With 14 books and hundreds of characters, Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time overflows with favorites. Everyone has characters they would do anything to protect. For many fans, Loial is one such character. An Ogier, a long-lived non-human being, Loial has left his home at the young age of around 90 years old. Loial should have asked for permission from Ogier Elders to leave. However, he has a rebellious streak. He wants to see the world beyond the stedding and have adventures. Loial finds those adventures in the book series with the youths from the Two Rivers. He becomes a stalwart and true companion. His passion for knowledge and books helps the group on multiple occasions. And now, Prime Video’s The Wheel of Time series has introduced Loial (Hammed Animashaun ) in its fifth episode, “Blood Calls Blood.”
In The Wheel of Time books, Loial runs into Rand and Mat in Caemlyn. The city sits along the route to Tar Valon and the White Tower. Dana mentioned Caemlyn in episode three. Specifically, she said she wanted to see the Lion Throne of Caemlyn. But the city doesn’t appear in the TV adaptation. So even though Loial enters the story at a different place and time in the show, the circumstances under which he meets Rand match The Eye of the World.
The Wheel of Time showrunner Rafe Judkins told Nerdist via email, “In the books, Rand meets Loial in a library at an Inn in Caemlyn. So we actually mimicked that scene exactly by having him meet Loial in a library at an inn in Tar Valon (as we didn’t end up going to Caemlyn). A lot of the dialogue in their initial scene is pulled directly from the book as well and hopefully sets up the slow-aging, slow-moving culture of the Ogier.”
And speaking of Tar Valon, bringing in the city now and pulling the Two Rivers youths together in this location comes as quite a departure from the books. Judkins explained that this was partially about the practicalities of making television, but it also served the story.
“In TV Shows, you need something called ‘standing sets,’ which are your sets that you build on your own stages and keep coming back to over and over again between seasons. These are easy and affordable places to pick up scenes and they make television work at its budget level vs. features,” Judkins said.
He continued, “Obviously, The Wheel of Time is incredibly challenging as an adaptation to find ‘standing sets,’ but the key place we come back to time and time again throughout the entire book series is Tar Valon and the White Tower. So we needed to bring that into season one, and I used it as a replacement for the group meet-up that occurred in Caemlyn. I liked this as well because it allows a new audience to have a really clear understanding of the target all our characters are moving toward through the mid-section of the season—The White Tower. Trying to variously explain why each group is heading to Caemlyn is a little more difficult than simply having Moiraine say ‘We must get to the White Tower’ in 101 [the first episode] and then seeing that followed through eventually by our various groups of characters.”
With our characters converging in Tar Valon, it makes sense to move Loial’s introduction to this point. He and Rand discuss in-universe books, specifically The Travels of Jain Farstrider. This conversation comes after Loial’s appearance comes as a surprise to Rand, who has never seen an Ogier. In The Wheel of Time books, Loial has more non-human appearance, but we can see human features in the show. Getting Loial’s look right was a process.
Judkins recalled, “There were a couple of key things that went into the look for Loial. The first was allowing our incredible MuFX [makeup and effects] designer, Nick Dudman (Harry Potter), to create a look that would not require VFX for Loial to be on screen. Loial is such an important character from the books, and at our budget level, having a fully VFX character in the show who’s in normal dialogue scenes with the rest of our group is not really possible. I wanted Loial to be someone we could incorporate as a core group member like he is in the books. Secondly, Salli Richardson-Whitfield, who directed block three, was hugely impactful in the Loial design as he first appeared in her episodes. Finding things that honored the Ogier look as written about in the books while simultaneously giving the actor the absolute maximum flexibility for performance.”
Hammed Animashaun embodies Loial. He utterly captures the character’s cautious, kind, and loquacious nature. A character both older than everyone else but still quite young for an Ogier, Loial set a casting challenge.
“When we initially set out to find our 90-years-young Ogier, it was hard to know who would be best from a casting perspective,” Judkins said. “We had people tape from their 20s to their 90s just to see what it felt like with them speaking the words. But our casting director, Kelly Valentine Hendry, and one of our EPs, Marigo Kehoe, had seen Hammed perform on stage in London in Midsummer Night’s Dream, and they loved him in that and thought he could be interesting for Loial. The SECOND Hammed’s tape came in, we all watched it and knew instantly he was our Loial. We sent him straight through to the network for approval. It was immediate and 100%.”
The Wheel of Time airs new episodes on Fridays on Prime Video.