Minor spoilers ahead!
Seeing one of your favourite novels being adapted on screen can often lead to disappointment, and, so far, that has been especially true for fans of The Wheel of Time as Amazon continues to take shocking liberties with the books. But that has become a moot point. Instead, it may be best to examine the show as its own thing, inspired by Robert Jordan’s work, rather than an adaptation in the strict sense. And thankfully, if we look past the wild departures taken by the writers, the latest episodes of the second season of The Wheel of Time are much more promising.
The fourth episode picks up the pace and raises the stakes as our heroes face dire challenges. Moraine’s search for Rand takes her back to her childhood home in Cairhien, and the tensions between Moraine and her younger sister add much-needed complexity and nuance to Moiraine this season (because so far, practically all she’s done is ignore Lan and look secretive while reading books). Moiraine always acts according to her own instincts and beliefs, regardless of how it may affect those around her. In episodes four and five, we get to see just how—excuse the expression—badass she can be as she ruthlessly manipulates the false dragon Logain and slices an enemy’s throat without hesitation to save Rand.
Equally captivating are the interactions between Egwene and Elayne, which perfectly capture the essence of their relationship in the books. Along with Nynaeve, these women are taken captive by Liandrin (Kate Fleetwood), who—to no one’s surprise—turns out to be part of the Black Ajah, a secret Ajah consisting of Darkfriends. Though predictable, this twist is still well-executed and left me on the edge of my seat. Once again, the actors’ performances are by far the strongest aspect of the show, and Fleetwood masterfully portrays the Red Sister’s desperation, fury, and ruthlessness. The scene in which she hands over Egwene, Elayne, and Nynaeve to the Seanchan is truly chilling. Things happen very differently in the books, but still, Liandrin’s betrayal and the conflict with the Seanchan are some of the most evocative moments of the show thus far.
The show also portrays the Seanchan much better than I anticipated. From their first appearance, their army is imposing and terrifying, but we also get glimpses into their unique culture and the complex politics that frame these invaders’ actions. In short, the Seanchan are known for enslaving women who can channel, and the infamous scene when they collar Egwene is even more horrifying than in the books. The show is quite gory—and that’s good. The Wheel of Time can, at times, be very dark, and to see that aspect of the story highlighted not only raises the stakes but also helps set the show apart from the fantasy tradition from which it originates. For example, The Eye of the World, the first book in Robert Jordan’s series, is highly indebted to The Lord of the Rings, but the series distances itself from Tolkien’s work in subsequent instalments, and the show succeeds in doing the same.
Overall, though the show is equally sprawling and complex, it is beginning to feel more focused as it pays more attention to some key character moments. The opening episodes of the second season lacked setup. Why did Perrin decide to go after Padain Fain? How did Matt become imprisoned? What was Moiraine up to? Character motivations were almost non-existent. However, now that we are already halfway through the season and the plot is in full motion, the story seems to be finding its footing. The pacing has improved substantially, and the story feels more balanced. Most importantly, after being bored by the first three episodes and almost turning the show off completely, I finally feel invested in the characters. The show still has some weak threads; Lan is still just moping around, and Perrin’s interactions with Elyas and the wolves are underwhelming. Nevertheless, it is improving, and for the first time in a long while, I am actually looking forward to the next episode.