The Wheel of Time fan community Dragonmount.com recently interviewed showrunner Rafe Judkins. The full interview can be watched on their Youtube channel here. One of our Discord members, logicsol, summarized the interview on Reddit, and has graciously agreed to let us share it here as well. Note: Some condensing and paraphrasing were done to keep the write-up to a reasonable length. We recommend watching the interview for the full experience.
Q: Favorite Dinosaur
Tidbit – Finished with writers’ room yesterday – maybe just for the holiday break
Q: Is there truth to the Delhi announcement about early 2023?
A: I can say there there is some truth to it, in that I do believe that season 2 will be premiering in 2023, I think early there is still a lot of work we’ve go to do on the show in post/VFX, all of that, so, expect it in 2023…
Q: [On showrunning God of War]
A: He has been working on GOW for quite some time with The Expanse writers, they are great to work with and he’s happy to be working on it. He has always been working on other projects while working on Wheel and it does not affect his commitment to it. It is a very different type of adaptation, and production lessons from both projects help with the other.
Q: [In follow up to previous question, asked about tech like the bolt camera]
A: He said he can’t talk about a lot. “I’ve sworn more than three oaths to amazon though.” But he can say that they are using techniques and tech like the bolt camera more in S2 and S3.
Q: What major lessons did you take from S1 that helped inform your process or the structure or the setup or anything for season 2?
A: Season 1 coming in we had a very clear plan of doing a longer season to tackle that and had to compress it, so going into season 2 we tried to be, obviously, I have my long term plan for the show that all shifts within 8 episodes instead of 10 episodes. So going into season 2 with more foreknowledge of how long it would be, we were able to try to figure out ways to get longer episodes and figure out how to get more of the story that we need to tell because we have, you know, a lot of story to tell in season 1, and a massive amount of story to season 2. It’s… you know, it’s time traveling at times, so a big lesson we learned is being able to approach it from the beginning like that, and in some cases changing the story more in order to be able to get through the whole story more effectively, so its kind of a counterintuitive thing where I feel like sometimes we can actually pull off some story pieces and deliver things from the books more effectively if we try not to hit every single tiny beat of it, because the adaptation we’re doing doing is just at a different scale than other things in terms of page. We’re trying to do, if we get our whole series, we’re doing maybe like 200 pages an episode vs GoT doing 50 pages an episode, you have this sort of like, it’s a little more… I know people are probably shaking and dying in the chat right now, but like it’s more read mixing to be able to deliver the story overall.
For season 2 especially, when I first talked to Brandon Sanderson about the show and my worries about the overall adaptation, I was like one thing I’m thinking about is that books 2 and 3 both have the same narrative arcs essentially of landing with Rand and a confrontation with a man we’ll realize is Ishamael evidently, like how do we… you can’t do that in television 2 seasons in a row, because that doesn’t work in that context, and he said the same thing. ‘No you have to combine the two, because even though there are these incredible stories in both those books, if you told it sequentially like that it would sort of break down.’ So one of the big challenges in S2 is this sort of like, you know, I think you’ll feel this as you watch it, it’s almost as if we throw up some of the juggling balls at the end of S1, where it’s like okay here is a bunch of these pieces that we put into play, and at the end of season 2 you’ll see them all land in places that set up The Shadow Rising, but a lot of those are taking different paths than you were anticipating from the books because we can’t tell those two books sequentially, even though I love the stories in both of them and they are really strong stories, you just structurally can’t do that.
Q: The diversity in the writers room and behind the camera with the crew has been praised by the community, has the diversity perspective enriched the show in anyway you’d like to share?
A: I mean in so many different ways, I always think of diversity as like a much larger category than how it’s sometimes talked about in online communities. When I’m putting together the writers room I’m thinking of people who also have diversity of thought, are they comedy writers, are they people who are really good with structure and investigative beats, that kind of thing we are also putting into it. One thing that was important to us in S1 was like, was a lot of western cultures do not believe in reincarnation so it’s not something that’s ingrained in us from the beginning, so a big thing I was trying to do in the writers room is get us into the headspace of our characters who all believe in reincarnation so it’s a fundamental part of their life. So we had a writer on the show, Celine Song, so she was really helpful in being like, ‘my family believes in reincarnation and everyone I know does, so this is how it filters into our daily life as opposed to just like, the bold ideas of the mythology of it,’ it’s like what do you think when someone yells at you and how do your beliefs, how are they affected and how are your interpersonal relationships affected by that. She was really helpful with the Rand and Egwene storylines of like, you have this idea of souls kind of brushing across each other in lives and sometimes you’ll have a very strong relationship with someone and you know it’s not going to be for this life, sorry for spoilers for anyone that doesn’t know Wheel of Time… but you know those two characters won’t be together in this life so like this idea that you have to build a certain number of brushes in your life, or past lives, in order to be with with someone, so philosophically you can think of Rand and Egwene’s relationship as like one of those brushes on their way to being together in a future life. So like that kind of stuff from a writers room that has a strong diversity of life and culture and backgrounds it can really bring a lot to the show and I think it has really brought a lot to ours.
