I’ve now seen this thing through to the bitter end, and will share my thoughts on the episode and the season for the vast array of very few people who might be interested. And everyone else can be relieved that I’ll stop subjecting you to these episode summaries for a good while!
I am curious how other book readers feel about this last episode of the season. It diverges the furthest yet from the books, and yet it is not the one that most irks me. I think I would pick out episode seven as the one that that irritated me most from the POV of diverging from depicting the most characters the least accurately, and also failures of world building that would not have required more money or time to do a better job of. At the same time, episode seven definitely had the best opening scene of the whole season. Action-packed, filmed well, and pertinent to plot, character, and world building.
Pretty much everything that happens in the last episode occurs differently than it does in the books, but I’m not particularly outraged by it, for a few different reasons. This section of the story is a complex thing in the book that goes on a while and there are honestly elements of it that I never completely grasped as a book reader. I don’t think it would work to attempt to portray everything that happens in a TV show, and certainly not in one episode. I think Jordan himself has admitted there are parts of Eye where he was still figuring out how the Power and other things worked, and some of those definitely occur in the climatic scenes. Trying to portray the events as happened in the books would only confuse viewers and take up unnecessary time.
There is one event in the TV show that is WTF and potentially problematic not just for adapting the books, but for maintaining dramatic tension in general, but I’ll discuss that more after the spoiler warning.
I also want to note a few things in fairness to the production. They had to work around some pretty major challenges. They filmed up to episode six or so prior to covid shutdowns. Then the actor playing Mat did not come back. (Salary, working conditions, I don’t think there’s really much info about there.) They hired a new actor for season two, but went ahead with the last two episodes of season one without the character When shooting started again there were a lot of restrictions for numbers of people working on scenes together and I think also loss of access to certain locations. Very likely there were late script changes to accommodate those things, but who knows. I heard they begged for 10 episodes but were only allowed eight. More episodes could only have helped. Amazon could probably have paid for them on my Covid season purchases alone. ;->
Photo by Rene Ranisch on Unsplash.
I think it’s also worth noting I’m not an experienced critic and have very little info for how making TV shows works. That said, in considering the first season as what was possible in the time and circumstances available, I think it still falls short. Most of the stuff I have taken issue with is a question of choices made in writing and visual design that would not have cost a lot more money or time to do a better job on. A reviewer I watched felt the shooting and editing of the last episode in particular was pretty poorly done. I’m not sure I’d have spotted that on my own, but I don’t disagree.
In the comments of my last post Grumpygnome101 wished the writing had been as good as on The Expanse. I certainly agree with that! Season one of The Expanse is a marvellous thing to me in that it is simultaneously the most faithful and the most creative adaptation I’ve yet seen. The events from the POV of the Canterbury crew and Miller are pretty much exactly what happens in the book. Everything else that happens was created for the show, but in keeping with the spirit of those characters/factions/etc. as depicted in later books. It would be a dream to have writers that talented on the Wheel of Time adaptation.
But the writing is not the only area in which The Expanse excels. I find it visually captivating. The way shots are lit and framed adds so much to the characterization and tension in the show. It’s just fantastic to look at. As I mentioned, I don’t normally notice that kind of thing, but every time I watch the show I’m mesmerized by the visuals. I’ve been compelled to do a few portrait paintings of the characters, and I typically shy away from doing fan stuff to either draw from life or use my own or freely available references.
In all my many years of reading this story and playing in the sandbox of the Wheel of Time world, I never bothered to see if there was any backstory about the writing of the story. Something I saw in an article about the show made me curious enough to do that. In his first imagining Jordan conceived the main character more like Tam al’Thor than Rand al’Thor in terms of age and experiences. Which current me thinks would have been super cool, but I also acknowledge that switching to a younger protagonist was probably a smart move from an attracting readers and sales POV. (I mean, I was a lot closer to that age when I first started reading the series and maybe would not have been as interested in reading about a middle aged man.)
