In November 2021, Amazon Prime Video released the first of eight weekly episodes of The Wheel of Time, an adaptation of Robert Jordan’s fourteen-volume novel series of the same name. This first season—the show has already been renewed for a second—tackled the series’ opening book, The Eye of the World. In this round-table discussion, Gautam Bhatia, Nic Clarke, and Abigail Nussbaum discuss the series and how to approach both the production and its relationship to the source material critically—along with what the show’s choices can tell us about adaptation, genre television, and the culture more generally.
Abigail Nussbaum: I'm really glad to have been asked to be a part of this. My writing has dropped off recently as my brain became consumed with preparing for and then executing a house move, so this feels like a great opportunity to ease back into that part of my life. Plus I'm glad to be able to write about this show, which I enjoyed overall but didn't quite find a critical access point to.
Gautam Bhatia: Even three months ago, I wouldn't have foreseen being part of a Wheel of Time round-table, ever—but then, isn't this genre all about defying expectations?
Nic Clarke: I was fairly sure that nostalgia would be the beginning and end of the show’s appeal, but I'm delighted to have been, for the most part, wrong. Also, I love nostalgia.
Abigail Nussbaum: Well, I guess I'm here as the obligatory non-book reader. In general, my youthful exploration of the SFF field managed to skip most of the big epic fantasy series of the '80s and '90s. My mother gave me Tolkien and I adored The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but for whatever reason, when my reading became more self-directed, the books that were obviously in imitation of him didn't appeal (the same also happened with A Song of Ice and Fire; I didn't read the first book until my early twenties, and was so put off by it that I dropped the series). I ended up skipping straight to Pratchett and other writers who were in conversation with Tolkien and the epic fantasy field as a whole, often from a very irreverent, even mocking, perspective. And that kind of dovetailed into what I picked up from the community about Jordan’s books—that they were derivative and corny; that even people who had started out as fans ended up feeling, at best, a sort of fond derision for them. I definitely picked up on things like "tugged her braid" or "folded her arms under her breasts."
Gautam Bhatia: Growing up in New Delhi in the late 1990s—and having been hooked onto the genre when my parents gifted me a copy of The Hobbit for my tenth birthday—I looked for what other fantasy there was on offer, and didn't find much. I finally bought The Eye of the World for a pound in a garage sale in Manchester in 2004 (where I had tagged along with my dad, who was teaching there for the semester). With that, Wheel of Time became my gateway drug into fantasy. I think, for instance, that Wheel of Time primed me to enjoy Guy Gavriel Kay, who became my favourite fantasy writer in the early 2010s. So I began watching the show almost entirely out of loyalty to a younger self.
Nic Clarke: I was a fairly seasoned fantasy reader by the time I came to WoT, having read a lot of children's/YA stuff like Redwall and the Duncton books, followed by Pratchett (my first “grown-up” fantasy) and Douglas Adams, and then whatever was available in an early-90s UK local library (David Eddings, Katherine Kerr, Louise Cooper, plus fantasy-adjacent SF like Sheri S. Tepper and Stephen Donaldson's Gap series). I took both Wheel of Time and my first Guy Gavriel Kay novel (The Summer Tree) on holiday in summer 1995, and was completely hooked. From Kay I got gorgeous prose, heartbreak, and, ultimately, my specialism as a professional historian; from Jordan I got an absorbing imagined world, a puzzle that rewarded obsessive attention to detail, and over a decade of increasingly head-desking frustration. So it goes.
Gautam Bhatia: Through Wheel of Time, I found my first online community at dragonmount.com—and because of that community, I began writing collaborative fan-fiction, did my first NanoWrimoSum (the summer version of NanoWrimo), and started writing a LiveJournal blog. It was a whole new world—you know that feeling when you find a home on the internet for the first time in your life? That was dragonmount.com for me. I did weary of the series by the late 2000s, and gave up somewhere in the middle of Book Eight, but what I found on dragonmount.com was formative for me—as a person, a reader, and a writer.
