The second season of Amazon Prime’s The Wheel of Time series ended a few weeks ago so I thought a short review might be in order as well as a few thoughts on the whole process of adapting fiction to TV. (Caution: There will be mild spoilers for the first two seasons, but not the book series.)
I am a fan of the books. I am on book eight of fourteen in my most recent re-read. I am also a fan of the TV series. I really enjoyed the first season and loved the second season. I do find the show has several faults, but they’re not usually problems with adaptation and rather the way the show often rushes to encompass the mammoth story of the novels and compress them into eight seasons of eight hour-long episodes each. It’s like those pants you bought in the summer when you were out and active. They fit fine then, but after the winter holidays and all those large meals and second desserts, everything still squeezes in, but it doesn’t look as nice, or feel as comfortable. You can’t hope to take fourteen 700+ page books and condense them into 64 hour-long episodes of TV and not have things bulging here and there.
So, I am forgiving to the show writers for the constraints they are under, but also appreciative of how they trying to retell this story in a new way in a new medium with very strict limitations. And I understand, from watching and reading reactions and reviews and the comments to them, that some people hate the show for all the reasons that I enjoy it.
I loved Nynaeve’s journey this season. The agony of the arches. Forgetting herself in the final arch to live the life she really wants, and to abandon that to save her child, who ceases to exist the moment she steps back into the “real” world. To carry that loss and to question who she is and what she desires in every subsequent scene. I loved that and it made sense to me in the final episode, after essentially torturing a Seanchan Damane for Egwene’s whereabouts, that she would not be able to channel to heal Elayne from an arrow strike. She is questioning who she is and what she has done and she is too afraid of who she has become, or might become — how far she has strayed from her idyllic life in the arches — to be angry enough to channel. I and I hope this will carry through into the next season and motivate her to be clear on who she is and what she wants so she can get past her block (which I thought too far too long in the novels).
I liked the mirroring of this question of self and purpose in Moiraine and Lan’s stories. Blocked from the true source and unable to channel, Moiraine has to discover who she is again. She can’t be what she was, but she can still dedicate herself to her purpose, even if she is not whole. But she mistakes what made her whole, pushing Lan away for fear she cannot be what she was for him and not wanting to ask him to follower her in what she perceives as her weakness. And Lan needs to discover who he is without Moiraine. What is his purpose? He finally recognizes that this his purpose is found in supporting her no matter what, and in doing so he finds a way to help her be whole again.
I like those conflicts and the ways they played out. I also loved Egwene’s story. Falling prisoner to the Seanchan and being enslaved for her powers. And her determination to seek vengeance and free herself even as her will is bent again and again. Bent but not broken. And when she does free herself, it is by crossing a line that will inevitably haunt and shape her.
The story of Rand falling for Selene only to discover that she is Lanfear felt perfect to me. A young man wooed by an older woman, someone he sees as a lover and a mentor, only to discover that she is the opposite of everything she presented herself to be is heartbreakingly good. And I appreciated that Lanfear wants Rand to love her but can’t realize that if only she could be like ‘Selene’ he would love her. That’s pleasing irony. I would have liked more of Rand on screen, but I always felt the books didn’t have enough Rand time as well.
Perrin and Mat’s stories were not as strong in this season, but that’s to be expected as they were not as compelling in the books at this stage either (at least not for me). Both storylines should evolve and expand in the next season based on what the showrunner, Rafe Judkins, has said about using book 4 as the source for season three. That said, I loved Perrin’s relationship with Hopper and how he brings Aviendha into the story. And I really enjoyed Mat’s journey with Min, her betrayal and confession, and his acceptance of his true nature after blowing the horn of Valere.
There are a bunch of other aspects of the show I appreciated, especially deepening the characters of the villains Lanfear, Ishamael, and Liandrin. I finally understood their desires and motivations and why they would swear themselves to the dark one.
So, I really liked season two. A lot. I look forward to watching it again. But I also have a few thoughts on why some people despise the show so much. Most of the people who hate the show tend to be people who really love the books. But then some book lovers also love the show. Like me. I think the differences lie in what we love about the books and why.
Most fans of The Wheel of Time novels love the story (what happens), the characters (who the story happens to), the plot (how the story happens), and the lore (the worldbuilding that supports the story). The TV show carries the same general story and characters with the same traits and motivations, and usually the same lore, but it diverges greatly in the plot, the how things happen. For some of us, the plot is not as important as the story and characters. Some people really love the plot of the books and deviations from it are hard or impossible for them to appreciate. They usually feel the same about deviations from the lore.
I often read comments from fans who hate the show and suggest that all the show writers needed to do was cut things from the plot of the books to make the show work. But I think that is mistaken. The plot of the books is massive, and for me, often meandering. I don’t think you could just cut things from it and have it make sense. While I think Jordan could have told the story in eight or even ten books, I think it’s fourteen because the plotting got so dense. The only way I can see to transform the story for a new medium at a significantly shorter length, is to retell it with a new plot, and sometimes new or combined characters. And for me, since I found the plot of the novels problematic in its lack of focus, I tend to really enjoy the retelling of the TV show. Seeing how they are taking key character moments and plot points and reshaping them for this leaner version of the story is pleasing.
I hope Wheel of Time gets its predicted eight seasons of eight hour-long episodes. They wisely started to cheat a bit this season making the episodes closer to an hour and eight minutes on average, sneaking in a whole 57 more minutes of storytelling. By contrast, Game of Thrones got 73 episodes, several of which ran an hour and twenty minutes (with seven books, only five of which have been released!). If Amazon had any sense, they would at least make each episode an hour and thirty minutes so the scenes could breathe a bit and we could come back to characters more often in the same location. They’ve built all these great sets, it would be cost effective to use them more. But I know I’m daydreaming. There is no way for the Amazon Algorithm to recommend that, so we’ll never get it.
That’s it. That’s my rambling review and ruminations on The Wheel of Time. Maybe I’ll write a review of the book series once I get back to and finish the last five novels.