If you are curious, you can read more about the Wheel of Time story that wasn’t. (Aliens! Sex! Violence!) I had heard about the fifth Beatle character that was deleted at the last minute and then forgotten about it, but that’s one interesting tidbit you’ll learn about reading that. NOTE: There is a great big whopper of a spoiler on that page. I mean a really big one that isn’t revealed into pretty late into the series. If you’re concerned, stop reading before the last paragraph of the section titled The Evolution of the Eye of the World. I don’t think it would have ruined it for me to know that (it’s not about a main character), but everyone’s tolerance for spoilers varies.
This non-spoilery part was interesting on a personal level:
“One of the more interesting things to emerge from this study was that Jordan’s notes was to learn that the notes were originally much looser and less-detailed until the writing of The Path of Daggers (1998). Between A Crown of Swords and The Path of Daggers Jordan seems to have written the majority of the most detailed notes on the series… and voluminous notes on dress, customs and military matters. These seem to have expanded from the notes that he’d provided Teresa Patterson for the world book and the glossary notes he’d been keeping since the first book in the series.”
I released versions 1.0 and 2.0 of the Wheel of Time Concordance in 1995, so I can’t help but be a bit curious as to whether he cribbed from it a bit to expand his cultural and military notes. ;->
I don’t think my as I watched notes go into extensive detail on how the episode differs from the books, but I might refer to a few things so for the sake of being thorough so I’ve put up a spoiler warning so you can bail now if you haven’t watched the episode or don’t want to know anything from the book version.
The visuals of the pre-Breaking world are pretty cool, and seem accurate to what I remember from the glimpses in the books. It essentially is a version of a modern or even sci fi world with magic.
The discussion with Lews Therin seems like quite a simplification of the events that lead up to the Breaking, but hard to do otherwise on TV. A lot of the information about this time and what happened is parcelled out in dribs and drabs over numerous books. It’s also not super relevant to most of the characters and events in the novels to know much about this in detail. It’s long forgotten legend to almost everyone in the books.
Why can’t more than one thing be going on? Why can’t Egwene (and Nynaeve) be a cause for excitement for Moiraine and the Aes Sedai without one of them having to be the Dragon? Because that’s exactly what happens in the books. I don’t mind that they’re presented as potential Dragons here, but they’re important in their own right for their strength of ability. (And other things as the series progresses.)
The other day I watched a Kickstarter funded movie that visualized a darkened creepy wilderness in a more interesting and evocative way than this show has done with the Blight.
Moiraine’s conversation with Rand about not being able to teach him to channel would have been a great time to point out that the two halves of the Source and how they are accessed are completely different for men than women. The book harps on this a lot. This may be poor writing, but it’s equally likely that the show is toning it down because the books harp on a little too much about divides of gender in general. I mean that emphasis was too much at the time when they were published, never mind now. But the Source does kind of have to be divided for one half of it to be tainted and one half not, so it’s weird to not keep this element and just tone down other areas of the gender divide emphasis.
Moraine’s story is very much an oversimplification of how to break blocks (inability to deliberately channel), but I guess I’ll accept it as another let’s make this short for TV thing.
Moiraine describes a sa’angreal as a reservoir of Power that people poured into it. That is what the Eye of the World is in the books. A clean reservoir of saidin, the male half of the Power. Angreal and sa’angreal are more like amplifiers that allow a person to draw more of the Power than they could otherwise unaided. There are a few super powerful ones. Most of them are plot points. So describing sa’angreal inaccurately now seems like a potential issue for later storylines.
Photo by Egor Vikhrev on Unsplash.
I don’t feel like I’m seeing much of Min’s playful joking side.
The Eye looks pretty darn creepy.
One unfortunate thing about having to condense down this storyline is that viewers are losing some moments of wonder and beauty from the novel. Cutting out the Green Man and his demesne very much makes sense, but would also would have been super cool to see on screen.
The level of unpreparedness for this battle is not very Shienaran. At least the attitude in the face of the situation is.
