After two decades stuck in development hell, a big budget adaptation of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time novels will finally arrive on the small screen later this month, courtesy of Amazon Studios. Happily, it appears the long wait was worth it; early indications suggest that showrunner Rafe Judkins and his cast and crew have put their colossal budget to good use, delivering a suitably epic, impressively faithful retelling of Jordan’s beloved fantasy saga.
That’s good news for fans who’ve devoured all 15 books (and 4 million plus words!) in the series – already fully across The Wheel of Time’s sprawling cast of characters and weighty mythology, they’re ready to dive straight into the show. But what about Wheel of Time newbies who don’t know their Saidar from their Saidin? With less than two weeks until the first three episodes of Season 1 drop on 19 November, their chances of getting up to speed on all things Wheel of Time look slim, to say the least.
That’s where this handy, spoiler-lite primer comes in. Covering all the important Wheel of Time info – including the show’s basic premise, main characters, and key concepts – it’s designed to transform even the most clueless rookie into a clued-up pro in time for Season 1!
What is The Wheel of Time about?
The Wheel of Time takes place in a world where people called “channelers” perform magic by tapping into the energy that drives creation itself. Millennia ago, demonic entity known as the Dark One tainted one half of this energy source – the half drawn on exclusively by male channelers – so that any man who used it would lose their mind. The upshot of this? Every guy who could channel went insane and ran amok, slaughtering countless innocents and literally reshaping the world before their female counterparts wiped them out.
Fast forward three and a half thousand years, and a new, quasi-Middle Ages society has emerged, with the all-female Aes Sedai order the only channelers left to challenge the Dark One’s growing power. Desperate for an any advantage in this increasingly hopeless struggle, one of the Aes Sedai, Moiraine Damodred, scours the earth for any sign of the Dragon: the reincarnation of the most powerful channeler the world has ever seen.
Moiraine’s search leads her to a small village in backwater district the Two Rivers, home to five potential Dragon Reborn candidates: farm boy Rand, prankster Mat, blacksmith Perrin, healer Nynaeve, and mayor’s daughter Egwene. One among their number has the potential to stop the Dark One forever, however, the prophecies are unclear whether the Dragon is destined to save the world or destroy it…
Who are the main Wheel of Time characters?
The Wheel of Time saga is (in)famous for the way its stable of characters continues to expand with each subsequent volume, quickly becoming unwieldy even by the standards of the fantasy genre. Fortunately, Judkins isn’t likely to cover more than the first two books – The Eye of the World and The Great Hunt – in Season 1, so viewers shouldn’t have too many names and faces to keep track of (at least, for now).
In terms of the main characters, the major players in the first six episodes of The Wheel of Time adaptation are:
- Moiraine Damodred (Rosamund Pike): one of the most powerful Aes Sedai, Moiraine has dedicated her life to finding the Dragon Reborn and guiding him (or her) to the Last Battle – no matter the cost.
- Rand al’Thor (Josha Stradowski): a young shepherd and potential reincarnation of the Dragon. Rand possesses a strong sense of duty but is also wary of being manipulated by others. When the story begins, Rand is a competent archer, and he later becomes an exceptionally skilled swordsman.
- Mat Cauthon (Barney Harris (Season 1); Dónal Finn (Season 2)): another young shepherd and Dragon Reborn candidate, Mat is a notorious practical joker. Despite his less-than-trustworthy reputation, Mat is nevertheless an unfailingly loyal friend – especially to childhood buddies Rand and Perrin. He’s also handy in a fight, thanks to his skills with a quarterstaff.
- Perrin Aybara (Marcus Rutherford): an even-tempered, musclebound apprentice blacksmith. Owing to his great physical strength, Perrin tries to avoid fighting – although this possible reincarnation of the Dragon Reborn soon learns to wield his one-handed battle axe with lethal efficiency.
- Nynaeve al’Meara (Zoë Robins): the village Wisdom (think wise woman crossed with healer), Nyneave’s precocious intellect is matched only by her fiery temper – making her the most intimidating Dragon Reborn candidate! Domineering and strong-willed, Nynaeve’s fierce exterior masks her passionate, caring nature and she truly believes she has Rand, Matt, Perrin and Egwene’s best interests at heart.
- Egwene al’Vere (Madeleine Madden): the daughter of the village mayor, Egwene’s innate curiosity makes her eager to serve as Nynaeve’s apprentice. She is a childhood friend of Matt, Perrin, and Rand (with whom she shares a nascent attraction) – and like them, is also a possible reincarnation of the Dragon.
