It’s no exaggeration to say that longtime fans of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time novel series have been waiting for decades to see a film or TV adaptation of the series. Thanks to a number of different cogs turning in the right direction at the right moment, Amazon Prime is the avenue through which it finally occurred. Opening to overall critical acclaim and high viewership, the second season was approved before the first even aired, showing a commitment on the network’s part to bringing the series to life.
Yet, some of the changes made between book and show are what made it truly great, remaining true to the novels while pushing inclusion and enhancing ***** and gender elements to create something special. Modernizing a classic doesn’t always go well, but for Wheel of Time, it’s what makes the series click. All of the glorious world-building of the novels is intact, but by adding new elements to the interpersonal relationships and opening the door to exploring them, the series found its footing right off the bat. The fight scenes are epic, but the soap opera is what keeps us tuning in.
Rand al’Thor (Josha Stradowski) was the central protagonist of the books while the series is more interested in fleshing out the Aes Sedai Moiraine Damodred (Rosamund Pike). Traveling with her charismatic Warder al’Lan Mandragoran (Daniel Henney), the two seek out a mysterious unknown person referred to as “the Dragon Reborn.” Discovering a small town in which several youths in their early-to-mid-twenties fit the bill and exhibit impressive untapped abilities, Moiraine pledges to protect them and train them if needed. Naturally, this does not prove to be an easy feat, and the crew is not only forced to leave their village after a bloody massacre but they are quickly separated from one another.
The first love story of the series is the troubled but very real one between Rand and Egwene al’Vere (Madeleine Madden). Egwene is given the opportunity to train in the use of her special abilities, which would require her to leave Rand behind. When she tries to tell him that she’s made the choice to go, Rand smiles sadly, saying, “I know.” Later in the series, when he is given his heart’s desire in a tempting vision, it shows him with Egwene and their child. Heartbreakingly, he admits that he knows this isn’t the woman he loves, because while it’s what he wants, it’s not what she wants. Kicking off with an acknowledgment that love can often mean letting go, Rand embodies that lesson in his actions.
Though we’re led to believe that the Wisdom Nynaeve al’Meara (Zoe Robins) was killed in the bloodshed of the opening episode, she makes a comeback in a big way, brandishing a knife and threatening to kill Lan if he doesn’t take her to her friends. This complicated introduction doesn’t change the feelings of warmth that rapidly form between them, though she is significantly less fond of Moiraine. When he invites her to meet his family, she is moved, and the two seem to end the season on a hopeful note. For her part, Moiraine encourages the bond, while Lan likewise seems fond of Moiraine’s longtime secret affair with the Amyrlin Seat, Siuan Sanche (Sophie Okonedo).
Showing a childhood memory in which Siuan is cast away from her beloved father in order to train in the use of her powers, we immediately see someone who has been long forced to make tough personal decisions in favor of the greater good. That makes her and Moiraine the best and worst match, as Moiraine similarly denies herself in order to do the right thing. The two share an incredibly sweet scene, but it’s undercut with workplace tension, and the next day they are forced to say goodbye. Later in the series, the precognitive Min (Kae Alexander) tells Moiraine that the woman she loves is destined to bring about her destruction.
While the relationship between Nynaeve and Lan symbolizes hope, and the Moiraine and Siuan pairing seems to be full of complexity as yet untapped, the lost love of between Perrin Aybara (Marcus Rutherford) and his partner, the blacksmith Laila Dearn (Helena Westerman) shows the heartache of a couple that simply didn’t have enough time. When Perrin tragically kills her by accident during a battle in the first episode, he is so devastated that he can’t bring himself to tell anyone. Later, he is very clear that losing her has worn on him. When Rand is jealous of his bond with Egwene, Perrin snaps that he has only ever loved one person in that way, and she’s gone.
Another part of the complex emotions behind the performances is the relationships between the Aes Sedai and the Warders. Though not exclusively romantic in nature, these pairings are no act of coincidence. It might not be a love match, but Lan and Moiraine are attached at the hip. When she leaves him behind in hopes of sparing him, Lan suffers from the severance of their bond, insisting that she is what gave him a higher purpose.
Likewise, when Kerene Nagashi (Clare Perkins) perishes in a fight against Logain Ablar (Alvaro Morte), her Warder Stepin (Peter Franzen) is at a loss to cope with her death. While Lan desperately tries to talk his friend through it, Stepin is ultimately unable to recover. Meanwhile, tough the throuple between Alanna Mosvani (Priyanka Bose) and her Warders Maksim (Taylor Napier) and Ihvon (Emmanuel Imani) is explicitly sexual in nature, they are equally as tender and mutually admiring of one another. The three offer Stepin a place alongside them, but he remains so devoted to Kerene that he can’t go on.
As all these characters are defined by the love in their hearts, Mat Cauthon (Barney Harris) is lost due to his inability to see past his own selfish desires. Though Rand is a good friend to him and refuses to give up even well past his first betrayal, Mat is captivated by the evil he sees in the world and finds himself ill-equipped to combat it. Betraying his friends more than once, he is still not without a redemptive element as he cares for his young siblings at home. More than the others, he has reason to worry for being separated from the village, as his parents are ill-equipped to help them, making him their primary protector. Though he is easily corruptible, he is also defined by the love in his heart for his sisters, who he prioritizes well over his friends or even the fate of the world.
Displaying the many manifestations of love beyond the romantic is the great strength of the show. The bonds between the Aes Sedai and their Warders, the sympathy that Rand feels for Mat, the friendship between Egwene and Perrin, the comfort between Lan and Nynaeve, and the troubled workplace romance of Moiraine and Siuan are all very different manifestations of love, but by showing them for their truth in all their many forms, Wheel of Time ascends.
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This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Feature Image Credit: Maggie Lovitt/Amazon Studios.
Sara is a horror writer, a critic, a reporter, a filmmaker, and an artist that has written for many publications and platforms. She is the co-host of the Bitches On Comics podcast as well as the co-founder and editor of the Decoded Pride anthology which focuses on works of queer speculative fiction.