Warning: This post contains spoilers for The Wheel of Time
The Wheel of Time is back for a second season and promises to be a wild and weird ride for fans of the books that inspired the Amazon Prime series. The end of season 1 saw some fairly major divergences from the first novel of the book series by Robert Jordan, and many fans had issues with those changes—even if some deviations from canon were likely dictated by circumstances, rather than on purpose.
Production on season 1 of The Wheel of Time was plagued with problems, mostly related to multiple Covid-related work stoppages, but also from the departure of Barney Harris, the actor playing Mat Cauthon, one of the central characters of the story, before production was complete. The specifics of why Harris left the series were never clarified, but it necessitated a marked change in how the story progressed in the show versus how it did in the books. Instead of going to the Eye of the World with the rest of his friends, Mat abandoned them and ended up returning to Tar Valon, the city of the Aes Sedai. Though far from the only way the show departed from the books, it was definitely one of the most significant, and altogether left many fans questioning whether season 2 would get the story back on track.
Based on the first four episodes of season 2, the answer is both yes and no. But so far, that seems to be a good thing, even if it may deprive some book fans of some of their more cherished scenes from the original story.
Taking the road differently traveled
Season 2, premiering Sept. 1 on Amazon Prime with three new episodes, ostensibly follows the events of The Great Hunt, the second book in The Wheel of Time series. But from the start, things are already going very differently. At the beginning of the book, for example, all the main characters, including Rand al’Thor and Mat Cauthon, reconvene at the walled city of Fal Dara, where Moiraine sets her machinations in motion for the Two Rivers folk, and (among other things) Rand meets with the leader of the Aes Sedai, Siuan Sanche, who tells him he is the Dragon Reborn. When the Shienaran lord Ingtar sets out for his hunt for the fabled Horn of Valere, Rand, Mat and Perrin all go with him.
None of this occurs in the first few episodes of the show. Rand, having faked his death at the end of the first season, has instead traveled to the city of Cairhien alone, where he has embarked on a casual sexual relationship with a mysterious and beautiful innkeeper named Selene, while working at a sanitarium in the city for purposes of his own. Mat has been taken captive in the White Tower by the Red Sister Liandrin Sedai, and befriends a fellow prisoner named Min Farshaw, the reluctant seer and fortune teller we met in the first season. Perrin, meanwhile, is the sole Two Riversian to go with Ingtar on his hunt for the Horn, where they run afoul of a mysterious invading force named the Seanchan, with muzzled women who can channel, led by a Lady Suroth.
To fans of the novels, this will all seem like a bizarre progression of events indeed. Even Egwene and Nynaeve’s adventures in the Tower, which so far adhere much more closely to their book counterparts, are slowly diverging from the events as they happened in the novels.
As a longtime fan of the books, watching the events of the first few episodes of season 2 unfold has been like watching a game of Telephone: each change in the story, inadvertent or otherwise, generates another and another, resulting in a bizarre funhouse version that is sort of like the original, but hopelessly distorted by all the iterations in between. Somehow, though, it works for the show, adhering to the spirit of The Wheel of Time books, rather than to the letter.
The differences have turned out to be more fascinating than upsetting, making it so that someone who is intimately familiar with the original version will only have the broadest idea of how this version of the story will proceed. It means that even though I knew very well that a certain ambiguously portrayed character would indeed turn out to be evil, for instance, the way in which they were exposed was genuinely shocking.
Everything is mixed up: things that happen much later happen earlier, and vice versa; characters who never interact or barely interact in the novels are now intimately involved with each other; things that happen in one place happen in another. It’s not clear how (or whether) the show will manage to keep everything moving in the eventual correct direction, but it’s going to be very interesting to watch them try.
The Mat Cauthon sized elephant in the room
The biggest question most fans want to know about season 2, of course, is: How does the recast character of Mat Cauthon, now played by Irish actor Dónal Finn, fare compared to Harris’ portrayal of him in season 1? Opinions will vary, of course, but after reviewing the first four episodes, it’s clear Finn has done an excellent job of stepping into Harris’ shoes, settling well into that irreverent, roguish air that makes Mat a fan favorite. Compared with Harris, Finn’s Mat is more jaded and perhaps a bit bitter at the lousy hand he’s been dealt since we saw him last, but he’s also refusing to let it quash his spirit—or his snark.
The only real downside with Mat is in how the show has altered his storyline, meaning that some of his more iconic scenes from the books are unlikely to occur in the show. For example, in one moment from the books, Mat inadvertently finds himself in a duel with two prospective Warders in the White Tower, armed with only a quarterstaff while his opponents wield swords—and he defeats them both, decisively. The scene, besides being gripping in its own right, is our first indication that Mat just may be more than he seems, and a force to be reckoned with; but the way Mat’s story unfolds in the show, that never happens—at least not yet.
Likewise, it is unclear how the ways Mat becomes a hero in the books—or any of the ways Rand, Perrin, Egwene, and Nynaeve become heroes, for that matter—will come to pass in the show, if at all. The show, having been forced off the path of the original story, has clearly decided to lean into it, rather than scramble back to the path laid by the books.
Screen adaptations of books cannot ever be an exact replica of the stories that drew in ardent fans—but the hope is that they turn out to be worthy of love in their own right. As The Wheel of Time journeys into season 2, it will be intriguing to see whether the show achieves that end.
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