Of course, I'm talking about Robert Jordan's epic fantasy series The Wheel of Time being adapted to television. In the wake of Game of Thrones, there have been umpteen period costume dramas and/or fantasy series adaptations headed to television, including Spartacus, Camelot, The White Queen, Vikings, The Bastard Executioner, The Last Kingdom and on the lighter end, The Shannara Chronicles. Similar in tone, if not setting, is the pirate series Black Sails. Networks have been accused of all wanting their own Game of Thrones, though in some cases I think the intent was to ape the sumptuous costume dramas of Showtime, such as The Tudors and The Borgias.
The Wheel of Time is probably one of the more well-known and rather infamous epic fantasy series to exist, and unlike most of what we're covering on this blog, it isn't really all that dark. It sorta straddles the line between adult and young-adult fantasy, in fact, and the darker aspects are more hinted at than really explored. It's a classic good-vs-evil tale, very much in the vein of The Lord of the Rings, if also different in a lot of ways.
It tells the tale of a world where magic (referred to only as "the One Power" or just "the Power) is split in half based on gender. The Dark One (yes, that's the level we're on here) and his minions, the Forsaken, were bound in an eternal prison by Lews Theron Telamon a powerful figure known as the Dragon, a male channeler of the One Power and a member of the order known as the Aes Sedai. In retaliation, the Dark One managed to taint the male half of the One Power, causing anyone who uses it to gradually go mad and eventually destroy themselves. This happened to Lews Therin, who went out in spectacular fashion, creating a giant mountain known as the Dragonmount. A prophecy would later foretell that the Dragon would be reborn on the slopes of the Dragonmount, and that he would destroy the Dark One and save the world, but in the process would destroy himself.
Flash forward to the main timeline, wherein the Aes Sedai is now a female-only organization, the world distrusts One Power users in general and the seals on the Dark One's tomb are weakening. Already the Forsaken are free and they're working to help the Dark One rise.
In a tiny village in a remote part of the world, a shepherd named Rand and two of his friends, gambler Mat and blacksmith Perrin, are found by a mysterious member of the Aes Sedai named Moiraine, who has determined that one of them must be the Dragon Reborn.
That's how it starts, and if you want to know more, the internet pretty much will tell you the rest. The books themselves are among the only series you could probably find on book store shelves in their entirety even today. Really, unless the series is less than two years old, it's pretty hard to find complete collections on modern-day book store shelves, and especially so if the series is very long, which this one is. The only series 20+ years old that you can still find whole these days are pretty much limited to the Middle-Earth books, the Shannara books, the Sword of Truth books and the Wheel of Time. There are 14 volumes and a prequel novel. There's also a graphic novel set that covers the same ground.
To be perfectly blunt, this is one of the more divisive series out there. There are people who love it, people who hate it, people who admit it has a lot of problems but love it anyway and people who hate to admit the series' many glaring flaws. And oh, yes, it has them. In spades. For one thing, it's way too long. I'm all for series with intricate, multiple plots building on each other, and umpteen characters, but a great deal of what happens in this series is pure padding. If you trim the fat from this series, you might get three to five good novels out of it. There are numerous other issues with it, and I don't particularly want to go over all of them as it will take forever and that is not the purpose of this post.
Now, this is one of the first fantasy series I ever read, I was pretty much smack dab in the middle of the target demographic (early 20's) when I started and I also got swept up in the thousands of fan theories the plot generated. One could almost say I grew up with it, but that's not entirely true because I was already an adult when I read it, if still quite a young one. Still, it was one of my introductions to fantasy, and I know it was for a lot of other readers as well, and thus, we forgive a lot about it due to our fondness for it. And personally, I still think the main story is pretty good, and I like the characters, especially some of the supporting cast.
So, would I watch the TV version? You bet I would, and so, I'm willing to bet, would countless others.
But as I tend to do, I'm overthinking this one. How to make this good and not a bland rehash of The Legend of the Seeker, and how to avoid turning it into teeny-bopper silliness like The Shannara Chronicles?
My first thought would be to put Steven S. DeKnight and his production crew behind this one. They're the ones responsible for Spartacus, and while that show could get silly, I think it looked absolutely superb, like the movie 300 brought to television. This would help set The Wheel of Time apart from both Game of Thrones and The Shannara Chronicles early on. After all, it's going to be accused of aping both shows; why not make it as stylistically different as one can?
Michael Hirst I'd like brought in as executive producer and co-head writer. He can bring in his costume designers from The Tudors, because if there's one thing this series is definitely going to need, it's amazing costuming.
Because this series doesn't overdo it with the blood and sex, it doesn't have to air on a cable channel like HBO or Starz, but I like the idea of Showtime, because while Showtime doesn't insist on copious nudity, it also doesn't mind when shows do engage in it. The Wheel of Time has several scenes of nudity, and while Jordan doesn't describe them, it also has quite a bit of sex. Our central hero has three lovers. At once. Hirst and DeKnight both have a history with such material, and will likely show us what Jordan only hinted at, which isn't all that bad because one of the umpteen issues readers had with this series is Jordan's attempts at including sex and sexuality with a kind of blushing, "aw, shucks, they're kissing" mentality.
Other thoughts; age the characters up. A majority of the lead characters are somewhere around 18-20 years old. Not as young as Jon, Robb, Sansa, Arya, Daenerys and others were in A Song of Ice and Fire (which is the name of the series Game of Thrones is based on) but still fairly young, and in the early books, they act even younger. Screw that noise. Just make them somewhere in their 20's and cut all the blushing and immaturity. While the interplay between genders (another issue readers had) can be mostly be kept, particularly the idea that men and women continually frustrate each other for similar reasons, the idea that Rand, Mat, Perrin and others have a hard time talking to women at all should be cut, and while these books often do pass the Bechdel Test, too many of the female characters act like love-struck tweens, and that should be toned down as well.
The effects need to be amazing. The Trollocs, Myrdraal, Ogier and others need to enthrall us, not take us out of the story.
Then there's the story and characters themselves. Game of Thrones started out pretty faithful to the books but moved a bit further onto their own path with each season. I think this series should start out being only about half-way faithful. Use the major story landmarks, obviously, and keep our main characters mostly as they are (again, older and with more maturity), but streamline the plot, do away with all the needless side-trails and please, please use composite characters. You think A Song of Ice and Fire has too many characters? This series will drive you nuts.
Do all of that and I think you've got a great show. But I know the question you're all asking, assuming you've read the books: who's going to play Rand?
Well, wonder no more. I've taken the liberty of casting the major characters for the first season. I actually did this a couple of years ago, but several of the actors have aged out of the roles, a few aren't available anymore, and a couple have died. I also have an eye to the idea of making this series more racially mixed. So, the main roles I have changed from my old list.
Here is my cast for The Wheel of Time, Season One.
|Matt Milne as Rand al'Thor|
|Rosie Day as Gwen al'Vere|
|Andrew Simpson as Matrim "Mat" Cauthon|
|Matthew Cheetham as Perrin Aybara|
|Anna Julienne as Nynaeve al'Meara|
|Antonio Te Moaiha as al'Lan "Lan" Mandragoran|
|Jade Anouka as Elmindreda "Min" Farshaw|
|Mary McCormick as Elayne Trakand|
|Neil Fingleton as Loial|
|with Peter Capaldi as Thom Merrilin|
|and Maggie Q as Moiraine|