Q: We see several ritualistic, almost religious like practices on screen like Stepin burning incense to ward off the Forsaken or Lan’s prayer in episode 4, what is the thought process for expanding this on screen when in the written work there is far less of a portrayal of an organized religion than on screen?
A: We keep that very clear in the production design team and the story team that there is no organized religion in The Wheel of Time, however there are very strong cultures in The Wheel of Time and what are some of the ways that we can see those cultural practices come into play, so you see them a lot in the scenes… where there are sort of like, we call them ritual stories on screen where there is something in the background of a scene that sort of suggests this backstory of culture for a place and a history of life there, and I do think those are there in the books like even the may poles in the Two Rivers, like there are so many examples of this that are like these pseudo ritualistic/religious things that happen and so that trying to find ways to bring those into the show was really important to us, and see, you know, create a world where for people that don’t know the books at all, they are able to subconsciously and subtly take in the idea. You know you ask most people who don’t read the books about religion in the show and they’re like, ‘I don’t think there is a religion but like people come from different places and you can see that they care about those things,’ like that scene with Lan and Stepin, we don’t say it but you can tell that this not something that Lan does, but is something that Stepin does so they must have different upbringings and different places that they come from. So there is a lot of that subconscious world building that we are trying to do, not just with the way that we wrote it but how it’s produced. […] so that we can feed these things subtly though the show so that an audience that knows nothing through the books has built this foundation in their brain for how this world works even though we’ve never had a scene about it.
Q: [Only coming from the books] Are there any particular minor characters you’re passionate about?
A: I really like Pevara. [laughter] She may find her way into the the show […] some of the Aes Sedai I’m unduly obsessed with, some of the Wise Ones as well… I think actually the fans of the books, it would be so wild for them to hear the writers room speak about these characters, because there is truly like, because we have a very big mix of people that know the books vs that don’t know the books vs that have read some of the books that it’s… it’s like the level of detail that people know these characters, like everyone in this writers room, like some that have never heard of the books before coming into this show know like every name of everyone in Liandrin’s Black Ajah cabal, […] like the love for her in the room is like “wild” and the amount of time spent talking about them vs each other, like everyone knows all of them and all of their character traits in a way that I think would shock people.
Q: When you pitched The Wheel of Time, Game of Thrones was like the main fantasy series, you were really strongly believing Wheel of Time was very matriarchal, very female forward, in a world that didn’t have a lot of that going on right now, now that we have more high fantasy that has these strong female characters, how do you feel Wheel of Time fits into that relevance of the whole world that’s now becoming more relevant in society?
A: The great thing about The Wheel of Time, and when I pitched it, people have tried to make WoT shows and movies before […] the way I pitched it, at that time in my career I was being approached to do these big projects because of the previous pieces I had done in TV and pictures, and I felt these were all chasing something, and my pitch for Wheel of Time was chasing nothing, WoT is its own entity and it’s what other things have been chasing for a long time, if you really stick to what it is, and we’ll always lean into the pieces of it that feels fresher today we have to, that’s just part of the adaptation we’re doing and that won’t change; That wheel of Time itself is not chasing Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings, it is something that exists on its own and other things will chase it someday, and are now even. Like people talk about Wheel of Time as a form for what they are trying to make because of the success the show has. I think that in the way Wheel of Time is not just about women either, it is about gender and balance in the world, I think those messages still feel very fresh and interesting today. There are a lot of pockets within that that RJ opened that the books don’t go into, that we can look at in the show and can be things we develop further, so I think it’s just as fresh and relevant today as when I pitched it 4 or 5 years ago now. It’s because at its core it’s not chasing, it is its own thing.
Q: Could you share fun stories about filming? Like So and So did this?
A: [Recommend watching the interview for this; starts at 22:39]
Q: Have any fan theories have left you flabbergasted?
A: [I haven’t had enough time to read through a lot of these, but when I get the time I plan to read through, like exclusively all the crazy show fan theories]
Q: Do you share any of the meme and gifs that that fans have created?
A: [emphatic] Yes, there is a lot of water and shade in the office, we REALLY love, especially the intersection of drag queen culture and Wheel of Time memes we really get behind, there is one writer (Justine Gilmore) her gif work is like Oscar level, […] her ability is like, in nanoseconds deliver the perfect gif.
Q: [You don’t have a lot of free time, how do you unwind?]
A: […] When I need my brain to shut down I watch this show in the UK called Taskmaster. [He is obsessed with it.]
Q: [Any fun pranks?]
A: [talks about Covid isolation, and re-shared Josha head shaving prank. Watch the interview for this; starts at 29:22]
Q: [What would you give the WoT show Fandom as an official name?]
A: […] The Wheel of Time fandom is statistically the best fandom […] the nicest, most welcoming, it’s a really beautiful fandom that deserves a great name.
Tidbit – apparently 70% of readers of all 14 books thought the show was as good or better than the books, he notes this is taken largely from non-online spaces.
Q: Favorite Wheel of Time curse?
A: I’m obsessed with anytime Lanfear calls someone a pale haired milksop.
I'm a longtime SFF fan but Wheel of Time will always be my first love. I want to call myself Green Ajah, but--let's be real--I'm probably a Brown. In my spare time I enjoy cooking, writing, and getting lost in the wilderness.