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Werthead

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  1. Adam Whitehead is Dragonmount's TV blogger. Adam has been writing about film, video games and television, The Wheel of Time, and other genre fiction for over fifteen years. Be sure to check out his websites, The Wertzone and Atlas of Ice and Fire (including The Wheel of Time Atlas!) as well as his Patreon. Please note this article contains very mild spoilers for The Wheel of Time novels. Way back in the day, the video game industry got surprising mileage out of video games based on novels. Cheaper than licencing actors’ likenesses for games based on films and not constrained by matching release dates (for “release synergy,” a term that destroyed many a promising video game adaptation during gestation), book-to-game adaptations provided a relatively cheap way of enticing fans to try out a developer’s latest project. One of the first licensed video games from a novel was The Hobbit, published by Melbourne House in 1982. Based on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, this was a text adventure which cast the player as Bilbo Baggins, embarking on the traditional adventure to kill the dragon Smaug. The game was a huge success and also sparked some very early memes such as Thorin’s rather frequent tendency to sit down and start singing about gold whenever he was bored. The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, released by Infocom two years later, was in a similar vein but had greater kudos because Douglas Adams himself worked on the title as a writer and designer. Novel adaptations went huge in 1988 with War in Middle-earth, another Tolkien adaptation, this time by the visionary designer Mike Singleton. A dynamically-unfolding wargame, the title allowed players to refight the War of the Ring using a variety of different factions and characters, sometimes resulting in radically different results to the novel. The 1990s saw Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series adapted as a trilogy of best-selling games, as well as a version of Terry Brooks’ Shannara series that is best ignored. Arguably the most successful such book adaptation of the decade was Betrayal at Krondor (1993), based on Raymond Feist’s Riftwar series. An expansive, semi-open-world CRPG, it worked as both a very good video game and a very strong adaptation of the books (although, ironically, Feist’s own novelisation of the game is arguably his weakest book). It was in this time period that The Wheel of Time got its own video game adaptation. Released on 11 November 1999 by GT Interactive Software, The Wheel of Time took Robert Jordan’s expansive, vast world, cast of thousands and epic battles and turned them into a…first-person shooter? It was an interesting and bold choice, one that turned off a lot of fans who’d been hoping for a roleplaying game, but once they got over their shock at the design choice, they soon found a very interesting game. The game was developed by Legend Entertainment, who’d previously made relatively straightforward adventure games. The team at Legend decided to make a much more ambitious title and, after their company was slightly oddly bought out by Random House, they decided to focus on a novel adaptation (even more oddly, of a non-Random House series). The design team tore through The Wheel of Time and began to design an adventure game that would retell the story of the novels. It would be expansive and large. Robert Jordan had other ideas. He didn’t want the game stepping on his toes (he was still only halfway or so through writing the series) and he didn’t want the game to use other versions of his characters. The designers came up with the notion of setting the game in an alternate dimension, a Portal Stone world, where events could take place that echoed those of the books but were distinctly not the same. It was also decided to abandon the adventure design in favour of a first-person perspective similar to other games of the time, such as Doom. This was markedly ambitious for Legend, who’d never made such a game before, but they took it in their stride. Budget restrictions meant that they had to look around for a customer engine rather than designing their own, and after considering the BUILD and Quake engines settled on the engine for a game still in development that was extremely obscure, called Unreal. The Unreal developers were surprised that anyone would be interested in licensing their engine and the Wheel of Time team got it on extremely generous terms. As development continued, the Unreal team saw the development of Wheel of Time and some of the ideas fed back into their own game in development. Unreal was released to massive success in 1998 and quickly became the go-to engine for first-person video games. The Unreal Engine today powers a vast number of games, from indie hit The Outer Worlds to the epic Mass Effect trilogy to the mega-successful Fortnite, which have collectively sold hundreds of millions of copies. On its release, The Wheel of Time attracted glowing reviews…but not much sales. Barely 30,000 copies were shifted in the first three months on sale, shooter fans more energised by the then-recently-released Half-Life, SiN and Quake III. Legend’s expertise with the engine saw them hired to make Unreal II: The Awakening, which should have been a huge hit, but by then the excitement had moved onto the online version of the franchise, Unreal Tournament, and Unreal II was not a huge hit either. Legend shut down in 2004. The Wheel of Time game is an odd beast, but a strangely compelling one. It casts the player as Elayna, an Aes Sedai who can barely channel (think of Morgase Trakand) but whose powers have been augmented by ter’angreal. A trusted lieutenant of the Amyrlin Seat, she is dispatched to Shadar Logoth in pursuit of an assassin, the Hound, who managed to penetrate the White Tower itself. As the story unfolds, it is revealed that the Forsaken Ishamael is looking for the seals on the Dark One’s prison. At one point there is a coup by the Black Ajah inside the White Tower which results in the death of the Amyrlin and Elayna’s rise to replace her, along with the revelation that Elayna is really the most powerful Aes Sedai born since the Breaking, her powers sealed off to protect her until she learns to use them correctly. In a final battle, the Hound, now bonded to the dark power Mashadar, tries to kill both Elayna and Ishamael but is defeated. Elayna unlocks her powers and uses them to protect the Seals, ensuring the Dark One cannot escape his prison until the Last Battle and the arising of the Dragon Reborn. The plot is interesting but clearly at odds with the books, with the developers confirming that the game takes place in a Portal Stone world, a parallel universe similar but not identical to the books, and certainly the game is not taken to be canon in any way. From an architectural level, the game is phenomenally well-designed, with some fantastic locations that look like they’ve come straight from the books. The darkness-shrouded streets of Shadar Logoth and the gleaming white walls of Tar Valon are rendered well and the storyline is intriguing, although confusing given the game’s setting in a parallel universe to the books (not something that’s made hugely clear in the game, it has to be said). The cast of characters is well-drawn, and it’s still refreshing to see a first-person shooter based in a fantasy setting with a female protagonist. The use of ter’angreal instead of the normal array of guns from a shooter is something that does feel contrived, but it works quite well and makes for an exciting action game. Trollocs, Myrddraal, Black Ajah and Whitecloaks make for fun enemies to engage in combat with, and there’s a nice feeling of dread in the battle of wills with the Hound, your character’s nemesis. Originally there was going to be a whole “evil campaign” with you playing the Hound, but this was cut for time and budget reasons. The Wheel of Time is a surprisingly solid game (especially by the conservative standards of the time), but it can’t be denied that a Quake-style 3D FPS feel like an awkward fit for Jordan’s huge, narrative-driven fantasy epic. The game feels like it should have been an RPG with a lot more choice and consequence, drawing more on Jordan’s vast world. The ambition was there, but sadly the budget and