Nic Clarke: Yeah, I consumed all the meta—as we'd call it now—that I could persuade my dial-up internet to bring me. I kept lists—so many lists!—of characters and foreshadowing and prophecies. Even though each new instalment was subtly—and then not-so-subtly (looking at you, Knife of Dreams)—slower and more disappointing than the last, and I didn't read the books within days of their release anymore, I continued to faithfully update my giant “Story So Far” synopsis until 2014, when I could finally type THE END after nearly 70,000 of my own increasingly waspish words.
By then, the whole thing had become more of a habit I couldn't quite kick than a genuine source of enjoyment. So I was surprised when I saw the trailer, and felt squee rising up in me. Sure, it was an unremarkable set of fast-cut fantasy clichés, and I was still bitter about the trudge of the later volumes, but I couldn't wait to watch it, to spend time with old friends and see my old haunts brought to life.
Abigail Nussbaum: Whereas for me, going into the show, there was mostly the general media environment—the fact that everyone is looking for the next Game of Thrones, and the fact that that search is happening in the context of the proliferation of streaming platforms, each one trying to come up with a big hit that would attract subscribers and attention. We've seen a bunch of efforts to fill that niche in recent years, some that I really enjoyed (The Witcher—though the second season has been a bit of a letdown), and others that I found rather pointless (Shadow and Bone), so I was curious where Wheel of Time would fall on that spectrum. I also wondered whether the adaptations hadn't come in the wrong order—first the supposedly subversive epic fantasy that dismantles the tropes that the genre takes as a given, and then the one that employs those tropes with a straight face.
I thought the trailer was atrocious, an endless stream of epic fantasy and general purpose clichés that failed to give me a sense of what made this particular story unique and worth experiencing. I was especially struck by the vagueness of its terms, the way "good" and "evil" were thrown around without any real sense of what they were rooted in, and what the actual stakes in the story's world were. That impression persisted into the series premiere, which I truly believe is one of the worst opening episodes I've ever seen, living down to so many negative stereotypes about epic fantasy, revelling in clichés without bothering to give its world or characters a unique stamp. It's honestly amazing that I ended up enjoying the show after that opening gambit.
Gautam Bhatia: By the time the TV show rolled up in 2021, it had been thirteen years since I'd last read the books. I'd memory-holed most of the series, but I felt that I had to watch the show, just out of sepia-tinged nostalgia. I'm perhaps the only one here who didn't actually watch the trailer, and therefore wasn't horrified going into the show. I was also really impressed by the cold open of the first episode, which I think carried me through the assorted badness that was to follow, and which everyone has dwelt upon. I think I was hooked by the middle of episode 3—and then it was the last scene of episode 4 that really made me fall in love.
Nic Clarke: There were two moments told me both that I was clicking with the show, and that the show was giving me much of what I wanted from it, albeit in ways I didn't expect. Although in truth only one's an actual moment, and the other is more of a vibe as embodied in a series of conversations.
The first moment was in episode three, when we learn that the snarky, charming Dana (Izuka Hoyle) is not just a bored barmaid in a dead-end small town, but also a Darkfriend. I liked Dana pretty much immediately, and her conversations with Rand did some important character work in a way that didn't feel like work, so it hurt more than I expected to find that she was a bad guy. What really struck me, and stuck with me, though, was how plausibly banal and sad her motivation was—she isn't a cackling villain, or a fanatical ideologue, but rather someone who has made bad choices, slid slowly into despair, and grabbed for the only way out she can see, without thinking or caring too much about what that actually means for herself or others. It felt organic to the character, it was tragic as well as chilling, and it gave an insight into this broken world and the left-behind people who have neither support networks nor supernatural powers.
