This will be our full spoiler review and analysis for The Wheel of Time, episodes 1-3. When we say “full spoilers,” we’re including the entire book series, as we will be discussing changes from the books and potential ramifications for the future. If you don’t want plot points from the books that may show up in future seasons of The Wheel of Time spoiled for you, please read our spoiler free review instead.
The Wheel of Time is finally here! After more than two years since season one began filming, the first three episodes aired yesterday on November 19th. Here at WoTSeries, we are all fans of the books, so when we watch the television show, we’re watching it through the lens of longtime readers who have familiarity with the world that Robert Jordan created and the story he wove over the course of 15 books. We fully understand that adaptations need to make changes, and in our spoiler reviews, we will be highlighting significant changes from the books and analyzing how they might affect future storylines.
Because the first three episodes were released at the same time, this initial spoiler review will be massive. If you just want to see our individual ratings of each episode, you can scroll to the end of the article. We’ll be specifying things we liked and disliked in each episode, and then give an overall summary at the end.
Summary of Episode 1 – Leavetaking
Aes Sedai Moiraine (Rosamund Pike) has been seeking the Dragon Reborn, the reincarnation of a powerful channeler who broke the world in a previous age and who is prophesied to either save the world or destroy it in this age. Her search leads her to a mountain village in the Two Rivers, home to twenty-year old youngsters Rand (Josha Stradowski), Perrin (Marcus Rutherford), Mat (Barney Harris), and Egwene (Madeleine Madden), and the village wisdom Nynaeve (Zoë Robins). The whole village is preparing for an upcoming holiday and festival, Bel Tine, and Rand and his father Tam (Michael McElhatton) are headed into the village to bring apple brandy for the celebration. Rand is eager to see his childhood sweetheart, Egwene. Meanwhile, Egwene, who has come of age, is being welcomed into the Women’s Circle by Nynaeve and the other women of the town. It’s a secret ceremony that involves a little bit of hair braiding and a little bit of being shoved off of a cliff into a raging river and the rapids below. No big deal. While Egwene’s surviving her coming of age ritual, the boys, Rand, Perrin, and Mat are drinking and gambling — though in Mat’s case, losing — in the Winespring Inn and discussing rumors of war in Ghealdan. Egwene enters, her hair braided, and everyone celebrates. Moiraine and her warder Lan (Daniel Henney) interrupt the celebration to ask for a room. She is recognized as Aes Sedai, and everyone’s on edge, wondering why an Aes Sedai would be in the Two Rivers.
Although the town seems idyllic, not everything is as perfect as it seems. Mat’s parents are less-than-ideal and caught up in their own vices, leaving Mat to take care of his younger twin sisters as best he can, even if it means stealing. Perrin is married, but there appears to be some sort of tension between him and his wife, Laila (Helena Westerman). Meanwhile, Egwene reveals to Rand that Nynaeve asked her to become her apprentice, and that she will accept. Becoming a wisdom would mean a life without a husband — a life without Rand. It’s a painful decision for both of them.
Moiraine continues investigating around the town — including an interrogation of Nynaeve — trying to discern who it is she’s searching for. As the Bel Tine festivities are starting, Lan returns from his scouting to reveal that a Myrddraal and Trollocs are approaching town, and Moiraine still has not determined which of the four twenty-year olds is the one she’s searching for. The Trollocs attack the town and the al’Thor farm, and the result is brutal and devastating. Rand and Tam barely manage to fend off their attackers, and even with Moiraine and Lan joining in the defense of the Two Rivers, the destruction and death toll is high. Nynaeve is dragged off by a Trolloc right in front of Egwene and Moiraine is injured by a Trolloc spear.
The next morning, Rand arrives in town where Moiraine is able to heal Tam with the One Power. Just as Moiraine is telling Rand, Perrin, Mat and Egwene that both she and the Trollocs came for one of the four of them, another band of Trollocs can be seen descending on the town from the mountains. Reluctantly, the four of them leave with Moiraine and Lan in order to save their families from another Trolloc attack.
Review of Episode 1 – Leavetaking
Likes: The Wheel of Time has finally been brought to a screen, and the characters that we’ve loved for years have been brought to life. Rafe has frequently emphasized his desire to honor the “heart and spine” of the books. For him, and many book readers, that means being true to the spirit of the characters and their journeys. Whether it’s love, hate, or somewhere in between, the characters in these series have inspired many emotions in the fandom throughout the years. Kudos go to casting director Kelly Valentine Hendry and all of her assistants, because the cast did an excellent job embodying their characters right from the beginning.
