With a second season already announced, Amazon is leaning heavily into Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time universe as the answer to HBO’s wildly successful Game of Thrones. During San Diego Comic-Con on Friday, showrunner and executive producer Rafe Judkins kicked off the Amazon Prime Video panel by talking about what viewers can expect from the first season.
The Wheel of Time is a much, much adored American fantasy series that launched in 1990, that includes 14 books (and a prequel!). According to panelists, 90 million copies of the books have been sold. Judkins began by talking about his own history with the project, noting that he read the series when he was younger and that he connected with the material on a deep level.
“It was this book series that connected us with others — especially after I came out of the closet — it was this thing that let us see what it’s like to be a person who’s different in the world.” This is likely comforting to longtime fans of the books who want to see a creator who really understands the source material they’re bringing to screen.
While the first book in the series, The Eye of the World, is largely told through the perspective of Rand al’Thor (Josha Stradowski), Judkins calls Rosamund Pike’s character Moiraine — a powerful magic-user and what the text refers to as an Aes Sedai — the lead of the series. In the book, Moiraine is hoping to avoid the end of the world by finding the prophesied Dragon Reborn among a group of small-town young people. What she gets is far more than she anticipated with multiple evils and multiple heroes fighting layered battles between men and monsters.
There’s a lot that happens Jordan’s books, and it will be interesting to see how the series will pare down the story without losing what makes it so beloved to its very passionate fanbase. Judkins said as much on the panel.
“My danger will be never running out of books — the challenge that we face is how do we tell this story the most cohesively and coherently in what is a reasonable number of episodes.”
When asked about how closely the show will follow the series, he recognized the importance the books held as well as the limitations of television as a medium. “Obviously, I want to stay as close to the books as we possibly can — these are really beloved books, I love them, there’s a great story there, we want to tell it and we want to tell it in the way that’s best for television. Like, this really is a true adaptation of the series, so there will be a lot of things that are different than the books certainly, but I think it stays true to the heart of the books and the spine of the storytelling.”
The specter of HBO’s Game of Thrones television series (and its much-maligned finale), however, was not to be dismissed. Judkins made it clear that he had already thought about the ending and how 14 books could work as a television series, noting that he’d already worked out eight seasons worth of story before he’d even finished writing the pilot.
Because the Wheel of Time has such a longstanding fanbase, the question of fans and harsh criticism came up, but Judkins isn’t worried. He said that the Wheel of Time team worked to provide a wide range of insight behind the camera. “I think it’s really important to find that balance around you all the time, I always want to hire people around me who challenge me.”
The writing staff was a mixture of people who knew and loved the series and writers who had never picked up the book, which allowed them to pull out the story that was most important for an adaptation. Judkins made sure to mention importance of inclusive casting for what showed up in front of the camera, as well. “The Wheel of Time has always sat as the most diverse fantasy book that came out in its time, and I think when we were adapting it to be on television today, we also need to do that in order to honor the books that are there and make this the most diverse fantasy TV show that’s been on television.”
There’s a clear understanding of how important character and Jordan’s world are to Rafe Judkins’ understanding what makes the Wheel of Time unique in the fantasy space. He called it “the connective tissue between Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones” when recognizing Jordan’s contribution of multi-perspective storytelling to the fantasy genre. But there is one thing he sees as one of the most important parts of the Wheel of Time, and he is looking forward to bringing to the screen.
“Thematically, right now a story that is really about balance is something that’s meaningful in the world.” He said, before continuing to add, “it’s really refreshing to see a fantasy series that isn’t so much good versus evil as balance versus imbalance. That is a message worth writing about right now.”
The panel ended with a reveal of the first teaser poster for The Wheel of Time (seen below). Judkins set the poster up for the viewers, who he sees both as fans of the books and people who have never read a word. “Fans of the books will recognized this as a very iconic moment in The Eye of the World and what I like about it for people who don’t know anything about the books, this is a moment when you see our lead, Rosamund Pike, Moiraine, looking back over her shoulder and saying we don’t know what’s through here, but come along for the ride.”
The Wheel of Time’s first season will come to Amazon in November 2021.