Wheel of Time - Season 1, Episodes 1 to 3

Wheel of Time - Season 1, Episodes 1 to 3

A Wheel of Time-length blog post to start a new series dissecting each episode of Wheel of Time. Until I lose interest, of course. It’s a lot of work to write these and it hurts my back.

I read all of the Wheel of Time books some years back. Well, I listened to the audiobooks starting with book 10. I liked it. There’s a ton of things to criticize, but I still liked it. Wheel of Time, the book series, is an experience more than it is a story.

If you want the flavor of it, you can read the first book and skip all the rest. The first book is the only self-contained one. The rest of them are one long never-ending story.

I once rated the first four books as the best, then book five fell off a cliff, then there was a return to form somewhere around book nine or ten? (Unfortunately it might have been the last Jordan book.) Then Sanderson’s three books to finish out the series were good enough, with the last one being a fairly satisfying conclusion.

On With The Show

To make a long epic fantasy series short, I agree with the general consensus that Rosamund Pike is carrying the show all by herself. Which makes sense, since she’s also producing the show. I was also pleased to see Harriet McDougal’s and Brandon Sanderson’s names on the credits as consulting producers.

Remember when we used to write blog posts after each weekly episode of a show? I don’t either. It was a long time ago. But I like being able to do it again. So I’m doing that.

Fair warning though that this post absolutely, positively will not interest anyone who hasn’t read the books. You know how everyone hated the people who kept constantly comparing the Game of Thrones show to the books? Yeah, that’s what I’m doing here. Except I’m intentionally not re-reading the books to refresh my memory before watching the show. Only after.

There will be tons of spoilers. It goes without saying that you should watch the available shows before reading these posts. But I’ll try not to spoil anything in the show with knowledge from the books, and put the book discussion into a different section.

Summary

Amazon dropped the first three episodes all at once, so technically this is a three-episode summary, which makes it a lot more work for me.

Morraine and her bodyguard Lan arrive in the tiny backwater of Two Rivers looking for The Dragon Reborn, the reincarnated soul of A Very Important Pawn In The War Of Good Versus Evil (my interpretation). Four of the Two Rivers Kids are the right age: Rand, Mat, Perrin, and Egwene.

To prove how serious it is, horned satyr-like Trollocs attack and destroy Two Rivers, because The Dark One is also looking for The Dragon Reborn. Morraine convinces the Two Rivers Kids to leave with her and return to the safety of The White Tower, so the Trollocs will follow them instead of reducing their home town and everyone they love to dust and ash.

Morraine is injured in the Trolloc attack and gets sick on the road. They seek refuge in a scary dead city. Shadows attack them so they have to run, splitting up in the process. The Fellowship is already broken in the second episode.

Rand and Mat enter a town and stay at an inn, where they meet gleeman Thom Merrilin. Rand is almost killed by a Darkfriend in disguise, proving once again that Things Are Serious.

Perrin and Egwene end up going a different direction and find a camp of Traveling People (ie. fantasy gypsies). A pack of wolves (who for some reason look like ordinary pet dogs) seem to have taken a liking to Perrin.

Meanwhile Nynaeve from Two Rivers, the plucky youngest-ever Wisdom, has been following and sneaks up on Lan, tending the wounded Morraine. They encounter evil Whitecloaks and a scary Red Aes Sedai woman with a prisoner in a cage and then we have to wait a week for the next episode.

Reactions

I absolutely hated that they began the show with almost a full minute of boring exposition. In that first minute, I had no hope whatsoever for the show. If it had been an unknown intellectual property, I would have turned it off and never come back. I can’t stand it when fantasy shows start with “and now, here’s the history of the world up until now.” Nobody cares.

I thought the first two episodes were a bit shaky, but the third episode seemed markedly better and gave me some confidence that the show might actually reach a second season. I was immersed enough by the end that I wished there were more episodes to watch.

In the third episode the characters split into separate groups, and it gave the show a little more time to breathe and get into character development, which is a staple of the Wheel of Time series.

Wheel of Time is a massively character-driven series, which appeals to me. It’s so character-driven that sometimes entire books go by with little or no plot advancement, and thus the reputation of the series was born. My preference for character-driven stories is probably why I was able to get through the series where many people can’t.

Overall the show is good enough, but nowhere near as good as Game of Thrones, the bar for fantasy book adaptations. It’s more like the quality level of Legend of the Seeker, which would undoubtedly annoy Wheel of Time fans to no end because as I recall there was a bit of a rivalry between Robert Jordan fans and Terry Goodkind fans.

