Hello! If you are one of my usual readers of this blog, I apologize that this post is not at all about miniature painting or miniatures. It is instead a record of my reaction to viewing the first episode in the Wheel of Time television series. I’d have written this as a Note on Facebook, but Facebook removed that capability, so I have resorted to writing my thoughts here for easy linking.
Thoughts on Wheel of Time Episode One
But first, a bit of background. This is also spoiler padding for those who haven’t watched the episode yet or aren’t at all familiar with the books. Before I was Rhonda Bender the moderately well known miniature painter and teacher, I was Rhonda Peters, moderately well known for running an online Wheel of Time based game and being something of an expert on the setting of the Wheel of Time. The WoT has a meticulously detailed world, which made it an excellent setting in which to base an online role-playing game. To that end I combed the first seven books for cultural details and listed them in a document I titled the Wheel of Time Concordance. It is still floating around the internet today, and I believe there are versions of it that have been expanded upon by others. (And I had definitely dropped the ball on finishing it up even for the books that were written at the time, so that’s pretty cool that others took on the work.)
A picture of my character on the game by Richard M. Boye who did a lot of fantastic WoT art.
I met the man who became my husband on the game, so in a sense because of the WoT books, so whatever else they are to me, they’re important for that fact alone. :->
Despite what those facts might lead you to believe, I wouldn’t say I’m a crazy WoT fan. I stopped reading after the publication of book nine or 10. I don’t have the best memory, so I typically reread the first books in a series when a new one is released, and that was turning into a lot of rereading, so I thought I’d just wait and do it in one go when the last book was released. (Between rereads and taking notes for the Concordance I probably read Eye of the World more than a dozen times, more than enough to be well tired of the ‘first third is a pastiche of LotR’ thing.) I didn’t get around to reading the whole series until a couple of years ago when I listened to it on audiobook. I like the series, and it has great personal meaning to my life, but I don’t know that the story itself is one of my favourite things ever.
In 1999 this was a super cool webpage graphic.
So I wouldn’t say I’m a crazed fanboy who has unrealistic expectations. I do get that a sprawling narrative like that will need to be condensed and adapted for the screen. I only watched the first couple of seasons of Game of Thrones, but I thought the people who made it did a great job of condensing and world building and so on. (I hear the last season maybe isn’t so great though. ;->) I think the TV adaptation of the Expanse is a marvel. The first season is simultaneous the most faithful and most innovative adaptation I’ve ever seen. So I wouldn’t say I’m someone who forms such strong mind pictures and expectations that I can never be satisfied by adaptations.
Okay, that’s enough spoiler padding, on to my reactions! This is written from notes I took real time as I was watching the show, but I also went back and scanned through the episode to check on some things.
Spoilers ahead, last chance to turn back!
What’s with this huge gaudy serpent ring? The books are very clear that it’s a simple gold band. Easy to take off and slip in a pocket or hold behind a fold of skirt if an Aes Sedai wants to be covert. The Ajah stone colour element is interesting, but that looks like a seriously impractical ring style to wear.
We don’t know if was reborn as a boy or a girl. Well, we do know actually. The Dragon is a man. The dragon has to be a man, since one of the major themes of the books is redressing the imbalance of magical power in the world that men cannot safely wield magic. The whole struggle of the Dragon is being the awaited saviour who is also feared for his ability to use the dreaded, tainted male half of magic. There are prophecies in every major region of the world about the very much male Dragon.
I am fairly open to revising race and gender in casting of adaptations of older material. I was delighted by the Liet Kynes casting in the new Dune! Gender is a big thing in the WoT books. It’s probably too much of a thing. Gender isn’t a blanket issue of social roles or abilities. Some countries have male rulers, some female, some either. There are strong female warriors. There are countries or regions where there are defined gender roles, but not in the world as a whole But whatever your job or ability, if you’re a man the mind of a woman is a foreign land you will never understand, and vice versa. Even the Source of magic is drawn in stark black and white lines of gender. Gender is an either/or proposition in a way that is problematic. So I get the show’s desire to dial that down a little, but it does throw off some theme elements and prophecies and such.
A scene of some Red Ajah Aes Sedai chasing some male channellers. Meh. I thought at first this was the capture of Logain, but apparently that happens in a later episode. If this scene is meant to explain the taint and the function of the Red Ajah I think it does a crappy job of it. It implies women kill men for horning in on magic. Also that this is done vigilante style, when there is law and procedure for the capture and trial of male channellers. Even if it doesn’t always happen that way in practice, it would happen that way if the Red sisters realized a Blue was standing there watching them.
Lan is not ugly. Not at all. Not even a little. I guess I can live with watching his not ugliness. And we eventually get to see a lot of how not ugly he is!
I think it’s just as well they didn’t even try to do the ‘ageless’ look of the Aes Sedai. Would probably just have ended up in the uncanny valley.
Egwene’s braid ceremony. I initially thought it was kind of cool to make more of a moment of the transition from girl to woman. Then Nynaeve pushed Egwene in the river and I was huh? The message here seems to be accept and work with the force of the river, which is how women work with their half of the magic power. But why is this here? None of them are training in the power yet for that point to need to be made to the viewer. Also one must infer that Nynaeve also went through this same ceremony, but one of Nynaeve’s major character arcs is learning to go with the flow instead of trying to control literally everything so that doesn’t make sense and I am thoroughly annoyed that this happened instead of some more useful world building or something.
Also we know there’s a woman’s circle, but nothing about the other half, the village council. Where’s the yang to the yin?
I never pictured fuzzy sweaters as existing in the WoT. But Robert Jordan never specifically told me they weren’t there, so okay, I’ll go with it. It’s super fuzzy though.
