The Big Picture
The TV adaptation of The Wheel of Time made some significant changes to the story and metaphysics, which strengthened the overall adaptation and added more mystery to the show. The show updated aspects of the book series’ lore, including the gender dynamics of reincarnation and the possibility that anyone could be the Dragon Reborn, allowing for important characters like Egwene and Nynaeve to have a bigger role. The first season also made structural changes to the plot, such as changing the stop at Caemlyn to Tar Valon and adding new characters like Laila, Perrin’s wife, which received mixed reactions from viewers. Ultimately, these changes allow the show to have its own unique interpretation of the story.
The Wheel of Time, the gargantuan 15-book series with thousands of characters, has largely been touted as impossible to adapt. Written by Robert Jordan, with the final three books finished by Brandon Sanderson after Jordan’s passing, it is a triumph of early modern fantasy that centered women in its worldbuilding. The first attempted adaptation of this show was an admittedly terrible pilot called Winter Dragon (yes, you can still watch it, and no, you really shouldn’t). It was many years before the wheel started turning again, and finally, Prime Video announced that they would be adapting the book series into a show. With eight hour-long episodes, the series finally made its premiere in the fall of 2021.
The Wheel of Time series has to juggle setting up a new world, characters, and a magic system, as well as lay the groundwork for future seasons. That means changes. While the basic plot structure is the same, there are some big changes to the story and the metaphysics. This may have caused some rumbles within the long-standing fandom, but it made the adaptation a lot stronger than it would have been.
The Wheel of Time
Set in a high fantasy world where magic exists, but only some can access it, a woman named Moiraine crosses paths with five young men and women. This sparks a dangerous, world-spanning journey. Based on the book series by Robert Jordan.
Release Date November 19, 2021
Creator Rafe Judkins
Main Genre Fantasy
Streaming Service(s) Prime Video
The Books’ Lore Is Updated for ‘The Wheel of Time’ Series
Image via Amazon
While the book series is a triumph of modern feminist fantasy, it also is a product of its time and creator, and there were some necessary updates that needed to be made. Most of it is minimal updates — something as simple as Moiraine (Rosamund Pike) wearing pants for riding instead of dresses — but there are deeper changes tied to the lore of the books. In both the books and the show, it is clear that the people within this world believe in reincarnation, and that it is real. In the books, the gender dynamic of men and women is heavily split; there is no intersection, even within reincarnation (in fact, there is only one instance of this, where it’s used as a punishment). That means, in the books, no women were considered to be the Dragon Reborn. The show opted to change the Karaethon Cycle prophecy and open up the possibility that anyone could be the Dragon Reborn if they were the right age. This was not only to include more of the Emond’s Field characters in the plot but also to add more of a mystery to the show surrounding who would end up being the Dragon Reborn.
These changes opened up the possibility for Egwene (Madeleine Madden) and Nynaeve (Zoë Robins) to be what is considered “ta’veren,” a focal point of the Wheel, and a concept that exists around the idea of the Wheel weaving a person’s life thread in the Pattern to correct the Pattern itself. They, no matter how hard they try, cannot escape their destiny. Only Rand (Josha Stradowski), Perrin (Marcus Rutherford), and Mat (Barney Harris in Season 1, Dónal Finn in Season 2) are ta’veren in the books. This choice has always been a subject of debate, especially because Egwene and Nynaeve were just as important to saving the Pattern, if not more, as the men were. In the final episode of the first season, Padan Fain (Johann Myers) confirms it: all five of them are ta’veren, and all five will have a major part to play. Although at this point this has not been explained in the show, it would not be surprising if this comes into play later.
‘The Wheel of Time’ Show Made Even Bigger Changes From the Books
Beyond the metaphysical changes the show made, it also made some structural changes to the plot of the book to flow and set up the world better for the audience. Plot-wise, the show is very similar to the book, if not a little rushed. There are a lot more stops along the way that the show opts out from in its month-long time-skip mid-season. But perhaps the biggest change of the season, beyond showing us off-page sequences like Logain’s (Alvaro Morte) capture, is changing the stop at Caemlyn to the city of Tar Valon. Beyond the White Tower drama that unfolds in the show, it largely served the same purpose of a way for all the characters to converge and set off to the eye of the world. The only important bit of setup that was lost was the introduction of Elayne (Ceara Coveney). In the book, Rand, who climbs a wall, accidentally falls into the palace gardens where he meets Elayne. This introduces us to her mother and brothers, as well as another Aes Sedai that will be important much later. Even though Rand and Elayne’s meet-cute was missed, she was instead introduced at The White Tower in Season 2.
Perrin, who we see struggle with violence and peace throughout the season, had perhaps the most controversial change of all. The show added the character of Laila (Helena Westerman), Perrin’s wife. She is killed by his hand on accident, during the battle at the Two Rivers in the first episode; it was a storytelling choice that was considered by many viewers to be what is often referred to as “fridging,” where a female character’s death is used to further the emotional arc of a man. In the book, Perrin’s averse feelings toward violence come from his size and self-awareness not to hurt people, and the show needed something else to convey this — but probably should have gone for something else. Even Brandon Sanderson, the co-author of the final three books in the series, warned them against making this change.
Mat choosing to stay behind at Tar Valon is another turn away from the source material. Due to COVID shutdowns and Barney Harris leaving the show due to personal reasons, Mat had to be written out in the final episodes and reintroduced with a new actor in the second season. He was supposed to go to the eye of the world and Fal Dara with the rest of the group, but because of this, it is implied he stayed to find the cursed dagger and gets taken in by the Red Aes Sedai Liandrin (Kate Fleetwood) instead. This plot is new territory for Mat, as he was supposed to also be involved in the hunt for the Horn of Valere.
‘The Wheel of Time’s Changes Allow the Show to Be Its Own Story
Image via Prime Video
There are countless changes an adaptation needs to make to bring the story to life — especially a story that takes up 15 volumes of a book series. Be prepared for more changes in the future, as showrunner Rafe Judkins has been very clear about his intentions for streamlining the story. Other notable changes included are the early introduction of the Seanchan, an invading force that will cause a lot of trouble next season, Moiraine being cut off from the One Power (which is something new for the show), and Rand going off on his own, leaving his friends under the impression that he has died.
The beauty of The Wheel of Time is that the mythology of the world allows for this interpretation to be its own thing. Time is a wheel, constantly spinning the same pattern in different ways, and the next turn of the wheel may be slightly different. This show is essentially a new Turning of the Wheel, one that will be familiar to book readers, but also have surprises for us just the same. This show was never going to be a one-to-one adaptation — that would certainly be impossible — but the care can be seen in what is playing out on-screen.
Both seasons of The Wheel of Time are available to stream on Prime Video.
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