I’m infuriated. INFURIATED. Reading the previews for The Wheel of Time series premiering on Amazon this week has me left me seeing red. I gained access to screeners a little late due to a wild tale involving multi-factor authentication mishaps and more identification verifications than I assume are required for FBI clearance. I’m being dramatic. I had excellent help from support. Anyway, I do in fact, have an identity and that identity has now watched the first 6 episodes of ‘The Wheel of Time.’
Perhaps this delay was a bit of a blessing because, unlike normal, I read a few previews before writing this one. And that, friends, is where my frustration comes from. I’ve seen complaints ranging from “this series is too hopeful and doesn’t have enough gray areas” to “there’s not enough violence” and “Game of Thrones, this is not.” May I say to these things, THANK GOD.
In my estimation, when Jeff Bezos requested the next Game of Thrones for Amazon, he meant from a popularity standpoint and not necessarily all the things that made Game of Thrones great and then ultimately terrible. Yes, I’m a hater of the Game of Thrones ending. You might not want to read further if that’s a sticking point for you. I will say, there is a world in which the ending made sense (even though I still wouldn’t have liked much of it – looking at you, Bran), but it wasn’t this world, because season 8 was so incredibly rushed and seemingly cobbled together from notes on a bar napkin.
But we’re not here to talk about Game of Thrones, nor its 87 prequels. Dramatic, remember? We’re here to talk about an adaptation of one of the most sprawling fantasy worlds ever created, one that is a love letter to classic fantasy and a very obvious homage to Lord of the Rings (which has its own new Amazon series coming in 2022).
The Wheel of Time spans 14 books and 1 prequel, the first of which was published in 1990. Robert Jordan’s work, which was later completed by Brandon Sanderson after his passing in 2007, has over 2,700 named characters and 140 plus point of view characters. That is INSANE.
I started book 1 with the understanding that’s what season 1 would mostly cover. Turns out it actually spans non-linear storylines from the first three books, and so I simply started watching. It’s likely I have a different perspective than a long time fan, which I acknowledge. I’m sure there are changes that will delight and changes that will repel avid book supporters. It does give me the opportunity to judge only what is on screen though, and there’s a certain value in that when accessing a standalone work taking place in a new medium. So what can we expect to see on screen?
Christopher Booker, in ‘The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories‘ posits that there are only really seven stories told over and over with different settings and characters. Like Lord of the Rings before it, The Wheel of Time, as its core narrative, will focus on “overcoming the monster.” This narrative requires a few basic pieces, the most obvious being a hero and a villain. In this type of story, there is rarely much doubt as to who is who. There are often clear cut designations represented by “light and dark” or “light and shadow.” Either way, something is illuminated and something is not. Good v. evil in its simplest form.
And I say to all the grimdark storytellers and watchers of the last decade or so, when that type of story has dominated the landscape, WHY is that a bad thing? Why is it considered less than? If you want misery porn, simply turn on the news. In this age of wars and pandemics, I’m fine being reminded there are “good guys” in the world and though that doesn’t mean they’re perfect, they’re trying their level best to do the right thing, even when it’s the hard thing.
When did that structure, that type of character, become a “tired archetype with no nuance” from the perspective of critics and many audiences alike? At the very core of the mythology is the character the party is searching for, a man or woman who is the Dragon Reborn, a reincarnation of The Dragon (a nickname not an actual dragon), who in his last life broke the world and in this one is prophesied to either break it again or save it. We don’t know which! Is there a lack of nuance that the “hero” in the story may turn out to be the worst villain of the age that will literally wipe out life as it’s known?
I’m sure one can assume at its conclusion, the Dragon Reborn will be a true hero, but who’s to say how the character will be viewed along the way? What might that person go through that tempts them to one side or another in what showrunner Rafe Judkins has planned as an 8 season story?
I’ve also recently seen much about the sexism and objectification of women in the books. Besides one super annoying trope in episode one, which honestly didn’t bother me too much since we were obviously dropped in the middle of a story already in motion, I feel that so far women have been very well portrayed and even elevated to a status not normally seen on television. Maybe I’m alone in that.
Rosamund Pike‘s “Moiraine” has been positioned as the main character in the series, in stark contrast to the books. Side note: Her “Warder” and companion, Lan (Daniel Henney) is awesome! Anyway, I’ve seen complaints that this change is akin to making Gandalf the main character of the Lord of the Rings or Dumbledore the main character of Harry Potter. Again I ask, what is wrong with that? Sometimes a different point of view can enhance a story, and honestly I’d simply like to be shown something new at this point.
I personally think the first 6 episodes are worth the watch, with an interesting present journey that leaves logical time for backstory and compelling characters (which is the most important part of any narrative for me). I’m looking forward to talking with you about it episode by episode. I have a feeling, on my end, the biggest gripe will be having only 8 in the first season.
The first 3 episodes of The Wheel of Time will be available to stream on Amazon on Friday, November 19th. I urge you to give it a chance.