Having watched the first four episodes of The Wheel of Time, I offer my impressions and respond to some of the critics.
TV shows, movies, and video games can be like a fine meal. The preparation can take a long time, but when it comes time to indulge, it is over in a matter of moments. The Wheel of Time is no exception. Season 1 began production over 2 years ago. Sure, there were some delays due to a little global issue that got in the way, but the amount of work, effort, and money that went into creating it. Nonetheless, it has been a long time coming.
Season 1 finally premiered about 2 weeks ago (give or take depending on whether you got to see the special screenings). Now, with last weeks entrée, we are halfway through the season. So far, it has been met with tremendous praise from book-readers and newcomers alike. But also, it has been criticized by newcomers who just don’t get it and book-readers who call the whole show blasphemous.
The season hasn’t completed yet, so it can’t be fairly judged. I’ll certainly give it until the end before I come up with a final verdict. However, we have had a healthy taste of the show. Episode 1 made an excellent appetizer while episodes 2 and 3 served up as a good 1st entrée. Episode 4 was the second entrée, preparing us for the main course that we shall savor over the next few weeks. With that in mind, I want to look at how it is going, what my takes are, and how I feel about what is being said by others.
If you have been following my reactions and deep dives, it is plain to see that I have generally been loving it so far. Yes, there are a lot of changes from the books (I’ll get into momentarily). And some people have pointed out flaws like the pacing being a little too fast (especially the first episode). However, what we have received in the show is a treat for the senses. And the bonus is that it has the potential to act as a gateway for newcomers who may have been put off by the length of the series to crack open the books and give it a chance.
Back to the changes, they are abundant. Some are minor but many are quite big. Since I began watching, I have held reservations about a lot of them in my mind. As the season has been playing out, I have been starting to ease my feelings towards them. Since the beginning of production, there have been repeated cautions from the show makers that the show would not be a one-for-one adaptation. They have said repeatedly that there has to be changes to reflect the different medium being utilized.
One suggestion has been to look at this adaptation as a different turning of the wheel from the novels. That is a good way to look at it. However, the counter to that is that it feels like a cop-out to justify making such significant changes from the source material. Many fans have wanted to see the pages of the book come to life. And these changes have altered the source material too much. I understand that point-of-view and I hold nothing against those views.
For me, it has been a mixed bag. While I have been a little taken back by some of the changes, others I agree with 100%. Now that I have seen a few episodes, I am beginning to accept those changes as I see where they are going. While I can’t say for certain, there are certain elements that I think they are playing with the idea but have full intention of sticking to the source. For example, the identity of the Dragon Reborn. This is a big element of the first book, but the answer is pretty clear who it will be.
The show is keeping it a little more ambiguous and allowing for speculation and discussion as the season progresses. The format of a TV show practically demands this effort to keep viewers engaged. With a book, since the revelation of who it is becomes revealed at the end, there is no need for speculation. But a serial show wants viewers to ponder the question. To that end, I believe they are keeping the identity the same. I don’t believe the long-term story would work otherwise. The showrunners have even said that they want to keep the heart of the characters intact and that can’t happen if they change their roles.
In the end, we still have four more episodes this season, so I am trying to keep an open mind with how they are going. There are certainly changes that they can make that would truly be criminal. Be they scenes omitted, or arcs changed that completely change the dynamic of the story at large (or even some of the sub plots). Perhaps I’ll do a (book-spoiler filled) blog in the near future that will cover this. For my mind, I feel that there are many changes in the first couple of books that would benefit from alteration, condensing, or even cutting. Book four, however, leave that one alone.
It is hard to cover the TV series and where it stands with the fandom without touching upon one element. It is a complaint that many viewers are glossing over and rejecting outright. That is the complaint that the series is too “woke.” Why even address it? Well, somebody needs to tackle this head-on instead of just brushing it aside. In a nutshell, the complaint is that some of the changes have been made to cater to certain people. This covers the gamut of including a multi-ethnic cast, same-sex relationships, a flip on the gender dynamics, etc.