We covered this in our spoiler free review, but the acting was great across the board. Even the characters with less screen time are brought to life by extremely talented actors. Standouts include Johann Myers as Padan Fain, Juliet Howland as a Natti Cauthon you can’t help but feel something for, and Mandi Symonds as Daise Congar leading the women in a fierce counterattack on a Trolloc.
Dislikes: As Lane noted earlier this week, a pilot episode has a tough job. It has to introduce the characters, give a glimpse into their everyday life, and then introduce the main conflict that uproots the characters’ lives — in this case, a vicious Trolloc attack that takes up nearly half of the episode’s runtime. Additionally, in the case of fantasy, the pilot needs to start introducing some of the worldbuilding, and The Wheel of Time has a lot of world to build. Basically, a lot of things needed to happen in this first episode, and perhaps because of that, the pacing felt uneven especially during the first half.
Also, perhaps due to our prior knowledge of the books and our obsessive tracking of the filming, there were parts where it felt like scenes had been cut out. Most notably: that eye-catching scene of Egwene emerging from a pool that featured so prominently in the teaser trailer (and a behind-the-scenes clip). When Egwene is pushed from the cliff, her dress is already wet, and faintly stained with color; we also later see Nynaeve cleaning the pool, presumably because of the paint. It seems clear that event must have happened before the other Two Rivers scenes, but for whatever reason, the scene ended up on the cutting room floor. Often, things that don’t move the story forward need to be cut for the sake of time, which we suspect happened in this case. We are still hopeful that we can see that full scene in the future, either as a flashback, dream sequence, or even — dare we hope? — an extended version of the first episode.
Another omission that book fans will notice: Tam’s fever dreams. We suspect this is to keep the identity of the Dragon Reborn a mystery, as it would be hard to misdirect from the kid whose red hair sticks out like a sore thumb and who has a mysterious parentage. Mysteries are great for hooking a new audience, so this is an understandable change, but it’s still an iconic scene we’ll miss. That being said, the casting of Tigraine Mantear for an apparent scene in episode 7 heavily implies we’ll see Tam finding Rand, even if it’s not quite the same format as the book.
We’ll discuss Laila Aybara in more detail during the changes section.
Summary of Episode 2 – Shadow’s Waiting
The episode opens with a scene of Whitecloak Eamon Valda (Abdul Salis) burning a captured Yellow Aes Sedai (Vilma Frantova) at the stake, but not before cutting off her hands and adding her ring to his collection. Meanwhile, Moiraine, Lan, and the Two Rivers kids are fleeing the Trollocs on horseback. They cross a river at Taren Ferry, leaving the Trollocs and the Myrddraal behind, as Trollocs can’t swim and won’t cross deep water. The ferryman, Hightower (Pearce Quigley), begs Moiraine to let him go back across the river, as his son is going to arrive soon. Moiraine sinks the ferry, but Hightower goes after the ferry and drowns in the process.
As the group travels on, Moiraine reveals to Egwene that she has the ability to become Aes Sedai and will touch the source eventually whether she wants to or not. She guides Egwene through her first touching of the source. During the night, Rand has a nightmare involving a bat and a man with fiery eyes; when he wakes, there are dead bats strewn everywhere, and it’s revealed that all four of the Two Rivers kids had a similar dream. Rand loses his temper and demands answers from Moiraine after she pushes them to get moving again. Egwene supports Moiraine, causing a fight between her and Rand.
They soon encounter a group of Whitecloaks, led by Geofram Bornhald (Stuart Graham). Also among this group is questioner Eamon Valda, flaunting his collection of Aes Sedai rings. Moiraine impressively skirts around her inability to lie and they’re able to continue, but not before Valda’s ominous parting words, “I will not forget your faces.” After more riding, Mat breaks into a song about Manetheren, and the others join him. Moiraine then tells them the story of the fallen kingdom of Manetheren.
During another stop, Perrin encounters a pack of wolves. One of the wolves approaches him, licks a wound on his leg, and then leaves. Due to her poisoning during the Trolloc battle, Moiraine has been getting weaker by the day, and she’s not looking so good. Lan encourages them all to sleep, but Egwene wakes in the middle of the night only to discover that the Myrddraal has found them.
The group flees the Trollocs yet again and Lan leads them into the abandoned city of Shadar Logoth where the Trollocs will not follow. He instructs them to touch nothing, but Mat wanders off and finds a dagger with a ruby in the hilt. Perhaps triggered by Mat’s inspection of the dagger, a black shadow swallows one of the horses and threatens to engulf the whole group. While fleeing from the shadows, the group gets separated: Perrin and Egwene jump from the city wall into the river below, Rand and Mat find themselves along the river elsewhere, and Lan rides with Moiraine out of the hole in the wall through which they entered. As Lan is tending to Moiraine, someone approaches him from behind and puts a knife to his throat — it’s Nynaeve, and she wants to know where the others are.
