The Wheel Of Time – Season 1, Episode 1: Leavetaking

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Jeff Bezos is desperate for a hit show that will make his streaming service relevant. Amazon Prime is packed full of content and has a number of popular shows but it has been lacking the cultural impact that other streamers have. Netflix was the first to achieve this with ‘Stranger Things’ and Disney has numerous Marvel and Star Wars show that get people hyped for their arrival and talking about each episode. Even Apple TV+, which has tumbleweed blowing through it, has ‘Ted Lasso’. Prime have decided to chase the ‘Game Of Thrones’ audience and are throwing all their money into fantasy and next year will see them launch their flagship show, a prequel to ‘Lord Of The Rings’. But first out of the gate is an adaption of Robert Jordan’s ‘The Wheel Of Time’.

I have never read the books and are completely unfamiliar with the story so I am coming to this fresh but straight of the bat it seems odd that the same channel is doing this and ‘Lord Of The Rings’. The basics seem very similair but I guess the the thinking is that you get the audience with one show and keep them with the other.

We are thrown straight into the deep end of this new fantasy world populated by characters with unpronounceable through an introductory narration from Moiraine (Rosamund Pike), a member of an order of magic-wielding women known as the Aes Sedai. The world was broken a generation ago by a man known as The Dragon and now only woman can wield magic. A prophesy says the Dragon has been reborn in the current generation and it’s the Aes Sedai’s task to find this individual before the forces of darkness can track them down. So what have is another chosen one story where only women can wield mystical powers and are looking to control the future and might be morally dubious. Have just seen ‘Dune’, this all sounds a bit familiar.

Moiraine and her male protector, Lan Mandragoran (Daniel Henney), head to the town of Two Rivers where four people who could be the Dragon Reborn. Fortunately for the story, these four all happen to be friends. There is Egwene (Madeleine Madden), who has just been inducted into the towns council of women by be thrown into the river by town Wisdom (faith healer/leader) named Nynaeve (Zoë Robins) to see if she survives (very witch trials). Then there is her love interest Rand (Josha Stradowski) a local farm boy with a mysterious father (‘Game Of Thrones’ alum Michael McElhatton). The foursome are rounded out by Mat (Barney Harris – don’t get attached, he’s already been recast for season two), a scoundrel with a heart, and Perrin (Marcus Rutherford), the local smithy and the only one of the group that is married. All four seem unsettled in their lives and looking to the world outside their peaceful town and Moiraine’s arrival soon sees their lives changed.

Everyone can sense a darkness coming and it arrives in the form of what appears to be Harry Potter’s Voldemort crossed with the Ringwraiths that where hunting Frodo in the Shire. In this world he is known as a Fade and with him he brings an army of Trollocs, basically Sauron’s orcs crossed with minotaurs. Just when the episode feels that it is going to collapse under the weight of exposition, this explosion of violence brings everything together and sets up the series. Moiraine and Lan spring to life, her dishing out ‘Doctor Strange’ style magic to drive back the hordes and him hacking and slashing anything that comes near her.

When the dust settles we are left with the four would-be chosen ones with nothing left to do but start their quest. So he a left with a sort of fellowship that have to journey to a tower to fight a dark magic that could plunge the world into darkness. It all feels a bit familiar but you can’t really blame series creator Rafe Judkins because he is working with a three decades old IP that was nothing original to begin with. But Judkin’s does succeed in a effective telling of the story without relying on sexposition the way ‘Game Of Thrones’ did in the early series to keep people interested thus making it available to a wider audience.

While clearly not having the budget that Disney throws at their headline shows (maybe Bezos used all his spare cash getting Shatner into space) this new fantasy world is effectively created and the cgi is effective enough that it does not jar. Performance-wise, Pike delivers her normal coldness and Henney is effective as the noble swordsman but none of the four younger cast deliver anything thing that could be considered star-making. If there is one big complaint with this beginning it is that an ugly trope rears its head again with the death of Perrin’s wife being used as motivation for him to go on the quest, it’s also odd that she dies by his hand. Hopefully they prove us wrong down the line and this wasn’t just done to drive his character forward and make him sad.

No new ground is broken but it keeps you entertained. Hopefully this series will be popular enough to allow the creatives to complete their story because, unlike ‘Game Of Thrones’, there is an ending. If not, ‘Lord Of The Rings’ is coming.

⭐⭐⭐

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