Robert Jordan’s famous fantasy novel series The Wheel of Time has long been considered unadaptable to film and television due to its complex world and the hundreds of characters that populate it. Amazon Video’s new spin on the series, of which the first three episodes premiered on Nov. 19, undertakes the massive project of rendering this fantasy epic to the big screen. In the first episodes, these reservations seem to be well-founded, as the complexity makes it seem like there are too many subplots. The epic, which will reportedly run for eight seasons, is only starting to spin its wheels. Despite a rough start, the show has so far been saved by the careful attention it grants its female characters, who drive most of the action.
The show is based on Jordan’s epic fantasy series spanning 14 books—15 if you count the prequel—with each entry well over 500 pages. For the uninitiated, the story follows Moiraine Damodred (Rosamund Pike), a member of the powerful all-female organization known as the Aes Sedai, on her quest to find the Dragon Reborn, a prophesied individual who will have the power to either save or break the world. Moiraine and her warder (Daniel Henney) reach Emond’s Field, a small and practically forgotten village, and together find five young adults (Josha Stradowski, Marcus Rutherford, Zoë Robins, Madeleine Madden, Barney Harris). One of them is the Dragon Reborn, though Moiraine does not know which of them it is.
Jordan’s world-building and carefully woven introduction demand more time than the first three episodes can provide. Although there are great moments of tension, especially between Moiraine and Nynaeve (Zoë Robins), the show rushes through each interaction, leaving viewers no time to properly absorb the outstanding performances. Even when their stories are not given enough time to develop, all the actors are skilled enough that the characters live up to their counterparts in the books. Still, the fast pace makes some of this drama and dialogue feel as uninspiring as a cheap young adult novel.
The show’s outstanding qualities lie in its nuanced and varied representation of female empowerment. From the first scene showing Moraine gearing up for her journey while in voice-over informing viewers that she is setting out to find the Dragon Reborn, it is clear that women run this fantasy world. During an action scene, a group of older women from Emond’s Field fight back against a Trolloc—a giant bestial servant of the Dark One, the story’s mysterious, evil antagonist. But the show doesn’t limit itself to the “strong female character” archetype. Rather, women populate the world as village wisdoms, blacksmiths, property owners, and of course, powerful sorceresses. This is an incredibly refreshing step away from male-dominated fantasy franchises such as The Lord of the Rings. The show’s female characters are also treated infinitely better than the overly sexualized women of Game of Thrones. Furthermore, in the books, the prophesied Dragon Reborn could only ever be a man. In the show, Moiraine suggests that the Dragon could be of any gender, amending the strict gender binary that permeates almost every aspect of Jordan’s world. Ultimately, The Wheel of Time holds much potential. Visually, the show is a true spectacle, with CGI magic and landscapes of epic proportions that elevate the show to a dazzling level of mysticism. But the true magic comes from the performances of the leading actors, especially of the women, who bring power and life to an otherwise clunky exposition. Hopefully, now that some of the foundation has been set, the show will grant its characters enough time to weave a story as compelling as the one Jordan penned.