Review of Episode 2 – Shadow’s Waiting
Likes: We felt the pacing greatly improved in the second episode, and with all the characters on the run together, we were treated to some wonderful character interactions that simultaneously provided worldbuilding and backstory: Egwene first channeling, the boys and Egwene’s diverging opinions of Moiraine, Perrin and Mat’s emotional exchange in Shadar Logoth, and the Manetheren story (complete with a close-up on Egwene during the mention of Eldrene’s sacrifice and death–we see what you did there, Rafe). One particularly stand-out scene was Moiraine’s deft maneuvering around the Three Oaths while being interrogated by Whitecloaks. Not only does this provide some fantastic tension, it also showcases the limitations imposed by the Aes Sedai oaths and their infamous skill of twisting the truth.
Dislikes: While the writing was solid to excellent overall, the believability of some scenes suffered due to the injection of additional tension and drama. For instance, the Taren Ferry scene left us scratching our heads about why the Fade didn’t just cut the ferry rope, and on rewatch, we wondered why Eamon Valda didn’t just ask Moiraine directly if she was an Aes Sedai. He seems more than knowledgeable enough to know that an Aes Sedai can’t lie their way out of a direct yes or no question.
Summary of Episode 3 – A Place of Safety
Now we have three separate groups to follow. We first see a flashback of how Nynaeve escaped the Trolloc: with a little luck, a dash of skill and smarts, and a whole lot of bad-assery. Back in the present, Nynaeve continues to interrogate Lan at knife-point. Lan tells Nynaeve that they all got separated and that it was his decision to leave the others. After Nynaeve takes a swing at Lan and a bite out of his hand, he subdues her. Eventually, Nynaeve awakens tied to a tree. Lan convinces her to help heal Moiraine as the only way to find the other four. He also tries to figure out how Nynaeve tracked him all the way from the Two Rivers, but she refuses to answer. She cleans and treats Moiraine’s wound with a homemade poultice. After a scouting trip, Lan locates a group of Aes Sedai, and he brings Moiraine and Nynaeve to meet them. The Aes Sedai, led by Liandrin, announce they’ve captured a man claiming to be the Dragon Reborn.
Mat and Rand are traversing some rocky terrain after putting some distance between themselves and Shadar Logoth. Mat wants to go back home, while Rand pushes them onwards towards Tar Valon. Eventually they arrive at a mining town, Breen’s Spring, and ask the local barmaid and innkeeper, Dana (Izuka Hoyle), if she’s seen their missing friends. At the inn we are treated to a song from Thom (Alexandre Willaume). With some deft sleight of hand, Thom relieves a thief of a coin purse that had actually been stolen from Mat. He doesn’t return it to Mat, however, calling it a fee for a life lesson. Mat is, understandably, less than thrilled. Dana gives Rand and Mat work to earn a room for the night. Rand and Mat butt heads again about whether or not to return home, and whether Moiraine’s revelation about the Dragon can be trusted. Mat wanders off and Thom catches him trying to rob a dead Aiel that’s hanging in a cage at the town’s entrance. Thom explains that the unveiled Aiel was not a threat, and the townsfolk had murdered him just because he was somebody they didn’t understand. He and Mat bury the body, and Thom returns Mat’s purse. Meanwhile, Rand and Dana are having a heart to heart chat in the room Dana’s given them for the night. Then Dana drops a chilling revelation–she knows who Egwene is, despite Rand never mentioning her name. Caught off guard, Rand is held at swordpoint and Dana locks him in the room. In a suspiciously impressive feat of strength, he breaks the door down and escapes. Dana chases him and Mat through the town before finally cornering them. She explains that she sees all of them in her dreams, but only one of them can be the Dragon. She plans to deliver the Dragon to the Dark One and be rewarded just like Ishamael was 3,000 years ago. The Dark One doesn’t want to kill the Dragon, she says–he wants to break the wheel, to stop the endless cycle of pain and suffering, to set humanity free. Thom arrives and kills her with a knife through the throat, and he and the boys flee the town.
