The Wheel of Time turns, and ages come and go — or at least that's how every book starts in the series. The series, which spans 14 books in all, is a sprawling narrative that goes on for pages and pages... and pages. Like Game of Thrones before it, the series was largely considered unfilmable simply due to the scope of it. One could make a 14-season series consisting of 20+ hour-long episodes, but would anyone stream it in a world where life is short and peak TV is vast? With all this in mind, simply due to the change in medium, the differences between The Wheel Of Time book series and Amazon’s show were inevitable.
Warning: Spoilers follow for The Wheel of Time Season 1, Episodes 1-3, as well as several from the first book in the series, The Eye of The World. Amazon's adaptation of author Robert Jordan's seminal fantasy series would never be able to stay true to its source material the way HBO's initial season of Game of Thrones was to George R. R. Martin’s series. For one thing, The Wheel of Time only has eight episodes to cover a 782-page novel. Moreover, many of those pages are unhurried scenes of traveling across the nameless continent, which don't advance the plot.
That's fine for a novel, but TV series need to get to the point. So, here are several ways the books have been adapted to help put an engine behind the action:
1. The Cast Has Been Aged Up
In the books, the kids who Moiraine took from the Two Rivers are literally kids. They’re not as young as the Stark siblings in A Song of Ice and Fire (never forget, on the page, Jon Snow, Dany Targaryen, and Robb Stark are 13 to 14 years old). Everyone in The Eye of The World is a post-pubescent teen. But they are still sheltered and young. Rand and Egwene are cute, puppy love-stricken mutual crushes; Perrin is too shy to talk to girls; Mat’s barely kissed a girl.
That’s all very different now. Perrin’s married, Mat’s got girls left and right, and Rand and Egwene are lovers. The show also changes the group’s relationship with Nynaeve, who is 25 in the books. Now, she’s just a couple of years older instead of nearly an entire decade, making them all far more equal.
2. Perrin Accidentally Murders His Wife
Perhaps we should start with “Perrin has a wife.” And then once saddled with this entire extra wife who doesn’t exist in the books (and will likely be quite an impediment to his later romance), Perrin accidentally offed her in a Trolloc fight.
On the one hand, this lends backstory to Perrin’s personality. In the books, he’s a super big guy (Rand is the only guy in town who is his height). He is profoundly aware he can accidentally hurt someone because of his size and strength and is forever trying to be gentle and protective. By giving him a wife (Leila) and then having him accidentally murder her, he has far more traumatized reasons to be cautious. It also provides motive to any later attempts to rebuff a potential relationship (should someone fly into his life) other than “I’m a Chosen One, and perhaps that’s not good husband material.”
3. Mat’s Backstory Is Rougher
On the page, Mat Cauthon is a guy who wants to be a slick gambler, but he isn’t. He’s also lazy and immature, forever trying to evade responsibility. There are some hints his parents have issues — his father is, like his son, a flirt, his mother a little overbearing.
His mom, Nettie, is now dependent on alcohol in the show, made miserable by her cheating husband and taking it out on her son. Mat’s little sisters are his responsibility — he kept them safe from the Trollocs while his parents cowered (a very different dynamic than the sudden competent soldiers they turn into in the novels when battles turn up). Moreover, Mat’s responsibility to his family drives him. His urge to return home doesn't come from a desire to be lazy and have an easy life; it’s because he’s worried his family will collapse with him gone.
4. Rand’s Story Isn’t Spelled Out
Notably, every defining moment about Rand disappeared in the early going of the series. The desperate scene in which Rand dragged the injured father to the village after the Trolloc attack and Tam, delirious from Trolloc poison, tells him he’s adopted, got skipped in the show. Every scene in which someone points out Rand’s red hair and height is out the window. The incident with Egwene’s pony, Bella, never happened in the show, nor did the corresponding euphoria in the Baerlon town square. (They don’t even go to Baerlon before splitting up.)
On the other hand, he did get to sleep with Egwene. That also let them break up, giving him a far more developed relationship profile other than “tongue-tied around girls.”