Before I go any further, I feel that I need to come clean about my political standings (I believe for the first time on my blog). I am right leaning. I’m not going to delve deep into what that means. However, I will say that I believe that the world is more complex than “one or the other” and is reflected by the major themes of The Wheel of Time. In the case of this show, and the arguments that I hear against it, I hear them. I don’t like when it feels like companies, be they film and TV studios, universities, or businesses, are going through a list and checking off boxes. If there is hate when a Japanese character role is filled by an American actor, I also hate it when the situation is the other way. But enough already.
When the cast was announced, there were shockwaves. Initially, that shockwave was felt by most of the fandom. However, it was because the actors did not reflect the head-canon developed by numerous images, cover art, fan art, etc. The author, Robert Jordan, even had his own dream cast list for many of the major characters. When the dust settled, many found that the casting was good or, at least, they were willing to give them a chance. That said, the case has been laid out many times through character descriptions and the setting itself.
For me, I am fine with it if it makes sense to the setting/world, and it is not forced. I feel as long as it is not feeling like they were checking off a list, let it be. I believe that the setting and worldbuilding justifies diversity in the characters. And that includes sexuality. The world of The Wheel of Time has always felt more like the classical period in that regard where bisexuality and homosexuality were generally accepted or at least not frowned upon. So, I am ok with the nods that have been in the show so far. Even in the books, there were indications, even though it was not explicitly explored.
Finally, the last of the “woke” complaints is in regard to the female dominance of the world. It is true that in the books, there is a large matriarchal feel to the world. Women hold a lot of power throughout the land, even in the book. I feel that the complaint is that men who have some power seem to be getting demoted or stripped of their power altogether. For example, The Two Rivers (Emonds Field specifically) does have the Women’s Circle and they hold great sway over the village (it really is a small town, really). However, there is also a mayor and a village council that is made up of men. The mayor is Egwene’s father (and the innkeeper), Bran al’Vere. In the show, he seems to have been stripped of his mayoral role and reduced as the “lesser partner” of the inn.
Another example is that Raen, of the Tuatha’an (Tinkers) was the primary speaker for the group. It feels like he and Ila were switched as the “leader” of this band of Tinkers. These are both elements causing some people to complain. There are other concerns such as the removal of the saidin/saidar dichotomy. For all these gender-based complaints, I am holding a wait and see. First, one of the core themes of The Wheel of Time centers around gender dynamics. I do believe that they are keeping that intact. We have already seen it with some of the less savory characters and their disdain. But also, I feel that they are slowly feeding us elements of the world building and characters so as not to overwhelm viewers (especially newcomers) too much. They have a lot to cover and only 8 episodes to do it. It is better to space things out and introduce the characters. I a sense, think of season one as the tutorial for the world before things really start to heat up.
My final word on this is that I hear the complaints and I don’t want to shut them down immediately like so many are doing in the fandom. In the end, though, I don’t feel that the show has gone too politically charged in either favor. There will be elements that hit home. That’s the nature of literature and especially fantasy. But I have always felt that The Wheel of Time has far reaching appeals even with different perspectives and ideologies and can have a resonating tone. The greatest appeal is that it does not necessarily say that one is right or wrong but shows the mistakes that both sides make when engaging with one another… particularly communication. As the show goes on, I will be looking for this aspect and hoping that it stays true to this perspective.
Other newcomers may be coming from another show or franchise in fantasy or sci-fi and feel it is beneath their favorite or trying too much to be like their favorite or whatever. It sounds like they are just there to justify their favorite series and find fault in whatever is NOT their favorite. Again, we don’t care about your opinion. To that note, I welcome people who want to honestly give this show a chance. If they still don’t like it, that is totally fine. But you can generally tell who is dismissing it genuinely and who is dismissing it for their own glorification. Myself, I have checked out other shows and properties (The Witcher, Shadow and Bone, etc.) and I am still considering others (Cowboy Beebop) to check out. I do not feel I am betraying my loyalty to the franchise I love if I happen to enjoy the other shows. So, get off your high horse, relax, and enjoy things for what they are, not what you want them to be or what they are not.