Egwene and Perrin find themselves crossing the Caralain Grass, a windy, desolate landscape, with the howls of wolves all around them. Perrin struggles to make a fire, but Egwene attempts to channel and between the both of them they manage to get a fire going. Perrin dreams of a man with fire blazing in his eyes and of a wolf gnawing at Laila’s body. He wakes to Egwene warning him about approaching wolves, and they run. The wolves chase them until they stumble across wagon tracks heading east towards the White Tower. Egwene muses that it seems like the wolves led them here. They continue to follow the wagon tracks, and Perrin insists on going ahead to protect Egwene while she gently reminds him he doesn’t need to protect her and that Laila’s death wasn’t his fault. Finally, they catch up with whose tracks they’re following–it’s a group of Tinkers, who provide them with food and shelter at their caravan.
Review of Episode 3 – A Place of Safety
Likes: Izuka Hoyle was a standout for this episode. She captures your attention in each scene, exuding so much charisma that she completely beguiles you into trusting her, and by the time she’s explaining Ishamael’s plan to break the wheel, that fanatical gleam in her eyes almost convinces you she’s right. Alexandre Willaume’s Thom Merrilin was another highlight. His Thom is gruff yet caring, worldy yet down to earth. His scene with Mat and the dead Aiel was especially touching, while providing our first glimpse at one of fantasy’s most iconic cultures. Last but not least, the chemistry between Lan and Nynaeve is already significantly better than their book counterparts (at least this early on).
Dislikes: This feels more nitpicky, and we’re probably more likely to notice it after all our time tracking locations for season 1, but the landscapes through which each group traveled felt quite disconnected. This was also a mild criticism of the second episode, but with the groups split up, it became much more apparent here. Given that all three groups traveled only a day or two from Shadar Logoth, the scenery diverged so drastically that it broke our immersion. This issue was exacerbated by inconsistencies such as the sun’s position changing between shots, or the trees jumping from beautiful autumn leaves to nearly bare. Landscape inconsistency is hardly unique to The Wheel of Time, however — often the desire for interesting and beautiful landscapes is prioritized over realism, especially in fantasy productions. So we do have to give the location scouts credit for finding some gorgeous and unique scenery. We also recognize that the multiple stops in filming probably had some affect on maintaining consistency of the foliage between shots.
Perrin and Egwene’s scenes felt the weakest due to the aforementioned landscape issues, plus the fact most of their scenes involved them trudging through the wilderness or being chased by wolves.
Changes from Book to Screen
We’re not going to nitpick every single change, but we do want to touch upon some significant changes that may affect future book plots.
Perrin: First, let’s discuss the elephant in the room, Laila Aybara. Are we fans of having a female character killed to move a man’s story forward? No. Do we understand why it was done? Yes. Also, to be clear, Laila Aybara — or Laila Dearn as she’s called in the credits — is not a character that was entirely invented. She’s based on a character in the books that Perrin thought he would marry had he stayed in the Two Rivers. Given that the Emond’s Fielders are a little older in this adaptation, it’s reasonable to think that those few extra years in the Two Rivers gave Perrin the opportunity to marry Laila. As mentioned by Rafe in interviews, Perrin is a very difficult character to write for television. He’s a thinker; most of his character growth in the books is driven by his thoughts and internal struggle. In a visual medium, there needs to be a way to show the audience why Perrin is the way he is — cautious, scared of his strength and hurting others, and terrified of losing himself to his more primal side — without just telling everyone through awkward exposition. A couple seasons down the line, Perrin’s overprotectiveness of Faile will also be more believable because of what happened to Laila. However, this is one that will have to pay off over several seasons, so it will be awhile before we know how effective of a change it was.
Mat: In the books, Abel and Natti Cauthon were, by all accounts, perfectly decent and respectable people. However, their show counterparts are abusive, neglectful drunks living in severe poverty. Mat’s got sticky fingers in the show, and is shown stealing a bracelet from Danya, taking the dagger from Shadar Logoth, and robbing a dead Aiel. He’s also shown to have a bit of a gambling problem. However, the core of Mat’s character is unchanged, and displayed front and center during Winternight: a man who’d never consider himself a hero, but runs into danger to protect those he loves. His fear of turning out like his father helps explain why he’s so reluctant to consider himself a good, heroic person. Even his thievery has an understandable cause: he steals Danya’s bracelet to sell Padan Fain in exchange for lanterns for his sisters, and he’s searching the Aiel’s body to find money to pay for a riverboat home to his family. We feel like these changes strengthen Mat’s character rather than undermine it, but as with Perrin, we’ll have to wait and see how it all plays out.