required time was not. Arguably we wouldn’t get a novel-to-video game adaptation that really hit that spot until the release of The Witcher (based on Andrzej Sapkowski’s books) in 2007, and in particular its second sequel in 2015, almost certainly the greatest CRPG released this century. We must pause, of course, and remember that although Legend’s Wheel of Time was the first official, licensed video game adaptation of the series, it’s not the only one. In 1993 The Wheel of Time MUD (multi-user dungeon) was launched, a relatively primitive, fan-made dungeon game with a text interface. It was quite popular with the MUD scene. More recently there’s been a number of “mods” – fan-made modifications of commercial games – focusing on a Wheel of Time theme. The most notable is The Gathering Storm, a mod for Mount & Blade, and there’s been various mods for Skyrim, introducing weapons and armour from the Wheel of Time world. There’s also been a number of abandoned mods, such as ones that were in development for several years for Civilization IV and Rome: Total War, and rumours of one for Crusader Kings II. The completion of the books seemed to erode fan enthusiasm for more mods, and the scene has been quiet for a few years now. Of course, with The Wheel of Time now heading to the television screen, the question arises if a new video game could be on the cards. Given modern game budgets are now averaging towards the high tens of millions of dollars and development time is in years, it’s questionable, but if the Amazon TV series is a huge success it may be something we’ll see before too long. Hopefully this time it will be a game that gives the setting and Robert Jordan’s writing the scope and scale it deserves. Further Reading: The Wheel of Time video game producer (and budding fantasy novelist), Glen Dahlgren, has published several interesting articles about the game: a 20th anniversary retrospective, a very in-depth account of the making of the game and the game's original design document. All well worth a read.
  2. Adam Whitehead is Dragonmount's TV blogger. Adam has been writing about film and television, The Wheel of Time, and other genre fiction for over fifteen years. Be sure to check out his websites, The Wertzone and Atlas of Ice and Fire (including The Wheel of Time Atlas!) as well as his Patreon. Please note this article contains very mild spoilers for The Wheel of Time novels. How do you transfer a story from the pages of a novel or comic to the TV or film screen? It’s an interesting question, one asked many hundreds of times over the last century or so, and one which has never really gotten a reliable answer. Some films have used the book only as light inspiration, with the same basic premise and maybe some character names but otherwise doing their own thing. This paid off with films like Jaws and The Godfather, but not so much with Shannara or Earthsea. Others have slavishly adapted the source text almost line by line, but this has also backfired with the likes of Zack Snyder’s Watchmen. It appears that the best way of adapting a book to the screen is to take the story, characters and story and transfer them, but also being aware that a screen story needs to be more streamlined than a novel. Where a novel can sprawl luxuriantly and bring in dozens of new characters at will, a film or TV show can’t afford to do that. Where a novel can pause and delve deep into a character’s internal monologue to show their thoughts and reactions to an event, a visual adaptation can’t do that without resorting to cheesy voiceovers (viewers of David Lynch’s Dune will be aware that this doesn’t really work either). One approach, favoured by Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens in their adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, is to strip the story down to basic tacks and then rebuild it for the screen. For Rings, they decided first what was the story actually about: clearly, this was the Ring and Frodo’s quest to destroy the Ring in the fires of Mount Doom. That wasn’t enough story to fill a trilogy, so they began with this story as the core and kept adding more elements back in from the book. They needed a major subplot, so just used that from the books: Aragorn leading the people of Rohan and then Gondor into battle and his quest to become king. A primary cast was needed, so the cast from the books was added, with a strong focus on the Fellowship, and subplots for each character. In this way they rebuilt the story using the same ingredients, but being aware of the limitations of the medium. By the time they got to the Scouring of the Shire and Tom Bombadil, they were aware they were exceeding the time limit and budget of each movie and made the painful choice to remove them. They also simplified other elements for time, such as using the Army of the Dead to save Minas Tirith rather than using them to liberate the port of Pelargir and then transport Gondor’s southern army to the battlefield; the latter idea (from the novels) would have required considerable exposition, more time and more money to work on screen. This process was mostly successful, which makes it more disappointing that for the Hobbit trilogy it was abandoned (due to studio interference requiring three three-hour movies out of the very slim source material, to Jackson’s distress, according to some sources). A similar process was used for the early seasons of Game of Thrones, although this was complicated by the source material being incomplete. In the case of Thrones, it seemed that the first half of the series, which adapted the first three novels relatively faithfully, was very successful and the latter half, which was based more on very loose outlines and chose to mostly ignore the fourth and fifth books, was much more critically mauled. For such adaptations there seems to be a thin line between the necessary creativity and invention to transfer a story from one medium to another, and outright hubris where a scriptwriter feels he or she is better than a novelist who has already enthralled millions of readers for decades and starts making changes for changes’ sake and to put his or her stamp on the story. The upcoming Watch TV series, based on Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, has been open about using the books as a very loose inspiration for the show, which will feature Pratchett’s characters in dramatically different situations and roles to the novels. It will be interesting to see how both fans and general viewers react to such a reinvention. How The Wheel of Time handles this remains to be seen, of course. In other news this week, Amazon decided to confirm what they’d already revealed a few weeks ago, via the table-read for the series: Irish actor Ian McElhatton has been cast in The Wheel of Time. However, they also confirmed what role he will be playing: Tam al’Thor, Rand’s father and all-round good egg, a brave and honourable soldier, devoted husband and father, capable farmer and a skilled swordsman. It’s a nice reversal of roles for McElhatton, who for many years was best-known for playing the devious and sly Roose Bolton on Game of Thrones. McElhatton’s interpretation of the character was different to the novels (where Bolton is more clearly a villainous wrong ‘un, fond of being leeched to take away imagined toxins and treating everyone with disdain), but still a ruthless, amoral power-grabber whose biggest mistake was trusting his psychotic son, Ramsay, with too much power. McElhatton now gets to play arguably one of the most upstanding, honourable and capable characters in the whole series. It is interesting they went with a known name for the role, as, if true to the books, it may be a couple of seasons before we touch base with the character again. McElhatton’s profile has increased since Game of Thrones, with him being cast in HBO’s critically-lauded mini-series Chernobyl earlier this year and I imagine he could take his career in any direction he chose. Rafe Judkins did note that his first instinct was not to cast anyone who’d been in Game of Thrones, but he overrode that decision because McElhatton nailed his audition. Given how Thrones used up a sizeable portion of the English-speaking acting talent available in the UK (from where Wheel of Time is drawing a lot of its cast), it’s also unlikely this is the last time we see a doubling up of actors who’ll have been in both productions.
