My (SPOLIER-FILLED) deep dive into episode 1 of The Wheel of Time.
These are my deep look into each episode of Amazon Prime’s The Wheel of Time. I will investigate each episode in depth and give my reactions, thoughts, and takeaways. These dives are for book readers as they contain heavy spoilers throughout while I weigh each episode against my knowledge of the books and story and will touch upon things throughout the books. I will focus on the episode itself and will not delve into future episodes.
It has been a couple days since I first watched episode 1 of The Wheel of Time entitled “Leavetaking.” The dust has begun to settle, and my thoughts have come clearer. I have since watched the episode several times (and will likely watch it a couple more times as I still have people that I have yet to watch it with) and looked at countless reviews, reactions, and recaps online. I posted my initial reaction almost immediately. While I haven’t changed my mind too much on any aspect, some elements have come to me (either through personal thought or through realizations from others’ reactions) that I feel I may need to delve into more.
FINAL WARNING: Following this paragraph will contain HEAVY SPOILERS of the episode and my reference any point in any of the books. If you have not read the books or seen the episode and want to avoid spoilers, DO NOT READ ON until you have done so. You HAVE been WARNED!
The episode opens with Moiraine (Rosamund Pike) getting dressed as she prepares to set out on her ‘mission.’ During the sequence, she gives a monologue about the arrogance of men and how the women were left to fix it. This is kind of setting the tone for the series and shows that men are often regarded in a negative light. The next scene shows two men running from a group of women in red. It turns out that one of the men is a male who can channel, and the other man does not exist. The women, of course, are Red Ajah Aes Sedai who are there to gentle him.
I did enjoy this opening sequence. While I heard some others say that they did not like the man being hunted by the Aes Sedai, I thought it did well in showing the stakes for men in this world. It leads to Moiraine and Lan (Daniel Henney) on a mountain top after observing the capture of the man. It then segues to the Two Rivers where we begin to meet the rest of the main cast.
It was fun going through and meeting the rest of the cast in their elements. Egwene (Madeleine Madden) and Nynaeve (Zoë Robins) in the women’s circle ceremony, Rand (Josha Stradowski) on the quarry road with his father (Tam, played by Michael McElhatton), and Mat (Barney Harris) and Perrin (Marcus Rutherford) in the inn were all great introductions. Though it DID make Mat seem like a jerk at first, we later see that he has heart. I’ll talk about that later when I talk about characters because I have conflicting feelings regarding his arc in this series.
From this point on through to the climactic sequence of the episode, we have several character moments and interactions. Moiraine and Lan arriving at the inn, Rand and Egwene discussing their future, Moiraine talking with Nynaeve, Rand and Tam at their cabin, among other scenes. Many of these scenes did their job in setting the foundations for the conflicts that the main characters will be carrying on through the season and (potentially) the series. Again, most of those points I will discuss below in the Characters section.
Overall, I didn’t mind the plot and pacing. I know many have complained about the pacing of this first episode. While I did notice a couple rushed cuts — like going from Lan asking Moiraine if she knew which person was their target, then cutting immediately to Egwene and Rand in the inn (I felt a small lingering shot on Moiraine would have made that cut better) — I felt that most of the pacing was fine as we got our introductions and some basic interactions.
Then we got to the hook of the first episode, the climactic Wintersnight battle. This is where the episode really came to life. Another complaint that I heard before the show even released was the use of shaky cam during the battle. This was concerning as I am not a big fan of the technique. Fortunately for me, it was not a problem and I barely noticed it during my initial viewing.
The battle itself took place in several different “fronts.” There were several character defining moments throughout the battle. Seeing Nynaeve roar at the trollocs and Mat seeking out his sisters were key moments that added nuance to the characters. At the conclusion of the battle, of course, the setup was for the group to leave the Two Rivers and begin their journey. I felt that did seem a bit stilted going from the epic battle straight to the group leaving. It took barely any convincing for them to leave — though I understood (and maybe this is where the pacing complaint came in). They had to get the group on the road for the next episode. Still, I feel that was the most jarring aspect.