- al’Lan Mandragoran (Daniel Henney): Moiraine’s Warder – one of a legendary brotherhood of warriors magically bonded to the Aes Sedai they have sworn to protect. Lan is a man of few words and decisive actions, and even among his fellow Warders, his skill with a blade is unrivalled. His bond with Moiraine further enhances his physical prowess, making him the ultimate bodyguard.
- Thom Merrilin (Alexandre Willaume): an aged gleeman (storyteller/acrobat) hired to perform at the Two Rivers’ annual springtime festival. Don’t let Thom’s simple façade fool you, though: he’s far shrewder (and more deadly) than he appears.
- Loial (Hammed Animashaun): a member of the Ogier race – towering, humanoid creatures who are renowned for their skill as stonemasons. Like all Ogier, Loial is a thoughtful and gentle soul, although his (relative) impulsiveness leads him to join Moiraine and the gang on their dangerous quest.
What are the key concepts in the Wheel of Time’s fictional universe?
Aside from all characters running around, the other big obstacle Wheel of Time newcomers face is the series’ dense mythology. Robert Jordan developed a detailed history, complex geopolitical environment, and intricate system of magic to bring his fictional world to life – the effect of which is immersive at best, confusing at worst. Right from the get-go, there’s a lot of concepts to take on board, including:
- The True Source: the source of all channelers’ magical powers (it’s in the name, innit?). The True Source is the driving force of creation and manifests itself as two halves: Saidin (the male half) and Saidar (the female half). Millennia before the events of The Wheel of Time, the Dark One tainted Saidin – so now, any male channeler will become gradually more insane every time he draws upon the True Source (bummer).
- The One Power: the name for channelers’ magic. It’s easy to mix up the True Source and the One Power, so think of it like this: channelers draw upon the True Source to use the One Power.
- Weaves: essentially, the Wheel of Time’s equivalent of spells. To perform different kinds of magic, channelers “weave” together flows of the One Power to achieve different effects, with each flow corresponding to one of the five classical elements: earth, water, wind, fire, and spirit. The more powerful a channeler is, the more proficient they are at reproducing (or even inventing) complex weaves with mind-blowing offensive or defensive capabilities.
- The Wheel of Time: the cosmic spindle that gives the series its name, the Wheel of Time is the metaphysical embodiment of Robert Jordan’s fictional universe. The Wheel has seven spokes (each representing a different Age of civilisation) and uses the lives of every living thing as thread to make the Great Pattern: the preordained destiny of the world. As part of this grand design, the Wheel spins certain lives back into the pattern, which is how certain individuals – like the Dragon Reborn – find themselves periodically reincarnated across different Ages.
- Ta’veren: rare individuals around whom the Wheel of Time weaves the Great Pattern as way of counteracting unwanted, extreme shifts in the Pattern’s overarching design. This means that while those who are ta’veren have little control over their own destinies, they unwittingly exert a huge influence over the fates of those around them – altering their futures to ensure that what should happen does happen. Interestingly, unlike in Robert Jordan’s original novels, in the Amazon Studios’ adaptation of The Wheel of Time, Rand, Mat, Perrin, and Egwene are all portrayed as ta’veren.
- Daes Dae’mar: translated as either the Great Game or the Game of Houses, Daes Dae’mar is the fancy name for political wheeling and dealing in the world of the Wheel of Time.
Alongside these concepts, you’ll also want to be familiar with the following organisations:
- Aes Sedai: an all-female order of channelers, whose base of operations is the island city of Tar Valon. Although widely distrusted (even outright hated), the Aes Sedai still hold considerable political sway largely thanks to their status as the sole practitioners of the One Power. The order is divided into seven factions (called Ajahs), each with a different approach on how to best serve the world – and how to best deal with the return of the Dragon Reborn.
- The Forsaken: also known as The Chosen, they are the Dark One’s 13 most faithful followers, and are all vastly more powerful channelers than any Aes Sedai at large when The Wheel of Time begins. Like their master, the Forsaken remain trapped outside the physical world – but that may be about to change…
- The Children of the Light: paramilitary religious zealots, fanatical about rooting out supporters of the Dark One – real or imagined – wherever they find them. Also known as “Whitecloaks” due to their distinctive attire, the Children’s hard-line beliefs and even more extreme methods make them at least as unpopular as the Aes Sedai (who, incidentally, they despise above all others).