5. Egwene Is Given Equal Status
At the end of the first episode, after a Trolloc drags off Nynaeve, Moiraine calls Rand, Egwene, Mat, and Perrin “the four ta’veren” in the village and says they must leave with her at once.
In the books, that’s not how it goes. There are three “ta’veren,” or focal points in the pattern: Rand, Mat, and Perrin. Moiraine takes Egwene because she’s got the “spark” to be an Aes Sedai and Egwene decides she wants to train at the White Tower. Egwene is never treated as a potential Chosen One. Her story eventually becomes essential, but her deeds are treated as actions that make her helpmeet to the three men, not an equal.
6. Nynaeve Is Less Of A Mother Figure
Nynaeve is also given full status alongside Rand, Mat, Egwene, and Perrin. Because she’s so much older in the books than they are, she’s more of an obnoxious wannabe authority figure. She tries to order the kids to leave Moiraine and go back home with her. When they refuse, she gloms onto the group despite no one asking her to stay with them. In the books, Moiraine can see Nynaeve’s potential to be a talented Aes Sedai, but her attitude makes her not the best candidate for training. Here, Nynaeve knows she could be an Aes Sedai (she does not in the books) and refuses to consider that path.
7. The Two Rivers Travelers Are Different
Speaking of Nynaeve, the entire party that travels with Moiraine has been radically pared down. Thom Merrilin, for instance, is in the Two Rivers during the Bel Tine attack as the weekend entertainment. He leaves with Moiraine for safety. Padan Fain also turns up early on as they flee. Nynaeve, who no one ever thinks is dead, catches up only a day or two after they leave. (She does take Lan by surprise, though not Moiraine, who can sense another woman who can channel when they’re nearby.)
In short, the group that winds up at Shadar Logoth is almost half again the size of the one in the show. The split-up does happen the way the groups eventually form, but it’s not just due to the shadows in the city attacking them, but the Trollocs and Fades storming the walls, a sign of how desperate the Dark One is to get his hands on this group.
8. There Are More Aes Sedai Everywhere
For 600+ pages, the only Aes Sedai readers meet in the first book of The Wheel of Time is Moiraine. Contrast that with the literal opening scene of The Wheel of Time TV series, when fans meet an entire phalanx of them chasing down one of the rarest sights in the land: a male who can channel like women. But bringing in these central characters, including Red Ajah member Liandrin Guirale and Green member Alanna Mosvani is just the beginning. A Yellow (a healer) is burnt at the stake by the White Cloak’s questioner. These are things fans learn were happening at the time in later novels that have been interwoven into the current narrative to help fans understand the scope of the series right away.
9. The Pacing Is So! Much! Faster!
The pacing of the TV series is probably the most startling aspect of this adaptation. Readers of the books will know the series starts slow, stays slow, slows down, and suddenly The Last Battle happens, and that’s slow too.
The show seems determined to fix that. There’s no need to spend hours in Edmond’s Field. We all saw Lord of the Rings; we know the Shire endealment. So Moiraine shows up, picks up her crew, battles some Trollocs, and jets. Why wait until Rand goes to Camedyn to see the False Dragon? Why wait until Perrin and Egwene have had 100s of pages of adventures before showing the White Cloaks’ brutality?
But what’s remarkable isn’t just how fast everything is moving, but also that there’s still time for songs and stories within the fast pace. Moiraine spends five whole minutes of a 50-minute episode giving a history lesson that teaches viewers more about the show than any Trolloc battle could. Thom Merrilin gets an entire song. The series manages to tell the story efficiently without losing the parts of the book that make it what it is.
10. The Cast Is More Diverse
When Robert Jordan began writing The Wheel of Time series in the late 1980s, fantasy was more or less an all-white world. Fast-forward 30 years and one Harry Potter and the Cursed Child later, and this production has brilliantly applied what we might call the Hermione Principle: Since most of the characters aren’t said to be white, why make them that way? The result is a little like the high fantasy answer to Netflix’s Bridgerton. The Wheel of Time is one of the most diverse fantasy series on TV today, and that may be the best divergence from the books of all.
The Wheel of Time Season 1 continues on Amazon with new episodes every Friday from now until Dec. 24, 2021.