REVIEW: Wheel of Time 1×1, ‘Leavetaking’

Amazon’s Wheel of Time is off to a promising start with the first episode, ‘Leavetaking’ careful to honor its source material.

Adaptions are a tough thing. Choosing to make a straight adaption of a title can be viewed as lazy, while failing to stay true to the source material can upset fans. Amazon’s Wheel of Time is one of those titles with a rabid fanbase that has been eagerly awaiting a live-action take on the project for two decades. For book purists, Amazon’s Wheel of Time may be disappointing. After all, it does take departures from the novels, however, the adaption is successful in capturing the spirit of Robert Jordan‘s epic fantasy.

The first episode of Wheel of Time wastes no time in moving the story forward. We see women on horseback chasing after a man who has fallen under the control of the taint. As they apprehend him, the story changes focus to the story’s main character, Rand, as he helps his father transport a cart full of brandy and cider to the Winespring Inn ahead of Bel Tine. In the book, Rand sees a cloaked figure watching them during the journey to the Inn. The series, however, skips over this detail and instead sees the duo reach the Inn safely and without questioning any mysterious figure watching over them.

It’s a minor change, but one that does leave an impact, as Rand was unsure and anxious following the event. It’s an odd scene to omit, however, despite this, the story still manages to pull viewers in. As with most adaptions, the cast has been aged up, which allows the writers to explore possibilities on the small screen that might’ve been skipped over in the novels. Case in point is the relationship between Rand and Egwene Al’Vere, which sees the duo as well-established and in intimate settings. It’s a bit startling at first, especially given how young the characters are in the books, but the television series does a good job at establishing its own take on these characters while adhering to the characteristics of each in the novels.

When we finally move into the village of Two Rivers is when the series shines. Viewers will become engrossed in the world before them. Jordan might’ve been criticized for his tendency to write flowery text and his love of descriptions. However, the images painted by his words come alive on screen in this adaption so perfectly.

As Rosamund Pike‘s Moiraine Damodred comes into the picture, joined by Daniel Henney‘s Lan Mondragoran, Wheel of Time becomes its own take on the beloved fantasy series. It pulls from the book, but manages to offer its own twist on the story, an important detail when adapting a title as loved as this one.

Midway through the episode, the Trollocs make their way into the village and wreak havoc. They are after the chosen one – Rand – and will not stop coming and destroying life in the village until they’ve gotten him. The Trollocs were so well-designed, they’re absolutely terrifying and the CGI work is impeccable. It’s impressive just how well done the battle is, s much so it becomes hard to look away in fear of missing something.

When Damodred helps to save the village to the best of her ability, she tells Rand he will need to leave in order to remain safe. Resulting in him, and his group of friends, joining her on a journey that’ll take them out of the village of the Two Rivers and into a world of the unknown.

Admittedly, the episode does have some moments that lull. And yes, there will always be changes from the books that make no sense. However, there’s more than enough here to enjoy. Pike is a force to be reckoned with every moment she’s on-screen, and her chemistry with Henney is exciting. While some of the younger actors stumble at times, when they come together as a group, they seem to lift one another up. The performances are strong, the action is perfectly executed, and the settings perfectly bring Jordan’s words to life.

Overall, Amazon’s take on Wheel of Time pays respect to Jordan’s work while also establishing itself as its own story. It’s a hard line to walk, but so far, Wheel of Time looks to be off to a promising start.

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