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The Wheel of Time - Episodes 1-3 - Review

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The Wheel of Time is the next big fantasy adaptation hitting our screens, this time hailing from Amazon Prime. It is an adaptation of Robert Jordan's whopping 14 book series (plus a prequel novel and two companion books) and has already been renewed for a second season. 

I just want to get the Game of Thrones mention out of the way early so I never have to bring it up again. Reviewers across the internet have been mercilessly comparing the two - and always, it seems, to The Wheel of Time's detriment. The Guardian even calls it Jeff Bezos' Game of Thrones. Now, I never got the hype around Game of Thrones, having given up on it in the beginning of the fifth season so when all these reviewers address the question of whether Wheel of Time is the next Game of Thrones, my answer is no because it's better. And thank god for that because the world does not need another Game of Thrones. 

Anyway, with that business out of the way, onto the show itself!

The show begins with some exposition on the Dragon, a man who went mad and brought about the breaking of the world. Now this man has been reborn and Moiraine (played by the ever engimatic Rosamund Pike), a member of the Aes Sedai consisting of women who channel magic, sets out to find the Dragon Reborn, though she doesn't know who they are or where to go. 

Alongside her Warder, Lan Mandragoran (Daniel Henney), her search takes her to a little mountain town known as Two Rivers. Here, we are introduced to the rest of the main cast we'll be following throughout this series all of whom Moiraine suspects may be the Dragon Reborn. Rand al'Thor (Josha Stradowski) is the quintessential fantasy farm boy who is so far the least riveting of the main cast, which is a fancy way of saying he's kind of boring. He dreams of a normal, happy life and he's horribly lovesick for Egwene al'Vere (Madeleine Madden) who has just undegone a rite of womanhood at the hands of village Wisdom Nynaeve al'Meara (Zoe Robins). 

The rest of the young cast is rounded out by Perrin Aybara (Marcus Rutherford) and Mat Cauthon (Barney Harris). These two have been given different backstories to what they have in the books, I assume in an effort to make them more than Rand's two best friends, seeing as that's what they mostly amounted to in the first book of the series. Due to the aging up of the characters, Perrin has been given a wife who gets fridged at the end of the pilot to really give him something to angst over for the next seven episodes. It's understandable to an extent as to why they did it, as a way of giving his introspective character arc an immediate external force but a fridged wife? In a show that is supposedly championing women and the significance of their roles in this world? Probably not the smartest choice. 

Mat Cauthon meanwhile has been given a fairly tragic family background with a couple of neglectful parents, the mother basically ignoring him, writing him off as being bound to end up like his waste of space father. It almost makes sense, as he seems like a pretty directionless gambler and thief but then he also seems to have basically raised his little sisters and he is wholly dedicated to loving them, protecting them and making their lives better. Barney Harris does an impressive turn in these first three episodes at encapsulating Mat in all his complex glory, doing wondrous things with just his body language and his eyes. It's a tragedy that he's been replaced by Donal Finn from the second season onward so I guess we'll just have to enjoy Harris' interpretation and hope Finn can rise to the challenge set by his predecessor. 

The first episode is mostly concerned with setting up the relationships and dynamics between Rand, Egwene, Nynaeve, Mat and Perrin against the backdrop of Bel Tyne, a festival the Two Rivers celebrates annually. Alas, the celebrations are interrupted by the arrival of Trollocs, monstrous beings that kind of look like minotaurs. They tear apart the entire village, during which Perrin accidentally kills his wife and Nynaeve is dragged off by one of the Trollocs after a particularly badass scream of fury as she tried to murder it with a pretty small knife, cementing her as a favourite of mine alongside Mat. Moiraine then informs them that one of them is the Dragon Reborn who is the only one who has the power to defeat the slowly reawakening Dark One.

The second episode follows the group as they work tirelessly to stay ahead of the army of Trollocs chasing them, led by a seriously creepy Fade with a very disturbing set of teeth. There's a couple of iconic sequences from the book in this episode, including Taren Ferry and Shadar Logoth. There's some interesting character development in this episode as well. Egwene learns from Moiraine that she has the potential to channel magic, Perrin gets licked by a wolf and Rand has a very disturbing dream about a bat being stuck in his throat, a callback to a scene in the book which features dead rats. We learn all the potential candidates for the Dragon Reborn had this dream with Perrin also mentioning a man with embers for eyes. This concerns Moiraine greatly and warns them that dreams have power.

