Fans of The Wheel of Time are incredibly sick of hearing the series compared to Game of Thrones, but this analogy might be important. Season 1, Episode 6, "The Flame of Tar Valon" just opened up a whole world of new questions about the series, and it could go down as the "Game of Thrones Season 5" of The Wheel of Time. This is the episode where it became clear how precariously the show is balancing its new ideas and changes with the material from the books.
Fair warning: There are spoilers for the first six episodes of The Wheel of Time ahead, and some spoilers for the books as well. Amazon's Wheel of Time has not been strictly faithful to Robert Jordan's epic fantasy novels from the beginning, which is good in many ways. A screen adaptation can't and shouldn't follow a book scene for scene for so many reasons, and in this case, a little tidying of Jordan's pacing was in order, if nothing else. Still, for a series that capitalized so much on its love for the existing fandom and its attention to detail, these are some big changes to drop on us all at once.
In case you need a refresher, so far this season we've seen some plotlines changed and streamlined, including the late introduction and quick exit of Thom Merillin (Alexandre Willaume). The main character skipped a trip to Camelyn in the books in favor of Tar Valon, the home of the Aes Sedai, which makes sense for many reasons. In hindsight after seeing Episode 6, however, these two changes served to contrive the biggest change the series has made so far: Moiraine (Rosamund Pike) and Siuan Sanche (Sophie Okonedo).
Some fans might argue that the passionate scene between Moiraine and Siuan here isn't a change from the books, where Jordan repeatedly explains the phenomena of "pillow friends" among Novices, Accepted and Aes Sedai themselves within the White Tower. The prequel novel New Spring practically tells us that Moiraine and Siuan were "pillow friends" when they were younger, and that their sexual encounters stopped once they became full-fledged Aes Sedai. There's a lot of room for interpretation, but it would take at least some inference to conclude that Moiraine and Siuan were still longing for each other throughout the main events of the series.
That's not to say that it's an invalid interpretation of their relationship — personally, I think it adds to the story for the most part. It's a much better fit for both characters than their relationship statuses at the end of the book series, where both women spend a lot of time on the page falling in love with much older men, never giving a second thought to each other. Obviously, that's a long way off for the show — if it ever even gets there — but it still feels distracting to see those doors closed this early on. It also feels like this form of passion between Moiraine and Siuan is bound to affect the plot in other ways throughout the adventures to come.
However you feel about this change, you have to admit that it raises questions about what other doors have already been closed, which will be closed soon, and what ripple effects these changes will have in the version of this story that the show is telling down the line. Looking back, that same unease permeates all the big changes, from Perrin's (Marcus Rutherford) marriage to Mat's (Barney Harris) troubled family life.
Mat, of course, is the other big change to discuss after seeing Episode 6. In the books, Mat remains sickly due to the effects of his stolen dagger, but he still travels with the rest of the party through the Ways and on to the climax of the book. Leaving the episode off with Mat by himself, choosing not to follow the group, brings us into uncharted territory. Even if the story somehow bends this situation into a version of later stories where Mat goes off on his own, it will mean that the books' plot is serving as an outline, not being followed directly.
There are other changes to assess, but the point is already clear: for old fans and new ones, for those who have liked the show so far and those who have been disappointed, Episode 6 leaves us all balanced on a knife's edge. It's an impressive feat to create so much tension in a familiar story, but it can't go on forever. Soon, the show will not be able to be coy about how much rewriting is going on here. Once that is established, there are undoubtedly some fans that will decide it's too much for them. Based on what we've seen so far, all I can say is that I personally won't be one of them.0comments
This seems like a fitting point in the season to look closely at something Wheel of Time co-author Brandon Sanderson wrote on Reddit last month. The books imply a cyclical nature to reality, where versions of this story have literally played out in past lives and will play out again millennia in the future. Sanderson wrote: "I view this as a new turning of the wheel. It's not an adaptation of the books to me; it's an adaptation of the NEXT time these people are living this story."
This is a fun and helpful framing device, even if it's not the one we've been promised by showrunner Rafe Judkins and other people behind the camera. I'm enjoying this turning of The Wheel of Time, including the process of spotting the differences from the one described in the books. I think there's a lot of potential for this story to be as thrilling as the one many of us have read, and the fact that there are more surprises in it than we anticipated is ultimately exciting, even if it makes some of us nervous. The Wheel of Time airs on Fridays only on Prime Video.