The Wheel of Time is the largest epic fantasy story ever, with 15 books totaling over 4.4 million words. For reference, that’s more than seven times the Lord of the Rings. The Wheel of Time is big… and now it’s also a television show.
“The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again.”– Robert Jordan
The Age of Legends was an age of peace and prosperity, with the Aes Sedai — the Servants of All — in charge. The Aes Sedai wielded the One Power, but they accidentally opened a hole into the Dark One’s prison. The Age of Legends ended when one of the greatest heroes of the time, the Dragon, mostly repaired the Dark One’s prison. Emphasis on ‘mostly’. He wasn’t completely successful, and also tainted the male half of the One Power. All males wielding the One Power went mad, including the Dragon himself. They broke the world, and the Age of Legends ended.
Fast Forward 3,500 years. After the breaking of the world, new nations rose and fell, but all feared the prophecies that foretold the Dragon would be reborn and again fight the Dark One. The Aes Sedai, a shadow of their former glory and now solely consisting of women, try to do what they can to control the outcome. They root out all men wielding the One Power before they go mad and hope they can find the dragon in time to save the world.
The story starts in a tiny village called the Two Rivers, when an Aes Sedai called Moiraine Damodred comes to visit. The forces of the Dark One quickly follow and attack the village.
There isn’t much difference between the books and the series up to this point. More on this below.
I could fill a dozen blog posts with describing all the characters of the Wheel of Time series. I’ll stick to the core characters of the first season of the television series, and also the first book, which is still a lot.
Moiraine is an Aes Sedai, and she quickly turns out to know a lot about what’s going on. More so, she’s deeply committed to some secret business of the Aes Sedai, but she’s also burdened by that same secret business. And we soon learn that business involves the Dragon Reborn.
She’s a village girl in the Two Rivers. She is the daughter of the mayor, and in line to become the new Village Wisdom. The Village Wisdoms wield a lot of power, and they also appear to have magical powers. Morraine explains this is the One Power that the Aes Sedai also wield, and invites Egwene to be trained at the tower.
She is the current Wisdom of the Two Rivers. She has a temper, and can be extremely stubborn, but she is also dedicated to her fellow villagers and will defend them to the death.
A tall red-haired boy who lives just outside the Two Rivers with his father Tam al’Thor. Tam is a veteran of the Aiel Wars, and has trained Rand in the use of a bow. Rand is in love with Egwene, but Wisdoms don’t marry.
Mat is a friend of Rand, and a scoundrel. He likes gambling and isn’t too worried about rules and regulations. But he’s also loyal to his friends and family.
The broad-shouldered blacksmith’s apprentice with the gentle heart. In the television show he’s married, while in the books he’s just a friend of Rand and Mat. He’s big, and always afraid he’ll hurt people with his strength. The series gives a much more compelling reason for why this is than the books do.
He’s Moiraine’s warder, meaning a cross between a companion and a body guard. He is dedicated to Moiraine, but there is more to him than that. Lan Was born heir to a Kingdom that was destroyed when he was a baby and has been trained for battle since then. He is a brooding warrior, deadly and unmovable.
The television series
Adapting a 15 book series to television is daunting. There is so much in those books, and a lot of it translates badly to the screen. Not to mention how expensive some of the special effects would be.
Luckily, the screen writers did a fine job of removing the fluff and bringing the core of the first book to the first season of the show. I love the books, but they are long-winded, and a lot of plot twists and arcs in the story are really superfluous. Also, there is some idiot plotting going on, and Rand comes very close to Marty Stu territory, as do the others. Jordan glossed over these things and used the ‘it’s all part of the pattern that drives the prophecies’ excuses. But really, that is just a crutch.
The first season of the television series follows the first book, but with some key differences. It tries to tone down some of the sexism that pervades the books – the Wheel of Time often boils down to men caricatures vs. women caricatures. Also, the show gives Rand, Mat, and Perrin better motivations and agency. By replacing Caemlyn as setting with the White Tower, the series manages to get down the bones of the story — even that means excluding two important characters from the books, Elayne and Gawyn. But that isn’t a loss, really. They don’t really add anything to the first book.
The Wheel of Time is really about a conflict between the Dragon Reborn and the Dark One, with the White Tower meddling every step of the way. And that’s the core the series manages to stick to. It will be interesting to see how the series handles the conflict expanding as it does in the books. From the final scenes of the first season, I think the second book will follow at least some of the second book. That focuses on a conflict with people from the other side of the world: the Seanchan.
All in all, I like the television adaption a lot. Translating the core of such a huge story to television is hard. Of course, the writers had to change a lot, and not all fans will like that. But it was inevitable and I think it works.
I also have to say, Rosamund Pike does a bang-up job of playing Moiraine. She gives the character both the resolve and fear that makes her such an interesting character in the books. I can’t wait to see what happens to her in the second season. I won’t spoil things, but they ended the first season with a pretty huge deviation from the books.
The only true gripe I have with the show is the writers virtually scrapping Loial (who? See here). In the books, he guides the group through the Ways. In the show, that requires the One Power. That’s a huge plot hole, as the ancient Aes Sedai built the ways for the Ogier — Loial’s people — who cannot wield the One Power. It would have been so easy to make this true to the books, and now there’s this huge Ogier-sized plot hole. I cannot understand why they did this.
I’m a fan of epic fantasy, but not of gritty political dramas like Game of Thrones. The Wheel of Time fits neatly into that category, so I am very happy with the result. I can’t wait for the second season.
However, if you don’t like fantasy shows… yeah, go watch something else.