The second “moment” is what we learn, cumulatively, about the Aes Sedai in episode 4. Early in the episode, my partner asked me about the different colours the Aes Sedai in the camp were wearing. "I'm so glad you asked!" said I, because I'd spent three episodes fighting the temptation to squash him with info-dumps, and delivered a quick, fond-but-irreverent rundown of the details that mattered to me: Blues travel around and do plots, Reds hate men, Greens are the Battle Ajah and they love men so much they have multiple Warders. Whereupon the episode demonstrated that it was totally on my wavelength by covering the same ground in essentially the same terms. That was when I knew that, even if I might side-eye some of the adaptation's decisions, it was in safe hands.
Abigail Nussbaum: In terms of moments, I'm afraid the one that comes to my mind is a negative one (and one that I complained loudly about on Twitter). In the second episode, Egwene and Rand are arguing over whether to continue following Moiraine. The conversation is staged to follow Egwene as she prepares her horse for the day's riding, which means that for a minute or more the camera is fixed on Egwene's horse, on whose back she has placed what is clearly a modern, machine-made horse blanket. It just felt so profoundly disrespectful and amateurish, especially for a show whose budget allegedly ran to $10m per episode. I couldn't believe a whole film crew just let that scene go ahead like that, and it made me suspicious of the show as a whole, of its ability to build a world I would care about—like the visible coffee cups in the Game of Thrones finale, but without seven previous seasons of good will to soften the sting.
I mention this scene less as a knock against the show (though really, it's pretty glaring) and more as a way of explaining how my fondness for it developed. There are no big moments where I found myself suddenly caught up in the story. On the contrary, that vagueness I identified in the trailer persists throughout the season, and even though I liked it overall, I would still struggle to explain what Wheel of Time is about in all but the most general terms.
In a way, I think that the show's vagueness is part of what made me enjoy it. It made it easier to ignore the bigger picture in favor of just spending time with the characters—a hangout epic fantasy, if you will. And that's also why the season finale felt like such a letdown, because it went back to placing all its emphasis on a story that the preceding season had done nothing to deepen or make particularly interesting.
Gautam Bhatia: I can think of three moments that turned me into a "showsworn", as the moniker goes. Looking back on them, I think those moments were elevated by the quality of the acting, and so I also think it's worth taking a pause to acknowledge how good the casting—and acting—on the show was, and how often the actors carried it through otherwise patchy bits.
The first moment—or scene, rather—is Logain's gentling, at the end of episode 4. I think that the gentling of men who can channel saidin was one of the more brilliant concepts in the books, especially in how it reversed the witch trope—and that scene did it full justice. The scene is particularly elevated by Logain's reaction to Nynaeve's burst of power, which dwarfs his own. Having just been told by Moiraine that his power—awesome as it is—will be nothing more than a candle before the "raging sun" of the Dragon Reborn, Logain can only repeat the words, "like a raging sun," when he sees what Nynaeve has done. The sense of shock (this is not how it's supposed to go!), mingled with dawning hopelessness and resignation—and all the emotions conveyed within those four words by Álvaro Morte's acting—makes you feel for Logain, and makes his imminent gentling a horrifying experience.
Nic Clarke: I loved the casting of el Profesor as Logain!
Abigail Nussbaum: I realized after a few episodes that I was genuinely looking forward to the next one, to spending time with these characters and this cast, and seeing a bit more of their world. I really like Moiraine, Lan, and Nynaeve. I enjoyed watching the relationships between them develop. I liked the interlude at the Aes Sedai encampment and the insight it gave us into the different ajahs and their social arrangements. I definitely adored the revelation that Moiraine and Siuan are lovers as well as co-conspirators. I'm less invested in the other characters, but even there it was fun to watch them bounce around their world.
Gautam Bhatia: Yes! My second "moment" is more or less the entirety of episode 6—because I think that the relationship between Moiraine and Siuan is one of the highlights of the show. The episode's backbone is the three scenes through which this relationship evolves: first, in the great hall, where Siuan plays the powerful ruler infuriated by Moiraine's insubordination, and is moved to publicly humiliate her; second, in the dream world, where it is revealed that Siuan and Moiraine are lovers, and the scene in the hall was a necessary performance; and third, when Siuan and Moiraine are forced to perform in the hall again—this time, the performance of exile. There is a particularly elegant symmetry to these three scenes: the starting and the ending point, the flipping of the power dynamic through the repetition of the same phrase ("on your knees"), and a performance that must finally become real if it is to continue to be a performance for the rest of the world. And through all of this, you get an almost visceral sense of how deeply Moiraine and Siuan love each other, and how the politics of their world are tearing them apart. Not original, by any means, but then, it doesn't need to be!
