Elements of Season 1 that Felt Most Like Reading the Books
This article contains full spoilers for the entire Wheel of Time book series and for Season 1 of the TV Show on Amazon Prime.
The question of what exactly makes a successful adaptation has been a point of debate before, during, and after Season 1 of the Wheel of Time on Amazon Prime. While most can agree that making changes to the source material is necessary (and in some cases, desirable), opinions diverge when it comes to specifics.
Look anywhere on social media and you will find passionate disagreement between “Amazon shills,” who seem open to most changes, and “bookcloaks,” who have a narrow definition of how much change is acceptable.
But the majority of fans fall somewhere in between: those who are nervous about some of the changes so far, maybe even disappointed, but cautiously optimistic and willing to withhold judgment until they see where the show is going.
This last group seems to take to heart Showrunner Rafe Judkins's decision to adapt the entire series, not just each book individually. They have faith that, while plot points will inevitably need to be cut, added, or changed, the show will ultimately stay true to “the spine and the heart” of the books.
Even with that in mind, it was still pleasantly surprising whenever a truly “Wheel of Time” moment happened in Season 1, and even more so when some of the most radical changes somehow felt true to the heart and spine of the books.
For this week’s Maidens’ List, we pinpointed moments that transcended any differences from the book series because they were just that evocative of the source material—moments that made us feel like we were actually reading The Wheel of Time. Here’s our Top 10:
10. Rand Seeing Dragonmount
“That mountain…I feel like I’ve seen it before.”
It wouldn't be The Wheel of Time without a little bit of dramatic irony and foreshadowing. Rand seeing Dragonmount as he and Mat approach Tar Valon brought about the kind of satisfaction you feel about all the foreshadowing you discover on your first re-read of the series.
Although book-Rand doesn’t visit Tar Valon in the flesh until his meeting with Egwene in Towers of Midnight, the show makes a change that provides an opportunity for young Rand to react to his first view of Dragonmount, effectively hinting at Rand’s pivotal visits to the landmark in this Age and in others.
During Rand’s “I’m the Dragon Reborn’” montage in Episode 7, the show seems to imply that Rand was recalling the mountain as the place of his birth, but a book reader can't help but play with the lore. One wonders if Rand is experiencing a visceral connection to Lews Therin’s creation of Dragonmount, or if he could be recalling a "Veins of Gold" epiphany on a mountaintop from a previous Third Age.
Though open to interpretation, this moment is packed with meaning. Josha Stradowski’s delivery of Rand's line, understated and innocent, is in beautiful juxtaposition to Dragonmount’s monumental importance throughout the series.
9. Loial Being Loial
“That is very odd. I like oddities."
A great many fans were disappointed with Loial’s appearance—they didn’t like his costume or his hair, he wasn’t tall enough, his ears weren’t tufted enough. But other than that, and the fact that we meet him in Tar Valon instead of Caemlyn, he’s essentially the Loial we know and love from the books. We still get to meet the Ogier in the library of Basel Gill’s Inn, and we are blessed with Hammed Animashaun’s perfect portrayal of Loial's voice and bumbling nerdiness.
His dialogue is spot on, too. We get an almost word-for-word adaptation of Loial’s first conversation with Rand in the books. Complaining about being mistaken for a Trolloc? Check. Insisting that Rand must be an Aielman? Check. Patronizing the hasty humans? Check.
But most of all, Loial is the same reliable source of comfort he is in the books. Taking it upon himself to bring Nynaeve to Mat and Rand is just the kind of wholesomeness we needed in an otherwise bleak Episode 5, as is the comic relief provided by everyone cutting him off in their hastiness. The only problem is his lack of screen time in Episodes 6-8.
8. Dana’s Darkfriend Speech
“He wants you to save us. Can’t you see that? The Wheel keeps turning and people keep hurting."
Dana is a completely made up character but somehow manages to encapsulate exactly what it means to be a Darkfriend in the Wheel of Time. Not only is she a mash-up of the many Darkfriends Rand and Mat meet on the Caemlyn Road in the books, she also makes a really good case for why someone would want to be one, possibly better than anyone in the books ever did.
