NOTE: THIS REVIEW WILL CONTAIN MINOR SEASON 1 SPOILERS
From our unique perspective at WoTSeries, connected to the fandom as we are and up to our ears in coverage of season 2 production for more than two years, we watched the first three episodes of The Wheel of Time’s second season to help answer a single pressing question: season 2 needed to be better than season 1 — was it? This review holds our answer.
An Expanding World
In season 2, the world gets bigger. Yes, we venture into new lands and cities, but the growth isn’t just a function of expanded geography, but also of lived-in spaces. The buildings and the cities we see in the first three episodes feel more connected to the story’s reality. There’s a hustle and bustle that was missing from season 1, which often screamed “movie set”. That is mostly gone here, giving us a richer world as a backdrop. This then naturally gives the impression to the viewer that this is a vast and complete world, not a collection of a few villages and a single large city-state. It was a bit disappointing in the first season when one of the largest structures in the world was mostly empty, engulfing the place in a sameness that shrunk its footprint. This has been largely corrected. It’s as if everyone was away and then moved back in for this second season.
The larger outside sets are done beautifully with believable CGI extensions. The inside sets are also more expansive than the first season as we’re served with various rooms, corridors, and yards.
The costuming was also a big part of the reinvigorating feel of these episodes. This season’s costume designer, Sharon Gilham, took her predecessor’s (Isis Mussenden) foundation and amplified it. Robert Jordan was known for his detailed description of clothing and dresses, and Sharon Gilham and her team’s designs did not disappoint in that regard. The final product was without a doubt one of the best-executed aspects of the production. We are also glad to see that the color-forward visuals from season 1 were not only allowed to remain but expand and flourish.
Long-time book readers might be reminded of a familiar feeling upon watching the first three episodes. They might remember an honest uncertainty from The Eye of the World, that of a new work trying to figure things out and find its footing. That was also season 1 in many ways. It was high fantasy, but not grimdark, with a tinge of horror and a full-on embrace of wizardly magic. How The Eye of the World the book ended with “Wait, what just happened?” was echoed in “The Eye of the World” television episode, with an added sprinkle of weirdness like the Nynaeve burnout scene and Fain collecting the Horn and using the Shadar Logoth dagger on our dear Loial. And then the book readers might remember how it felt when The Great Hunt came along, where the world became bigger, the stakes became higher, and the story became fresher. After a quick glimpse into the heart of the Dark, the wind blows us back to our main characters and also brings us new ones. A fresh start, of sorts. And that same familiar feeling came rushing with season 2.
The parallels don’t stop there. We’ve briefly discussed the world becoming bigger as a function of it being more “lived in”. The same applies to the characters in season 2. They are more themselves in a lot of ways. They’ve found their confidence, their fears, and their insecurities. Many of the things that make them who they are begin here. They are all more real compared to their season 1 selves. And this was a necessary development, especially as these main characters split into groups along different paths, and each of them now needs to strongly anchor the story when it’s being told from their perspective. Again, this was needed for pacing and needed for us to build a connection with them that was not quite there in season 1.
Acting / Characters
As noted above the characters in this season have grown more into a fully realized version of themselves, but in an organic and natural way that makes sense within the story. We find our main cast split up to begin the season and thanks to that growth they can be the anchors for each storyline set up.
The acting in the first season was one of its biggest strengths and that continues to be the case in season 2. Marcus Rutherford (Perrin Aybara) is given much more to do this season and is taking advantage of it. Zoë Robins and Josha Stradowski are given robust storylines as well. Robins exemplifies the proud and stubborn wisdom so many love, but also provides us more vulnerability and nuance. There is one scene in particular that hit us in the heart, largely due to Robins’ talent. Stradowski also excels with the new direction Rand is taking. He’s no longer the innocent sheepherder from season 1, but a young man struggling to grasp something beyond his control. Madeleine Madden takes us through an interesting journey with Egwene, which might not be verbatim from the books, but is a fantastic adaptation of the character and her journey throughout the story.
