The Daily Stream: The Wheel Of Time Explores Good And Evil, With Some Needed Updates

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Series: "The Wheel of Time"

Where You Can Stream It: Prime Video

The Pitch: "The Wheel of Time" was a book series by Robert Jordan that I read years ago, but even after "Game of Thrones," I thought there was no way they'd ever make this into a series — there are so many books and so much world-building. That's great if you love complex worlds as you read, but really complicated in a TV show. How much do you do in terms of writing the stories for fans, versus trying to attract new viewers? I just didn't think there was any way for this to happen. Well, happen it did, and it's beautiful! I know there are book fans out there who were angry about some of the changes, but I think they make the story better. 

"The Wheel of Time" is set in a world that sort of feels like Earth if technology got out of hand and the world moved to a more pastoral setting. There's magic in this world, but long ago, the side of magic that could be accessed by men got out of control (too much to explain here). Women who used magic (officially) are called the Aes Sedai. The men's side of things is now tainted, and the Aes Sedai have to "gentle" men who channel this magic, as it could cause massive destruction. They take oaths never to speak a word that is not true (though there are ways around this), never forge a weapon that could kill, and never to use the One Power as a weapon. 

Why it's essential viewing

In recent years, it has appeared that the Dark One is stirring again, and that a major magic user called The Dragon Reborn has appeared. That's the person who can channel in such a way that they will battle the Dark One and either save or destroy the world. As you might expect, the Aes Sedai have different ideas about how to approach such a thing. When one Aes Sedai named Moiraine (Rosamund Pike) enters a small town (where the Old Blood runs strong) to find the person she thinks could be that Dragon Reborn, she finds five young people who it could be. (We know who it is in the books.) Battles begin, lives are destroyed and changed, and the political struggles are intense. You think politics in "Game of Thrones" were a mess? Westeros has nothing on "The Wheel of Time" and its Aes Sedai maneuverings. 

Back when I read these books, as engaging as they were, there were things that stood out as needing a change. One, in particular, was the relationship between Moiraine and the head of the Aes Sedai, Siuan (Sophie Okonedo). In the books, they're called "pillow friends," a term for the young women experimenting with each other, and considered something to grow out of. In the series, the relationship is not only a long-standing love affair but it's beautifully done. We also get a frank discussion of the Green Ajah (Aes Sedai are grouped by color, with each having its own strengths and peculiarities) and how they are often in consensual polyamorous relationships. It was sort of an understanding and hinted at in the books, but it's presented as just a thing that is accepted. There is a lot of updating like that here, and it works beautifully.

Change is good

The series at its heart is really a breakdown of what is good and what is evil, and how often they blend together. It's a look at how we often try to do the right thing and end up hurting people because of it. Not everyone with seemingly bad intentions in this series is wrong, and not every good person is right. We've got religious zealots, people who secretly sympathize with the Dark One, and more focus on the women. To be fair, Robert Jordan has a lot of powerful women in his books, but with Rand (Josha Stradowski) as the point of view character, we see them through his eyes. Here, it's Moiraine's pov, and we get a much deeper look into her life, her power, her relationships (including the one with her Warder, who keeps her safe). We even get a backstory for Siuan, which is one of the best scenes in the season, and definitely not in the book. 

The ending of the first season was really controversial for book readers as it made a major change, which makes me wonder what other changes might occur. Could the fact that we don't know who the Dragon Reborn is in the series mean that it will be someone other than who we think? Could they all be tied in some way?

I wasn't expecting to love this series as much as I do, and in a way, it seemed to signal a return to high fantasy for TV, with this, "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power," and "House of the Dragon." With a second season getting close and a third season already confirmed, it's a good time to dive in.