The Wheel Of Time: Season 1 Review

The Wheel Of Time
In a world in which only women can (safely) use magic, Aes Sedai sorceress Moiraine (Pike) arrives at a village in search of The Dragon Reborn — the reincarnation of a legendary hero. After an attack by nightmarish beasts (trollocs), she, along with five possible candidates, sets out on a journey to either save the world or break it.

by James Dyer |
Updated on

Airs on: Prime Video

Episodes Seen: 6/8

If there’s one thing The Wheel Of Time isn’t short on, it’s substance. Robert Jordan’s sprawling fantasy spans 15 hefty tomes (including one prequel), and took 29 years to complete, ultimately outliving its creator (the final three books were completed by Brandon Sanderson after Jordan’s death). Steeped in fathoms-deep lore and with enough plot-threads to knit a scarf around the M25, the series is among the most epic fantasies ever written, so when Jeff Bezos demanded Amazon whip up an answer to Game Of Thrones, this was an obvious choice.

The Wheel Of Time

But where Thrones was, at heart, a very human story of intrigue, incest, treason and treachery (with dragons and White Walkers kept on a deliberately low flame), The Wheel Of Time wears its fantasy credentials embroidered on wizardly sleeves. The first episode alone features a reincarnated magician, mystical prophecy, an army of bestial trollocs, and Rosamund Pike flinging fireballs. Throw in heroes with Big Destinies and ominous talk of The Dark One, and there’s little in the way of access points for those who believe such things belong firmly in the basement of the local Games Workshop.

Where Thrones was a very human story of intrigue, incest, treason and treachery, The Wheel Of Time wears its fantasy credentials embroidered on wizardly sleeves.

Which is a shame, as The Wheel Of Time is far from just another tired yarn of ogres and goblins. A long time ago, we are told, men broke the world with magic (typical), leaving women to pick up the pieces (even more typical). The result is a society in which women quite literally hold The Power, with a rich line-up of female characters who neither have to parade around naked nor be abused to warrant screen-time. It’s into this world that our five rural naifs are thrust: Nynaeve (Zoë Robins), Rand (Josha Stradowski), Mat (Barney Harris), Perrin (Marcus Rutherford) and Egwene (Madeleine Madden). Plucked from a sleepy hamlet by Moiraine (Pike, excellent, if terribly stern), they are whisked away from their home on a quest to save the world. It’s a story that very quickly snowballs, becoming vastly more complex as it does so.

The biggest obstacle to ever discovering that, however, is the show’s first episode, which is thick with stodgy set-up and hoary tropes. Fans of the novels may bristle at some of the changes (to avoid the whiff of Y.A., the books' teenage leads have been aged up and the show is both bloodier and bawdier), while newcomers may find its earnest tone, clunky exposition and variable effects (the rumoured $10 million-per-episode budget is surprisingly well-hidden) a turn-off. Thankfully, Amazon has chosen to drop the first three episodes at once, allowing viewers to get quickly through the rather leaden introduction and into the series proper. It’s then, once the story’s knottier aspects begin to emerge, that the narrative starts to take hold, feeding into a story that gets better with each consecutive episode.

Leaning into the genre as it does, this probably won’t manage the Thrones-like crossover Bezos demanded, but The Wheel Of Time is a rich, enveloping fantasy nonetheless, and one that, with a little patience from viewers, could easily sustain eight or more seasons of its own.

A slow start paves the way for a satisfyingly ambitious fantasy that fans of the genre can really get stuck into. For the uninitiated, though, it might all sound like a load of trollocs.
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