They continue their journey to the White Tower through Shadar Logoth. They take the time to rest, lulled into a false sense of security. Mat gives Perrin a dagger made by his wife in a touching and heartfelt scene and then proceeds to go get himself a new dagger, completely ignoring Lan's warnings not to touch anything. This is a pretty recognisable moment for book fans despite a few changes from the source material though I think the interpretation worked out pretty well. That black creepy substance was suitably terrifying after seeing it reduce a horse to ash in a visceral moment. Our travelling heroes soon find themselves separated. Egwene and Perrin jump off the battlements into the river, Rand and Mat escape through a broken grating in the wall and Lan and Moiraine ride away on horseback, ultimately confronted by Nynaeve who is revealed to still be alive. 

The third episode splits to showcase each group's individual journey. Egwene and Perrin get the short end of the stick in terms of screentime, not doing much other than be herded by wolves and run into a roaming group known as the Tuatha'an, or Tinkers. It is rather touching that Egwene and Rand both end up forging on to the White Tower because they believe that's where the other will go. Their love story however does feel more like a break up where two people are holding onto something that's long gone but it's sweet nonetheless. 

Rand and Mat meanwhile end up in a mining town where they meet barkeep Dana and Thom Merrilin who instantly became one of my favourite characters just because of his singing voice. I could listen to him for hours on end. He is the epitomy of the gruff, worldly rogue and his scenes pretty much stole the episode for me. Hopefully future episodes build on the dynamic between him and Mat because the scenes they shared over the body of the Aiel was a great way to provide more lore on the world as well as giving us some more insight into Thom and Mat's characters.

Rand spends his time bonding with Dana who is revealed to be a Darkfriend who wants to bring Rand and Mat to the Dark One. I'll admit her conviction about how the Dark One wants the Dragon to save the world almost had me believing in their cause. It was delivered so earnestly and with such passion that she really didn't seem like a bad person at all which was a great way to add some depth and humanity to the forces of evil our heroes are fighting against. She ends up killed by Thom who does his best paraphrasing of the Terminator as he basically tells Rand and Mat to come with him if they want to live. 

Meanwhile Lan and Nynaeve engage in some verbal and physical sparring as she reluctantly agrees to help Moiraine who spends the majority of the episode unconscious. I'm pretty sure that if the two of them had been keeping score that Nynaeve would have come out on top. After Moiraine regains some form of consciousness they head back out onto the road where they come across the Red Ajah who were last seen hunting down a male channeler of the saidin in the beginning of the pilot episode. They have apprehended someone claiming to be the Dragon Reborn which is where the episode ends. The x-ray trivia bar on Amazon Prime reveals him to be Logain Ablar which is exciting news for book readers and mysterious news for those new to the world. Either way, the show is gearing up for some exciting times ahead. 

I was suitably impressed with these opening episodes. I'd read various advance reviews on the days leading up to the premiere and opinions had been less than stellar so I was anticipating something I wouldn't enjoy. Granted, the world is on the surface the generic medieval fantasy of an unsuspecting young hero living on a farm in the middle of nowhere and follows a lot of the classic fantasy archetypes from monstrous villains just so there's a body count that doesn't make people uncomfortable to a mysterious cookie cutter evil presence. 

The scenery though is jaw-droppingly beautiful and a lot of effort has gone into diversifying the cast. In episode 3, Dana makes a throwaway comment about Rand and Mat's relationship that helps to normalise the prospect of LGBT relationships in the world and it's made even better by Rand's fairly savage response delivered with all the doe-eyed quality of a newborn lamb. He certainly doesn't seem very competent right now but hopefully as the show goes on, he becomes more magnetic as a character or he's in danger of being left behind. 

Overall this show did a lot to scratch that fantasy itch of mine. There were some changes from the source material but I think it works mostly in the show's benefit and I'm looking forward to seeing where they go from here. 

What did you think of the first three episodes of Wheel of Time? Are you readers of the books? If not, are you thinking of picking up a copy now? Sound off in the comments below!

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