“This far below Emond’s Field, halfway to the Waterwood, trees lined the banks of the Winespring Water.”First line in The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan
So I’ve watched the first season of The Wheel of Time on Amazon Prime, and I have thoughts. If you can’t handle criticism, you probably shouldn’t continue reading because I’m very far from impressed. And I’m going to tell you about all the things that are wrong with that show.
I was very excited to see this adaptation, I should say, and I’ve even talked about how I could see the show fixing some of the less than great aspects of the books (note that I’ve only read the first four). My hopes were very high until I saw the trailer and started to get worried. Still, it was just a trailer and could be misleading, and with all the hype the show had been getting, I was going into it expecting something that could rival Game of Thrones (season 1-5 of course).
Now that I’ve watched it though, I say can say that yes, it is similar to Game of Thrones… but to season 8.
Please be aware that the rest of this post will include MAJOR SPOILERS for the show and the first book, The Eye of the World.
Writing and Storytelling
I’m guessing the series budget wasn’t spent on the writing team because it really wasn’t great and probably the thing that infuriated me the most about the show. There were pacing issues that gave you an episode one that was super rushed but then also episodes five and six that felt like “filler”, which is very weird because a lot of the book was actually cut to make room for those episodes.
Especially episode five ended up as an unnecessary episode because the point of that was to show the strong bond between Aes Sedais and their warders. When you dedicate an entire episode to that, I need it to be relevant later in the season. And it wasn’t. I didn’t need to know that a warder would kill himself if his Aes Sedai died to comprehend anything about the show. I expected it to be relevant in relation to Moiraine and Lan but those two barely had a conversation after that episode so what was the point? You could have spent that episode on something that would actually be relevant (I’ll get back to that).
That whole thing leads me to the main problem with the writing: the lack of set-up. To illustrate this, I’ve found a few examples:
- Episode 2: Mat takes the dagger at Shadar Logoth
Despite being told not to touch anything at Shadar Logoth, Mat does it anyway and I was left wondering why. The problem here is that they changed the character’s backstory and basically made him the sole caretaker of his younger sisters instead of this carefree, immature boy with a minor gambling problem. Initially, I didn’t mind this change but to me, it removed the reason why Mat would take that dagger. Book-Mat wouldn’t think far enough ahead to worry about any consequences. His gambling problem makes it believable that he would take something just because it was shiny. Show-Mat is made out to be smarter than that and must have learned that his actions have consequences. He’s still shown to have money problems but not enough that he would take something from a place as dangerous as Shadar Logoth. The show needed to come up with a better reason for him to take it other than he sees it and takes it. At least I needed him to explain why he did it later on which we also didn’t get.
- Episode 5: Liandrin speaks of men’s power
In this episode, Liandrin says: “Women hold the One Power, but men still control much of this world.” When was this set up? When have we seen a man have any power and to such an extent that he suppress women as Liandrin suggests? At this point, we’ve literally only seen women in power, and had I not read the books, it wouldn’t be that odd for me to think that men had little say in this world. The show even erased the village council and the Mayor in Emond’s Field and made it look like Nynaeve as the Wisdom was the village’s leader. It wouldn’t have justified Liandrin’s comment but it would have been a start in setting it up so that I as a viewer could feel the emotional impact that comment was meant to have. Instead, it comes off as an awkward attempt to make the show relevant and “feminist”.
- Episode 6: Mentioning The Eye of the World for the first time
The season’s lack of direction is exemplified through this late mention of The Eye of the World. This is what the season has been building towards but we don’t hear about it until the end of episode six. Neither do the Emond’s Fielders for that matter who just follow Moiraine out of Tar Valon without any explanation as to where they’re going apparently. That the whole showdown needs to happen at The Eye of the World comes out of nowhere and suddenly needs to be explained rather quickly along with how The Ways work. Something like this happened a lot throughout the season where the lack of set-up meant that you needed characters to use their precious dialogue-time on info-dumps. Something like that does nothing for the character’s development and is a result of bad writing.
At this point, I got tired of writing the many examples down but I think you get my point.
Characters and Acting
Acting performances are a pretty big deal to me when watching a show as it is the true decider on whether I’m invested or bored. That’s why I find it very unfortunate that the young actors in this show aren’t great. The only exception is the actor playing Mat, Barney Harris, who was the only reason I kept watching after the first two episodes. He truly added something to his character and even made the mediocre lines he was given sound better. So obviously he’s been recast for season 2. WHAT? Did they see he could actually act and figured that would look bad on everyone else so they had to find someone new? Until I get a better explanation, that’s what I’m going to believe.
The rest of the Emond’s Fielders were almost painful to watch, and especially bad were Rand and Egwene, or Mr. Blank-Face and Miss Permanent-Frown as I like to call them. I know from the books that Egwene is going to have some important scenes in season 2 and I’m already cringing in advance.
As for the more adult actors, yes, they were better but they also weren’t given much to work with because of the writing I’ve already talked about. There was nothing about it that made me think Emmy nominations are on the way like we saw with Game of Thrones. One of the acting performances I did enjoy was Alexandre Willaume playing Thom because introducing him through that song was a brilliant move. However, the actor is also Danish so I could be biased.