Nynaeve: While Nynaeve’s backstory has less changes than Perrin and Mat, there is one fairly interesting change. The old Wisdom went to Tar Valon as a girl when she realized she could channel, and was allegedly turned away because she was poor and uncultured. Unsurprisingly, this feeds Nynaeve’s hatred for Aes Sedai. At first, we balked at this change — why would the ever-dwindling White Tower turn away a potential Novice? However, given the role that miscommunication plays in the book series, we can’t help wondering if Nynaeve got the full story. Perhaps the Wisdom couldn’t actually channel, or she was extraordinarily weak (like Morgase), or she ran away after she got a taste of life in the White Tower. She might have been so ashamed that she lied about it when she returned home, or she mistook the Aes Sedai’s rejection as prejudice against her status when in reality she just couldn’t channel. At any rate, we think this small change to Nynaeve’s backstory makes her hatred and distrust of Moiraine more understandable, and later her reluctance to become Aes Sedai and be affiliated with the White Tower organization.
Rand and Egwene: Already we see that their relationship has been expanded. In the books, their relationship was very juvenile and not even official, just a “we’ll probably get betrothed soon” situation. But in the show they’re actively in a romantic, intimate relationship (the Two Rivers’ infamous prudishness has certainly been done away with). There’s also immediate conflict when Egwene reveals Nynaeve’s offer to become the Wisdom apprentice, because it’s directly in opposition to her relationship with Rand. In the books, there was no rule that the Wisdom remain unmarried and childless, only that Egwene would have had to move to another village. Throughout episode 2 we see additional conflict between them, as they struggle to deal with their feelings while their lives are upended. All this buildup of their relationship will only make it hurt more when they finally part ways, and later become political antagonists to each other. It’s also an intensely human element to the show. Young relationships fail all the time, not necessarily because either party did anything wrong, but because of how much people change in their young adult years.
Whitecloaks: Our TV Whitecloaks have been, shall we say, leveled up. We first see them on screen torturing an Aes Sedai (a Yellow, no less — it’s like kicking a puppy), and it’s revealed that Eamon Valda has a collection of Aes Sedai ring trophies. But, how on earth did Valda subdue and kill multiple Aes Sedai? We see that he cut the hands off of the Yellow sister, so it seems they will be tying channeling to hand movements in the show. (It’s worth mentioning this is book accurate — Aes Sedai use hand movements because it’s how they’re taught, but later on we meet a number of powerful non-Aes Sedai channelers that don’t use any motion at all.) However, if Whitecloaks are roaming around killing Aes Sedai like this, it seems unlikely that the White Tower would not have at least engaged its military and political allies to deal with the Whitecloak threat. Is the White Tower unaware of the Whitecloak threat? Or is Eamon Valda simply an outlier? Geofram Bornhald’s attitude seems much more nuanced, since he admits Moiraine needs an Aes Sedai to heal her wound, so it seems Valda may be an unusually fanatical Whitecloak. At any rate, the Whitecloaks are much scarier in the TV show than their book counterparts, and this should provide some excellent tension going forward as well as some interesting drama once Galad joins them and later becomes the Lord Captain Commander.
Moiraine’s Wound: Another smart change was having Moiraine be injured on Winternight, eventually leading to her losing unconscious. It’s therefore Lan that decides to enter Shadar Logoth, not Moiraine. Her injury accomplishes several things. First, we see that Aes Sedai are not invincible, and our heroes can’t rely on her protection. Second, her being out of commission gives Lan more chance to shine, and the audience an opportunity to learn more about him (not to mention some great Lan/Nynaeve chemistry). Third, Nynaeve now gets to display her skill with herbs and natural healing, which comes in handy again and again throughout the series, even at the very end when she must keep Alanna alive to save Rand at Shayol Ghul. And fourth, the injury provides impetus for Lan to scout for the Aes Sedai party to the south, which is how Logain is pulled into the main plot.
The acting, cinematography, and general production design were consistently good across the board. The writing was also solid to great, with many standout moments (often Mat’s). For the most part, we liked the costume design, although there were a few moments where outfits looked a little too much like costumes.
We are especially thrilled with Lorne Balfe’s beautiful Old Tongue “opera” (as he’s previously described it). It was wonderful hearing his use of themes. For instance, the first time we hear Mashiara is when Lan watches Nynaeve gathering herbs. We hear a female vocalist when the camera’s on Nynaeve, and a male vocalist when the camera’s on Lan, and then the voices intertwine when they’re both in frame. Make sure to check out the first score album, available now!
Episode 1 – Leavetaking (Overall: 3.4/5)
Lane: 3/5, Sara: 3.5/5, Eri: 3/5, Omar: 4/5
Episode 2 – Shadow’s Waiting (Overall: 3.9/5)
Lane: 4/5, Sara: 4/5, Eri: 3.5/5, Omar: 4/5
Episode 3 – A Place of Safety (Overall: 4.1/5)
Lane: 4/5, Sara: 4/5, Eri: 4/5, Omar: 4.5/5