Developed by: Rafe Judkins
Cast: Rosamund Pike, Daniel Henney, Madeleine Madden, Josha Stradowski, Marcus Rutherford, Zoë Robins, Barney Harris
Genre: Fantasy action
Country / Language: USA / English
8 episodes, approx. 54 minutes each
Release date: November 19, 2021 (first three episodes)
Amazon Prime Video has been searching for its own hit show to compete against the megahits of streaming giants Netflix, HBO Max and Hulu. And they might just have found it. ‘The Wheel of Time’ is Prime Video’s new big-budget project which has been released, perhaps, to see how it commercially fares before they dive in with their even more ambitious ‘Lord of the Rings’ adaptation. And it seems like the work and budget are paying off. ‘The Wheel of Time’ is said to be the streaming site’s most watched show with one of the leading countries in audiences being India.
Based on Robert Jordan’s well-loved series of novels, the eight-episode show, last aired on December 24, is highly entertaining. It is set in a fantasy world where sorcery, orcs, destructive spirits and magical portals are common. It is explained that many years ago, a man known as The Dragon helped the Dark One (an evil and all-powerful entity) escape his cage and destroy the world.
The world was then rebuilt on the ashes and ruins of the War. And now, many years later, the Dark One is once again gaining in strength and numbers to escape the prison. Moiraine (played by Rosamund Pike of ‘Gone Girl’) is a magic-weilding Aes Sedai who is looking for the Dragon Reborn. Together, she hopes, they can put an end to the Dark One and save the world from another apocalyptic war.
After many years of searching, she finds five young friends in a humble village who give off certain energies. These energies convince Moiraine that one of the five young people is the Dragon Reborn who could save the world. But she isn’t sure which one of them it is. It is also possible that Moiraine has personal motives of her own for this search and is not to be wholly trusted.
The story is ambitious, epic in scale and full of action and plot twists. The screenwriters had the Herculean task to balance the numerous different characters, giving each one enough screentime and characterisation. And they surely succeed at it. Over the eight 1 hour episodes, we come to root for the five rag-tag bunch of friends: the gentle Egwene (Madeleine Madden), the stocky Rand (Josha Stradowski), the iron smith Perrin (Marcus Rutherford), the mischievous Mat (Barney Harris) and the older, wise Nynaeve (Zoë Robbins).
While the characterization of all the characters isn’t perfect (we wish to have seen more of Egwene’s personal demons), the vulnerability and suffering of Perrin and Mat win our hearts while Nynaeve’s eyes and worn out face give us hints about her past pains without needing any words.
The action is thrilling to say the least. Many set pieces such as the hauntingly desolate city of Shadar Logoth, the bustling multi-ethnic city of Tar Valon, and the inn where the heroes confront a gang of evil orcs lead by the pale, eyeless monster called a fade are all hugely memorable, providing the fantasy world a deeper sense of authenticity. The
only visual setback, although not too major, is the special effects when the characters channel their powers. The white-blueish waves which look like electricity do not seem very real and definitely need getting used to in the first few episodes.
Another beautiful facet of this show is how wonderfully diverse the cast and characters are and how much that visibly enriches the show. We get a parallel inside this magical world with the real world Romani people. Like the Romani people, the fictional nomadic coummunity of the Tinkers face discrimination and have the notorious reputation of being child-stealers and savages. Contrary to this belief, the Tinkers practice non-violence while teaching Egwene and Perrin a thing or two about forgiveness and truth.
The cast is fantastic. Priyanka Bose (of ‘Pareeksha’ and ‘Lion’) plays the powerful Aes Sedai at the White Tower who helps Moiraine with handling the Tower politics. We get a chilling and absolutely evil performance from Abdul Salis as Eamon Valda, a leader of the “Children of Light”, who hunts down the all-female Aes Sedai and burns them at the stake because witchcraft is “not the way of the Light [read “Lord”]” (a clear parallel to the Church’s history of witchunt craze in Europe and America).
Marcus Rutherford gives us a heart-breaking performance as the gentle Perrin who suffers from guilt due to his past. Rosamund Pike is the star of the cast and the backbone of the show. And boy, do we love her. Playing the powerful, stern and leaderlike Aes Sedai Moiraine, Pike has the strength to captivate the audience with her words and one look of her eyes. In a highlight scene, Moiraine is on her horse along with her warder Lan (played charmingly by Daniel Henney) and four younsters.
Upon hearing the youth sing an old ballad, Moiraine asks whether they know the story behind the song. Then she gives us a vivid story of the ancient city back in the time of The Great War which fought off evil monsters and Darkfriends over many, many weeks, day and night, without any help from outside the city. Pike commandingly narrates this tale, with no help from flashbacks or background effects, but simply with shots of the group riding their horses through green pastures and cutting to different angles. It makes for a mesmerizing, engrossing moment.
It might even bring tears to your eyes and make us feel patriotic for a fictional ancient city and its never-say-die spirit. Barney Harris plays Mat Cauthon, a young thief with a heart of gold. We will miss the exceptional Harris as the actor will not be returning for Season 2 due to an undisclosed reason, and will be replaced with Dónal Finn from ‘The Witcher’ instead.
And finally, the women empowerment angle is another endearing point for this swashbuckling adventure. For too long, the high fantasy genre of TV shows has side-lined women characters to give more space to men such as ‘The Lord of the Rings’ books and films, and the show ‘Vikings’.
When women do get to share space in the show, they are often made to go through unreasonably heightened cruelty and voyeuristic sexual violence in the hands of men such as in ‘Game of Thrones’. Women (as well as men) can watch ‘The Wheel of Time’ safe in the knowledge that there is no pointless sexual violence inflicted on women (or men) in this show.
Not only that, but the women in this story, especially the esteemed cult of the Aes Sedai, are highly empowered characters who can channel magic to defeat men twice their size. There is even a subplot where women can get away with touching the Dark magic while men are not strong enough to handle it, thereby going crazy at encountering them.
It is also fun to watch the politics of the all-female Aes Sedai unfold as we learn about the practice of the members choosing a lifelong male partner for themselves called a Warder who they share an unbreakable bond with. These women can choose to have more than one partner as well.
‘The Wheel of Time’ is highly thrilling and fast-paced with each episode ending on a cliff hanger that makes it easy to get addicted to binge-watching the series. We are keenly looking forward to the second season (which has already been greenlit) of the show. One hopes that the series gets bigger than it already is, thereby getting more and more seasons until it garners a worldwide pan-cultural fandom à la ‘Game of Thrones’. It would certainly be more deserving of it.
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