After four years of relative quiet, excitement for the Wheel of Time is surging again thanks to the forthcoming TV show, scheduled for a 2020 or 2021 release on Amazon Prime. We know very little about the creative direction the show will take, but we know it left a positive impression on Brandon Sanderson, who recently shared his admiration for both the first two episode scripts, and for Rafe Judkins, the executive producer, writer, and showrunner.
And, of course, there was a bit of excitement last week when Rafe and the studio announced that Rosamund Pike would be playing Moiraine.
So what else can we expect from the forthcoming TV show? Here are my best guesses.
First, some disclaimers: I have no involvement with the forthcoming TV show, although I've been in touch with some of the folks at Amazon. Before that, from around 2005-2011, I was a consultant to Red Eagle Entertainment, the group that originally acquired the rights to the series and remains executive producers on the show (though the scope of their creative involvement is unknown.) Back then I was heavily involved in the creation of outlines and story treatments for a potential theatrical film release.
That project fizzled, but it helped familiarize me with the scale that the executives were going for at the time, and how the thinking has evolved over the years. While none of that makes me an expert in the TV effort, the ideas below come from a reasonably well-informed position.
Without further ado, here are the Top 5 things I think we can expect to see in the Wheel of Time TV show.
We all know that Amazon's Wheel of Time show, along with a million other TV shows, are going for the, er, throne, that Game of Thrones until recently occupied. GoT succeeded for many reasons, and one of those reasons was that it didn't pull any punches. The WoT books are full of battles and romance, but in a strictly PG-13 manner. I expect to see the WoT TV show dive into the sex and battles more (especially the One Power battles). It'll help sell the show to a wider, more general audience that's hungry for adult fantasy.
This idea is further confirmed by a casting call notice from last April that the show was seeking two female actresses to play characters named “Eliza” and “Nadie” (probably code names for Egwene and Nynaeve) that would require scenes of a sexual nature and partial nudity. It could be just a rumor, but the original source has a decent track record of accurate information, including correctly revealing Rosamund's role in the production before the official announcement.
All this is to say, don't be surprised if we see the Two Rivers characters, and others, getting busy on screen.
8-10 episodes, focused on Eye of the World
Amazon and Rafe haven't announced the official number of episodes, but we know each one will be an hour long. 8-10 episodes is consistent with other Amazon Originals in recent years. WoT could certainly receive more than 10, but I think it's a stretch that it'll happen that way for the first season, especially since the episode budgets could quickly balloon with visual effects.
As for whether or not we'll see more than The Eye of the World portrayed on screen in season 1: Rafe has already said the show will pull from everywhere as needed, but I believe the main season arc will focus on the flights from the Two Rivers, leading ultimately to the Blight, where the season finale will focus on the Eye itself. A fan asked Rafe this question on Twitter and he gave a short, cryptic response:
[Fan]: Hello Rafe, Do you anticipate Season 1 taking up Eye of the World and season 2 being The Great Hunt?
[Rafe]: Yes and no
The main argument for season1 focusing on book 1 comes down to the fact that if you pull too much from book 2 and beyond, it's just too much to develop and get a general audience to buy into. In 8-10 episodes they already need to introduce a complicated world and backstory, 7 major protagonists, 3-5 major antagonists (Fain, Ba'alzamon, Whitecloaks), trollocs, Aes Sedai, and so on. Once you add in the Horn of Valere and the Seanchan, it simply becomes too much, too soon. The whole “Hunt for the Horn” makes great season 2 material, and possibly getting into book 3 depending on how many episodes get greenlit.
Yes, there are lots of ways to skin a cat, but it feels right to do season 1 = book 1, just like Game of Thrones did to great success.
Expanding Secondary characters...and maybe a few big omissions
Since the project was green-lit last October, there's been nonstop talk that Moiraine will be the focus of the series, or, at least of season 1. We don't know how that will play out, of course, but it's likely that all the attention on her in the press releases has been due to the fact that Rafe and company have planned to cast a big-name actress for that role from the very start. She (and Lan) are the most logical choices for bringing brand-name actors on board in order to reach a wider audience. I expect we'll get into their backstories sooner than the books do, and also deeper into the Aes Sedai / Warder connection. I don't think we'll be seeing lengthy, full-episode New Spring flashbacks, per se, but pulling from Moiraine's younger years wouldn't surprise me either.
Rafe has also stated that he plans to expand Logain's character, which is a great idea. Seeing more Logain allows us to see male channelers before Rand really gets going. If you buy into the earlier idea that season 1 will focus on Eye of the World , then that means they have 8-10 hours to explore the first book, which is plenty of time to expand on a brooding false Dragon. I have a hunch he might steal the show early on with his charisma and power.
Other expanded roles that we're likely to see: the Children of the Light (Geofram Bornhald would make a great bad guy), Elyas, Hopper and the other wolves, the Tinkers (Aram?), and Padan Fain.
The jury's still out on what the production plans to do with Min, Thom, Elyane, Galad, Gawyn, and Loial. All of those except Thom and Loial only have cameo roles in the first book, so I suspect they will either get expanded roles in season 1, or possibly... sorry... get cut from the season. I know, I know. It's hard to imagine a WoT show without Elyane or Min. But everything's fair game, people! Maybe if Moiraine leads everyone to Tar Valon instead of Caemlyn, then the writers can easily introduce Elayne and her brothers being there for training. Logain can also be gentled there, which would give us introductions to Elaida and the Amyrlin Seat all in one nice location that's visually amazing to look at. Or maybe those secondary characters: Min, Elayne, etc, are introduced in the second season.
