For eight weeks, Amazon's The Wheel of Time dominated the fantasy scene. Many fans were intrigued to see Robert Jordan's books come to life on the screen. Overall, the series did a good job at making the world of the Wheel palatable, even for newcomers. On the other hand, some viewers feel that the show left a number of things to be desired, especially given the high quality and uniqueness currently expected from fantasy shows. So, is The Wheel of Time worth watching? Here's what we think:
Reason to Watch: Expansion on Interesting Characters and Added Mystery
One of the biggest changes in The Wheel of the Time tv-series is making the gender of the Dragon Reborn a mystery. This way, gifted young women like Egwene and Nynaeve are also Dragon Reborn candidates. Combine that with the multiple viewpoints the series treats us to, and you get a more balanced ensemble cast. This is arguably an improvement from book 1, titled The Eye of the World, which is told mostly from Rand's viewpoint.
While those who loved the books first might feel differently about it, this change works for newcomers. The trope of a village boy uncovering a grand destiny is a tired one. By having women, too, as Dragon Reborn candidates, the audience is instructed to view all main characters as equally relevant to the plot. Moreover, the multiple red herrings that illustrate any of the five villagers as the one person Moiraine is after, sustains a feeling of mystery in what would otherwise be a relatively conventional fantasy formula.
Reason to Skip: Ultimately, Little Changes
If you haven't caught up you might want to skip this section as it contains spoilers about the Dragon Reborn.
In making all characters seem equally important, we got expanded storylines. Mat, who was simply mischievous early in the books, was instead portrayed as a rogue who steals to support his sisters. Nynaeve and Egwene felt like forces to be reckoned with from the beginning, and Perrin was more mature and conflicted than his book counterpart.
While this expansion made the show more intriguing early on, there was a worrying side effect to consider: Rand, the actual Dragon Reborn got little characterization, and can easily be waved off as the least interesting. Since the books first came out, we've encountered plenty of village boys who grow up unaware of their magical background and great destiny. There's simply not enough going on about Rand to help him stand out, which becomes all the more obvious as his peers get their own viewpoints.
Worse still, the other four, while promising, need more development if we are to care about them in future seasons. Perrin's storyline hasn't served much of a purpose so far. What interesting aspects do exist were marred by the fact that he was given a random wife, whose only role in the story was to accidentally be killed by him, as a way to foreshadow his brutal powers.
This trope of killing off a female character for the sole purpose of advancing the arc of a male one is called "fridging." It was completely unnecessary here, given that literally anything else could have been used to traumatize Perrin and make his power manifest. His village had been under attack, after all.
Mat, who started off as one of the most promising characters, quickly became unlikeable, upon encountering a cursed dagger. To be fair, so did his book counterpart. This, however, is only made worse by his unjustified disappearance from the last 2 episodes.
Given his recast, this might be related to internal cast dynamics or schedule conflicts, especially since Covid-19 severely disrupted the production. It would therefore be unfair to hold that against the production, but it does come off as a bit strange, from a storytelling perspective.
Egwene and Nynaeve, on the other hand, are quite interesting, and both come off as active agents, in charge of their futures. However, the sparse explanations about their powers, and the multiple storylines mean that their arcs are currently a bit inconsistent and more work is needed for their characters in future seasons.
At the end of the day, making the Dragon's identity a secret helped the show early on, but, ultimately, it felt like the real chosen one had the weakest arc. The others, while interesting, don't seem strong enough to keep the show going, at least for now.
Reason to Watch: Moiraine and the Aes Sedai
Rosamund Pike might not have been the first person that would come to mind as Moiraine. Still, her performance is one of the best in the show, while Daniel Henney's Lan is a great foil to her. The first book in the series doesn't explore the White Tower and the world of Aes Sedai as thoroughly. On the contrary, the show does a great job at showing the intrigue and inner conflict within the ranks of the Aes Sedai, while expanding on the rumor of Moiraine and the Amrylin Seat being lovers.
Moiraine's calm power and determination hold the show together, and the White Tower scenes are among the most visually striking ones. They're also among the scenes fans of intrigue, rather than action and battle are more likely to appreciate.
Reason to Skip: Generally Conventional Fantasy Structures
Amazon's show did a decent job at establishing itself as a memorable fantasy series, but will it keep living up to its reputation for long after the finale? This remains to be seen, but Season 2 would have to surprise us for it to be the case.
So far, we've seen a world in mortal peril, due to an all-evil being and his dark minions. To keep this threat at bay, individuals with no previous connection to magic, or even to the wider world outside their limited sphere, must embrace a great destiny. This is true for many fantasy shows, of course, and to an extent, we like it - that's why we keep returning.
Even so, we can't help feeling that, at times, The Wheel of Time takes itself a bit too seriously. Other recent fantasy shows like The Witcher and Shadow and Bone incorporate humor and lighthearted fun in traditional fantasy formulas, paired with living and breathing characters we love to root for. There's a lot of potential in The Wheel of Time, but so far, the trollocs and other dangers faced by the characters all seem a bit too conventional for the 2020s.
Reason to Watch: A World of Interesting Potential
Other locations and cultures we get to see along with the main characters are also quite interesting. The wandering people Perrin and Egwene find shelter with have a unique culture, while the World of the Wheel seems like a diverse and colorful one that seems worth exploring further.
The flashbacks, while handled a bit inelegantly, also hint at a past society that was futuristic, rather than medievalist. This would be cool to expand on later.
Overall, The Wheel of Time is a fun show to watch, and fantasy fans will at least want to try a couple of episodes to have an informed opinion. In many ways, the show fails to stand out when compared to past and current fantasy stories we loved, as the characters and plot are occasionally overused or underwhelming. Even so, we'd keep watching, as we're interested to see how next season is going to handle some of the most intriguing aspects of the show's material.