  3. Adam Whitehead is Dragonmount's TV blogger. Adam has been writing about film and television, The Wheel of Time, and other genre fiction for over fifteen years. Be sure to check out his websites, The Wertzone and Atlas of Ice and Fire (including The Wheel of Time Atlas!) as well as his Patreon. Please note this article contains very mild spoilers for The Wheel of Time novels. The arrival of the Wheel of Time TV series marks an interesting time for the fandom. The Wheel of Time has always had a passionate and fervent fanbase, ever since The Eye of the World arrived to strong sales in January 1990. It was one of the first epic fantasy series to benefit from the emergence of the Internet, with fans debating theories and swapping plot ideas on CompuServe and in early chat rooms before moving onto forums like Wotmania, Theoryland and, of course, Dragonmount. For twenty years, fans were able to discuss their ideas, favourite characters and, of course, ships. A few times there were also able to discuss things with Robert Jordan himself, on the old Tor Q&A page and then a blog hosted on Dragonmount before his sad passing in 2007. In more recent years, they have been able to discuss things with Brandon Sanderson and, occasionally, Robert Jordan’s team of editors and advisors. The Wheel of Time fandom has been traditionally friendly, welcoming and vibrant. Many couples have met through their fandom of the books and children have been born as a result. Other fandoms have splintered off: some of the earliest discussion of series like A Song of Ice and Fire, The Malazan Book of the Fallen and even Harry Potter can be found on ancient, archived Wheel of Time forums before those series acquired their own websites and followers. The fanbase wound down a little after the final book in the series, A Memory of Light, was published in 2013. The years of theorising and musing came to an end and fans were able to see what they had guessed correctly and what they had not. Some fans have kept up some discussion, such as over the nature of the ending and how much material was in Robert Jordan’s notes and how much had to be created by Brandon and the editors, but for the most part the fandom entered a much quieter state. Now it stands to be reinvigorated. Amazon’s Wheel of Time television series will bring millions of fresh fans to the series who have never heard the phrases “Aes Sedai,” “One Power” and, of course, “Easing the Badger.” Tor and Orbit will issue the books with new covers to tie in with the TV show, piled high at the front of your local bookstore or even supermarket, probably with some cover quote trying very hard not to mention Game of Thrones as a comparison point. Forums are bracing themselves for thousands, if not tens of thousands, of new members, and working out spoiler policies for newcomers. In some cases, this has already happened with early adopters rushing to read the entire series before the TV show hits (likely in early 2021). This has happened before. The immense box office and critical success of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy saw even Tolkien’s supposedly-ubiquitous books sell an extra 50 million copies in just a few years (considerably more by now). When Game of Thrones debuted in 2011, George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books had sold about 12 million copies. Last year, the books passed 90 million in sales, showing how having a huge TV show based on your books can impact their numbers. TV shows based on Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy and Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher series are due to arrive in the next two months (on HBO and Netflix, respectively), and the publishers of both are readying new tie-in editions of the books. The Wheel of Time is already one of the biggest-selling epic fantasy series of all time. Its lifetime, worldwide sales are at around 90 million, roughly equal with A Song of Ice and Fire and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, so I’d expect the success of the TV show to catapult it over the 100 million line relatively easily. If the show is a success, Wheel of Time merchandise will become as unavoidable as House Stark bumper stickers and poster maps of Middle-earth. The Wheel of Time will go from that topic you keep trying to interest your real-life friends in to the hot show they’re eager to talk about every week (possibly whilst you lament the casting choice for Cenn Buie or the cutting of your favourite minor character). We can expect new fan art, fanfiction and theories, this time about what or how the TV show is going to change things from the books. This might not quite be as intense as that for Game of Thrones – one benefit of The Wheel of Time already being complete – but it will still breath new life and new energy into the franchise and get the old fandom wheel turning again. In other news, shooting is ongoing, although there’s been little to hint at what the cast and crew might be up to right now. Madeleine Madden did post a picture of her trailer door on Twitter whilst Daniel Henney (Lan) has been hitting up guitar shops and train stations in Prague on his days off and Josha Stradowski (Rand) has been getting into some classic literature. There’s also been a flurry of casting rumours, which we’re not going to get into until Amazon have confirmed the details. Until next time, peace.