(Disclaimer: I liked Legend of the Seeker and those Terry Goodkind books, although I only read a couple. He had an almost primal writing style that appealed to me.)

The scenery in the Two Rivers was amazing. First time I’ve ever wished I had a 4K television.

Weirdly, though, sometimes things were crisp and sharp and amazing, and other times it looked like somebody forgot to focus the camera or forgot to put lights on the set or filmed it on somebody’s old 8mm handheld from the 60s. Budget issues again, no doubt.

I hated the wool costumes for Two Rivers folk. It looked like everyone was wearing sweaters from a Land’s End catalog.

I wasn’t amazed by the music, either. It was just okay. “Good enough,” as it were.

I thought the Trollocs looked dumb and not even a little bit scary. Almost like old Ray Harryhausen Sinbad movies.

Best Scene

The best scene of the first three episodes was when the kids started singing, and then Morraine delivered that story of Menetheren. It was a good representative sample of the epic fantasy world of Wheel of Time, and it was Rosamund Pike demonstrating how much of better actor she is than everyone else in the show, when she can captivate attention even when reciting boring exposition.

Characters

Morraine. Every scene with Morraine is great, Rosamund Pike has nailed the character. I greatly fear what will happen to the show if Morraine isn’t in every scene, and they’ve already demonstrated that she won’t be.

Lan. Is fine. Just kind of there. Much like the character is supposed to be, you don’t notice him much.

Rand. Has a major Hayden Christensen from Attack of the Clones vibe going on, and not in a good way. But honestly it might work, because I never liked Rand in the books, so it’s natural for me to sigh and groan and boo and want to skip ahead to the next scene whenever I see him.

Mat. I didn’t like Mat much in the books either, and he’s similarly unimpressive in the show. He’s trying to be The Funny One like his character, but it’s in the same way that an annoying college kid tries to be funny: It’s only funny to his drunk college friends and nobody else. If they wanted to rewrite the books and kill off Mat (and Rand too, for that matter) for the show, I wouldn’t mind.

Perrin. The best of the boys so far, but that’s not saying much since, true to his character, he hasn’t actually said much yet. He only broods a lot. (He was my favorite Two Rivers Wonder Boy from the books, by a country mile.)

Egwene. Took some time to get used to but by the third episode she was fine, although she hasn’t had any opportunities to shine yet. I wouldn’t mind if they completely changed the books and made Egwene The Dragon Reborn. She’s a better actor. (It wouldn’t make any sense to do that, though. Also, we already saw the Darkfriend trying to capture Rand.)

Nynaeve. Also took some time to get used to but again, by the third episode I thought she was doing a good job with the character. Nynaeve was one of my favorites, certainly in the first book.

Thom Merrilin. He was okay. A bit overdramatic, but good enough. Seemed silly to have ordinary acoustic guitars in Wheel of Time though.

The Darkfriend tavern keep was a good guest star. Unfortunately I’ve already forgotten her character’s name.

The Differences

Here’s where you should stop reading if you haven’t read the books, because I might accidentally spoil something in the show.

I haven’t read the books in almost ten years, but I thought it might be fun to write down what I remember being different from the books, and then see how my memory fared.

There’s a very long blog series on Tor.com called The Wheel of Time Re-Read by Leigh Butler. It’s a good source if you want to know what happened in the books without having to re-read the bazillion words in the books. There are probably many other series like that for Wheel of Time, but it’s the only one I know about.

That series of blog posts also heavily influenced me in the writing of this series of blog posts.

Perrin Did What Now?

I had no memory whatsoever of Perrin being married at the start of the series, and I gasped when he accidentally killed his own wife during the Trolloc attack. I didn’t remember that at all, but I don’t think it detracted from or changed what I did remember of Perrin’s character. It seemed like something he might do. I seem to remember Perrin as generally broody and plagued by guilt in the first book and throughout the series, so it fits.

Based on a random sampling of the idiotic review bombs from stupid people on Amazon, I didn’t remember Perrin killing his wife because that didn’t happen in the books. Perrin wasn’t married to the blacksmith, he was the blacksmith’s apprentice. (Although I have an extremely vague memory of something like that scene happening with Perrin, perhaps many books later in the series?)

