Well, here's another one.
Like others, I started reading WoT while I was at school. I was probably about 14 when I had my first stab at reading The Eye of the World. I recall it took me about five goes before I could really get into it - many times did my eyes glaze over at the descriptions of braided hair and honey cakes, but I made it to Chapter Two eventually, and the investment truly did pay off. From then on, and across thousands of pages, I was hooked. For me, it was the first series I had encountered where fantasy was handled in a more mature way. I don't mean it was filled with strange reproductive habits (who would write a thing like that?!), but that it dealt more heavily with angsty human characters and their relationships instead of comical hobbitses.
When Crossroads of Twilight came out, I remember heading to Waterstones to purchase it with some school prize tokens instead of spending them on academic books like I was supposed to. Little did I realise it would turn out to be a valuable volume for my future career, and I still have it, complete with my school prize certificate inside!
Tragedy struck in 2007 when the author, Robert Jordan, died before completing the series, and as many of you know, the mantle was taken up by Brandon Sanderson of (more recently) Stormlight fame with great success.
Over the last two decades, I've followed report after report about the series being optioned by various production outfits and TV networks, and over those years, virtually nothing came of those stories. I recall there was a set of Lews Therin monologues on Youtube from a few years back. They were as long-winded as Jordan's writing, but demonstrated someone was willing to front at least a bit of cash. I can't find them now, but I assume they're still out there.
The problems I believe each production company hit were the obvious ones: things like getting a whole team of people to read these massive brick-shaped tomes and condense them down to a pitchable screenplay, or getting a financial backer to commit to enough episodes to tell the story, whilst also paying for the extra costs that come with fantasy-world effects, costuming, sets, etc. And not forgetting that High Fantasy was perhaps out of mainstream fashion throughout the 90s and early 2000s.
Game of Thrones proved fantasy could have modern relevance and themes, and that overcoming all of these issues was possible, but that had two extremely committed writers who established a positive relationship with George R.R. Martin from the outset. And honestly, I do not believe Wheel of Time would ever have made it to TV if Game of Thrones had not paved the way.
However, the Wheel of Time book series suffers from another issue, in that perhaps because of the way its world is structured, it is... well... a bit sexist. I remember my key frustration when first reading it was that (spoiler) no woman would ever have the power to match the Dragon. And the Dragon could only be male. Further, The White Tower, run by women, seemed to be a generally negative entity - oppressive, all-powerful, untrustworthy and corrupt to everyone not trained within its walls. It should be no surprise that The Fireblade Array was, at least in part, my reaction to that. Some of you may argue TFA is just as sexist, but truly, that was never my intention (spoiler: Acher's misogynistic kingdom falls).
What's more, WoT didn't really allow for non-binary sex and gender (never mind its very limited inferences on LGBTQ+ characters!) - a theme which few good series would be without these days. I sometimes find myself wishing I had a better intersex counterpart for The Daisain across my own books, but for now I'll have to take it as a learning point for the future.
ANYWAY. Telly programme. With all that in mind, it was important that the show widened its horizons, and took Jordan's hints about "pillow friends" to the same-sex relationships we're no longer afraid to depict and consume in the western world. Much has been made of the diversity brought to the show by the cast, as although Jordan's world of Seanchans, Aiel, Malkieri, Tuath'an and so on was ethnically diverse, the main agents of change were predominantly white in the books. The world has moved on, and many of us who write have been given cause to reflect upon who's doing the saving and how they look.
It's many years since I've read the earlier books, but I did notice the TV show has had to make a departure from several key locations in order to save on runtime and budget. I note that Caemlyn was skipped, along with Min and Rand's first meeting place. For me, the absence of Caemlyn didn't make a lot of sense, because Rand's first meeting with Elaine is at a point when he is still ignorant of his identity and quite vulnerable. When that does occur on screen, he is now going to be in a much more powerful position.
The Ways and Shadar Logoth were excellently rendered, in my opinion. I really, really liked the SL sets and they were pretty much as I had imagined. Tar Valon was even better. The interior White Tower design was a definite improvement upon the one I'd imagined inside my head!
Outside of that, it was clear the budget for the series had not been particularly generous. I hope they will have a bit more to play with - and to spend time really refining the dialogue - next time.
The Trollocs, for example, looked almost as comical as their name. I remember laughing out loud when I first read of them in the books - thinking it a portmanteau of trollope (a derogatory term for a promiscuous woman) and bollock (hopefully you know that one). It does make it difficult to fear them, but a TV outfit with some spectacular effects could outgrow the stupid name with some nastier teeth. I think they could also afford to break free of Jordan's description too. Rhino-headed bipeds are tricky to make intimidating.
I'm not sure about the departure of Matrim Cauthon - the original would never have done that, and I'm intrigued as to what they will come up with next for him.
Rosamund Pike does an excellent job as Moiraine, with Zoe Robins my other favourite as Nynaeve. I'm not sure why they hotted-up Thom Merrilyn, but hey, I'm sure all will be revealed!
Costume design worked really well on Moiraine, but I wasn't convinced much by Lan's. Again, I suspect that was down to budget.
So in summary, it was clear that Prime had to do some work bringing the source material up to date, and that they lacked the huge financing that GoT eventually received. However, it remains a very watchable series, with some great design talent. Most impressively, they've managed to compress the larger part of that doorstop of a book into a few episodes. Definitely worth a watch.