Gautam Bhatia: Another pause here to say that, other than the acting, these scenes were really memorable because of the music. I think that Lorne Balfe has done for Wheel of Time what Howard Shore did for The Lord of the Rings—written music so apt that you can no longer imagine the books without the music.
Nic Clarke: Oh! And the title sequence!
Gautam Bhatia: I am addicted to the Wheel of Time soundtrack. Please send help. But actually my final moment comes before the titles: it’s the cold open of episode 8. I said above that I memory-holed most of the books; well, one scene that I certainly did not memory-hole was the Prologue of The Eye of the World. I've read a fair bit of fantasy since 2004, but that Prologue remains one of the best openings that I've ever come across. The depth and enormity of his crimes being revealed ever so gradually to a dazed Lews Therin Telamon—and alongside him, to the readers—was just brilliantly done. And I think that in the transition from book to screen, when introducing us to Lews Therin Telamon, the show wisely does not start with that, but instead takes us to a time before, to a time when he is preparing for his doomed war. The introduction is therefore an altogether softer one, but with just a hint of the tragedy that is going to follow—and that's a great set-up for whenever the show chooses to have this reveal. Also, a moment of appreciation for the ending of the cold open, when the futuristic city is suddenly revealed; and after a moment of frisson, we realise that the skyscrapers we see are the same ruins that appear at the beginning of episode 1. A very neat trying up of that particular loose end, I thought!
Abigail Nussbaum: That was a cool reversal of moment with the horse-blanket: the costumes the characters are wearing feel just a little off, their lines a little too straight, only for the camera to pull back and reveal that their civilization is highly industrialized. It almost makes you think the earlier fuckup is intentional, though that would be incredibly stupid. But I did love the other flashback to Rand's pregnant mother fighting off a platoon of soldiers in between contractions, too. I just wish Rand himself felt worth all that effort.
Gautam Bhatia: Another example of the showrunners' really interesting engagement with the source material is the Moiraine-Siuan relationship. There's a stray reference in one of the books to how Moiraine and Siuan were "pillow-friends" (Jordan's euphemism for queer love) in their youth. The show's portrayal is thus anchored in the source material, but of course, the choice to foreground that relationship is a "departure" of sorts. And I think it is an excellent departure, because it adds such layers and depth to both characters.
Nic Clarke: Yes, one pleasing side-effect of the adaptation is that it's made me re-assess some things I thought I knew about the books. Like, for examples, Moiraine/Siuan, which it turns out is much more textual than I remembered—see for example the bits Preeti Chhibber has pulled out of the prequel, New Spring.
Abigail Nussbaum: So, I think an adaptation should be at once faithful to the spirit of the original work, and sufficiently its own thing that it justifies its own existence. A simpler way of putting it is that an adaptation, and especially one that adapts such a huge, sprawling work, can't be afraid to make choices. There's a reason that the Lord of the Rings movies set a gold standard for cinematic adaptations, and paved the way for the flowering of on-screen epic fantasy we've been enjoying for twenty years. That's a trilogy that is constantly making choices: about where to place its emphasis, where to move a plot beat or a line of dialogue or description. I don't approve of all those choices, but as a whole they represent a coherent attitude towards the work and what they're trying to make of it, and that in turn makes the movies their own thing as well as a (skewed but still familiar) reflection of the original. (The same, I suspect, will be true of Denis Villeneuve's Dune when it's complete.) Conversely, the creators of Game of Thrones never seemed to have a strong sense of what the show they were making was about. They made choices, but never with a specific goal in mind, and their efforts collapsed when it was left to them to work out what their story was building up to.
