‘The Wheel of Time’ already has an illustrious history mapped out in its fourteen books written by Robert Jordan. It’s the best selling fantasy book in the world since ‘The Lord of the Rings’. 90 million copies have sold worldwide. So, already - There’s a lot to pack in and quite a dedicated fan base to try and impress.
The story follows Moiraine, a member of the powerful group of women called the Aes Sedai, as she arrives in the small town of Two Rivers. There, she embarks on a dangerous journey with five young men and women, one of whom is prophesised to be the Dragon Reborn, who will either save or destroy humanity.
Our main characters are all quite likeable in their own way, but some shine more than others. Madeleine Madden’s Egwene and Zoe Robins’ Nynaeve are particularly convincing in their roles. Marcus Rutherford, who plays Perrin, really comes into his own as the season goes on, too.
Barney Harris and Josh Stradowski as Mat and Rand are a little more drab in their performances. Their characters come across as sullen and not as convincing as their counterparts. Again though, there's enough there to win us over eventually.
Abdul Salis plays Eamon Valda, leader of the puritanical, cult-like Children of the Light, and is chilling in his performance. He is a fantastic villain and, to be honest, deserves more than the small amount of screen time he gets in this season.
Where the show gets it right is that it doesn’t try to cram everything into the first season. Instead, it introduces us to a handful of characters and gives them enough screen time for us to get to know them and their relationships with each other. Everything is kept on a relatively small scale with the view to build up storylines into future seasons.
Subsequently, there's some breathing space here for the series to grow. Comparisons to 'Game of Thrones' are inevitable. However, looking back at the HBO series in its entirety is unfair. Instead, we need to cast our minds back to when it started.
There was no real cultural shift until 'Game of Thrones' was well into its third season. Time was given to crank up its story and get to grips with its multiple characters. If 'The Wheel of Time' gets the same allowance, it's sure to blossom.
Another difficulty it faces is that it can be hard to translate fantasy novels into mainstream tv shows without seeming a little cheesy at times. ‘The Wheel of Time’ avoids this for the most part but some scenes involving magic still come off as a bit silly. The spells are very visual and some may find them over-the-top and a little clumsy in parts.
Besides that, the big set-piece battles impress. The practical effects mostly blend in with CGI to good effect too. There was clearly a lot of care put in here.
The themes in the series feel very of our time. Female power is front and centre and diversity thrives throughout the cast. Yes, this is a timeless fantasy world like 'Game of Thrones', but more modern in its context.
All in all, this is a well-rounded debut for the series. We’re sure it will expand into multiple seasons, sheer expectation and excitement call for that. The second season has already been greenlit, so it shows Amazon's intent on making this a hit.
There is some room for improvement but it certainly seems to have found its feet early on.
'The Wheel of Time's first three episodes launch on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, November 19.