Book Reader Wheel of Time Recap and Reaction: Season 1, Episodes 1-3

It’s happening!  And five hours early![1]  I watched the first three episodes Thursday night (and started this post) and then watched them again tonight (and finished this post).  If I can convince a member of my wife’s family, I will binge the first four episodes next week.  I have quibbles a-plenty, but we get a high-production value, largely faithful, and genuinely good adaptation of my favorite fantasy series.

SPOILERS abound below.  Mostly for the first three episodes of the show, but there will be a few book spoilers sprinkled in as well.

My posts will start with a recap then give a reaction.  I have this post structured to include all three recaps in a row, then three episode reactions, then an overall reaction to the first three episodes.

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Recap

Episode 1

Moiraine’s opening monologue keeps the language about not knowing whether the Dragon was born as a boy or as a girl.

Moiraine and Lan watch Liandrin and the other Reds capture a male channeler, already going mad.  He isn’t the one.  They head for the Two Rivers.

Nynaeve does indeed push Egwene in the river as part of her wisdom training or, more likely, a female coming of age rite of passage.  The instruction on surviving the river is a nice metaphor for saidar.

Tam and Rand walk to town (but see no black-cloaked men).

Rand, Perrin, and Mat have a chat.  Egwene makes a triumphant entrance.

Perrin has a wife and Mat has a dissolute family, in one significant change from the books.

Rand and Egwene have a talk (surprisingly, not about how thankful they are Rafe didn’t jack up their backstories), then a kiss and a romantic moment.  Rand and Egwene apparently are intimate, but we only see their post-coital discussion, concerning Nynaeve’s offer to make Egwene her apprentice.  Apparently here it means foregoing a husband (for . . . reasons?) but Egwene hasn’t said yes.  Rand knows what the answer will be, though.  This is their first break.

Moiraine and Lan bathe together, Moiraine evidently having swung hard from Carhienien customs to Borderlands ones.

We get a shot of a Fade (called the Eyeless by Moiraine) in the village but the attack waits.  Padan Fain the peddler arrives.  Mat is a thief, in addition to being a degenerate gambler and the child of a junkie and a womanizer.  Padan Fain is happy to buy stolen goods at a cheap price, which, to be honest, surprises no one.  Mat, on the other hand, should be unsurprised that he can’t get a good price from literally the only person he can sell something to.

Moiraine confronts Nynaeve, saying she was born elsewhere and brought to the Two Rivers, but nobody knows when, suggesting that maybe Nynaeve could be the One.  It quickly comes out that Nynaeve is too old to be the One but looks too young for her age, which is Significant but subtly so.

Lan finds a dragon fang made from slaughtered sheep or goat carcasses.  This is definitely not ripping off Game of Thrones and does not look as cool

Tam and Ran return to the farm and honor Rand’s mother.  The local tradition is to light candles in teepees for the dead on Winternight.

There is also a lovely scene of Bel Tine music and dancing until a villager appears with a Trolloc ax in his back.  Trollocs descend on the festivities

Narg bursts into Tam’s house.  Narg is not smart but proves surprisingly adept against a blademaster, falling to Rand instead of Tam, ultimately.

Things in Emond’s Field are going very badly until Moiraine and Lan arrive.  Moiraine proceeds to throw fire, lightning, and stones at the Trollocs, hardly slowed by a thrown dagger to the chest.  Nynaeve is taken, dragged away by her braid.  Perrin kills his wife by accident.

With more Trollocs visibly on the way, Moiraine convinces the four (Rand, Perrin, Matt, and Egwene, Nynaeve evidently having fallen) to leave with her.

Episode 2

The episode opens with Eamon Valda (now a Questioner) burning an Aes Sedai (sans hands) alive.

The Fellowship crosses at Taren Ferry.  The Ferryman kills himself attempting to return to his ferry, whirlpool notwithstanding.

The Four openly discuss the Dragon.  Moiraine uses “he or she” language when she interrupts them.

The Three Oaths are discussed between Moiraine and Egwene.  The Oaths are now the price exacted to end Artur Hawkwing’s siege of Tar Valon, but the content remains the same.

There is a very faithful depiction of Moiraine testing Egwene with her stone.

Rand coughs up a bat (he definitely has the ‘Rona), then sees a man with eyes like embers.  He wakes to find the bat, then near Mat, Perrin, and Egwene, all who had a similar Dream.

The Fellowship encounters Whitecloaks.

The Four sing a song of Aemon that spurs Moiraine to tell the story of the fall of Manetheren.