  4. Adam Whitehead is Dragonmount's TV blogger. Adam has been writing about film and television, The Wheel of Time, and other genre fiction for over fifteen years. Be sure to check out his websites, The Wertzone and Atlas of Ice and Fire (including The Wheel of Time Atlas!) as well as his Patreon. Please note this article contains very mild spoilers for The Wheel of Time novels. Filming is now well underway on Amazon’s Wheel of Time TV series and for this month’s “WoT Wednesday,” Amazon gave us a special surprise: a clip of the table read for the first two episodes. For those who are unfamiliar with the process of making television, a table read is held for each episode or, if the season is short enough, the entire season, with all of the actors present. The table-read helps actors learn each other’s voices, get into character and feel comfortable with the dialogue, and also helps the producers make sure they’ve got the timing correct for each episode. This is less crucial for a streaming service than it is for a network show selling adverts, which has to be 44 minutes on the dot, but Amazon still seems to keep things more strictly within a time limit than, say, Netflix or HBO. The table read is also often the first time the actors have read the script, rather memorably in Kit Harington’s case for the final season of Game of Thrones. The clip is the first time that we get to hear the actors embodying the characters they’ll be playing on the show, confirming that they’re going with a fairly ordinary English accent as the default accent for the Two Rivers, and perhaps all of Andor (as Robert Jordan indicated many years ago). Moiraine also has a somewhat “posh” accent, as you’d expect from a noblewoman and Aes Sedai. Barney Harris gets the biggest laugh as Mat Cauthon, cautioning his friends to be wary of Moiraine as she can “shoot fireballs,” so they should heed her advice. Combined with a line about crossing the river, this seems to confirm that the first two episodes will, between them, cover at least all of the events of Winternight, the battle at Emond’s Field and our main characters’ flight from the Two Rivers by cover of night. Exactly how much of the book the first episode – which we known has the working title Leavetakings – covers has been fiercely debated, especially as the second episode is called Shadow’s Waiting, suggesting it focuses on events in Shadar Logoth, although some have suggested that Episode 2 ends with the characters reaching the cursed city. Episode 3 is called A Place of Safety, which could be an ironic alternate title for Shadar Logoth itself. Of course, such speculation is not helped by the fact that, as of yet, we don’t know how many episodes there will be in the first season either. We do know there will be at least six, but not how many more than that. A nine-month shoot is more suggestive of ten to twelve episodes, but that remains to be confirmed. The clip is also interesting in that it gives us a look at some actors who have not been officially announced yet. Immediately recognisable is Irish actor Michael McElhatton, best-known for playing the villainous role of Roose Bolton in Seasons 2-6 of HBO’s Game of Thrones before recently appearing as a Soviet general on Chernobyl. McElhatton is infamous for his menacing stare and voice so could be playing a villainous role, but has also appeared in far more lighthearted and comedic roles. Bearing in mind that the table read is for the first two episodes, the most immediately appropriate casting would be for the role of Padan Fain, the friendly peddler whom, it turns out, is not quite as friendly as first appears. Other likely possibilities would be Tam al’Thor or Thom Merrilin. Less-likely but also possible would be Geofram Bornhald, especially if they introduce him in Baerlon rather than later on, or Ishamael/Ba’alzamon if they get as far as the boys’ first shared nightmare. Another possibility, that McElhatton might be playing Ishamael in the prologue, is discounted by Rafe Judkins’ Q&A of a year ago where he seemed to be suggesting that the prologue would not appear until later in the series (along with the events of New Spring), and an earlier statement that the first episode opens with Tam and Rand on the road to Emond's Field. The prologue is iconic and not using it to start the show might be considered sacrilegious, but there are at least two good reasons for not doing so. The first is that casting an actor as Lews Therin, using them briefly for one season, and then potentially not using them again for another two or three seasons is bad business practice, since it’s possible the actor will move onto other projects in the meantime and it’s expensive to put an actor under contract to not accept other work. Game of Thrones suffered from this problem, casting Ser Gregor in the first season and then having to use (two!) different actors later on because the original actor had been cast in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy in the meantime. More likely, given the show’s determination to make the identity of the Dragon Reborn more of a genuine mystery to TV watchers, is that the segue from Lews Therin to Rand is a bit on the nose and they want to keep things vaguer. One other actor who has been likely confirmed for the production is British actress Naana Agyei Ampadu, who recently appeared in a recurring role on British sitcom GameFace and in a minor role on the Steven Spielberg movie Ready Player One. Ampadu's casting was announced by her own casting agency on Twitter, who then quickly deleted the tweet, presumably because the release had not been okayed by Amazon. Dragonmount has asked Amazon if they could confirm McElhatton's and Ampadu's casting in the show, but they declined to comment at this stage. Tracking down other actors involved in the production is more difficult than you’d think, as several productions are currently shooting in and around Prague. Fear the Walking Dead actor Fernando Rojasbarr seemed a likely candidate, for example, until he revealed on his Instagram that he’s actually shooting a film called Zátopek. The movie Ophelia also wrapped shooting a couple of months ago, with some actors delaying posting any information to social media until recently, which briefly led to speculation that Tom Felton (Harry Potter’s Draco Malfoy) might be in Wheel of Time until the misconception was cleared up (he's not). That said, northern Irish actor Stuart Graham (Michael Collins, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) is in Prague at the moment and may be the grey-hair guy briefly glimpsed at the read. A similar age to McElhatton, he could also be a good guess for Thom Merrilin, Tam al’Thor or Padan Fain. Or he might be in town for one of the other projects mentioned above. We'll see if we can get his casting confirmed as well. As for the shoot itself, which is now about to start it's fourth week (of around 34-37 weeks, with shooting due to conclude in May), production has moved to western Slovenia where the Great Soča Gorge, near the Italian border, is being used to stand in for part of the Two Rivers. The spectacular scenery, with the eastern Alps as the backdrop, certainly seems to fit the book descriptions. Actors Daniel Henney (Lan) and Josha Stradowski (Rand) shared some pics they'd taken from the shoot via Instagram.Eagle-eyed Wheel of Time fans are now scouring the video for more clues to the identity of the other actors, and we’ll bring you their findings as soon as we can.
