I hate to sound like a book purist, but the first three episodes of the long-awaited second season of The Wheel of Time had me screaming, ‘None of this happens in the books!’ way too many times. Perhaps I should have expected this from Amazon, who is notorious for mangling fantasy adaptations, but the first season of The Wheel of Time, despite its problems, had real potential, with its charming cast, careful worldbuilding, and attention to female perspectives.
After the battle at the Eye of the World at the end of the first season, the Emond’s Field Five (Rand, Egwene, Nynaeve, Matt, and Perrin), the Aes Sedai Moiraine, and her warder Lan were all separated from each other. Upon discovering that he is the Dragon Reborn, Rand abandoned his companions, letting them believe he was dead, and now lives in Cairhien with Selene, a mysterious innkeeper. Mat has been imprisoned in the White Tower, where Egwene and Nynaeve are now training to become Aes Sedai, while Perrin has joined the hunt for the Horn of Valere. Meanwhile, Moiraine reels at the loss of her powers and her uncertain relationship with her warder.
If that seems like a lot of ground to cover, that’s because it is. Robert Jordan wrote fourteen books (fifteen if you count the prequel), so major changes are to be expected to make the narrative accessible to mainstream audiences. What baffles me, however, is that some changes seem to make the story more complicated and unfocused. Almost everyone apart from Egwene and Nynaeve is not where they should be, and though separating the characters allows each of them to shine individually, it forces the show to clumsily jump between characters and places at breakneck speed and undercuts the dynamics the previous season established. And covering so many locations leaves no time to properly establish the character of each place and help us situate ourselves in this world. We are simply jumping between generic fantasy locations—and whether this is a dark forest, a muggy tavern, or a bustling city hardly matters.
The pacing also suffers due to the breadth of material to be covered. At times, it feels like the writers are too impatient to get to some of the ‘good stuff’ that happens later in the series, fumbling the necessary build-up and exposition to make emotional moments actually impactful. Crucial worldbuilding details are left out of explained in a rushed, superficial manner (the Horn of Valere is a focal point of the story at this stage, yet the show barely explains its significance), and some important characters, like Selene (Natasha O’Keeffe), just randomly appear. At other times, however, the show is an absolute drag; some scenes that do not appear in the books, such as the moments in the dungeons of the White Tower, last for a questionably long time and feel incredibly repetitive.
But the show has not completely lost me, and that is due to the cast’s stellar performances. Josha Stradowski portrays the turmoil that comes with being the Dragon Reborn with powerful poignancy, leaving us torn between pitying and fearing him, and Rosamund Pike continues to be the perfect Moiraine with her gracefulness and impetuousness. I look forward to seeing more from the new additions, like Selene and Elayne (Ceara Coveney), though their introductions were rushed and underwhelming compared to the book. The true standout of the season so far, however, is Zoe Robbins’ performance as Nynaeve. In the third episode, as part of her training in the White Tower, Nynaeve must step into a Ter’angreal (in this case, it’s a magical arch that forces her to face her greatest fears), and her anguished screams when she sees herself losing her loved ones were equally unsettling and heartbreaking.
The Wheel of Time also had the difficult task of recasting a main character after Barney Harris left the show for unknown reasons. Harris’ departure was incredibly disappointing as he portrayed the sarcastic gambler perfectly, but fortunately, Dónal Finn gives a promising performance so far, and I look forward to seeing more of him in the following episodes.
The Great Hunt—the second tome of The Wheel of Time on which the new season is based— is one of the best volumes of the series, and though the show is startingly uneven, it can still rise above its faults and due justice to this great novel. Given Amazon’s history with fantasy adaptations, I fear the messy pacing and worldbuilding may not be resolved any time soon. But I hope to be proven wrong.