Perrin walks off to examine the wound he has been hiding since Winternight and collect water.  A pack of wolves approaches, one licks the blood from his wound, then they run off.

Egwene confirms Bela’s presence, although she looks exactly like all the other horses.  Bela, quite reasonably, does not want to enter Shadar Logoth.

Mat finds the Dagger.  Just walks up and finds it.

Mashadar, also race-lifted, takes a horse.

The Fellowship splits, with Rand and Mat in one pair, Egwene and Perrin in another, and Lan and Moiraine in the final pair.

The story ends with Nynaeve’s reappearance, surprising Lan.

Episode 3

Episode three opens with a flashback to explain what happened to Nynaeve.  She was dragged away by her braid, but the Trolloc is distracted dispatching a wounded comrade.  Tracked to their sacred pool, Nynaeve dispatches the Trolloc in turn with its own dagger, like a fucking badass.  Then does an epic braid flip, like a fucking badass.

Lan and Nynaeve have their first real encounter.  Nynaeve tries to stab Lan.  Lan knocks her out and ties her up.  Your classic meet-cute.

Mat and Rand quarrel over whether to head home or head to Tar Valon.

Egwene channels to help Perrin make a fire, with wolves howling in the distance.  Perrin knows Rand—he will go where he thinks Egwene is going.

Nynaeve gathers and applies herbs to heal Moiraine.

Wolves chase Perrin and Egwene, then . . . don’t.  We get our first decent look at Ba’alzamon in one of Perrin’s dreams.  Like the Fades, he looks quite inhuman.

Mat and Rand find a village and a gleeman (THE gleeman, Thom).  Thom promptly steals back the purse stolen from Mat then keeps it.  The innkeeper trades Rand and Mat lodging for labor.

Rand notices Mat is not acting himself.

Perrin and Egwene find not terribly colorful Tinkers.  Aram is an asshole.

Thom and Mat bury an Aiel.

The innkeeper, skinny enough to be evil, I guess, tries to kill Rand but is killed by Thom.

Moiraine, Lan, and Nynaeve find Liandrin, who has already captured Logain.

Reaction

Episode 1

I am still miffed about Rand’s child’s bow.

I am also miffed at making Mat a degenerate gambler.  This has implications for future Mat that I do not think Rafe has thought through.

Bran Al’Vere is skinny. Never trust a skinny innkeeper.

Rafe Judkins: Jordan’s views on gender are backward and retrograde.

Also Rafe Judkins: Let’s create a female character just so we can immediately kill her off to motivate Perrin and let’s make Mat’s mom a junkie to motivate him.

Michael McElhatton as Tam is a great choice.  I love that monologue.

Rand hauling Tam back to the village is cut.  I expect we will see it as a flashback in a later episode.

I love the scene where the villagers surround and kill a Trolloc wolfpack style.  This is our first window into the enormous grit of the people of Two Rivers.

Moiraine goes all Avengers on Emond’s Field.  I think she did more damage than the Trollocs.

Moiraine shrugs off a dagger to the chest a little too easily, although it will become a major issue in a couple episodes.

Episode 2

I appreciate that the opening credits incorporates the Pattern, but it manages to feel derivative of both Game of Thrones and Westworld, while inferior to both.

Even if we buy that modern Aes Sedai need their hands to channel (some of the time, sure, but all of the time?), how did the Whitecloaks ever get a chance to cut them off?

Rand is very angry (and broody) in this episode, which is true to the character overall if not the early part of book 1.

It occurs to me that Egwene will come to share Eldrene’s fate.  The old blood runs deep.  She is willing to sacrifice herself too.

Mat’s “that’s more words than you’ve said all day . . . probably ever” joke is dang funny.

Note that upon reaching Shadar Logoth we have seen zero cities.  We got the village of Emond’s Field, but no Baerlon.  Even Taren Ferry was mostly ferry.  This is as I have Foretold.

Mat and Perrin mostly get short shrift in the first couple episodes, but there are nice moments between the two in the second episode.  I hate what they did to Mat’s parents, but I appreciate Perrin’s confidence that his parents and Egwene’s and Tam will look after Mat’s sisters.

No Mordred, although the suggestion is that Mat is drawn to the dagger.  There are no Trollocs in Shadar Logoth, which undercuts the whole question of ‘what drove the Fades who drove the Trollocs?’  I thought they would give the Shadar Logoth sequence time to breathe, but they didn’t, really.  It winds up a little underwhelming.