  5. Adam Whitehead is Dragonmount's TV blogger. He'll be writing a regular column called Adam's Wheel of Television. Adam has been writing about film and television, The Wheel of Time, and other genre fiction for over fifteen years. Be sure to check out his websites, The Wertzone and Atlas of Ice and Fire (including The Wheel of Time Atlas!) as well as his Patreon. Please note this article contains very mild spoilers for The Wheel of Time novels. Principle photography – or “the actual filming” – began today on Amazon Prime’s Wheel of Time television series. The shoot is expected to run through to the end of May 2020, with months of post-production to follow. When we will see the show on air is still open to question, but late 2020 to early 2021 seems reasonable. Showrunner Rafe Judkins took to social media to both celebrate the news of filming beginning but also commemorate the passing of Robert Jordan, who sadly passed away on this day in 2007 at the age of 58. Robert Jordan had been diagnosed with cardiac amyloidosis, an exceedingly rare blood condition (affecting only one in a million people), and had spent almost two years undergoing experimental treatment. During this time, he had mustered as much energy and creativity as possible to create an outline for the ending of The Wheel of Time in the form of writings, draft chapters, dictation on cassettes and copious notes, which was later used by Brandon Sanderson to deliver an ending to the series. Whilst millions of Wheel of Time fans worldwide remember Jordan on this day, they also have questions about the television adaptation. Last week, the cast shared their first group photo, taken in Prague on the day of the read-through of the script for the series. Notable by his absence was the actor playing Thom Merrilin, who hasn’t been announced yet. This led to a storm of controversy and online hot takes as people furiously debated if the character would appear in the show or if he’d been cut. To be fair, a large number of other characters expected to appear in Season 1 also haven’t been announced, even those that Rafe Judkins has confirmed are in the script. According to Judkins’ previous comments, both Tam al’Thor and the false Dragon Logain Ablar will be in the show and neither actor has been confirmed yet. Assuming that Season 1 adapts at least The Eye of the World, we can also reasonably be expecting Min, Elayne, Gawyn, Galad, Elaida, Morgase, Gareth Bryne, Geofram and Dain Bornhald, Jaret Byar, Padan Fain, Agelmar, Ba’alzamon, Basel Gill and Mordeth to be cast. Sure, a few of those characters might be held back until Season 2 to save money (Min, Elayne, Gawyn and Galad have to be front-runners here), but certainly not all of them, and some of them fulfil important plot functions: without Padan Fain or Ba’alzamon, Season 1 doesn’t really have a primary antagonist, and calling the second episode Shadow’s Waiting without including Mordeth would be a bizarre choice. [See our article "5 WoT Characters likely to have Expanded TV Roles"] Thom Merrilin’s status on the show is likely to be leaning more towards a recurring role than a regular one. We know that episode two is called Shadow’s Waiting, which implies that the Shadar Logoth adventure will take place in the second or third episode. In the novel, Thom drops out of the story a few chapters later, which means that Thom will be leaving the series less than halfway through the first season (which is expected to run for 8-10 episodes at the lower end). Hollywood crediting practices can be complicated, but generally speaking, a studio will announce the regular cast for a new show first and with a great deal of fanfare. On this basis we can expect that Barney Harris (Mat), Madeleine Madden (Egwene), Zoe Robbins (Nynaeve), Marcus Rutherford (Perrin) and Josha Stradowski (Rand) will get a billing as series regulars, with Rosamund Pike (Moiraine) and Daniel Henney (Lan) probably getting the much-coveted “featuring” or “and” credits given to actors with a lot of experience and credits to their name. The status given to secondary and recurring cast varies dramatically from project to project. In many shows, recurring and guest stars (actors in several episodes of a series but not all, or just one) would not be announced ahead of time at all. For Game of Thrones, HBO were keenly aware of the media and fan interest in the property and announced even relatively minor Season 1 recurring characters like Lysa Arryn and Ser Hugh of the Vale with a surprising degree of fanfare back in 2010. It’s unclear which route Amazon will take, although I suspect their marketing plans to announce something new about the series every month means we will get some more news before the show launches. This does lead back to a bigger question though: is Thom even going to be in the series at all? For fans, cutting Thom is unthinkable. He shows up near the start of The Eye of the World and is a useful font of knowledge and information for the young characters (and exposition for readers) about the wider world, especially useful given Moiraine’s secretive nature. He has his own secrets, which in time give us more information about the Aes Sedai, the Red Ajah and the royal family of Andor, not to mention his involvement in the Cairhienin civil war in the second book. In the third book he reluctantly teams up with Mat Cauthon once again and then remains an active part of the story until the very end. As one of the original “seven samurai” who sets out from the Two Rivers at the start of The Eye of the World (with Nynaeve “making the eight,” so to speak, when she catches up with them in Baerlon), Thom is an iconic character from the books and, for many fans, cutting him should be as ridiculous an idea as dropping Legolas from the Fellowship of the Ring. That said, once the initial anger passes, an argument could be made that Thom doesn’t do a huge amount. He provides a fair bit of exposition, sure, but that could be provided through other characters, such as a more garrulous Moiraine. He spends entire books of The Wheel of Time as a background character, and even sits out the eighth book altogether. He does have some more important things to do at the end of the series, but for some readers these can come a bit out of left field and other characters could perform the same tasks. That’s not so say that I honestly expect them to cut Thom as a character, but when it comes to the core cast, he’s arguably the most disposable. They could also split the difference and keep Thom, but not introduce him until the TV show reaches the events of The Great Hunt or even The Dragon Reborn. With shooting now underway, I wouldn't be surprised to see leaks and more hints getting out about other castmembers, so we may find out if Thom is in the show, one way or another, soon. As ever, we will find out in time.