Why is the expository dialogue not expositing useful information? We’re going to see many times over that Rand loves Egwene, even just in this episode. Why not use this time to have Tam talk about some important background stuff? Time is a precious commodity when you’ve got source material with this many characters and events!
The Winespring seems too big, Two Rivers seems too big. Perrin seems much too small. Perrin should look like the Rock in stature. The expressions and demeanour are good though.
I do not yet want to punch this Mat in the face, so that’s one up on the books. ;->
“You’re married.” What the f—??
I yelled that exact sentence at my TV. I think this is the point where my husband became more absorbed in watching me watch the show than in watching it himself. ;->
Bran does not seem at all mayoral. The yang is still MIA.
Confused by how adulthood is determined. The four subjects of interest are all the same age in the show (20 I believe). Perrin is already married (WTF), but Egwene only just became a woman?
What is Perrin’s imaginary wife all pissy about? Does she have issues with Egwene? Is she wondering why no one older than 25 works at the very important to the village smithy? Why make her deal mysterious given that anyone who has read the books suspects she’s not going to exist by the end of the episode.
Mat’s parents suck, and he acts as the responsible adult to his much younger sisters. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this change. On the one hand, it gives Mat a bit more complexity and backstory and some reasons for what he does and who he is. But one of his major character arcs is being the guy who hates being at all responsible but having increasingly significant responsibilities thrust upon him. How do we see that if he starts out being responsible?
The premarital sex and general nudity don’t jibe with the books (at least for these characters and this place), but I get it, gotta compete with GoT and Witcher. And honestly it’s pretty tame compared to those, and no awkward sexposition.
The actor for Egwene fits well for me. Not as sure about Nynaeve. She’s not nearly tightly wound enough.
Having people crowd around Padan Fain to hear his news of the world is another missed opportunity to do some world building.
Nynaeve’s conversation with Moiraine implies she knows that listening to the wind and using the power like an Aes Sedai are the same thing, but her struggle with learning and accepting that is an important character arc in the books. Maybe there isn’t time for that in the story.
I did not love the story Nynaeve tells about the old Wisdom traveling to the Tower and being turned away for being poor and humble in background. The Aes Sedai do not care squat about any of that. They’re supposed to give up all previous allegiances and ties, and for the most part most do. Their hierarchy is primarily based on magical capability – a magically stronger former scullery maid would rank over a weaker noble-born woman. I’m not saying that’s a better sort of prejudice, but it’s the one they actually have in the books.
Trollocs do not artfully arrange their dinner leftovers, but it’s a cool visual of the Dragon’s Fang.
I’m sure the fact that reincarnation is a big thing in this world will be well established. Tam and Rand’s talk was another missed moment for some backstory. The lantern scenes make for a nice moment though.
Padan Fain’s nonchalance during the Trolloc attack is fantastic foreshadowing. Jordan is the master of foreshadowing, I think he would approve of this at least.
Trollocs seem spot on.
The heron-mark blade! And Tam wielding it like a BA former blademaster. Easier conveyed on screen than in the text of the books and an awesome moment.
Lan and Moiraine fighting in unison – definitely a cool moment!
Defiant stubborn as rocks Two River folk telling a Trolloc to come get some – now that’s some good world building through visuals.
A Trolloc carries off Nynaeve. Um, what? We will see if this seems less stupid in future episodes. In the book the fact that she leaves on her own to follow the group establishes a fair number of character elements, including her competence in general woodland survival that piques a certain not ugly gentleman’s interest.
Did they just make Perrin kill the imaginary wife they gave him? WTF again! They created this character just to fridge her. I sort of get it as a short-hand way to establish that Perrin is (will become) someone who controls himself really tightly for fear of hurting someone since he’s bigger and tougher than most people. Why not have him accidentally kill Master or Mistress Luhhan instead of writing them out and adding an imaginary wife? Also now I’ll never know why the imaginary wife dissed Egwene by skipping her imaginary braid ceremony.
Moiraine showing us why they call it the Power!
But why destroy the Winespring, ack!
On first watch I thought the way Moraine convinced the kids to leave town was not handled that well, but on second thought and given the constraints of time, I get it.
Where’s Thom!? I imagine he’ll be introduced in a later episode, and I sort of get that, but he is missed from this beginning. Also from the preview I saw the actor is not nearly old enough, so I’ll go ahead and gripe about that now. The WoT has a surfeit of characters barely out of their teens in important roles doing important things. White haired and slightly creaky Thom was a welcome addition to the gang.
A diverse Two Rivers. I’m waffling on this. On the one hand, I’m pro adding diversity to adaptions of things that were written way too white. (See again: Liet Kynes in the new Dune movie. And also a more desert dwelling looking Chani than palest of the pale Sean Young from the 1984 version.) On the other hand, the main WoT world is written with diversity, but this is concentrated geographically. (Lan is not colour blind casting, he’s cast to match the depiction of people from his region.) The average citizens of various nations have different racial appearances. The Two Rivers (at this point in the story) is a very isolated town in a predominately white nation. (By contrast, there is another continent is written as more homogeneously racially diverse.) On the third hand, while all of that is true, the majority of the main characters are white in the books and minor characters are only going to get more minor still with the constraints of adaptation, and it’s probably not a super important bit of world building. I hope variations in styles of clothing, architecture, and so on will be included, however!
Speaking of – the clothes of the people we did see seem a little off-book. Moiraine’s attire didn’t stand out as being as much better than the Two Rivers folk as it should have.
But most importantly – Bela! On screen but unnamed? Hopefully not forgotten!
And that does it for episode one, whew!