Her sword-waving speech introduces us to Ishamael in all his nihilistic glory and provides a convincing reason someone would follow him in hopes of breaking the Wheel: the world is messed up and we’re stuck in a computer program with a questionable amount of agency, so why should we keep going in this Creator-forsaken hamster wheel? It’s bummer she wants the world to end, because it really seemed like she wanted to visit the Stone of Tear.
7. The Meaning of Braids
“When the dark surrounds you and you see no light, feel this braid, and know that we all stood before you. We all stand with you. “
Unless you count the Trolloc dragging Nynaeve by her hair, we never saw a classic Nynaeve braid “tug” in Season 1. But the show honored the braid's importance in the books, and then some.
Nynaeve’s epic braid of natural hair was flipped, clutched, caressed, and re-braided at various key moments. In Episode 4, it was undone by the strength of her Healing Power, a gorgeous metaphor for the surrender required to embrace the Source.
And while book readers already knew the braid was a symbol of Two Rivers’ womanhood, the show adds a deeper layer by including the braiding of the hair in the Women’s Circle ceremony, along with a recitation about connectedness with one’s community.
It will be interesting to see if and when Egwene chooses to unravel her braid, which is abandoned very quickly in the books. It seems like there is potential for an Elizabeth-style transformation scene, in which the loss of the braid symbolizes what she must sacrifice in order to fully assume her authority as Amyrlin.
6. The Birgitte Doll
“You can take Birgitte back for them. She protects me when everyone’s asleep.”
This 90 second scene from Episode 4 is bursting with the essence of the Wheel of Time. As little Helge Grinwell introduces us to her blonde-braided doll, book readers might imagine the actual Birgitte in tel’aran’rhiod, waiting to be spun back out into the pattern, protecting unsuspecting dreamers like Helge from harm.
Introducing Birgitte into a scene with Mat is also a perfect book-inspired choice, calling to mind Mat's connection to heroes from Ages past, and foreshadowing his friendship with the real Silverbow. It’s also likely that Mat’s (and doll-Birgitte’s) failure to save poor Helge could amplify his motivation to rescue the vulnerable in future acts of heroism. Speaking of which...
5. Mat on Winternight
“Where are the girls?!”
Mat Cauthon is no bloody hero. Yet he always manages to step up and do as a hero does when it’s time to rescue those he cares about. While Mat’s family background in the TV series is decidedly different from the books, it creates the opportunity to portray him as the reluctant hero from the start.
When Mat shouts at his parents for their incompetence and takes matters into his own hands, non-book readers learn very quickly that the gambler is not all fun and games—true to the books, he holds a fiercely protective side to rival Nynaeve’s.
It’s pure Mat when he psychs himself up before stumbling and careening into the fray of Trollocs actively murdering people, then makes it to his sisters without a scratch. Was it luck that he knew exactly where they’d be? It doesn’t matter so much as we are already seeing the character traits that make Mat so damn likable: proactivity and competence. Also, whoever decided to make Mat’s sleeves too long is a genius.
4. Weep for Manetheren
“Oh sing, sing of Manetheren,
Oh weep, weep for the blood of Aemon,
Oh cry, cry for Manetheren, long ago"
The most pleasant surprise of Season 1 made us weep not only for Manetheren but for our poor little Wheel of Time fan hearts, which were deeply touched by the unexpected inclusion of this speech in the TV series—for three whole minutes. It feels like a love letter to the fans to hear the words brought to life by Moiraine on horseback— a muted, somber version of the rousing battle speech she gives in the books, but no less impactful.
Introducing the speech with a mournful song by the uninformed Two Rivers’ kids gives this moment a depth and poignancy we dare say surpassed that of the books. Rather than never having heard the word Manetheren before, it seems more sad that the Two Rivers folk actually know a song about it but call it “just a song.”
And it feels inextricably Wheel of Time to include a song about a legend, passed down by generations until it has faded and lost its meaning. And don’t get us started on the foreshadowing as the camera pans to Egwene during the part about Eldrene.