We are also introduced to several new characters and actors such as Dónal Finn taking over the role of Mat Cauthon and Ceara Coveney as Elayne Trakand. While we loved Barney Harris in the role of Mat in the first season, the switch to Finn felt seamless. Finn brings out the rogue and wittiness of the character quite well. He is very likable in this role, and we can’t wait to see what the rest of the season brings. Ceara Coveney is a standout as the Daughter Heir. She embodies the character while making us like the person more than we did in the books.
Among the amazing supporting cast, Guy Roberts gets more of a chance to shine as Uno Nomesta. Uno is a fan-favorite among book fans, appreciated for bringing moments of levity to a series that often tackles heavy subjects. Similarly, our favorite foul-mouthed soldier helps to keep things light even while our characters are facing serious situations. Also returning from season one, Hammed Animashaun continues to delight as the ogier Loial and Kate Fleetwood‘s Liandrin is even more compelling as a character than when we last saw her.
Pacing and Storytelling
Showrunner Rafe Judkins promised increased runtimes and the second season indeed delivers. Even a few extra minutes per episode made a drastic difference in avoiding the pacing issues that were sometimes present in the first season, when scenes needed to be expanded or allowed to breathe for the episodes to flow more naturally. This has also allowed the storytelling in this season to stretch its legs more and hit the ground running in these first three episodes.
Some of the characters take different paths from their book analogs. This was expected, given where we left off with the main cast in season 1 and the breadcrumbs we gathered along the way from all of the trailers and teasers. We’re relieved that these paths, at least thus far, have taken the characters to the right places. We might see Rand or Mat, for instance, in a time and place not reflected in the books, but it felt like they belonged there. It felt like these scenes did in fact happen, just off-page. This is a testament to the writers who, despite juggling multiple storylines, have skillfully kept the story cohesive. They have also maintained a balance between lifting iconic scenes from the books, and organically growing others from within this new mirror world of the television adaptation. We were captivated by both, we enjoyed both, and we were left wanting more of both.
There is a substantial improvement from season 1 to season 2 in the visual effects, mostly because the post-production studios had so much extra time to work on this season versus. This allowed exteriors for locations such as Tar Valon and Cairhien to stand out. We especially loved the color added to the weaves of the One Power. We can now see the different elements that make up the weaves: red for fire, blue for water, green for earth, yellow for air, and white for spirit. This will make book fans happy, as the weaves’ unique appearance that are heavily present in the books are being embraced by the show.
Lorne Balfe returns as the composer for the second season, once again heavily using the Old Tongue in the score. Balfe and company have really identified and locked down the type of sound and music they want for the show. The Wheel of Time music is so uniquely diverse in its adopted influences and also authentically unique in its style for the genre, that one can truly believe this is what music in the Third Age will sound like, a distant offspring of all of the beautifully different musical genres and influences all around us today in this First Age.
The Answer We Found
Yes. The first three episodes of season 2 are not only an improvement over season 1 — simply put, this was excellent television. Season 2 has taken the show to another level in almost every aspect: costumes, production design, world-building, storytelling, pacing, visual effects, and acting have all upped their game to create a very exciting beginning to this season.
We are a news site dedicated to researching, examining, and covering every detail of this production. The price you pay for this gig is that you sometimes know too much, potentially setting yourself up for disappointment. But the second season has avoided that so far, and stuck the landing on so many of the scenes we were excited to see. Mat made us laugh when we knew the joke, Nynaeve made us cry when we knew the pain, and Rand made us wonder when we knew the journey. This was a joy to watch. That is why we believe that these three episodes will help assuage some fans’ worries about the show.
Yes. These three episodes together were really good, and we were left wanting, waiting, and wishing for more.
Full Spoiler Review Coming Soon!
Be on the lookout for our full spoiler, deep-dive review of episodes 1 – 3, which will be out later this week!
Season two will be released on September 1, 2023, and will contain eight episodes written by Rafe Judkins, Amanda Kate Shuman, Justine Juel Gillmer, Dave Hill, Katherine B McKenna, Rammy Park, John McCutcheon, Rohit Kumar, and Timothy Earle. WoTSeries.com is a news site by fans, for fans, and is not affiliated with any paid sponsors or brands. We stand in solidarity with SAG-AFTRA and the WGA and encourage donations to the Entertainment Community Fund to support those affected during the work stoppage.