In an expansive fantasy world filled with magic, darkness and a timeless prophecy, an Aes Sedai named Moiraine (Rosamund Pike) tracks down 5 individuals who hold the key to the power of the Dragon, and are the only hope to stopping the Dark One in his tracks.
The Wheel of Time, based on Robert Jordan’s book series of the same name, sets itself up as a series that wants to become a high-fantasy epic with a sprawling world and a rich history. All of the groundwork is there and the possibility is very real, but it ultimately stumbles in bringing much new to the table to help it stand out from the endless run of fantasy series’ being pumped out each year. Obviously, the narrative is bound to the events of the novels, but it just feels too familiar at its core – with not a whole lot of engaging side-plots to try maintain greater complexity in the story and intrigue in the characters. The biggest issue with the series is that at times it’s trying to be too grand when it should be a lot more focused and character-driven. It’s treating itself like a part 1 on the scale of LotR: Fellowship of the Ring, but doesn’t really earn that. The intent is certainly there, but the execution is off.
There are signs of promise in the overarching narrative and certain arcs that really do make an impact, but there’s not a whole lot of excitement in where things are heading. Any excitement just feels very short-lived. There’s plenty of engaging and entertaining moments throughout the series, but I found it hard to really get invested in the future of the narrative – instead just taking everything as it came. The series kicks things off on a high – delivering two episodes that are fast-paced, action-packed and set up this journey in a way that shows lots of promise. It introduces us to all our characters and kicks off an adventure which could be fun to follow. However, a strange shift in the story sees the series go through a deep lull that doesn’t pick back up again til late in the 6th episode, or maybe even the 7th. Through this, each character is on their own journey, and none are engaging enough to hold everything together.
The story may leave much to be desired, but the areas where the series excels in include the action, visuals and even in the score. Being a more teen-vibe fantasy series, I was worried they would hold back on the action – that’s not the case here. The few action sequences that highlight the season’s biggest moments are well shot and appropriately violent. They’re bloody and gritty, and create some of the best sequences of the series. Even the visuals are very clean and realistic, giving the indication that much of this is filmed on sets and on-location. Basically, from a technical standpoint, I don’t have any quarrels with this series – it’s just that the story packs a lot of potential but always seems to fall just short of that.
Potentially the most disappointing aspect of the series are the performances, not necessarily because they’re bad, but because none of them really stand out at all. Sophie Okonedo’s limited appearance in a single episode was more emotionally impactful than anything our entire lead cast did in the entire season. Rosamund Pike, who is an incredible actress, doesn’t really do much to bring the character to life beyond what is already written. There’s hardly a memorable acting moment from anyone, especially the younger cast who seem to just go with the flow rather than capitalising on their respective characters’ big moments.
In the end, despite the lacking narrative and disappointing performances, there’s still a level of enjoyment to be had with The Wheel of Time. It’s well made from a technical standpoint and the exciting moments, despite not leading to much of a payoff, are enough to warrant me seeing the season through to the end. It kicks off quite strongly, but ultimately tries to be too grand – going for a big climax that I don’t feel like it has earned in its debut season – especially considering it features a considerable slow patch through the middle of the season. I’m still interested to see where a second second could go, and whether it can deliver a stronger story with more well fleshed-out characters to the table.