3. The Eye of the World
"I fought someone here. The Dark One. But it looked like a man. It was here, in the center. There was a symbol. This symbol. The Eye."
The brilliance of the events at the Eye of the World is almost enough to make up for the mess that is the rest of Episode 8. To understand why this non-book moment is so deeply book-inspired, you must first admit that the book’s description of what happens at the Eye is notoriously confusing and dissatisfying.
In the books, we get a chaotic fight scene with almost all characters immediately taken out except for Rand, three Forsaken, skimming that we don’t yet know is skimming, One Power umbilical cords, and The Green Man, who is admittedly cool but never seen again. And what does a pool of pure saidin even mean?
In the show, the confrontation at the Eye is cleaned up and re-envisioned as a mirror image of Rand’s encounter with the Dark One in A Memory of Light—a battle of the minds, invisible to the rest of the world. We see Rand tempted by Ishamael's lies. We see a flicker of Lews Therin channeling, echoing the many iterations of this same exact confrontation over the Ages. We see the Eye re-imagined as a seal to the Dark One’s prison, cracked by Rand’s channeling right into Ishamael’s trap.
But the best book-inspired change to this scene is Moiraine's role. Holding a knife to Rand's neck, we see her staying true to her infamous threat that she will literally kill him before he can go to the Dark. Her arm across his chest, holding him while sleeping and vulnerable, calls to mind her role in the books as Rand’s protector and guide. It's visually stunning and calls to mind La Pietà.
While none of the above actually happened in The Eye of the World, it somehow feels more true to the heart and spine of the books. We can’t wait to see what is planned for the final episode of the series and what parallels may be drawn with this version of the scene at the Eye.
2. Everything About Thom Merrilin
“Nothing is more dangerous than a man who knows the past.”
Thom Merrilin might be the best example why it makes zero sense for people to gripe about changes to the plot. Thom’s plot in the show veers way off from how it actually happens in the books, and yet, it keeps everything that’s important. He performs, makes a tavern go quiet, mentors the boys, travels with them, and fights off a Fade so they can run. He also provides essential exposition about the Aiel, the effects of gentling, and the signs of a budding saidin channeler.
Thom also destroys complaints about actors not matching their character's description in the books. Alexander Willaume’s younger, grittier, hotter Thom just feels right, and it does nothing to reduce the way he effortlessly evokes the world of the books every time he is on screen. He may not have the long white mustaches, but he’s the same politically savvy and dangerous man who can get it. Literally everything about show-Thom is perfect, he is the reason Episodes 3 and 4 are the best of Season 1, and you will never convince us otherwise.
1. Aes Sedai in the White Tower
“This is Blue business, Mother.”
Despite changes in plot (ie. Moiraine’s exile from the Tower) and characterization (ie. Alanna our Snack Queen), the Aes Sedai in the TV series were 100% on brand for the Wheel of Time.
First of all, they looked the part. In the Hall of the Tower, we finally see to the bold color palette of all seven Ajahs together, with three Sitters for each sitting like statues, sporting the unique clothing, hairstyles, and accessories of their respective nationalities. (Costume designer Isis Mussenden, revealing a ridiculously cool concept board, discusses just how much forethought went into each and every costume in that room.)
But the Wheel of Time inspiration doesn’t stop at the Aes Sedai’s appearance. The show convincingly conveys their penchant for political scheming through just a handful of interactions. Moiraine instructs Nynaeve to beware of agendas while admitting to having her own eyes and ears watching every wall in the city. Liandrin smiles like a viper as she undercuts Moiraine in the Hall. Alanna asks seemingly innocent questions over fruit. And in one of the best nods to Aes Sedai culture in the books, Moiraine receives a message from the Yellow Ajah via a strand of dried yellow flowers in her towels.
Narrowing down this list to just 10 moments was incredibly difficult, which leads us to conclude that the show was successful in maintaining the heart and spine of the books, and in some cases, improving upon them while staying respectful to the source material.