Prime Video’s fantasy series grows darker and more complex in its second go-round.
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the works being covered here wouldn’t exist.
Big-budget fantasy lovers have reason to celebrate this week with Amazon Studio’s The Wheel of Time Season 2’s debut. With some careful tweaking by Showrunner Rafe Judkins, Robert Jordan’s epic fantasy of feminine magic and quests of destiny came to life in an impressive if uneven first season. Now, the stakes are higher, the dangers subtler, and the ever-expanding cast of characters more compelling.
The season premiere, appropriately titled “A Taste of Solitude,” finds our heroes, villains, and everyone else scattered across the map. Some have separated themselves by circumstance. For instance, Mat (Dónal Finn, taking over the role this season) reluctantly spends three episodes as the Red Ajah’s guest. Others, like Moraine (Rosamund Pike), chose to cut themselves off from the rest of the world.
Season two still boasts breathtaking locations and sumptuous sets while progressively ratcheting up the tension. There are shadows everywhere. Judkins and co. have set a grimmer, more dire tone for Wheel of Time’s sophomore season. There are more baddies to contend with, like the mysterious nation of the Seanchan and its unwilling channeler foot soldiers. In the wake of last season’s big showdown between Rand (Josha Stradowski) and The Dark One (Fares Fares), a whole new antagonist class has risen. Known as The Forsaken, they’re a cabal of ancient channelers imprisoned since the breaking of the world.
Those who’ve delved into Robert Jordan’s 14-volume series know how quickly The Wheel of Time jumps from straightforward fantasy adventure to dense tomes chock full of political machinations and backstabbing intrigue. The series seems to emulate that model, so viewers expecting adventure with the Two Rivers gang might be disappointed. However, those who like a little more conspiracy and maneuvering will have more meat to chew on. Everyone, with the exception of Nynaeve (Zoë Robins) and Lan (Daniel Henney)—they remain the moral center of the show—are painted in shades of grey. Even Egwene (Madeline Madden) must confront her own pettiness and jealousy while trying to navigate the minefield that is the White Tower.
[T]he stakes are higher, the dangers subtler, and the ever-expanding cast of characters more compelling.
A pall of paranoia overlays these first four episodes of season two. The Aes Sedai’s usual brand of shady dealing, the Seanchan’s gruesome display of power, and the strange events that seem to follow Rand in his new, anonymous life ensure the sowing of plenty of division. The One Power, the source of magic that the Aes Sedai women can channel safely, remains tainted for men. That puts Rand in a race against the ticking clock of his own sanity.
The White Tower has also presented our travelers with new dangers. Nyaneve’s test to move up the ranks from Novice to Accepted hinges on a gruesome, heartbreaking challenge that only further alienates her, and not just from Egwene. It’s a development her wannabe mentor Liandrian (Kate Fleetwood) is practically salivating over. Nyaneve’s abilities have become so infamous the various factions of Ajah’s in the tower are only too happy to squabble over and manipulate her to their own ends, further driving a wedge between herself and Egwene.
With the scattering of the core group, the first four episodes have a somewhat unfocused quality. For example, an inordinate amount of time seems spent on Lan pondering his now-defunct Warder bond with Moraine or Perrin (Marcus Rutherford) learning about his wolfy nature. But by the end of episode four, we can see the threads beginning to pull themselves back together. While these first four episodes are a bit overstuffed and morose, the promise of the latter half of the season is strong with the discovery of the first of the Forsaken to be released by the Dark One. It doesn’t hurt that episode four is also the most graphic and bloody of what we’ve seen so far, including one very grisly death at the hands of the Seanchan.
Slow start notwithstanding, Season two of The Wheel of Time packs a lot of story into four episodes. We not have seen anything as menacingly grand as last season’s jaunt into Shadar Logoth yet. Still, plenty of dangers lurk out of sight if you only know where to look.
The Wheel of Time Season 2 is currently channeling on Prime Video.