  6. Adam Whitehead is Dragonmount's new TV show blogger. He'll be writing a regular column called Adam's Wheel of Television. Adam has been writing about film and television, The Wheel of Time, and other genre fiction for fifteen years. Be sure to check out his websites, The Wertzone and Atlas of Ice and Fire (including The Wheel of Time Atlas!) as well as his Patreon. Casting for Amazon’s Wheel of Time TV series is in full swing. The latest to join the Two Rivers party is Korean-American actor Daniel Henney, who has been cast as al’Lan Mandragoran, the Uncrowned King of Malkier, Diademed Battle Lord of the Malkieri and an all-round, fan-favourite character. In many respects, Lan is the closest analogue Wheel of Time has to Aragorn, the uncrowned King of Gondor in J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel The Lord of the Rings and memorably played by Viggo Mortensen in Peter Jackson’s film adaptation. Like Aragorn, Lan is the heir to a fallen lineage, who constantly questions himself and his abilities compared to his legendary ancestors. However, whilst Gondor still exists and Aragorn knows he can reclaim his throne when the time is right, for Lan he has no hope. Malkier has been destroyed utterly by the Shadow, absorbed by the Great Blight, and there is little to no chance that it will ever rise again. Instead, Lan throws himself into his war against the Shadow, spending the first twenty years of his life in fierce combat training with Bukama Marenellin, the sole survivor of the band of Malkieri warriors who bore the two-year-old Lan from his homeland. Lan becomes skilled in the art of swordplay, eventually being acclaimed a blademaster, and declares war on the Blight. He wages his personal war for years, becoming respected and honoured for his drive. Only one event takes him away from his mission, when the Aiel cross the Spine of the World and the nations unite at Tar Valon to fight the Battle of the Shining Walls. When Lan’s mentor Bukama is killed as a result of political machinations in Kandor and the manipulations of the Black Ajah (as related in New Spring), he is offered the chance to join Moiraine Damodred in her mission to find the Dragon Reborn and avert the end of the world. He agrees, becoming her Warder, and for two decades they scour every corner of the Westlands for any sign of the Dragon Reborn. Finally, destiny and the Pattern call them to the town of Emond’s Field in the Two Rivers district of Andor. Lan’s obsession with defeating the Shadow leads him to train the young men from the Two Rivers in the art of combat, but his mission acquires a new focus when he meets Nynaeve al’Meara, the village Wisdom, a resourceful and skilled young woman with a singular determination. Lan is a major character in The Wheel of Time, although one (as with many) who sometimes sits out entire books in the series. His arc from The Eye of the World through A Memory of Light is one of finding hope and something to live for, and for finding reasons to live beyond pure revenge. Daniel Henney is an interesting choice for the role. Born in Carson City, Michigan to a Korean mother and an Irish-American father, he was a star basketball player in high school and then a professional model. His career took him all over the world, but his South Korean heritage saw him picking up a lot of work in the Seoul film and TV industry. He crossed over into acting via the Korean TV drama My Name is Sam Soon, where he played Dr. Henry Kim. An acting career in South Korea beckoned, but was complicated by the fact that Henney spoke no Korean. He had to learn his lines phonetically whilst frantically cramming language lessons. Several successful roles in South Korea followed before he got his first acting gigs in the USA in 2009, on the TV series Three Rivers and in the film X-Men Origins: Wolverine, where he played Agent Zero. His US career has included guest star roles on Hawaii Five-0, Revolution and NCIS: Los Angeles, and voice-over roles in Big Hero 6 (which he reprised for the spin-off TV series) and Mowgli. He is best-known for playing FBI Special Agent Matt Simmons in the Criminal Minds franchise, appearing in 47 episodes to date. He also played the same character on the spin-off Beyond Borders, for a further 26 episodes. Henney was initially reluctant to appear on a long-running US drama series with a heavy workload (especially as he remains active in Korean TV and advertising), but was impressed by the scripts where his character was positioned as both an action hero and also a more sensitive family man in a successful relationship. He felt that Asian roles in US dramas tended to be less traditional and was happy to play a role that in the past would have gone to Caucasian actors. At 6 ft 2, Henney is certainly tall enough to fill the imposing shoes of Lan Mandragoran and his acting resume is nothing to sniff at, including comedy, action and romance. At 39 (40 in November) he is also a reasonable fit in age for Lan, who is 44 or 45 when the events of the first book begin. Henney is also a big book fan (his favourite author is Japanese author Haruki Murakami) and a major geek, complete with his own He-Man action figure collection. He is also a huge dog fan, with his dogs making frequent, unexpected appearances on his YouTube Q&A videos. Henney's videos are interesting, as they show a lot of thought and contemplation has gone into his career choices and how he embodies the characters he's playing. It'll be interesting to see the inevitable video where he talks about the decision to take on the role of Lan. So we now have our Lan Mandragoran, and I'm sure all Wheel of Time fans wish Daniel Henney well in the role. But there are still a lot of characters still out there to be cast, including Tam al'Thor, Thom Merrilin and Padan Fain, and we'll be waiting to see if we get any more casting tidbits in the next few weeks. Until next time, farewell.
  7. There's a technology called Digital Noise Reduction (DNR). When used properly, it removes grain and pops from old film stock to make for a better image when it is scanned in HD or 4K. It's very useful for getting old movies and TV shows upgraded to modern high-def. When used badly, it goes haywire and starts "smoothing" everything on screen, making it weird and soft-looking. On people, it can remove a lot of the detailed features, especially of the skin, and make people look slightly off-putting and fake. Fox used it particularly badly on their recent HD remastering of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (especially in Season 1) and it has that effect. If you fiddled around with it and reduced its effect to just a character's face, it could achieve the same fate as the Aes Sedai ageless look. We know now from RJ's notes that yes, Taim was Demandred and, yes, it was changed because the fans figured it out. So that could be kept the same, and Shara kept firmly off-screen altogether.
  8. Here's my attempt at such a map or diagram of the White Tower.
  9. My initial thoughts for a somewhat more realistic cast list: Rand – Louis Hoffman (from the Netflix series Dark, although he's not that tall but they can always work round that) Lan – Daniel Wu (from Into the Badlands) Egwene – Ally Ioannides (also from Into the Badlands); Camilla Mendes from Riverdale I thought was also a good match Nynaeve – Jessica Henwick (from Game of Thrones and Iron Fist/Defenders) Moiraine – Morena Baccarin (from Firefly and the Deadpool movies) Thom Merrillin – Miltos Yerolemou (from Game of Thrones, where he played Syrio Forel) Padan Fain – Callum Keith Rennie (from Battlestar Galactica and Jessica Jones) Lanfear – Eva Green or Katie McGrath (the latter from Merlin and Supergirl) Elaida – Maria Doyle Kennedy (from Orphan Black and The Tudors) Galad – Bradley James (from Merlin) Of course, some of these are more likely than others. Into the Badlands seems to be doing really well for AMC, so those actors are likely locked in there for a long time to come.
  10. EotW is very reminsicent of LotR in tone and structure, and it makes a lot of people bail out of reading the whole series because they think it's a Tolkien rip-off. It was one of the more challenging questions as to how they were going to address that in the TV show. They're not massively going to change the story or anything around, so it sounds like they'll address it through emphasis, shifting the early POV from Rand (which pretty much destroys any tension as to the identity of the Dragon Reborn) to Moiraine. To what degree they do that is unclear though, as apparently Episode 1, Scene 1 is still Rand and Tam on the road into Emond's Field. It might not very different at all to the books.