Moving on to the characters themselves, we’re closing in on my biggest gripe with the show and what had me worried when I saw the trailer. This is a “Strong Female Characters” show. I’ve talked about my problems with this trend a few times and recently found this video by Nutsa that talks about feminist Hollywood. It’s is extremely relevant in the case of the characters in Wheel of Time so I highly recommend you watch it if you have the time. It’s quite entertaining. It beautifully describes Hollywood feminism as “toxic masculinity in a wig”, and that is the perfect way to describe the women in Wheel of Time. They’re tough, strong and stoic, and the writers on the show go out of their way to either prove that or avoid them looking “weak”, as in they’re not allowed to make a mistake or be wrong about something. They added Nynaeve being taken by the trollocs in the beginning just so they could show her rescuing herself because she’s tough and can handle herself. When Egwene is rightfully accused of not caring about Mat in episode seven, she makes Rand apologize to her while she herself couldn’t possibly imagine making an apology for her own behavior because that would indicate that she’d made a mistake. We can’t have that.
Portraying women like this dehumanizes them and is not something we should praise as amazingly feminist. Not only does it make horrible female characters, but it also means that the men in this show are turned into minor side characters. There wasn’t much time to develop their characters and they were often “sacrificed” to portray the women as Strong. Just take a look at my dear Mat. The whole thing with the dagger from Shadar Logoth is a pretty big deal for his character but the little time dedicated to it made it feel like it was added as an afterthought. His deterioration was rushed because it was a plotline that didn’t involve any of the women so we couldn’t spend too much time on it. In the end, it was also used more as a tool to show how powerful Moiraine is (because it looked like she fully cured him which she didn’t in the book) rather than it was developing Mat’s character.
The show’s decision to not reveal who the dragon is from the beginning was essentially a good one, however, it made it painfully obvious that there isn’t much to Rand’s character besides being the dragon. When you remove that, there’s just not much left. The show could have given him more of a personality than the books did but he’s a man so why would they do that? I feel it made it easy to guess that he was the dragon. He really had nothing to do the entire season so, of course, he had to get something.
With Mat being my favorite character, I also need to mention how annoyed I was when he left at the end of episode six, and then we just didn’t see him again except for a tiny glimpse at the end. How can that be considered a satisfying end for his character? We were totally left hanging, not even knowing why he left. Had we not seen that glimpse at the end, I would have assumed he had gone off to get all that plastic surgery he’s gonna need for his recasting in season 2.
The Show as an Adaptation
We’ve come to the part where my abilities as a reviewer of the show are limited since I’ve only read the first four books in the series and didn’t particularly care for them. Still, I have comments on some of the changes they made, but if these changes are in line with something that happens in the ten books I haven’t read, please feel free to correct me in the comments.
The elephant in the first episode was, of course, Perrin having a wife but then he immediately kills her by accident. I’ve not seen anyone who thought that was a great idea because she was too obviously used as a tool to develop Perrin’s character. An unnecessary tool, if you ask me. Even the writers seemed to have forgotten about it when they hinted at something between him and Egwene later on.
Another curious change was that both men and women could be the dragon, which was interesting to me in the beginning. The problem was that it didn’t end up mattering at all. It was just another tool to show off their strong women, to have Egwene and Nynaeve play bigger roles. They couldn’t exactly make this “feminist” show with a chosen one that could only be a man. I just can’t help but feel that allowing the possibility of women being the dragon would have had a noticeable effect on society. Wouldn’t there be groups hellbent on cultivating a female dragon (whether or not that would be possible)? I could also see men’s status in the world lowered significantly, but I don’t know. That was what I hoped the show would explore when they revealed that change. They didn’t. The change meant absolutely nothing.
Finally, the last episode. Apparently, Moiraine is stilled by the Dark One, which I didn’t know was possible, but sure. My problem is that we don’t exactly know what that means (if you ignore having read the books). You know that episode we spent on the Aes Sedai/warder-bond that I wanted them to spend on something else? This is it. Show/tell us the devastating consequences of being stilled and what it means, so we know that when it happens to Moiraine and thereby can feel her emotional trauma. I’m thinking non-readers must have been pretty confused as to what happened in that scene. Not only that, but we also just saw Egwene bring Nyvaeve back to life somehow, so you’re left with an almost certainty that something must be able to restore Moiraine’s powers as well. I definitely wasn’t feeling too worried for her, which is kind of going against the show’s intention.
I’m disappointed. The main reason I watched the entire thing was so that I could write this review and get an outlet for my frustrations, proven by how I after episode six had to check how much more of it I had to endure. Will I watch season 2? With the recast of Mat, probably not but maybe my curiosity will get the better of me when the time comes. The whole idea of “let’s put women on pedestals” was just too evident in everything the show did, and yes, it ruined it in my book. I’m not going to care about or relate to characters I know for certain aren’t ever going to have a flaw.
Did you watch the show? What do you think? I would especially love to know what you think if you’re also a fan of the books. Did you like the changes they made?