Trollocs in the Night

My memory was that the books didn’t show the Trolloc attack on Two Rivers at all, so if anything happened with Perrin it would have been off-screen anyway. As I recall we only saw Rand fighting one Trolloc with his dad, and then they arrived in town to find the aftermath. Or something like that.

And I remembered that correctly. In the books, the Trolloc attack occurred in Emond’s Field (specifically Mat and Perrin’s houses, for reasons), while the viewpoint was on Rand up at the farm.

Morraine’s Magic

I didn’t remember Morraine throwing any fireballs or bricks or anything in the first book. I actually don’t remember Morraine using much magic at all in the entire series, certainly not destructive magic. I didn’t think that was the Blue Aes Sedai’s thing.

It turns out I was partially correct: Morraine used what was described as “ball lightning” to fight the Trollocs, but it was off-screen, so we didn’t actually see it. As for her usage of magic in the rest of the book, I’ll have to re-read them to find out. I can tell from perusing the Wheel of Time Re-Read though that she definitely did throw fire around sometimes.

Rand’s Dad

I was shocked when I saw Rand’s dad … didn’t die. I was 100% sure that Tam al-Thor died in the beginning. They also didn’t even show Rand taking the heron sword with him, it appeared out of nowhere in the third episode, in the hands of that Darkfriend.

It turns out Tam al-Thor didn’t die in the Trolloc attack; I completely misremembered that. Morraine healed him and Rand actually spoke to him before they left. That must mean that when Perrin (I think it was Perrin) finally returned to Two Rivers a hundred books later, Tam al-Thor must have still been there. I vaguely remember there being a big battle in Two Rivers at some point. Maybe that’s when Tam died. Don’t spoil it for me. I’m sure the show will get there eight or ten or fifteen seasons from now.

Oh, they also didn’t mention the fairly significant plot point that Rand might not have been Tam’s son, either. It was a big thing in the book. Too complicated for the show, probably.

Rand and Egwene Did What Now?

I didn’t remember Rand and Egwene having such an “adult” relationship at the start of the books either, but that didn’t fundamentally change anything.

Yeah that definitely wasn’t a thing in the books. Rand just had vague adolescent boy “feelings.” The Two Rivers kids were basically children at the start of the books–naive, inexperienced, doe-eyed “sheepherders” as Lan liked to say. And Egwene was younger than the boys, who were around 16ish.

Nynaeve, Trolloc Conquerer

I didn’t remember Nynaeve getting kidnapped by Trollocs. It seemed rather uncharacteristic for a Trolloc not to mutilate their prey immediately. But the end result was the same and it made Nynaeve look like even more of a badass, so it was fine.

Confirmed: Nynaeve was busy healing people after the Trolloc attack and was in no way kidnapped. But it’s completely believable for her character anyway. It’s just not believable for the Trollocs to kidnap people.

Nynaeve did catch up to Morraine and Lan after Shadar Logoth similar to what was portrayed in the show, but that was actually the second time she had caught up with them. They cut out a ton of road trip from the second episode.

Bye Forever

I found it a bit odd that all four of the kids left Two Rivers with barely a word of protest. Morraine delivered her speech, they shrugged and said, “Okay, you’re the producer I guess. Bye forever, home and family!”

There was a little bit more to it in the book, but it was still a “hurry up, we have to leave now or the Trollocs will level your home” situation. Or at least, that’s what Morraine the tricksy Aes Sedai wanted them to think. I don’t remember why Egwene went with them in the books, and I don’t remember why Nynaeve followed them. I think Egwene just wanted to get away from Emond’s Field, but with Nynaeve it was something about wanting to bring the others back home, thinking that perhaps Morraine had kidnapped them.

But I Liked That Part

They spent almost no time in Shadar Logoth in the show, which I remember being called “the City of the Dead.” I remembered it as a lengthy and exciting part in the books. I suppose they didn’t have the budget for it.

It was never called “the City of the Dead.” I have no idea where I got that from. It was Shadar Logoth, or The Shadow’s Waiting.

In the books, they only spent a chapter and a half there, so it wasn’t as much as I thought. Thom Merrilin (who was with the group from Emond’s Field from the start) and Nynaeve were there as well.

Perrin and Egwene

I remembered Perrin’s and Egwene’s trek between the (not) City of the Dead and The Traveling People being a lot longer and more interesting. It was the time period I recall starting to like those two characters. They may have had a run-in with the Whitecloaks then.

They didn’t run into Whitecloaks until later, but they did encounter Elyas and his pack of wolves, a character who has apparently been deleted from the show thusfar. Fortunately they didn’t delete the wolves, because otherwise Perrin doesn’t have any character traits.