Gautam Bhatia: With my book-reviewer hat on, every piece of work needs to be judged on its own terms. When I review a book, I ask myself, what is this book trying to do? And then I ask whether and to what extent it succeeds in doing that. I think the same thing works for shows. If an adaptation positions itself as an ultra-faithful version of the book it's based on, then yes, I will consider fidelity to source material as an important criterion in determining if it succeeds as an adaptation. But if it doesn't do that, then fidelity doesn't matter all that much for me. To take an example of a contemporary show that didn't work all that well for me: Foundation. The reason it didn't work for me was not because it departed from Asimov in every conceivable way, but because by the middle of the season it seemed to have lost all coherence. I think with Wheel of Time it was clear from the first episode that absolute fidelity to the text of The Eye of the World was not something the show was committed to (although not to the extent of Foundation, of course!).
All of which, I think, is a long-winded way of saying that I was entirely unfussed by the fact that the showrunners essentially rewrote the ending of The Eye of the World. I know this particular departure from the text caused a lot of heartburn amongst the Old Faithful, but honestly, I didn't see what was so wrong with it (other than feeling a bit rushed). On the contrary, I thought that the entry of Ishmael, in particular, was strikingly well done. I think the larger point here is that from the first episode to the last, the showrunners departed regularly from the source text, in the interests of what (they believed) was necessary to tell a good story, on the small screen, in around seven hours. Some of those departures seemed unnecessary and gratuitous (such as giving Perrin a wife and immediately fridging her), while others genuinely elevated the storytelling (we’ve already noted this with Siuan and Moiraine).
Nic Clarke: Like Gautam, I try to approach things on their own terms as much as possible: what sort of story are they telling, what genre conventions are they operating within, etc. There are limits to this, of course; no book or TV show is a stable thing with a single meaning, as we all bring our own experiences and interpretations to the table. Screen adaptations are even more unstable, in this regard, than most: viewers familiar with the source material are going to have a different understanding of what the show's “own terms” are than viewers who aren't. (I do wonder if moving the scene with Lews Therin Telamon to the end of the season was deliberate, from that point of view: let newcomers believe they're watching an epic fantasy purely in the LOTR mould, and then pull the rug?) Squaring that circle must be incredibly difficult, for showrunners and filmmakers: it's almost like you have two sets of viewers, watching two related but distinct narratives simultaneously. I know I was watching with half an eye on the future, aware of how the story would develop, and that therefore certain moments or exchanges landed differently with me than they will have done with viewers coming in cold.
What I didn't find myself doing, generally, was tripping up over alterations or omissions. Cards on the table: I don't think fidelity to a source text is a virtue in and of itself. Fairly obviously, what works in one medium isn't always going to translate well to another; changes are both inevitable and necessary, and I'd rather adapters got the mood and tone of a source than every plot point or character. According to Wikipedia, the audiobook of The Eye of the World is twenty-nine-and-a-half hours long. It's detailed, it's massive, it needs considerable pruning to work on screen. So it didn't bother me that no-one went to Caemlyn, or that we haven't met Elayne and Morgase yet, or that the Green Man was Sir Not Appearing In This Show (I'd forgotten he was a thing anyway). It didn't even bother me that Perrin had a surprise wife, or that Mat had a troubled home life; yes, fridging said wife was an egregious choice (and an unnecessary one, since Perrin's axe vs. hammer angst is perfectly explicable without a tragic backstory), but in both cases I thought the extra background was a plus. It gave the characters an immediate distinctiveness (beyond being mates with the hero) that takes time to emerge in the book, it established them (and Rand and Egwene) as young adults rather than kids, and it reminded us that our villagers weren't just sitting around waiting for the plot to start when the trollocs showed up. Was I a little sad that, say, Thom or Loial didn't have larger roles? Sure, but channelling most of their exposition through Moiraine made sense in terms of streamlining, and developing Moiraine's personality.
