The Wheel of Time, the new fantasy series on Amazon Prime, is what happens when Jeff Bezos orders you to come up with a Game of Thrones-type hit. This adaptation of Robert Jordan’s 11-novel series also functions as a stopgap while fans await Amazon’s Lord of the Rings prequel – Telling “Unexplored Stories” Based on JRR’s Works But With Creative Restrictions Imposed By the Estate! – which is expected to launch late next year.
In the meantime we have the tale of a matriarchal land overseen by the magical ladies of the Aes Sedai, who channel the One Power to keep the peace. Men used to be able to harness the power too, until they – led by what we must presume was a rather charismatic figure called The Dragon – ruined everything. Now the few magical men left are hunted down and put to death by the sisterhood.
Top Aes Sedai banana is Moiraine Damodred (played by Rosamund Pike, whose air of being fundamentally detached from, if not slightly above, proceedings serves her well here). She and her sidekick Lan Mandragoran (Daniel Henney) are on the hunt for the reincarnation of The Dragon. She knows he’s been reborn (“The Dark One is waking”), but precisely where and in what body she cannot be sure.
Her search takes her to Two Rivers, a village full of surprisingly clean and dentally sound peasants. One of the local twentysomethings is likely to be the reincarnation (and all of them look as if at least one of their parents was Ryan Phillippe or Jonathan Rhys Meyers, a phenomenon I think requires as urgent investigation as the whole Dragon reborn business). They include: irrepressible scamp and wheeler-dealer Mat (Barney Harris); responsible, happily married Perrin (Marcus Rutherford), Egwene (Madeleine Madden), who has recently undergone the hairbraiding and rapids-shooting-in-a-diaphanous-gown that constitutes passage into womanhood round these parts; and motherless Rand (Josha Stradowski), who has no distinguishing characteristics apart from wearing a mohair jumper I’m sure I had in 1987 and being the prettiest of all the Meyers-Phillippe offspring. There is also Nynaeve (Zoë Robins) – a Wisdom who, despite looking like a zygote, seems to be a protective village elder. She is not pleased to see Moiraine, reckoning she is a sure sign of trouble. And so it proves.
The village is attacked at length by some pleasingly well-rendered (Amazon Prime has money) monsters called Trollocs. Much grisliness ensues – including Perrin’s accidental killing of his wife in the heat of battle – until Moiraine throws magic at the problem. Off they go, to find themselves, their destinies and enough sex scenes to keep the punters happy (the characters’ ages in the books have been raised to keep them firmly out of YA territory).
It’s absolutely fine. It’s got brio, it’s got style and it’s got enough portentous voiceover book-ending events to make everything feel high stakes. “The Wheel of Time turns, and ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend,” says Moiraine as she and the young villagers set out and Pike thinks of the money and Harrison Ford’s plangent cry to George Lucas back in the day. “Legend fades to myth and even myth is long forgotten when the age that gave it birth comes again.” You can type this shit, but you sure can’t say it. Except, of course, sometimes you must.