Episode 3

“They say all roads lead there.”  “That’s not how roads work.”

“I think the kids will read stories about you one day.  Mat Cauthon.  The man who once walked while a little chilly.”  “You’re funny now.  That’s a new wrinkle.”

People were all about Sam Elliott playing Thom, but Sam Eliot can’t sing like that.  Not since Bradley Cooper stole his voice, anyway.

I am sold on guitar-playing Thom, if not entirely on how Thom is depicted here post-song.

Mat, of all people, is the one who wants to get home.  He has people to take care of.

I could do without the ‘all men who display the basest level of intimacy are gay’ trope.

The final monologue does a good job of showing how Darkfriends rationalize their choice and helpfully muddies the waters around the true nature of the Dragon.

Thom and Mat cut down a dead, red-haired Aiel.  That red hair is rare on any but Aiel is openly noted by Thom.  I am surprised they introduce the Aiel so soon, but book 1 is laden with Aiel foreshadowing.  Thom is a surprising choice to dump exposition on Aiel, but he does have a soft spot for young men hunted unfairly.

Overall Reactions

The first three episodes are visually impressive.  We get lots of sweeping, establishing shots.  You can see where they spent their (substantial) money.  The costumes are good two.  Both of these things are done much better than early Game of Thrones.  And, importantly, the landscapes are visually distinct from those of Lord of the Rings.

The Trollocs look . . . not great.  This is a problem.  They look too computer-generated and too inhuman.  Tougher to depict a 10-foot-tall Frankenstein’s monster than very mannish orcs, but, they didn’t succeed.  Ba’alzamon’s depiction is a miss as well, I think.  On the other hand, the less mannish Fades very much work (or at least the lower half of their faces do).

Rafe does Perrin wrong here.  I see what he is doing and why.  Perrin chopping furiously at the already dead Trolloc then lashing out without looking signals the beserker tendency that he will run from for the entire series.  But then he . . . doesn’t really do anything.  Perrin’s early journey is introspective and necessarily tough to adapt, but Rafe doesn’t even try, just grabs a trope from the top of the lazy storytelling pile and calls it a day.

This really exemplifies a major problem with Hollywood.  They sneer at anything outside their orbit, without seriously engaging with it, then in their overweening, self-righteous, overconfidence slap the tritest crap down on our plate and think nothing of it because it is Hollywood orthodoxy.  It’s easy to receive that as politic, but as a pure storytelling matter we want creators to surprise us.  Orthodoxy is death to storytelling.

Mat works much better here.  Part of that is that book Mat barely gets defined and established before he becomes Dagger-Mat.  Much more energy is devoted to establishing Mat than was devoted to establishing Perrin.  Rafe still doesn’t appear to get Mat though.  Mat is a rogue, not a degenerate and not comic relief.  As with Sanderson, I fear Mat is beyond Rafe’s ken.  We could do a lot worse than show Mat, though.

The first three episodes feel very rushed.  Season 1 probably needed more than 10 episodes.  And they probably should have moved slower even with 10 episodes.  The was always going to be a challenge of adaptation, though.  I am interested to see what non-book readers think of the pacing.

My speculative mapping out of the season is holding up pretty well.


[1] The first three episodes, which were supposed to drop on Friday, November 19, dropped at 7pm ET.

About H.P.

Blogs on books at Every Day Should Be Tuesday (speculative fiction) and Hillbilly Highways (country noir and nonfiction). https://everydayshouldbetuesday.wordpress.com/ https://hillbillyhighways.wordpress.com/
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27 Responses to Book Reader Wheel of Time Recap and Reaction: Season 1, Episodes 1-3

  1. Wakizashi33 says:

    I’ve been looking forward to your reaction and review of this adaptation. I’ve only read the first book, so I’m coming to the show without much background knowledge. I’m halfway through the first episode, so I’ll comment again when I’ve watched all three. I like the scenery and the general look of it so far. 👺

    Liked by 2 people

    • Bookstooge says:

      If you would consider doing a write up from a non-series view (ie, you haven’t read the series yet), I can tell you that I would much appreciate it. Because I’m a long-hauler (started the series in the 90’s and went until it ended) and so my perceptions of the show are going to be super biased.
      And I would like to get somebody’s reaction who can’t have those biases (no offense to you HP)

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Terry says:

    I am grateful for this. I have read the first seven books (twice) and the last one—could never make it through eight. You watched it, and now I do not have to and get mad. I find the Mat and Perrin changes ridiculous and completely off putting. And the idea of pre “levelling up” Mat and Thom being able to kill an Aiel is even more ridiculous.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Bookstooge says:

    This really exemplifies a major problem with Hollywood. They sneer at anything outside their orbit, without seriously engaging with it, then in their overweening, self-righteous, overconfidence slap the tritest crap down on our plate and think nothing of it because it is Hollywood orthodoxy. It’s easy to receive that as politic, but as a pure storytelling matter we want creators to surprise us. Orthodoxy is death to storytelling.

