The newest entry in the hunt for the “next Game of Thrones” has just rolled into town like tumbleweed bowling across an empty road.
That metaphor sounds like a big call, but I stand by it. Yes GoT was a true television phenomenon during its reign but when was the last time anyone talked about it other than disparagingly?
For such a huge deal of a show we all blanked it from our collective memory as soon as the credits rolled on its final episode, like we were blocking out the blunt trauma of enduring such a dismal series conclusion.
Regular people may not be lining up for another premium drama filled with dragons and disappointment but GoT’s record-breaking audience numbers ensured it would never slip from the minds of TV execs who weren’t looking for the-next-big-thing, but were instead looking for the same-big-thing-only-different.
HBO, the home of GoT, didn’t even bother with the “different” part. Before GoT had even finished they’d greenlighted House of the Dragon, a prequel series set 200 years before the events of GoT.
We can only presume that those mammoth numbers, averaging 44.2 million per episode in its eighth season, were rattling around inside the head of amateur spaceman and Amazon main man Jeff Bezos as well. It was his reported cry of “I want my Game of Thrones”, that led to his streaming channel Amazon Prime Video (APV) snaffling up the TV rights to The Wheel of Time.
Like GoT, the Wheel of Time is based on an extraordinarily long line of fantasy books, it has a huge cast of characters with unusual and spell check-unfriendly names, there’s magic, evil creatures, a proliferation of cloaks and it even shares an incredibly similar abbreviation.
But that’s where the similarities end. APV may want WoT to be GoT, but GoT WoT is not.
For starters, there’s no political intrigue here, no dastardly scheming or diabolical double-crossing. Instead, there’s a chosen one narrative and an extended chase sequence that has so far lasted its first three episodes.
The action kicks off in a sleepy mountain town that finds itself in the unusual position of being attacked by brutal and horrendous creatures called Trollocs. Picture the lovechild of an orc and a werewolf and you’re on the money.
They’re hunting down the “Dragon Reborn” which, despite the name is not a dragon but is actually a human – more specifically, the reincarnation of the champion of light who defeats the forces of – wait for it – the dark, whenever the wheel of time rolls around to the reincarnation.
Being creatures of the dark, the trollocs obviously don’t want this to happen. Problem is, they don’t know which human the Dragon Reborn is, so have instead hatched a brilliant plan to just kill all of them.
And they would have got away with it too if it weren’t for the meddling of Moiraine Damodred, an Aes Sedai of the Blue Ajah of Cairhienin. What that collection of silly sounding made-up words translates to is a woman magician of a certain sect. Like the Trollocs she’s also tracked the Dragon Reborn to the small village, although her intentions are to guide them towards their destiny. Cue a battle sequence with plenty of blood, guts and patchy CGI as villagers get butchered and eaten alive before Moiraine saves the day with her wispy, windy magic.
Knowing victory is temporary she hastily tells the Dragon Reborn they need to leave at once. However, she too doesn’t know who the Dragon Reborn is so is forced to rustle up the four most likely candidates before hitting the road.
And thus begins the adventures of a shepherd, a blacksmith, an innkeeper and a thief that Amazon hopes will be told over eight seasons but took series author Robert Jordan and then after he died, Brandon Sanderson, 14 whopper-sized novels to tell.
The first three TV episodes of this journey have literally been a journey as the Gandalf-like figure Moiraine, played by a stoic Rosamund Pike, attempts to rush her hobbit stand-ins to the safety of the White Tower with the trollocs in hot pursuit.
You’ve probably picked up it’s far more straightforward than GoT, with none of that show’s delicious ambiguity, nuance, or subtlety of character or intrigue. Exposition dumps are frequent and key points are often repeated in different words using the same serious and sombre tone. It’s demanding to be taken deathly seriously but also taking shortcuts on emotional connections.
WoT does subvert tropes in its own way. Here, it’s men who can’t handle magic and thanks to a much wider diversity than fantasy usually offers has a world that feels natural and believable.
There’s also at least one exciting set-piece per show, even if the effects are ropey at times, and Pike is a compelling lead. As the world grows it gets more interesting as travellers, witch hunters and even a pack of wolves are introduced.
Still, it’s no Game of Thrones. This wheel may be travelling on a bumpy road but I’m prepared to give it a little more time.
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