In 2018, the world began preparing itself for the conclusion of “Game of Thrones.” The astronomical success of the show was guaranteed to leave a gap in the pop culture world given that the HBO series resurrected the public’s love of fantasy, which has not seen such a resurgence since Peter Jackson’s original “Lord of Rings” trilogy.
Interestingly, Amazon Prime Video and Netflix both announced that the services would be adapting a popular fantasy book series into a television show seemingly in an attempt to capitalize on the “Game of Thrones” hype. Netflix’s “The Witcher” is based on Andrzej Sapkowski’s series of the same name; the books previously served as the basis for a massively successful video game franchise. The television series will star Henry Cavill, and, admittedly, the first teaser looks promising.
In addition, both Netflix and Prime Video found themselves in the midst of a bidding war for the rights to a series based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth novels. The contract with HarperCollins and New Line Cinema included a guaranteed five-season deal, and Prime Video won out, although the company was forced to spend $250 million solely for the rights. The available details of the project state that the show will take place thousands of years before the “Lord of the Rings” movies and books.
Nevertheless, as exciting as a “Lord of the Rings” prequel series might be, it perpetuates the type of fantasy that audiences have seen before. Consequently, Prime Video’s adaptation of the 14-book long “The Wheel of Time” series might be the service’s best option to steal the acclaim that “Game of Thrones” once held.
The first book in Robert Jordan’s “The Wheel of Time” series, “The Eye of the World,” was released in 1990, and although the author continued writing until his death in 2007, the series remained unfinished at 11 published books for a time. In light of Jordan’s passing, Brandon Sanderson was chosen by Harriet McDougal — Jordan’s wife and editor — to use the late author’s notes in order to finish the series. Sanderson wrote three more books, all of which received critical and commercial success.
With regards to world building, the collection of high-fantasy novels takes place in an unnamed world that fans have dubbed “Randland,” named after one of the series’s protagonists. One of the characteristics that serves as a trademark of “The Wheel of Time” series is its unique magic system, “The One Power,” which is controllable by certain individuals in Randland through a process called “channeling.” However, the power sources for men and women stem from two different pools of energy; women use “Saidar,” but men use “Saidin.”
Narratively, “The Wheel of Time” series follows five characters as they leave their small village of Emond’s Field to find their destiny. The story cuts between numerous character perspectives. A mysterious woman named Moiraine and her companion Lan believe that one of the five is “The Dragon Reborn,” the prophesied channeler that will be able to stop Shi’Tan, a cosmic force of evil, when he attempts to return.
Other characters include Rand al’Thor, the son of a sheep farmer who lives an assuming life, and his best friends Perrin Aybara, a blacksmith’s apprentice and the egotistical troublemaker Matrim Cauthon.
In addition, Egwene al’Vere, the childhood crush of al’Thor, and Nynaeve al’Meara, the village apothecary are both included in the Emond’s Field protagonists.
Thematically, the books were applauded for their progressive portrayal of women. Throughout the series, men and women are equally strong and hold similar positions of power. Differences in gender are brought up constantly, but it is never in a painfully sexist way. Men and women curse each other via internal dialogue, but neither sex is shown to be superior to the other.
The showrunner for the upcoming Prime Video series is Rafe Judkins, who is best known for his production work on “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and writing for the adventure-comedy “Chuck.” Luckily for fans of the novels, McDougal stated that Judkins has been doing a commendable job adapting the series to the screen. Furthermore, Sanderson has been open about his opinions on the writing, and stated that, despite the changes that Judkins has made, he still believes that the series holds potential.
Similarly, the main cast has also been announced. Most of the main characters’ actors are relatively unknown in the United States. Josha Stradowski, the actor portraying Rand al’Thor, has made a name for himself in his home country of the Netherlands, although the most recognizable name attached to the project is Rosamund Pike, who is playing the mysterious Moiraine Damodred.
Interestingly, there was a previous attempt to create a television show for “The Wheel of Time” series back in 2015 on FXX. Surprisingly, only the pilot episode, “Winter Dragon,” which starred Billy Zane and Max Ryan, was ever made and aired. The failed production might be due in part to the show being made in an attempt to retain the rights to the series, and was probably not helped by the fact that the episode aired in the middle of the night with no announcement. The pilot loosely based on the prologue to the first book of the series can currently be seen on YouTube.
Fans of fantasy novels should definitely read Jordan’s epic series for themselves. The author spent countless hours writing “The Wheel of Time” series, and reading the pages closely pays off. If you dedicate yourself to reading the series in its entirety, you’ll likely notice moments of foreshadowing on the second read. The vast scope of Randland feels gritty and realistic, a factor that is likely due to the influence that real-world Western philosophies play in the various cultures in the series.
“The Wheel of Time” is debuting at a perfect time. Filming began earlier this year, and the show is expected to be released on Amazon Prime Video in 2021, which gives fantasy fans a couple of years to step away from “Game of Thrones” and crave something fresh.