Note: This review contains no spoilers for the first three episodes of Wheel of Time.
After two decades of being in development, Robert Jordan‘s Wheel of Time series is finally hitting the small screen. For fans of the book, it has been a long wait. However, it’s safe to say it has been worthwhile as Amazon’s Wheel of Time adaption is a well-done take on the beloved fantasy series.
Amazon’s decision to release the first three episodes upfront may seem a bit strange initially. After all, these are hour-long episodes and the first season only contains eight episodes total. Once given the chance to dive in, though, it is clear the first three episodes are best viewed back-to-back. While the pilot episode falters at times as it struggles to set up this massive fantasy world, the second episode seems to regain its footing.
Jordan’s books are known for being full of flowery text. They are overly descriptive to the point readers are able to envision the world while reading. It’s great for reading, however, it can make it harder to translate to another medium – especially a live-action take. This is something the first episode, “Leavetaking,” struggles with as it tries to find a balance between telling its own story and merely adapting its source material.
The pilot does a great job at paying homage to the books, as it focuses on the woman and them earning the right to bore a braid, as well as the village located near the Two Rivers. The scenery is often breathtaking and the casting choices, although aged-up, are smart and well-done. Some minor decisions make no sense, though, including scenes from the first book that would better impact the story moving forward. It almost feels as though the writers want to hold off on more fantastical aspects of the story until the end of the episode, unleashing a new world of magic upon viewers in the last minutes.
Thankfully, the second episode “Shadow’s Waiting,” realizes there’s no need to shy away from the magic and lore of this massive world. From the start, the second episode puts our characters through the wringer. It’s an expansive episode that captures Jordan’s work and Rosamund Pike delivers a heck of a performance. If there is one casting choice the series nails, it is Pike as Moiraine. She commands every moment on screen, and in “Shadows Waiting” she puts everything on the table. From the way she delivers some of the lore on screen, to her chemistry with Daniel Henney‘s Lan, this is her episode to shine and she does. This episode belongs to them.
Going into the third episode, things are rocky for our gang. “A Place of Safety” has one of the best openings of the series yet. No longer does Wheel of Time try holding its audience’s hand. Viewers are thrown deep into this world where death is something to constantly outrun. Our group of characters is left feeling defeated and desperate, with emotions overtaking rational thought. Pike’s Moiraine takes a backseat in this episode, allowing the younger cast to shine. Each of them is driven by something – anger, desperation, love, regret – and despite their desire to escape the terrors that await them, they ultimately all decide to do what is needed. Lorne Balfe’s score is noticeably effective in this episode, it is both haunting and cinematic serving as the perfect backdrop.
Overall, Wheel of Time is not a perfect adaption. It is, however, a very good adaption that is worthy of your time. The first three episodes are a strong effort and do an impressive job at recreating the magic of Jordan’s novels.
The first three episodes of The Wheel of Time debut on Amazon on Friday, Nov. 19.
For spoiler-filled reviews, check back on the 20th when we run the individual reviews for the first three episodes. Then we’ll be reviewing the series on a weekly basis!