The Wheel of Time; Episode 8: The Eye of the World
Reviewed by Steven Poore
Christmas gifts us with the first season finale of The Wheel of Time [Amazon Prime, 2021], and though it’s not polite to look a gift horse in the mouth, we do need to see if this one can run the whole course. So, with that tangled metaphor thrown aside, let’s see what Rafe Judkins weaves from the threads of the previous seven episodes.
I’m going to lay aside comparisons to the books’ plot books again because this imagining takes the material it wants and sews it to a story drawn from whole cloth to suit the medium. The real question isn’t whether the changes should have been made, more whether they’ve been made well and what impact they give the show. While Moiraine [Rosamund Pike] and Rand [Josha Stradowski] travel deeper into the Blight to confront the Dark One, the others are left to hold the fort quite literally at Fal Dara against an invasion of Trollocs, Fades and Darkfriends. In keeping with both the show’s determination to follow its own path and the “no character is safe” trope embedded by Game of Thrones, there are several unexpected and eye-openingly brutal moments alongside the villainous monologuing that anticipates the next full season of the story.
Frustratingly, there is very little actually settled and squared away in this episode other than nailing down definitely the identity of the Dragon Reborn. None of the other character arcs come to a satisfying rest, leaving a lot up in the air. And even now, Rand is still sullen and grumpy, and for me, the least interesting of the five ta’veren. Mat Cauthon [Barney Harris, exiting the role for reasons currently unstated] is a non-presence, Perrin little more than a witness to bloodshed in this episode, a means to convey the next quest to his friends. It’s Zoe Robins and Madeleine Madden as Nynaeve and Egwene, respectively, who get most of the action on the frontlines of Fal Dara as the Trollocs surge past Tarwin’s Gap.
Tarwin’s Gap is one of the two sequences on which this episode, like Fal Dara itself, stands or falls. It’s almost too easy to make unfavourable comparisons to Helm’s Deep or to the battle for the Wall in Game of Thrones. Here’s where the production shows its limitations, as the viewers are spoiled for choice for criticism: as a defensive fortification, Tarwin’s Gap appears unfit for purpose, even against slightly iffy CGI’d Trollocs that are reminiscent of the rotoscoped orcs in Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings. It would surely have made more sense to have the women channelling from atop the walls of the fort…
If Tarwin’s Gap fails to hold, then what of the other sequence, the confrontation between Rand and Ishamael. Fares puts a convincingly human face to the Dark One, an element of well-dressed control pitted against Rand’s naivety and desperation. His manipulations of Rand’s mind and his attempts to draw Rand across the divide to the dark side are far more effectively portrayed onscreen than the more visceral explosions on the plains outside Fal Dara.
And so, the wheel turns, and this season has come and passed, and another season will follow – that much we do know. This season has kept to its own road and, for the most part, done so successfully. “Make it whatever you want it to be,” Ishamael says, tempting Rand away from the Light. You can’t expect a series with the size and scope of The Wheel of Time to translate smoothly to the small screen with little or no changes at all, and Judkins and his team have made only a few missteps thus far. Taken as its own thing, separate from the source material, it’s as good an advert for the modern fantasy genre as the books were for their time. Now all TV must do is angle back towards the present day to discover how rich modern fantasy truly is.