  11. Red Eagle are Producers In Name Only. They'll have a production credit, in recognition for the work they did in setting up the original deal with Sony, but that will be it. Judkins was cracking jokes about Billy Zane, so his opinion of the Red Eagle infomercial appears to be fairly low. GRRM wrote multiple episodes of the TV show, had limited casting approval, acts as a creative and visual consultant, had (and still has) final say on any spin-offs that are made and got both a big chunk of cash up front and a slice of the revenue the series makes, not to mention benefiting in the form of 73 million (and counting) extra books sold as a result of the TV show being made. His deal was exceptional by TV standards and unusual (because he used to work in Hollywood so knew what kind of deal to make). I suspect Harriet's deal will be significantly less generous, mainly because of the legal mess the situation ended up in. However, they do say they will be using Harriet as a consultant (and not anyone at Red Eagle).
  12. These are the only characters mentioned explicitly by the showrunner. So of course Perrin will be in the show and I think we can assume most major characters from the books will be. Where characters will likely be cut is around the level of Weiramon, Dobraine and about 80% of the Aes Sedai named or mentioned in the books, unless their casting budget is ten times higher than Game of Thrones.
  13. Huge Q&A with the showrunner today. Main take-aways: The books will not be mapped 1:1 to the TV show seasons. This sounds like the approach taken by The Expanse (which took all of Season 1 and then 4 episodes from Season 2 to adapt Book 1, then 8 episodes of Season 2 and 5 from Season 3 to adapt Book 2 etc) and the new His Dark Materials show (which will adapt 3 books across 5 seasons). Episodes will be 1 hour long each. There'll be more than 5, but definitely less than 14, seasons in total. Amazon hasn't greenlit the project yet but there's been positive sounds in the last few months (which is why he's been allowed to do the Q&A). New Spring may be adapted as well, possibly as a special of some kind once the series is fully underway (could be a good way of keeping Moiraine and Lan's actors interested when they're not doing much in the main series). The TV show will be a faithful adaptation of the books, but will of course have to condense some characters, storylines. Apparently the "latter middle" section of the series may be compressed a bit more (i.e. PoD through CoT, surprising nobody). Judkins notes himself as a Lady Stoneheart fan (from Game of Thrones) and was sorry to see her cut from the TV show, but these things are sometimes necessary. He wants to cast Rand and the Aiel as "tall gingers" if possible. On LGTBQ+ representation, there'll be "pillow friends out of the wazoo." How channelling will be handled is still being discussed, but Judkins liked how the magic was done in Doctor Strange and Avengers: Infinity War, which may serve as a template. Trollocs and other Shadowspawn may be a combination of CGI and prosthetics, but he feels that prosthetics is better for both actor and viewer immersion. Billy Zane will not be reprising his role of Ishamael from the Red Eagle informercial. Judkins is aiming for the quality level of the LotR movies or GoT, definitely not Shannara. Brandon Sanderson, Harriet and the rest of Team Jordan will advise on the show's development, some more than others (I suspect Brandon will be busy with his own books to do a huge amount, though). Confirmed characters: Rand, Egwene, Cenn Buie (if less than in the book), Logain (in an expanded role), Tam, Bela, Padan Fain (who'll be less obviously a villain), Faile, Mat. His favourite Forsaken are Graendal and Moghedien, so it sounds like they'll be in as well. Unconfirmed characters: Aviendha, Min, Elayne. Judkins notes that the four-way relationship from the books isn't really viable for the show and will be changed. He refused to confirm if this means that some of these characters will be merged or cut. I suspect this is the most controversial take-away from the Q&A. My guess is that the characters will still be in the show and Rand may be sequential relationships with them, but won't be in a polygamous relationship with all of them at once. His favourite character is Egwene and his favourite scene is Dumai's Wells. His least favourite character is Faile, but promises she'll be awesome on the show. In terms of tough scenes to write, Tel'aran'rhiod is proving problematic (mainly as they won't know how it's going to be depicted until the vfx department comes on board). There'll be less braid-tugging and dress-smoothing than in the books. There will be one braid-tug in the first episode though. No decision yet on filming locations. He hopes the budget will be large enough so they can visit the most appropriate locations around the world.
  14. Sorry, I was talking about what the actual TV writers are doing. They've already confirmed that Episode 1 will cover the introduction, Winternight, battle for Emond's Field etc, and Episode 2 will then be Shadar Logoth (and presumably Baerlon as well, although they may indeed cut that or speed through it).
  15. At the moment we know that Episode 1 ends with the team leaving Emond's Field and Episode 2 takes them through the Shadar Logoth encounter. So whilst they're going fast, EotW is clearly going to cover 6-8 episodes at the lower end, not 2 or 3. The question at the moment is if they are working towards 1 book per (short) season or 2 books per a standard 12-13 episode season.
  16. Yes. The showrunner, Rafe Judkins, is actually posting new information every (or almost every) Wednesday on his Twitter and Instagram feeds. So far we know that Sony is making the show, Amazon are funding and will show it and the series has two writers in the bag already: Judkins (Agents of SHIELD) and Amanda Kate Shuman (The Blacklist). They have completed writing the first two episodes: 101 will be called Leavetakings and 102 will be called Shadow's Waiting. Judkins has also confirmed four characters from the books (so far) will be in the TV show: Rand, Mat, Tam and Bela. Presumably most of the main cast from the early books will be in the show, but I expect to see massively less characters than are in the books later on (we're not going to get 150 Aes Sedai characters who are pretty similar to one another). They've also said (today) that they will be looking for a fairly diverse cast to reflect the books: East Asian-looking actors for Shienar, ginger-haired actors for the Aiel Waste etc.
  17. The showrunner is making occasional Twitter and Instagram posts confirming he's working on the script.
  18. It's worth noting that previously options have been taken out, but never before has the option been taken up and the project gone into active development. So this latest project is certainly by far the most serious and has gotten much further than ever before. It's not 100% greenlit yet, but almost.