Abigail Nussbaum: Obviously I'm approaching Wheel of Time as someone who is only vaguely aware of the original, so it's hard to tell what choices are being made and where. I'm aware that the adaptation has changed the story's starting configuration so that all five of the Two Rivers crew are potential Dragons Reborn, not just the men; that the casting has been greatly diversified from the books; and that overt queerness has been added. (All of which is to say that when I hear that fans of the books have been up in arms about liberties taken with the original material, I can't help but crook a skeptical eyebrow.) But coming to the show as a neophyte, it's hard for me to get a sense of what choices are being made with the material, and to what end. This brings me back to my core complaint about the show: its vagueness. A season in, I still don't have a strong sense of what Wheel of Time is about. And that means that even the more interesting bits of worldbuilding—the flashback we all found so interesting, the bits of crumbling architecture the characters keep walking past, or the song that the Two Rivers gang sing without knowing its meaning—feel like puzzle pieces whose picture is impossible to discern.
Gautam Bhatia: Wheel of Time is a darn difficult source text to adapt. As Nic’s pointed out, the sprawling books, the 2700+ named characters, character development through looooong interior monologue—none of this translates well to the screen. Which means, of course, that the showrunners have what we can call the Tom Bombadil Problem—deciding what integral parts of the source text to just drop altogether, and what to compress. And I think here's where the question of fidelity to source text re-enters our discussion, but in a different way. I think the really crucial decision for the showrunners to make is to decide which of the book's core features to elevate in that short eight-episode span, and which to downplay or drop—and those are the decisions on the back of which the show will succeed (or not).
To take an example, almost all of Episode 5 is dedicated to exploring the nature of the bond between Aes Sedai and their Warders. Nothing much happens in this episode, either by way of action, or by way of storyline development; but we're given an inside view of how deep that bond goes, how raw and aching the wound it leaves when it is gone, and how the community of Warders tries to close ranks around one of their own when it happens. This wasn't an obvious choice: to devote an entire episode to this, a lot of things that happened in the book needed to be dropped altogether (the obvious one I can think of, like Nic, is Rand meeting Elayne for the first time in Caemlyn). But I think it was an inspired choice: Robert Jordan's concept of the bond—an extremely intimate and essentially non-sexual connection between a woman and a man, with all its fraught consequences given the literal power difference between an Aes Sedai and a Warder—was one of the most imaginative and memorable contributions of that Wheel of Time made to the genre. And it's an idea that needs time to breathe, to really settle into the reader or watcher's mind. I think the show did that very well.
Abigail Nussbaum: I agree that episodes 4 and 5 are the highlight of the season, and that's probably because they're so much more specific and focused than the rest of it. And yet that's also, as Gautam points out, a case of the show stopping its progression of story to do a bit of character development of someone we're never going to see again, in order to get into the minutiae of how the Aes Sedai work (and fail). So it feels like there are two adaptation impulses here that are almost at war—on the one hand, dumping a lot of worldbuilding and historical detail that ends up feeling disjointed to someone, like myself, who doesn't already know the world; and on the other hand, going deep on the emotional fallout for people living in this world. At this point, with the show not having managed to establish an identity for itself, I find the latter much more compelling. But I'm not sure you can build a whole epic on top of it.
Nic Clarke: Yes, what we got was more space for the things that matter about the story and the world: the Aes Sedai and their Warders, the One Power, the layers of post-collapse history and the sense of this as a world in decline, surrounded by wilderness and moving through the ruins of places and technologies that are no longer understood and barely even remembered.
Gautam Bhatia: The concept of the One Power itself, and the gender dynamics in a world where women can use it, but men can't, is actually another example of the way in which Wheel of Time is really hard to adapt. Once again, then, I liked how central the showrunners made it to the show: Season One quite literally begins with it, and all of Episode Four explores that idea through the person of Logain Ablar, the False Dragon. I think the decision to give Logain—and through him, the conflict over saidin and saidar—so much screen time—and important screen time, at that—was another instance of how the show takes the best that is in Jordan, and then anchors itself upon that.
