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!
Verdict - 4/10