With the politically charged accusations dealt with and out of the way (and hopefully put to bed), there is another group of critics that I have seen bashing the series from the get-go. Well, two groups really, one the hard-core fans that are furious that the story is not one-for-one. The other group is the newcomers that turn their nose up at it and insist on putting it down. Maybe they don’t watch or read fantasy and they feel that it is beneath them (as many who hold disdain for the fantasy genre as a whole). To those people I ask, why are you even watching. We don’t want your opinion if the only reason that you are watching is to bash it and make yourselves feel good.
My biggest problem is the critics. I suppose as I am preparing my novella for the world, I should be nice to critics, but I have always had (as a consumer) a mistrust of critic reviews. Especially when it came to the mainstream. I have always been of the mind of enjoying things for what they are and not putting too much stock in the opinions of egomaniacs. And that is what I think of most film and TV critics. Too many times have they bashed things that I loved and hailed things that were absolute garbage in my opinion. This often reflects in critical duds that appeal to the masses and/or develop cult followings. So, take critical reviews for what they are worth, guidelines from the opinion of (often elite egomaniacs) one person.
Back to the fans of the books who are outraged over the changes, well, I addressed a lot of that already. Some of the complaints I agree with to an extent, but I am waiting to see how things unfold throughout the season. I have been watching a few reaction videos and I have been loving watching their reactions. I’ll try to link a few below. But a couple of them have been pretty harsh on the series so far. Some I agree with and others not so much. Knights Watch is one of those that has been going pretty hard. It is from a Youtuber I like to watch for their historical facts when it comes to weapons and such, Shad of Shadiversity. Shad and his fellow watchers (Shad has read the books, his companions have not) have ripped apart many aspects of the show. He has given it some praise and benefit of the doubt. The reaction to the 4th episode has been overwhelmingly praising, however. (He didn’t like Stepin’s axes, though).
There has been some fairly harsh criticism of the show. As I have said, some of it is (at least somewhat) justified. There is certainly room for improvement. After my initial take, I have begun to see some of the pacing issues that others have been complaining about. Some of the effects have come through a little wonky. Others have looked great. And some dialogue has some holes or come off a little cheesy. But for the most part I do like the dialogue and feel that it is mostly filling its purpose. If anything, my biggest complaint so far is that it doesn’t have much in the way of “WoT swears.”
The show has a long way to go and is facing some growing pains right now. Troubles are to be expected as it finds its footing and establishes this world and its complexity. Having made it through the first half of the first season, I feel it has a lot of promise and, while taking different approaches to the story, can get through to the story points that we area all waiting for. I am happy with the overall direction and while I question some of the decisions, I am waiting to see how they turn out before giving a final verdict.
That said, for those who are upset, give it some time. Let’s see how they take the show and if they can get it on course. As I mentioned earlier, there are a number of scenes and events that I want to see from the books and as long as they have those scenes, I will be happy. Until then, I will ride this wave and enjoy it while it lasts. I will likely revisit this when the season is over and give my overall impression. The only thing that I have left to say to the showrunners is, for light’s sake, can we get some bloody “blood and ashes” thrown in? Maybe a “woolhead” and a “mother’s milk in a cup” too?
pReviewed (with Jay and Adam) – The Wheel of Time – Season. 1 Eps 1 Reaction – YouTube
Matthew V. Haynes – WHAT!? – The Wheel Of Time Ep 1 “Leavetaking” REACTION!! – YouTube
Father Roderick – My reaction to The Wheel of Time episode one! – YouTube
Knights Watch – The WHEEL OF TIME episode 4 FULL REVIEW and discussion – YouTube