There are a number of smaller things that also do this well, too. Making all five of the Two Rivers' characters Ta'veren, for example (as opposed to, as Abigail says, just the three men) brought about some much-needed parity from the beginning; keeping alive the possibility that any of them might be the Dragon Reborn was great for character development (as opposed to the book, where I think it becomes established pretty early on that Rand is the hero of the series). The early development of Lan's and Nynaeve's relationship was a great set-up for the rest of the series, and so on. Of course, not all of it worked: episodes with both the Children of the Light and with Loial (two of Jordan's more inspired creations!) seemed rushed, and, of course, the show suffered from the unexpected departure of Barney Harris (playing Mat Cauthon) at the end of episode 6—I think you could tell that parts of the finale were cobbled together to cover for that absence. So it's not perfect, yes, but I think that it checks all the boxes for me to say that as an adaptation, it works—and works very well.
Nic Clarke: I’d agree. In fact, regarding Abigail's comment on not knowing what WoT is about, I’d say “fate.” Cycles and patterns and trying to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. That's one of the reasons I like the title sequence so much—it gives visual form to the books' core pool of metaphors (time as a wheel; history as a pattern the wheel weaves; individuals as threads in the pattern, who are spun in and spun out, and sometimes severed). In the books the Aes Sedai's rings are serpents eating their own tails, for the same reason, although in the show they've gone with stones colour-coded to Ajahs.
Abigail Nussbaum: The only thing I have to add is the observation I made at the beginning of this conversation, that somehow the progression of fantasy series has gone about things in the wrong order: first the subversive, deconstructive series, and then the one that revels in the tropes it was deconstructing!
Gautam Bhatia: This may be a function of me being eternally online, but it seems to me that the internet conversation around The Wheel of Time has tapped more into the exhausting, never-ending culture wars around "wokeness." The primary criticism of the show—coming from one set of book fans—seems to be that it has sacrificed Jordan's epic fantasy vision for a watered-down, politically correct, "woke" adaptation. In that context, I think the spectacular success (in terms of viewership) that the show has enjoyed is interesting. It suggests to me that in the compressed space of an eight-episode season, an epic fantasy show that spends one episode on reflection and one episode developing a queer relationship, can still achieve mainstream commercial success. Apart from the fact that this means we'll get more of the show in the years to come, I think it also indicates to showrunners and producers that epic fantasy on TV doesn't have to be in the mold of Game of Thrones or The Witcher (don't get me wrong, I like The Witcher!); and that, in turn, opens up possibilities—I hope—of adaptations of other complex and ambitious works of fantasy for TV. I'd so love to see The Traitor Baru Cormorant come to screen, for example, and if his version of Wheel of Time can succeed, there's no reason why The Traitor Baru Cormorant can't succeed as well. I think it's in that way that in making its particular choices, it does—as you put it—"achieve something more than the telling of its own story."
Nic Clarke: WoT demonstrates that epic fantasy TV doesn't have to be like GoT. While WoT is not without violence, it's much less grim(dark) than those of its peers that have made it to TV of late, which presumably opens it—and thus the genre—up for a different demographic.
Gautam Bhatia: We hear a lot these days about how diverse the genre is, and how TV seems to be stuck a generation behind, just doing and redoing classics from the past (next year's Lord of the Rings adaptation springs to mind). I do have a few reservations about this hagiographic narrative about fantasy in 2022, but to keep those aside for the moment, I think The Wheel of Time does TV fantasy the important service of opening up a space where some of that diversity on the page can be brought to screen.
Abigail Nussbaum: I agree that the fact that, despite its oddities, the show has struck a chord with audiences should say something to producers and showrunners. It seems fair to assume that The Rings of Power is being made in Game of Thrones's mold, even though the original movies were much more earnest and not afraid to revel in cheesy fantasy tropes. So even though I have reservations about The Wheel of Time and how it deploys these concepts, I hope the fact that audiences have embraced them teaches the industry that there isn't just one way to tell an epic fantasy story.