The runaway success of Game of Thrones has ensured that every fantasy saga making the transition from page to screen has a high bar set for it. But Amazon Studios’ adaptation of The Wheel of Time has two very important things working in its favor: Author Robert Jordan’s 14-volume saga has not only been finished since 2013, but it was also earning critical acclaim long before the source material for its HBO counterpart had even hit shelves.
Set in a world where women can wield magic, but men are driven insane by it, The Wheel of Time follows magic-wielder Moiraine (Rosamund Pike) as she searches for the prophesied reincarnation of The Dragon, an individual whose magic once broke the world — and might do so again.
Amazon gave the green light to a second season of The Wheel of Time before its November 19 premiere, hoping it will hold the attention of adult audiences hungry for the next great fantasy saga. In order to learn more about the process of adapting a story that encompasses nearly 12,000 pages, Digital Trends spoke to The Wheel of Time showrunner Rafe Judkins, who developed the series for the streaming service, as well as executive producers Marigo Kehoe and Mike Weber, who explained their plans for making the adaptation live up to — and hopefully, exceed — fans’ hopes for it.
What was the initial appeal of The Wheel of Time as source material for a series? And why a series instead of a film franchise?
Rafe Judkins: I read the books when I was younger. And ever since I became a TV writer I’ve always felt like someone needs to do Wheel of Time. It’s one of those series that emotionally impacts people. Anyone you talk to who’s read all of the books has some kind of emotional relationship with the series. I think what makes for the very best fantasy series is also what makes for the best television series: Characters you just have to keep coming back to, so you can see what happens to them next. … The world [of Wheel of Time] is incredible. The women of Wheel of Time are incredible. The arcs of the core characters are incredible. But there’s something intangible about the desire to see what happens to these characters next, and it just cries out to be a TV series.
Mike Weber: For me, it was just this idea that magic exists, and men had the chance to use it, but they screwed it up for everybody and the world was destroyed. And now, women are the only ones who can wield this power, and the world’s been reordered to that new gender dynamic. That’s a concept in fantasy that’s something I’d never seen before and it felt fresh and original.
Marigo Kehoe: It’s all about the sense of balance, male and female. Women have that power, but the story as a whole is about balance.
The Wheel of Time saga is such a massive story. Does the series generally follow along with the books, as far as the first season encompassing the first book, The Eye of the World? Without revealing any spoilers, what can fans of the books expect from the series as far as pacing?
Judkins: I think the first season really does encompass the spine of the story of the first book, but what we’ve tried to do is infuse the first season with the feeling of the entire series of books. So you’ll see a lot of the storytelling and the emotional weight of some of the scenes is more true to the series of books as a whole than it necessarily is to Eye of the World. So, hopefully, if we’ve done our job right, you should be following the story of the first book, but getting the feeling of the whole series.
Weber: Hopefully we’re going to have 10 seasons. That was the plan from the start: Spending time with these characters, getting to know them, and taking them on this journey. We’re not going to rush through it. We’re going to give each story, each book, each plot line all the time that it deserves.
How do you approach the adaptation process for something this large? When it comes to narrative decisions, what’s your thought process typically like when you’re deciding what to cut and what to keep?
Judkins: Yeah, this series is gigantic. I read all of the books before we started on the show, so I knew the series pretty well and had a pretty good sense of the most important moments. But in terms of cutting, a lot of times what I’ll do is try to include everything that’s necessary for the emotional journey of the characters to be told. We’re more likely to cut out little twists and turns in the plot than something that leaves you wondering why one of the characters made the decision they did.
Kehoe: Absolutely. And there are so many wonderful characters. You start with the five from Emond’s Field and you move on through all these amazing worlds. Obviously, we’re paying huge attention to the fans, because they’ve got their own vision for it, too. It’s such a huge, epic story, so we need to give it the time it deserves and hope Amazon will keep going with it.
I confess that I tapped out of the series around the seventh book, but I’m excited to see how the story plays out on the screen. As someone who read the entire saga and invested so much time in this world, what were you feeling when you started to see footage from the show, Rafe?
Judkins: Honestly, it was really emotional to see some of these characters brought to life, even outside of the fact that I was part of the process that brought them to to the screen. And even now, I’m still able to sit back and look at it just as a fan of the books and think, “You know, it feels amazing to see these characters on the screen brought to life by these incredible actors.”
You’ve mentioned the gender dynamics of the story. It’s been more than 30 years since the first book was published and a lot has changed in the world, so was there ever any concern that certain elements or themes might not resonate in the same way today as they did in 1990?
Weber: I’ve always thought it’s timeless. It’s a story about love, and loss, and power. All the things you see in great novels are there. It’s got it all. And I think those themes are really sort of well reflected in the show.
Kehoe: It really is universal. Again, it all goes back to that balance and the idea of keeping things in balance. Men and women, you need both, and you need balance between the two. That’s timeless.
The first three episodes of Season 1 of The Wheel of Time will debut on Amazon Prime Video November 19, with new episodes premiering weekly through December 24.
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