    This is what I was afraid of happening for the series. Not that change would happen, but that their damned ignorance and hubris would introduce change because they simply don’t understand. So far, between your review and Dusty’s Review (https://dustyreviews.com/2021/11/19/the-wheel-of-time-season-1-ep-1-leavetaking/), I am REALLY hesitant to watch this. As silly as it sounds, it took me hours to actually click the “like” button on Dusty’s post just because of the things that were changed. So I suspect I’m going to have a very bad reaction if I watch it myself 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    • H.P. says:

      Apparently Sanderson pushed hard against the changes to both Perrin and Mat but they ignored him. He even suggested Perrin accidentally kill Master Luhhan instead, which would have accomplished everything Rafe was trying to without the same issues.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Bookstooge says:

        If they’re choosing to ignore Sanderson’s advice (I know how you feel about him, but still), then this is going to hit the crapper faster than you can say ‘oh shit”.

        I definitely won’t be giving thanks for this show on Thanksgiving :-/

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Andreas says:

    Your review is spot-on. I didn’t like Perrin‘s change, he’s constantly crying. Much of the setting felt artificial, the sound stage flatness added much to that. Especially Shadar Logoth.
    Some actions were plain ridiculous, like the ferryman swimming to his certain death. How did they bind the Aes Sedai‘s hands behind the stake when they were cut off?
    But other choices were great. They avoided most of those annoying mannerisms like tugging braids, swearing of blood and bloody ash, the flame, and others. Also, it didn’t feel like a LotR copy-cat most of the times. The Trollocs were depicted very good and different from Orcs, their running very scary and animal like.
    Yes, I liked it and will continue watching it. It just was far away from mind-blowing, and the huge budget per show did shine through only in parts, eg the music was good!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I was interested to see your thoughts on this. Watching an adaptation of a favorite piece of writing is so fraught…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. tmnfny says:

    I agree with all of this. Especially that Mat got Sanderson’d again. He’s apparently a more subtle and difficult character to write than I would’ve guessed.
    The dark friends speech was a change for the better. In the books dark friends, besides Fain, were mostly 2 dimensional stumbling blocks for the main characters.
    The overarching failure of the show was the way they traded the innocent wide eyed wonder of the main characters for personal drama of complicated youths. Perrin is a widow. Rand and Egwene were banging and broke up. Mat is a degenerate thief.

    Liked by 1 person

    • H.P. says:

      The Darkfriend speech was good. I also really liked the way they subtly signaled Fain’s role in the Winternight attack.
      Book 3 Mat is so different than Village Mat (and from Dagger Mat) that they still have a chance to fix things. They did go ahead and recast, but none of my complaints are about the actor.
      Downplaying the naivety and immaturity of the characters is going to have consequences down the road. Growing up is a big part of their character arcs. Are they going to be able to replace that with success or will we get flatter, less compelling arcs?

      Like

  7. Mark says:

    I read the first two books years ago, and I’ve only watched the first episode of the series. I’ll certainly keep watching. Really annoyed at the whole Perrin’s wife thing, such a dull cliche from every angle. Feels like they want to do too much with all the characters up front instead of gradually filling them in over time (something a TV show should be good for). The actor they got for Rand strikes me as kinda bland, but maybe he’ll grow into it. Visually, I’m glad they’ve eschewed the whole washed-out, muddy sludge color grading that so many things do these days. The action is fine, but not especially accomplished. I’ll be watching and looking forward to your recaps… especially since I don’t remember the books all that well (I was initially quite confused at the whole Perrin situation…)

    Liked by 1 person

    • H.P. says:

      80% of the word count in The Eye of the World is from Rand’s POV. The number of POVs really explodes later on, but limiting the POVs early helps ease the reader in. Spending less time with Rand on the show may mean that none of the characters get properly fleshed out for a while (hopefully not too long). This is one place where the pace at which they are moving through book 1 hurts the show too.
      I’m not completely sold on the depiction of the One Power and of the Trollocs, but generally speaking I am very happy and impressed with the look of the show.

      Like

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