That is a damn a long sentence for a couple of kids to carve into a tree.
I think Rand’s vision battle is a decent way to condense down the main conflict. It’s not really what happens at the Eye in the books, but it fits in with other battles of will and temptations that Rand and other characters experience later in the story.
That’s a very literal interpretation of burning out…
There is a battle at Tarwin’s Gap simultaneous to the encounter at the Eye in the books. There is channeling used to decisively resolve that battle. Not in that way and not by those characters, however. I’m trying to decide how I feel about that. It’s a dramatic and emotionally affecting scene in the show. It is a moment that highlights the dangerous side of channeling and the power levels of Egwene and Nynaeve. (Though I think this is an area where framing and editing fell down. I don’t know if non-book readers spotted that Eg and Nyn have larger and more threads of Power running into them than the others.)
That said… WTF with the scene where Nynaeve takes the hit for Egwene, and then Egwene heals her. The first bit is in keeping with Nyn’s character, true enough. But are they saying Nynaeve was dead and Egwene Healed her back to life? I really hope they are not saying that, but it’s hard to look at the ruin of Nynaeve’s face and interpret it otherwise. The books are super abundantly clear that the one thing that could not be Healed, even in the Age of Legends, was death. Also Egwene is not a Healer. She’s got plenty of power and plenty of talents, no need to add more. Making Egwene talented at Healing dilutes it as Nynaeve’s super special ability. It’s also problematic from the POV of dramatic tension. If death can be Healed, even if only by a few characters, the stakes in a lot of situations are a lot lowered.
The other problem with that scene is if the women thought they could do anything close to that, why not go to Tarwin’s Gap with the soldiers and do it there in tandem with the warriors? A lot of lives must have been lost at the fortress when the Trollocs broke through. This is not an issue in the books because the channeling that happens in the books is a different character in different circumstances. Since the whole scene is made up couldn’t it have been made up any number of other ways?
What I played in high school band. Well not this exact one. Photo by Asher Legg on Unsplash.
Meanwhile, back at the literal castle, we have Padan Fain, Perrin, and the Horn of Valere. Of course this happened differently in the books, but is another thing that seems reasonable to trim down. It was probably meant to be Mat in these scenes rather than Perrin, but then the actor of Mat left. The one issue I see is if they introduce the Hunters of the Horn into the series it seems kind of weird that Shienar had it and knew they had it this whole time.
I have two other quibbles with this bit of the story. One is Padan Fain saying that Perrin is choosing the Dark when he picks up an axe to defend the Horn of Valere from the Dark. Enh? What’s the logic there? I mean admittedly an agent of the Dark doesn’t have to be speaking with logic or truth, but it seemed straight up weird to say it’s not reasonable to use violence to try to keep that very powerful artifact out of the hands of Dark agents.
Issue two is we don’t get to learn more about Padan Fain. I get this, but as with the Green Man, it’s a bit of a shame. Fain is a complex and in some ways sympathetic character, and this is a rare moment in the entire story where the main characters get to learn more about him. (And then sinisterly through him how the Dark has had its eye on these humble Two Rivers folk for some time.)
We see a guy in this episode wearing an eyepatch that I guess is maybe supposed to be Uno, but I hope we get to see Uno trying not to swear (and failing) on screen some time cause he is one of the minor characters that I enjoy a lot and would be easy to mine for humour.
There are a couple of interesting things that happen right at the end, but since the show is just hinting there, I will hold extensive comment until next season. One is the broken cuendillar. I get the impression they’re tying the thing which is broken to a place and will go on doing that with other places, which is an alteration from the books, but I don’t think I particularly object to that take.
Two, those people arriving by the sea. Lots to say about that another day. I did not think they were the ones with much ability (or interest) in using the Power to influence the weather, but it’s not too outside the box.
Picture of the Sophie’s Revenge from ReaperCon 2021. You can relate miniatures to anything if you work at it!