to accept he might be the Dragon and even then he wants more proof. but somehow in this he knows who he is.

    Overall if you have not read the books then you can accept this as a fantasy based on the books but not following them.

    I will watch season 2 but if they cannot follow the main plot of 14 books then I do see it being the last season I watch of this as there is more than enough material in the books to do this show justice.

    The visuals are good and it does feel like a fantasy show but this is not enough to justify watching however many seasons there will be.

    Overall rating 3/10

    Hope it picks up!!!

  4. I enjoyed the first season. I have not read the books and I was completely lost at times. The show didn’t explain some things along the way like the creepy guy in their dreams. I usually expect they’ll circle the story back to it but they never did until the finale and I was like oh okay I guess it was the dark one. Also their whole adventure to get to the White tower was pointless because once they all got there they just left again and nothing was gained by them all being there besides regrouping.
    So besides not really understanding where the story is going I enjoyed it because I like fantasy shows.

  5. Good synopsis. I agree mostly, although I wouldn’t be that critical of Perrin’s limited role so far. He loomed larger later in the books. To be fair, I think we should give the producers more time to develop his story line. Same goes for Mat, for that matter.

    In many ways, it doesn’t seem like the producers of this show read the same books I read. It’s OK for me because I have read all the books twice. I imagine that anybody who has not read the books would be totally bewildered, especially with the unexplained time jumps.

    Flashing back a couple of decades to Rand’s mother on the slopes of Dragonmount and a few millennia to Lews Therin Telamon’s musings is an easy enough transition for me because I understand who the people are and the context of their places in the story. I can also “fill in the blanks” with the mind games Rand is playing with some of the Forsaken but anybody who isn’t already passably familiar with the story must surely be in “WTF!?” territory by now.

    I get that no TV series is going to have the legs to fully do justice to 14 very long books and that some things will have to be left out; however, so far there has been way too much time squandered on things that don’t matter all that much, including things that never happened in the books, while important events and situations have been left on the cutting room floor. Nobody would notice, or care if they did notice, if the rest of the Padan Fain story line disappeared.

    On the plus side, I think the producers have done a more than creditable job of casting, and the sets, settings, costumes and special effects are superlative. I’ll watch future episodes and enjoy them for what they are because I like this genre of entertainment. I can continue to mentally fill in the blanks and overlook added irrelevancies but I think it’s going to test my ability to suspend disbelief to see this as the same story I’ve read in Mr. Jordan’s books.

    Maybe Harriet will put her foot down and get this show back on track while it’s still salvageable.

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