Whitecloaks Schmightcloaks

Speaking of which, I would have been fine if they’d erased the Whitecloaks from the story entirely if they were looking for something to streamline. I don’t remember them being nearly so cartoonishly evil in the books.

I don’t think the Whitecloaks make much of an appearance in the first half of Eye of the World, actually, until after Perrin and Egwene travel with the Traveling People for a while.

Upon Further Study

I thought I’d listen to the audiobooks again, to make sure my memory of the books is accurate. I figured I’d head off all the comments correcting me by correcting myself first. Not that I have comments yet. Anyway, this section contains musings after re-listening to the book.

Based on a review of the chapter titles of the first book, the first three episodes of the show covers roughly the first 25 chapters of the first book, with Rand and Mat’s tavern bits coming from way up around chapter 30. That’s a lot. Robert Jordan chapters are enormous. The sheer magnitude of epic fantasy that was cut from these first three episodes is staggering.

Two Rivers

In the books The Two Rivers is a big area, with several different little towns in it. The place of the Trolloc attack was actually called Emond’s Field, something I forgot.

They spent a lot of time in the Two Rivers at the start of the books, and erased a lot of it from the show. Egwene was the mayor’s daughter, for example. Perrin was supposed to be the blacksmith’s apprentice. There were other kids, too.

The Two Rivers kids are much older in the show than they were in the books, not surprisingly.

The girls' braids were supposed to signify being of “marriageable age.” The Women’s Circle was a different political body. There was also a (men’s) Town Council that I don’t think they mentioned in the show. Which is fine.

The detailed culture of the Two Rivers and its people is way too complicated for an hour-long episode, especially when they’re about to leave forever anyway. That’s why the books are so long. Jordan goes into a lot of depth about that kind of thing.

Morraine’s Motivation

In the books, Morraine was only looking for Rand, Mat, and Perrin as potential Dragon Reborn candidates. The Dragon Reborn in the books was very specifically a man, which is why the Aes Sedai were so terrified of him and interested in finding him. (Because men who can do magic historically go insane and blow up the world, killing everyone in it–a somewhat undesirable outcome.)

But in the show, Morraine added Egwene into the list of potential Dragon Reborn candidates, and they pointedly remarked it could have been a man or a woman in the prologue, no doubt a nod to 2021 sensibilities. There’s a lot of interesting story ramifications there for Wheel of Time purists.

One might surmise that the show depicts a different “turn of the wheel” than the books did. That’s another theme of the books: Everything’s happened before and everything will happen again.

Miscellaneous

For a brief horrifying time I thought they might be merging Egwene and Nynaeve together into one character, since they almost never said anyone’s names out loud in the beginning.

I actually forgot that the braids signified something in the Two Rivers, and wasn’t merely a style choice. I think Nynaeve was the only one who continued to wear her braid after leaving Two Rivers, and thus the legend of Nynaeve pulling on her braid for fifteen books was born.

The Delicate Dance of Gender Representation

As with the books, the core group of women are probably going to be far more interesting than the core group of men. Egwene and Nynaeve (and soon Elaine, perhaps?) are portrayed by noticeably better actors than the dudes so far.

One of the core themes of Wheel of Time overall is a gender role reversal, where the women hold all the power over the men. I was worried they might try to sanitize the “battle of the sexes” portrayed in the books for a 2021 audience, but I’m pleased to see they aren’t erasing it completely. It’s one of the things that makes Wheel of Time unique.

But I can tell they’re being careful with it too. They added Egwene as a potential Dragon Reborn, for example.

It’s not problematic in 2021 to show the disdain Aes Sedai hold for men, but it could be problematic to depict how much the men in Wheel of Time resent the Aes Sedai. It’ll be interesting to see what happens if they ever get to the Dudes Channeling Society, the real name of which I’ve forgotten.

Just Stop Already

Okay this blog post has spiraled way out of control. Wheel of Time does that to you. I had intended to watch the first three episodes, then write up some commentary, then re-read the relevant chapters of the book (or listen to them), then write some more commentary, then re-watch the three episodes, then fix the commentary I got wrong the first time, and so on, until I had completed a blog post.

I got through most of that for the first episode. But the sheer volume of text that is covered in the second and third episodes is entirely too much to process on a weekly basis, so I’m going to pull the ripcord and get the heck out of this blog post before I spend the entire week working on it.

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