Less Binary Evil
The Eye of the World was written in the late 1980's and published in early 1990. Robert Jordan intentionally designed the opening to resemble Lord of the Rings, with its dark riders and quiet, idealistic rural countryside, and then flipped everyone's expectations after Shadar Logoth. At the time this approach was groundbreaking, and where he takes the sequels is still, to this day, original and remarkable. But many of the ideas in the first book have been copied and done many time since by a lot of writers, and the result is that the binary “good farmboys vs a pure evil Dark One” isn't going to cut it with a general audience anymore. Rafe touched on this subject during his Twitter Q&A:
"I think most people would say [the central/key/core conflict of the series is] light vs. dark, but I'd actually say [that it's] balance vs. imbalance."
The easy solution is to introduce more nuanced antagonists as early as possible. The Whitecloaks, Elaida, and even Padan Fain (who could hold onto a shred of his humanity, perhaps?) offer opportunities to craft bad guys who have somewhat relatable (or at least understandable) motivations beyond simply wanting the world destroyed. I doubt we'll see many of the Forsaken besides Ba'alzamon in the first season (unless by flashback), but if we do, I wouldn't be surprised if they became less pure-evil as well. Robert Jordan's Forsaken, while interesting and fun, were admittedly somewhat flat until Asmodean arrived on the scene. (Lanfear / Selene is a possible exception, but I would be stunned if she had a role in season 1. She could be a big-name actress they could bring in for season 2)
Finally, expect the Wheel of Time TV show to double down on its diverseity of characters and relationships. Rafe has been very public about this, stating outright that this is an important theme to him.
“I think that gender is such a key theme of the books, and discussing gender without a full representation of LGBTQ+ people would be a disservice to that discussion. Rest assured, their will be pillow friends out the wazoo.”
“I'm a feminist and it's very important to me that the show is feminist in today's context.”
The most obvious place we're likely to see changes is in the romantic relationships. While I don't think we'll see Rand and Perrin kissing each other (imagine those ‘shipping debates! Can I coin the term “Rarrin”? “Perrand”?) it wouldn't shock me if Egwene, Moiraine, Elyas, Aram, Galad, or Logain became involved in same-sex relationships. (Besides, did any of you really, really, totally buy the Moiraine-Thom romance from the books?) Some of these might not blossom in season 1, but certainly could later.
We're also more likely to see wider racial diversity in the cast. I know Robert Jordan is very specific with his descriptions of every character and culture, but when it comes to adaptations like this, nothing is guaranteed. Rafe and his team already cast a “tall Moiraine”, so who knows, right?
Take a look at this script excerpt Rafe shared on Twitter last August, which points this out on the very first page:
[A QUICK NOTE: race in the world of Wheel of Time is much less defined than in our world.
As much as possible, our cast should look like America will in a few hundred years -- a beautiful mix of white, brown, black and everything in between]
The Eye of the World portrays all seven of the main characters (the five Two Rivers people + Moiraine and Lan) as light-skinned. Add in Elayne, her brothers, and Min, and we have a whole lot of similar-looking characters. This is in fact a trend throughout the books. Sure there's differences between the Cairhien and Andorans, but it isn't really until later books where we see the Seanchan (especially Tuon), the Sea Folk, Faile, and some of the western nations with more racial diversity. (An exception to this is the Shienarans, who appear at the end of the first book. )
Here's what Rafe had to say about this when questioned by a fan on Twitter:
“I really want to stay true to the books in creating a world that feels way more diverse than what we're used to seeing in our fantasy tv shows”
I know we could all debate what certain characters look like for days and weeks, but that also sort of supports my point that there's plenty of room for interpretation, especially as we move away from the Two Rivers. My hunch is that the Emond's Fielders will look a lot like what we expect, but beyond that, there will be more racial diversity. Logain, Elyas, Siuan Sanche, and the Shienarans are all easy candidates for looking different than Robert Jordan perhaps portrayed them.
The books are great... why change all this?
Everyone knows that TV and movie adaptations bring changes, and passionate fans like you and I are likely to scratch our heads and wonder why they'd change something when it works well on the page. As discussed above, the first book in this series was written 30 years before its TV adaptation release, and audience expectations have changed since then. We also have the hindsight now to understand what works in the books, and what could stand to be better. (Do you really think they'll have Perrin spend three seasons trying to rescue Faile?)
I'm looking at this TV show as a fresh turn of the Wheel. The Third Age that I read about in the books has passed, and been reborn now that the Wheel has turned all the way around. With every coming of an Age, it's the same story again, yet different. While this may not be the official explanation from the show's producers, I think it's a good way to look at it. We'll always have the books to return to: those aren't going anywhere. By allowing ourselves to accept changes from book to screen, even ones we don't fully like, we open ourselves to having a better experience. I, for one, and beyond excited to see what Rafe and his team do.
So what do you think? Leave a comment below, or discuss it on our Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram channels. What do you think we should expect from the upcoming Wheel of Time show?