Streaming on: Prime Video
Episodes viewed: 4 of 8
Adapting a beloved series of fantasy books is no easy matter. Too faithful, and you bore even the fans; too loose and you lose your core audience. That’s a particularly live concern going into the second season of this adaptation of Robert Jordan’s sprawling epic, as small changes last time — some of them pandemic mandated; some chosen — snowball into major deviations from the novels. The good news is that (so far) showrunner Rafe Judkins largely manages to keep things balanced between the material Jordan laid out and his new path for the show.
At the end of last season, our band of heroes — five young people from a small town and the Aes Sedai sorceress Moiraine (Rosamund Pike) and her bodyguard Lan (Daniel Henney) — were broken and scattered. Rand al’Thor (Josha Stradowski) set off to figure out his own destiny after his friends were told he was dead; Nynaeve (Zoe Robins) and Egwene (Madeleine Madden) went to train as Aes Sedai; Mat (formerly Barney Harris, now Dónal Finn) was left behind; and Perrin (Marcus Rutherford) went in search of an ancient relic that could prove vital.
The young cast are settling further into their roles, and the design remains beautiful and detailed.
It’s a sprawling and scattered cast to track across a complex world, and it only gets bigger with additions like Elayne Trakand (Ceara Coveney), another novice Aes Sedai who’s far more important than she likes to admit, and Verin Sedai (Meera Syal), an unusually genial magic user. But Judkins and his team have a strong grasp of pace and tone, parcelling out newcomers and exposition slowly enough that it never quite overwhelms.
For all the changes to the plot — and almost everyone but Nynaeve and Egwene is somewhere other than they should be here — the biggest alteration is the interpersonal drama. In the books, people mutter and grumble but generally get along; here they are far more apt to hurt one another, to lie and betray. Perhaps that’s a more accurate representation of humanity in extreme situations, but for fans, at times it’s like watching Gandalf plot against Frodo. The cast generally rise well to such drama, but it’s far from the relaxing escapism of the books, and you might wish they’d occasionally squeeze in genuine fun and not just the occasional quip.
Still, so far the bigger story is on course, the young cast are settling further into their roles, and the design remains beautiful and detailed. This season sees the arrival not just of big bads like the Forsaken but also the invading armies of the Seanchan, with their unsurpassably creepy social mores. With all the important stuff still in place to provide excitement and tension, maybe there’s room for a little creativity in the adaptation’s execution.