The Wheel of Time
This summer was not been an easy one for television; with the long and well-deserved writer’s strike, television was hit a crippling blow. While last year felt like a banner year for summer TV (Stranger Things, The House of the Dragon, The Staircase, What We Do in the Shadows, Better Call Saul, and The Rings of Power all premiered between May and September), this year was not been as action-packed. While there were certainly some surprise heroes (looking at you, Silo), summer 2023 certainly lacked the same variety last year had. Yet, as we head into the fall television season there is one show that has made me excited about television again. Prime’s The Wheel of Time has action, romance, a great costume budget, and a talented cast proving why it is the ideal way to start the fall television season.
The Wheel of Time’s Season 2 premiered this September after a long hiatus and it has been the perfect balm for my television lull. A show that makes me believe binge TV is truly behind us, The Wheel of Time has made me excited to wait for new episodes every week. Based on Robert Jordan’s 15-book series of the same name (you read that right, 15!), The Wheel of Time is a wonderful example of how to do fantasy for television. While many fans of the book series were initially incensed with some of the bold choices the show made, I would argue they are what makes this series so special. The show does not attempt to be a faithful adaptation; instead, it takes what is at the heart of the series and creates its own “Wheel” because “the Wheel turns as the Wheel wills…” after all.
The show’s second season has displayed its ability to pivot as it slowed down the pacing issues from Season 1. Like other fantasy shows, The Wheel of Time had a lot on its shoulders in Season 1, needing to balance between worldbuilding and keeping audiences entertained. Season 2 has taken a slower pace but it has managed to wonderfully grow with each episode, creating tension without feeling too fast paced. Much like with Game of Thrones, The Wheel of Time seems to be finding the balance much easier in its sophomore season. Season 2 has been full of fun twists, devastating character developments, strong dialogue, and continuous world expansion. Each episode of Season 2 has felt better than the last, including its action packed finale which aired this week.
[Spoilers below. If you haven’t watched all of Season 1 stop reading now.]
Season 2 comes on the heels of the heart-stopping Season 1 finale that saw our gang from the Two Rivers—Rand, Perrin, Mat, Egwene, and Nynaeve—all scattered after their trip to the Eye of the World. The team might have made it out alive, but they are faced with the reality that the battle against the Dark is only just beginning. The dispersion of the main characters is both the strength and weakness of this season so far. While Season 1 sometimes struggled to slow down and felt like a lot to take in (especially for those who have not read the series), Season 2 succeeds at slowing down a bit and allowing viewers to better understand the motives of the characters. Rosamund Pike especially shines with the slowed-down pace as she brilliantly portrays Moiraine. Pike has captured the cold determinedness of Moirane this season as she struggles with the long term affects of being “stilled” from her powers at the end of last season. Josha Stradowski also stands out as Rand in this season as he faces his newfound role as the Dragon Reborn. Further, Zoë Robins has arguably the best performance of the season in Episode 3, “What Might Be,” as Nynaeve goes through the trial of the arches at the White Tower.
While isolating most of the characters has allowed actors to shine and really step into the roles, this plot choice it is not without shortcomings. This season seems to lack the same group feeling from Season 1. One of the successes of Season 1 was the connection between the main five characters as they were led away from the Two Rivers by Moiraine and Lan. The character relationships helped make Season 1 so captivating. The on-screen chemistry between Lan and Nynaeve, the friendship between Mat and Rand, and Moiraine and Siuan’s tension were all highlights of Season1. While individual characters have soared this season, the first half in particular seems to lack the spirit of camaraderie Season 1 had.
Despite the lack of shared on-screen time for our central group, the show has added new characters that have been a wonderful addition to the cast, especially as they challenge our main heroes. Elayne has served as an incredible counter to Nynaeve, and Selene has been at the heart of a fun twist with Rand this season. Additionally, the show has really amped up the villains. While Season 1 left much of the villainy to nameless Trollocs, Season 2 has really given the villains a chance to be more than one-dimensional; especially with the addition of the Darkfriend concept. With Darkfriends possibly lurking in plain sight, our heroes have never been more challenged; this sets up each main character with strong hero arcs this season. While some are darker than others, it is safe to say this season proves The Wheel of Time has grit, and its main characters will certainly go into Season 3 with much more complicated storylines.
With an expanding world and a growing cast, The Wheel of Time seems to just be getting started. The show is building up its core cast, finding its stride, and creating ways to surprise—everything a viewer should want out of a sophomore season. The Wheel of Time has managed to carve out a space for itself in the competitive world of high end fantasy television and I hope it gets the proper support it needs to continue to tell this story for years to come. As the show wraps up Season 2, I know I am cursing the Wheel for only giving this show eight episodes.