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Right out of the gate I want to admit that I’ve never read The Wheel of Time books.
It wasn’t for lack of trying on my brother’s part, who has been a fan of the series since the mid-1990s. This isn’t to say that I was completely blind going into Amazon’s attempt to adapt Robert Jordan’s magnum opus. I am familiar with some of the characters and lore but not to the same level of detail as diehard fans. This meant that going in, I was watching this series as a new potential fan. And I was not disappointed.
Spoilers ahead for the first three episodes of The Wheel of Time.
The first thing to keep in mind with Jordan’s fantasy setting is that it is based around the eponymous Wheel of Time, a cyclical structure to the universe where those that die are reborn in a later generation. The first characters we are introduced to are Moiraine Damodred (portrayed with fierce determination by Rosamund Pike) and Lan Mandragoran (portrayed by Daniel Henney). Moiraine is a member of the Aes Sedai, an order of female channelers who are able to tap into the One Power, a source of magic. In a previous age, both men and women could channel the One Power but when the world was broken by the Dragon, men who tap into the One Power go irrevocably insane. Lan serves as Moiraine’s Warder, a companion and warrior trained to fight alongside her. The bond they share goes deep, allowing the pair to feel each other’s emotions, as well as their physical and mental states. This relationship is not a romantic one, though, and the scenes we see of Lan and Moiraine in the first episode established that while there is a deep intimacy between the two, it is not a romantic or sexual intimacy.
Moiraine travels to the isolated town of Two Rivers based on a rumor that the Dragon who broke the world in the previous age has been reborn. There are four potential candidates that she is able to identify: Rand Al’Thor (portrayed by Josha Stradowski), Perrin Aybara (portrayed by Marcus Rutherford), Mat Cauthon (portrayed by Barney Harris), and Egwene al’Vere (portrayed by Madeleine Madden). All four have grown up together in Two Rivers, with Rand and Egwene actually promised to be married and already in a relationship. Perrin is the town’s blacksmith and is also married to Laila Dearn (portrayed by Helena Westerman).
When we’re introduced to Egwene, she is undergoing a rite of passage with the Women’s Circle, led by Nynaeve al’Meara (portrayed by Zoë Robins). The Women’s Circle provides one of the two pillars of Two Rivers leadership. Given how women are not always portrayed in positions of authority and power in fantasy literature, this is a refreshing change of pace. Between the Aes Sedai and the Women’s Circle, it’s clear to the audience that women holding positions of power are part of the norm in this setting.
The first episode spends a fair amount of time in Two Rivers, introducing us as the audience to this world and the people that populate this isolated community. We get to see the village engaging in the Bel Tine festival, which is marked by the townspeople setting alight lanterns to mark the passing of someone they care for and the hope that the Wheel of Time will bring them back. Unfortunately for everyone in Two Rivers, an attack by Trollocs (monstrous creatures that are a cross between humans and animals) who are servants of The Dark One. During the chaos, Perrin accidentally kills his wife Laila, in a deliberate “fridging” moment. My main complaint about the first episode is when Laila dies at the hands of Perrin. I’m not a fan of a female character being killed for a male character’s development in the story and this is a clear-cut example, particularly given that Perrin is not married in the book series from what I’ve discovered.
The attack on Two Rivers does give us a chance to see Moiraine in action, though. And she does not disappoint. It’s clear from the outset that an Aes Sedai in full control of the One Power is a force to be reckoned with but not invincible, as Moiraine does get wounded with a Trolloc weapon during the fight. We also see Rand’s father Tam al’Thor in action, revealing that this simple farmer is a far more accomplished fighter than he would seem.
The following episode “Shadows Waiting” sees Moiraine, Lan, Rand, Perrin, Mat, and Egwene escaping Two Rivers to draw off the Trollocs (and the creature leading them called a Fade) away from the town. Moiraine’s reveals more of who she is and what she is willing to sacrifice to accomplish her goals, specifically during the scene where she allows the ferryman to drown rather than give the Trollocs an easy way to cross and continue their pursuit of the party. Unfortunately, due to her wounds, Lan takes over as a guide, leading the group into the ruins of a great city called Shadar Logoth. Once a prominent city, it is now a tomb, filled with empty buildings and a creepiness that is deeply unsettling. During the night, the party is attacked by a malevolent darkness that threatens to kill anyone who steps foot in the city. The location and effects for Shadar Logoth are beautiful in a haunting and terrifying way, particularly when the darkness begins to attack the group.
Separated after their ordeal in Shadar Logoth, the episode “A Place of Safety” finds the party attempting to make headway in their journey to the White Tower, the home of the Aes Sedai. Perrin and Egwene end up encountering a group of Tuatha’an, or Traveling People. They are pacifists and nomads, and like their real-world counterparts the Romani, they are the subject of a great deal of discrimination by the other settled nations of the world. Mat and Rand make their way Breen’s Spring, a mining town, where they encounter a mysterious troubadour named Thomdril Merrilin (portrayed by Alexandre Willaume) and a barkeep named Dana, who turns out to be a “darkfriend”. A “darkfriend” or “friends of the dark” are normal humans who have chosen to serve the Dark One (the great enemy that was imprisoned but not destroyed by the Dragon during the last age). Lastly, we have Lan and Moiraine, who is joined by Nynaeve (who was earlier thought lost in the attack on Two Rivers). Nynaeve is someone who I think has a great deal of potential as a character, provided she can set aside her hatred for what Moiraine stands for.
Overall, I’m deeply intrigued by the potential for this series and have already purchased the first book in The Wheel of Time, titled Eye of the World (a book review will follow once I finish it). The characters are fleshed out to some degree but there’s plenty of mystery to who and what they could become. One aspect of the series I enjoy is that while certain things are spelled out to the viewers, others are left open for interpretation, specifically the dream sequences that occur in the second and third episodes. There’s plenty of room for growth in the series and I’m on-board with seeing where it goes.