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‘The Wheel Of Time’ Season 1, Episode 1 Review: ‘Leavetaking’

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at November 20, 2021

Amazon’s The Wheel Of Time gets off to a bit of a rocky start in its series premiere, ‘Leavetaking.’ Then again, the book upon which it’s based—The Eye Of The Wheel by Robert Jordan—gets off to a bit of a rocky start, too.

Spoilers follow.

I admit, the opening of this lavish new adaptation did not fill me with hope. Not that the first episode is bad by any means. It’s just a weak start to what becomes a better show as the first season progresses.

We’re thrust directly into the world of Wheel Of Time as two men run away from a group of red-cloaked Aes Sedai—female mages who hunt down men can channel the One Power. Men are not able to wield magic without the unfortunate side effect of going completely mad, so female magic users hunt them down and “gentle” them, stripping them of their dangerous powers.

One Aes Sedai, however, is on a quest to find the Dragon Reborn, a powerful mage who, according to prophecy, will either break or save the world. Moiraine, played by Rosamund Pike, and her Warder, Lan, played by Daniel Henney are on a quest to find the Dragon and prevent other Aes Sedai from finding him (or her) first.

In the books the Dragon Reborn is a male, but here we learn that the Dragon Reborn could be either male or female, an odd gender-bending decision given the show doesn’t change the basic binary of male and female sources of magic.

Bit by bit we’re introduced to the main characters of the show. Moiraine arrives in the Two Rivers, in the small hamlet of Emond’s Field, where she finds not one, but five different potential Dragons Reborn. These are:

  • Rand al’Thor (Josha Stradowski) a young shepherd who lives with his father, Tam al’Thor (Michael McElhatton)
  • Perrin Aybara (Marcus Rutherford) a gentle giant of a blacksmith who lives with his wife Laila (a change from the books)
  • Mat Cauthon (Barney Harris) a roguish type who comes from bad stock but does his best to care for his young sisters
  • Egwene al’Vere (Madeleine Madden) a young woman and Rand’s lover who is learning to become a Wisdom—a female healer of sorts
  • Nynaeve al’Maera (Zoe Robins) the current Wisdom of Emond’s Field

The first episode of The Wheel Of Time introduces us to a huge chunk of the show’s main characters and sets the events of the story in motion, but it’s a bit of a clumsy start. Don’t let that turn you off, however, it gets better in each subsequent episode. (Three are releasing Friday, November 19th and then five more will release, one per week, for the remainder of the season).

‘Leavetaking’ feels at once too slow and weirdly rushed. Nothing much happens until suddenly so much is happening. We see Rand, Mat and Perrin joking around and gambling and drinking together and get a bit more off-color humor than I was expecting.

We learn that Mat, despite being a thief, is generous and compassionate toward his young sisters—filling in for his parents, it turns out. His mother is a drunk and his father a philanderer. Neither seems to care about anyone but themselves.

Perrin is a big old softy who spends his days hammering metal with his blacksmith wife. They have no children and seem very much in love.

Rand is . . . well Rand worried me the most of any of these characters in the first episode. He looks like he’s walked directly off a football field in some high school drama. His wool sweater might be appropriate to the shepherding lifestyle, but the sweater and the very modern looking hair and his good looks all just made me think “Crap, is this going to be a CW fantasy show?”

This fear was not alleviated when Rand and Egwene hook up almost immediately, something I don’t recall from The Eye Of The World, but which adds a little skin and steam.

Speaking of skin and steam, Moiraine and Lan take a bath together because hey, if The Witcher can do it why not The Wheel Of Time? Besides, Moiraine’s powers include the ability to heat up the water which, I must admit, is pretty hot. Maybe not Henry Cavill hot, but close enough.

In any case, there are lots of little things that bugged me about this episode but nothing that really turned me off entirely. Moiraine and Lan’s entrance into the inn in Emond’s Field causes the entire common area to suddenly go quiet. It’s like a scene out of an old Western film, but it really doesn’t make sense. Sure, Emond’s Field is a backwater town, but inns are used to strangers passing through. Nothing about Moiraine or Lan’s manner or dress really warranted a moment of dead silence.

The Assault On Emond’s Field

Everything changes when the Trollocs attack. I admit, I was expecting a bit more lead-up to this crazy attack on the village. This is what I mean by the episode feeling slow and rushed all at once. I felt like we needed a bit more time establishing Moiraine’s interest in the five young men and women, a bit more time with Rand’s dad and some of the other characters. Just more time in general with the world-building. But maybe that would have made the episode feel even slower.

What we get instead is a huge assault on the poor village that makes that one scene with the demon dogs in Willow look tame by comparison. Trollocs are basically the orcs of The Wheel Of Time—half-man, half-beast and extremely ugly. They attack in force and burn everything, killing anything and everything that has the misfortune of crossing their paths.

Rand and Tam are attacked back at their house outside the village and Tam reveals that he has a very fancy sword—the kind used by knights and heroes, not farmers and shepherds. They fight off their attackers but Tam is wounded. By the time Rand gets him back to Emond’s Field the next morning, the town is a smoldering ruin.

Many have died or been wounded. Nynaeve has been taken by the Trollocs. In the madness of the fight, Perrin accidentally killed his own wife—after the two of them showed the Trollocs why they shouldn’t mess with a married pair of blacksmiths. Perrin tells no one this terrible secret, but you can see the guilt gnawing away at him.

The only reason anyone survived at all was the magical badassery of Moiraine and the fighting badassery of Lan Mandragoran. I’m not sure how many Trollocs the two killed, but it must have been dozens. Enough to fend off the attackers for the time being, in any case.

But not long enough to catch a breath. Moiraine reveals that the Trollocs were after one of the five for the same reason she is: One of these young people is the Dragon Reborn, the subject of ancient prophecy, and unless they ride away with her at once they, and everyone they love, will die.

So we come to the title of the episode, to the ‘Leavetaking.’ Reluctantly, suspiciously, Rand his companions hoist themselves onto horses and ride out of Emond’s Field and the Two Rivers, perhaps never to return.

Verdict

All told, a middling series premiere but one that grew considerably more exciting by the end, but one that never really sold me on the show. I know this will be a very controversial show for fans of the books—I can see it already on forums and social media, with many angry fans and many who adore it—but for my part, despite the opening episode being fairly mediocre, I’m comforted by the fact that the next few get better and better.

What did you think? Let me know on Twitter or Facebook where I’d love it if you’d give me a follow. And check out my video review below:

P.S. Excuse the tardiness of this review. Amazon’s rules for screeners bizarrely prohibited me from publishing this until Saturday because of spoilers, despite the episode being live for all to see. I have never encountered such a requirement and I’ve asked that it either be changed or to have my screener access revoked because I would like to publish my recap/reviews when the episodes come out!

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