  19. Amazon just picked up a Conan TV show, which suggests that they may be open to helming more than one fantasy show at a time. Although of course now that means they need to be willing to work on three simultaneously for WoT to have a shot.
  20. @Werthead At this stage, largely irrelevant. Until Sony confirm their partnership with a network (or go it alone), there's probably not much for him to do on WoT (I assume a pilot script was written ages ago). Benioff and Weiss did this on GoT, after writing the pilot script they broke off and did other things for a while (like working on the Halo movie that never got made) until HBO greenlit GoT and they snapped back to that. They even wrote some movie treatments and other things whilst working on GoT, and have started development work on another HBO series. Uncharted has also been in development for years with multiple writers and script drafts attached, so this will be less of a writing from scratch job than another pass at a pre-existing draft. Much less time-consuming. Depending on your workload, a scriptwriter could do it in a week or two.
  21. Because they can't stop the actors ageing? That's going to be a problem for WoT. In fact, even moreso. It's possible to very likely that the show will have 18 month gaps between seasons assuming a high production quality. Assuming 7 seasons, it'll possibly take 10-11 years to get the show done. So any actors they start with in their late teens or early twenties will be in the late twenties or early thirties by the time it's done. There's no realistic way around that. Sony have been talking about making their shows themselves and then selling the finished product to networks, rather than teaming with a network in the first place. That would make sense as they nearly did that for the Dark Tower TV series, so WoT would be a logical way of handling the situation. I know Sony felt burned on their experiences working alongside AMC on Breaking Bad which led them to that idea, but then again their experience on Better Call Saul has been a lot better so they might have retreated from the idea. But certainly as part of the process of selling the show to a network, they'll need completed scripts, a series bible, an outline for the series overall, notes on the characters etc. The books I believe are his original paperbacks from the early 1990s. I think it's his way of showing he's been a WoT fan for twenty plus years and is old-skool (i.e. he didn't hear about the books five minutes before he was asked to helm he project). His experience so far has been in network TV: My Own Worst Enemy, Chuck, Hemlock Grove and, most recently, Agents of SHIELD (fortunately since it stopped being unwatchable). Not an outstanding CV but not an embarrassing one either.
  22. That information seems in line with what we know. Sony are taking the project seriously - far more seriously than Dark Tower, thankfully - but they have not joined forces with a studio/network production partner yet, so that is the biggest problem to be overcome. My understanding is that, frustratingly, Sony were very close to signing a deal with Amazon but Amazon then asked for a delay. During that time the Lord of the Rings prequel project came up and Amazon went with that instead. Them making Wheel of Time as well as LotR is unlikely, as I understand it, so the WoT project went back out to the networks. This has caused problems because a lot of the other studios have signed up other fantasy projects in the meantime. So to recap, HBO are out because of GoT and the spin-off project; Showtime are out because of the Kingkiller Chronicle prequel project; Netflix are probably out because of The Witcher; AMC likely won't provide a big enough budget; Starz are less likely to commit because of their immense expenditure on American Gods and Outlander; Paramount/Spike already have Shannara; Amazon have the Lord of the Rings series; SyFy don't have enough money (they had to cancel Dark Matter to afford Nightflyers) and so forth. There are some interesting options on the table. Apple TV really need a big flagship project to spearhead their invasion of the TV space and don't have one yet. Netflix may feel that the relative small scale of The Witcher means they have scope and time for a bigger project as well. FX are a pretty good possibility, especially now they've been bought by Disney. Disney could also decide that WoT is a good match for Hulu or their new adult streaming service launching in 2019 (with a new Marvel show and the first-ever Star Wars live action TV series). Starz may decide to plump for a third big series, especially with American Gods' future in doubt. We may also see CBS All Access getting in on the act. They have deep pockets but they also need more content for the streaming service: Star Trek Discovery is popular but one show isn't going to keep interest going. Another interesting piece of information: Sony have been quietly developing a TV series based on Joe Abercrombie's First Law fantasy series. First Law is much darker and grimmer than WoT, so this may be a sign that Sony are interested in developing multiple fantasy projects with different focuses. But there must be a concern that if First Law moves forward, their focus may shift to that. I don't believe that's likely, as WoT was far more expensive (eight figures for the rights) and has a far higher global profile, but it may be something worth bearing in mind. On the plus side, WoT showrunner Rafe Judkins has tweeted that he is working on the books for the adaptation, which may be a sign that something is going on behind the scenes. There were no 30+ actors playing the teens. The oldest age difference I believe were Kit Harington and Richard Madden, who were both 23, playing 14-year-olds who'd been canonically aged up to around 18 in the show. Of course, the show has been on the air for 7 years so Harington is 30 now, but they explain that in the show by having the series cover a lot longer period of time than the books.
  23. This was the last season of House of Cards anyway, they'd not quite pulled the trigger on it because they've been talking about doing a spin-off and were apparently debating on whether to make it a whole new show or continue it under the same name. This is why the current round of controversy is a slight headache for Netflix rather the major catastrophe it would have been two seasons back. I don't think you can do WoT frugally, at least not do so and do it any justice. It doesn't need $100 million a season from the off, but you can't do it for much less than the $6 million an episode that GoT started with back in 2011, and if you look at the first season now it's painfully obvious how much less money they had.
  24. My thoughts on what the Lord of the Rings TV series from Amazon means for Wheel of Time. In short, Amazon was really the best shot for a WoT TV show. If Amazon is going with the better name recognition of Tolkien, it leaves WoT without a really obvious home. I don't believe that AMC will be capable of giving the show the budget it needs, HBO turned down Tolkien because of their commitment to the GoT franchise so they're never going to touch another fantasy series for many years to come, and Showtime have signed up to do the Rothfuss prequel TV show instead. Starz and Hulu I think are a long shot. Netflix might be the only card left on the table, but they've got themselves into some debt issues and are looking for a lot of cheaper shows going forwards (cancelling Sense8 and House of Cards due to their expense) with only one or two expensive tentpoles, which going forwards will be Stranger Things and maybe Altered Carbon (depending on how the first season does).
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