Wheel of Time

The Wheel of Time Season 2, Episode 1: A Taste of Solitude #TVReview #Fantasy #WoT #AmazonPrime

The Wheel of Time Season 2, Episode 1: A Taste of Solitude

Amazon Prime, 2023

Reviewed by Steven Poore

The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. Or to put it another way, Season Two of the Amazon/Sony TV adaptation of The Wheel Of Time is upon us at last. Like me, you may have forgotten much of what went before in the first season (spoilers: it was impressive but uneven, with Rosamund Pike carrying the show for the first few episodes before the rest of the cast eased somewhat into their characters). Showrunner Rafe Judkins certainly wasn’t aiming for a slavishly faithful translation of Robert Jordan’s books then, and not much has changed in this first episode of the second season. Fans expecting whole hours of braid-tugging will be disappointed, but let’s leave them aside and see exactly what Judkins, director Thomas Napper, and episode writer Amanda Kate Shuman have delivered on this turn of the wheel.

            For a season-opening episode, A Taste Of Solitude is remarkably low-key. Rand al’Thor (Josha Stradowski) is almost entirely absent, having decided to protect his friends from his inevitable madness by… abandoning them. What we get instead is the fall out from the first season, characters reflecting on their new circumstances and struggling to make sense of them. There’s a lot of withheld anger, especially between Pike’s Moirraine Sedai and Daniel Henney’s Lan, both characters seething quietly at each other without their usual Warder’s Bond to fall back upon. Over in Tar Valon, novices Egwene (Madeleine Madden) and Nyneave (Zoe Robins) are chafing against the rigid boundaries set by a school that would kick Hogwarts halfway into the Blight. Kate Fleetwood is back as Liandrin, the Red Ajah’s manhunter supreme, all steel and venom. And Perrin (Marcus Rutherford), already tightly wound at the best of times, is riding the edge of his anger as he searches for the stolen Horn of Valere. Tension and pressure are the order of the day, which makes for a gripping, if slightly uncomfortable, forty minutes before the real bad guys arrive.

            The Fades are properly unnerving, as they ought to be. And although the fight that releases all this pent-up aggression is welcome, it’s also chaotic and covered in darkness. But the camera work and the pace are far more fluid than in the first season. Added to the increased ease with which the cast is inhabiting their characters, this episode works well as a statement of intent: you might think you know what’s coming, it says, but we’ve got tricks we haven’t shown you yet.

            The casting of Meera Syal as Verin Sedai adds another string to the series’ bow. The show is definitely turning into a full ensemble affair, focusing on the “side characters” as much as the Emond’s Field Five, and for my money, it’s all the better for that.

            Worth noting that the music for the series is composed by Lorne Balfe, who also recently worked on the Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Amongst Thieves movie. Having watched that for the first time last night, before diving back into Wheel of Time (yeah, I’m behind the curve, don’t judge me), I can’t help but compare the two projects. Balfe’s music feels more organically worked into the Wheel of Time show, while there were parts of the D&D movie where the music seemed to intrude. As a general comparison, I have to say that I prefer what Judkins and his team are doing here with Wheel of Time to the quiptastic big-screen Marvelisation of the D&D film. Now you can judge me.

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