One note, I am beginning to think that the reason why they include Egwene as a contender for being the Dragon Reborn is to make it easier to get her on the road. In the books, there is a whole setup with it just being the boys and in secret. All that is said is that the dark one wanted one of the boys. When they left, Egwene snuck in like Merry and Pippen at the Council of Elrond saying, “you’re not leaving without me.” I think it just made it easier to include her as a target and move on.
Rosamund Pike and Daniel Henney were excellent as Moiraine and Lan (respectively). They captured the true heart of each character. From the bathtub scene to the battle, their chemistry was spot on. Also great were the portrayals of Rand, Egwene, and Nynaeve. Josha, Madeleine, and Zoe gave great performances and really embodied the essence of their characters. Michael McElhatton also shines as he transitions from the father everybody hates to the father everybody loves. Overall, I am happy with the cast listed above and the directions they are going with their plots… even the changes that were made with their characters.
There were two characters that I must spend a little bit of time with and delve deeper. The first of which being Perrin. To be honest, I was dreading the rumor that he was married in the show for a long time. How it would impact his story was of great concern. Getting to see it play out gave me mixed feelings. On the positive side, I feel that I understand the change and the reason for its inclusion. With Perring being an internal character, it gives a motivation for his actions throughout the series. On the other hand, not enough time was spent building up their relationship. Laila (Helena Westerman) barely had any dialogue and the few scenes they had together were hardly enough to develop a connection.
When the fateful scene comes where Perrin accidentally kills her, you feel for him. But it is hard to feel for her. There were certainly aspects that seem implied and that the audience was supposed to get. But so far, there is no indication of those were true. Namely, that she was (at some point) pregnant. Likely she miscarried before the show. But so far, there is no indication if this is the case. Regardless, Marcus Rutherford gave an excellent performance and I look forward to seeing him develop the character in the future. It is a challenge as Perrin has little dialogue and most of the acting will be visual.
The other character I want to focus on is Mat. In the books, Mat comes to be my favorite character in the series. Though, admittedly, not in the first few books. They made some interesting changes, most notably to his parents, Abell (Christopher Sciuref) and Natti (Juliet Howland). I was a little upset about this change because they did Abell dirty. In the books, he was a respectable horse trader. His role was small, but he was formidable as Tam’s sidekick later in the series. In the show, they turned him into a selfish lecher. His mother is not portrayed much better.
Despite this, I ultimately found that it was helpful in establishing Mat. Despite his love of gambling and his devil-may-care attitude, he obviously loves his sisters and will do anything for them. This adds a nobility to his character that wasn’t seen in the books until much later. With that aspect of his character settled in my mind, there was one more problem… that of the actor portraying him, Barney Harris.
Let it be said that I did love his performance as far as the attitude, the jokes, and what not. I think Harris captured the heart of Mat. The problem I had was with his voice. Harris had a kind of lazy draw when speaking that just didn’t feel right for Mat. I don’t know if I am under the influence of the knowledge that he has been replaced, or if others who have been praising his performance without complaint are under that influence. I just feel like that voice did not fit, though he nailed the other aspects of Mat. Perhaps I am just preparing myself for the new actor taking his place next season (Dónal Finn).
Special Effects / Action
For the most part, the special effects were good. I loved the look of the trollocs and the fade(s). The action played out pretty good as well. Moiraine and Lan had excellent coordination during the battle and the choreography, overall, felt great. During the battle, I did notice some “glitches” in the effects that screamed CGI. But for the most part, it was forgivable as it was overall good.
Overall, I enjoyed the episode. I felt it hit the right beats and the changes, for the most part, are acceptable. The effects and CGI were excellent except for a few areas, especially during the battle. It set the stage for what was to come and as a book reader, I was invested to see how it would play out. The changes, though I was concerned, did not push me off too much. There are still aspects that concern me that I will get into later as they really came to light by the third episode. But I am happy with the overall direction they are going with the show and how this episode kicks it all off.