Adapting a 14 book epic with over four million words into a TV series is no simple task. Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time has had multiple turns through development hell to prove it. But the books have, at last, found a home in a new Prime Video TV series with showrunner Rafe Judkins. A longtime fan of the books, Judkins has the dubious honor of translating the dense fantasy for a serialized television format. To add to the complexity of his task, he’s promoting The Wheel of Time‘s first season while filming the already greenlit season two. Nerdist caught up with him about establishing an emotional beginning to the series.
The Wheel of Time tells a story of an Aes Sedai, Moiraine, and her Warder Lan as they search for the prophesied Dragon Reborn. Prophecies say the reincarnated figure will either save the world or destroy it. Moiraine has reason to believe the Dragon Reborn calls the Two Rivers home. She has her eyes on five youths there. So does the Dark One. The revelation comes with pressing danger. The youths, Rand; Perrin; Mat; Nynaeve; and Egwene, have to leave their home in short order. And they’re not exactly thrilled about it.
“It’s such an iconic element of some of these characters is that they are not… So many fantasy series are about kings and queens and people who are so thrilled that they’re the chosen and that they get to fulfill the prophecy. And I don’t think our characters are necessarily that,” Judkins tells Nerdist. The Two Rivers group regularly expresses a longing for home in the books. That carries over to the series.
Judkins continues, “I think a lot of them loved the life that they had and would want to return to it. So it was really important to me that, in the first episode, that the audience could also fall in love with the life that they had. We took the whole production to Slovenia to shoot these Two River scenes in the mountains where we also had that same experience of being this little community. We’re all living together in the mountains, making this show. And I think hopefully it spread into the characters and you can feel something of the Two Rivers when you watch it.”
The first book in The Wheel of Time, The Eye of the World, spends almost 200 of its 800 pages in the Two Rivers. Readers get time with the group of youths whose lives sit on the precipice of change. They get to know their families and the small town’s quirks and rules. With an eight-episode first season, the TV series has to make viewers care in a shorter amount of time. That means adjustments across the board. The Two Rivers youths are all a bit older than in the books. And as trailers have showed, Rand and Egwene have a more overt romantic involvement. Mat, Perrin, Nynaeve—all come with differences in their pasts or current circumstances. But mainly, Judkins wanted to establish the Two Rivers and the roots these characters have there.
He explains, “I didn’t want Moiraine walking into that village to feel like the first day of their lives. They have such emotional depth, these characters, across the run of the books. I wanted to feel like when you met them, they had that same level of emotional depth. That you were seeing that they already had struggles in their lives and things that they worried about and core parts of their character that were already being activated. It was really important to me in that first episode, even though we have so little time, that you still feel like you get to know a little bit of who these characters were before they were swept off on this journey.”
Character depth and tweaked backstories aren’t all the series adds in the first episode. As trailers have shown, Moiraine and Lan face the Trollocs who attack the Two Rivers. The book didn’t detail that moment—there it happened off-screen—but the series puts Moiraine at the center, wielding the One Power and showing off the Aes Sedai’s skills. Judkin feels including that action was key. He says, “It’s just the first time they get to see this woman doing the thing that she really does.”
But really, showing the battle with the Dark One’s forces in the Two Rivers served to further connect the audience with the characters and the emotional place they come from. This group sits at the heart of the story. Judkins says, “That’s the sell of our show, is that when they ride out of town, that you want to know what happens to them next. That’s why we put that in and tried to build to this emotional moment of them leaving.”
The Wheel of Time premieres its first three episodes on November 19 on Prime Video.