The Wheel of Time spoilers follow.
It's been rumoured that Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos wanted a Game of Thrones-style multi-season fantasy epic of his very own for his streaming service, and the result is the new magical drama The Wheel of Time.
And while the series sits somewhere between Game of Thrones and The Lord of the Rings – it mixes Thrones' political intrigue, gore and relationships (but with far less incest) with Hobbit-y wanderings over barren landscapes, myths and growling creatures – it does improve upon one thing Game of Thrones (not to mention Lord of the Rings) always floundered with: its portrayal of women.
Based on Robert Jordan's fantasy novels (of which there are 14 volumes and a prequel, so Bezos spent wisely), The Wheel of Time is set in an unnamed world where magic is known as the One Power. Humans who have the power can magically manipulate earth, fire, wind, water or spirit, and are known as channelers.
It turns out, however, that centuries before, male channelers were corrupted by evil, with the One Power causing them to go mad. Now only women, such as the Aes Sedai (a sort of witches' coven with great fashion sense), can channel the magic, and as gatekeepers of the mystical power they also hunt down any remaining men who can channel, and keep world order while they are at it.
From the very first episode of The Wheel of Time, we have scores of powerful, fair, strong-minded women popping up, beginning with an Aes Sedai named Moiraine (Rosamund Pike), who travels the land searching for the Dragon Reborn – a channeler of immense power who (oh dear) may be male, so could either save humanity or plunge the world into darkness forever.
"I think with Moiraine, it's always striking the balance between the amazing power that she knows she can unleash, and what is the counterpoint to that? For me, it's always about keeping her true North of her mission, and the fact that she has this kind of calm authority that she doesn't deviate from,” Pike said to Digital Spy about her character.
Moiraine is accompanied by Lan, her Warder (Daniel Henney), a male guardian who is emotionally linked to the Aes Sedai he serves, and together they arrive in Two Rivers, where Moiraine believes the Dragon Reborn may be.
Following an attack by Orc-like creatures called Trollocs, they flee the area with a handful of potential saviour-of-the-world candidates, young men Rand, Perrin and Mat and women Nynaeve (Zoë Robins) and Egwene (Madeleine Madden).
Not only have these women the potential to be powerful, they are independent, too. Early on, Egwene has to choose whether to be mystical apprentice, which means sacrificing her relationship with pouting Rand (Josha Stradowski, giving off some serious Anakin Skywalker vibes), or to give up her calling to be his girlfriend. It doesn't take her too long to choose the most sensible/interesting path.
The women in The Wheel of Time can live with men, they can survive without them, and they are treated by them as equals (a large group of travelling people, known as Tinkers, are led by Maria Doyle Kennedy's Ila, and there are no men amongst them grumbling about following a woman).
This is in stark contrast to Game of Thrones, where women were either powerless (and often naked) or, if they were strong and commanding, they were usually depicted as scheming, vindictive and dangerous (Cersei), shady and not to be trusted (Melisandre), or ultimately driven murderously bonkers with power (Daenerys).
The women in The Wheel Of Time aren’t mad or evil and they're not naked (well, at least not so far) either. While there is brief male nudity in the first episode, a later scene in which a woman is stripped by her captors is not portrayed in a salacious way, and little bare skin is shown.
"You know, Game of Thrones, part of the core element of it as a book series was bringing this violence and sex and incest – you know, bringing all these elements into the series was part of why it worked as a fantasy book series, it was against what you were used to seeing in fantasy," The Wheel of Time creator Rafe Judkins told Digital Spy.
"The Wheel of Time, as a series, is not really like that. It's not heavily focused on that."
"But, you know, there's an instinct of people to be like, 'Oh, you should make this like Game of Thrones. You should push it.' And I felt like any time we did that too much, it just didn't feel right for the show. We're sticking as close as we can to the tone of the books."
Of course, The Wheel of Time has its flaws (some of the special effects are a little creaky and there aren't many memorable set pieces as yet) and, because it is set in one land (the Czech Republic doubling for Times' fantasy landscape), it doesn't have the continent-spanning magnificence of the world of Game of Thrones.
But it does have strong women, interesting women and powerful women. And they're doing a pretty decent job of ruling their world, too.
The Wheel of Time episodes 1-3 are available to watch on Prime Video, with new episodes released weekly on Fridays.
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