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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

The Wheel of Time, review: more Dungeons and Dragons cosplay than Game of Thrones

At first inspection Amazon’s The Wheel of Time looks like Game of Thrones with its plumage tweaked. Bearded men dash about waving swords; female characters are belted into many shades of fantastical frock. The series even features a Hollywood name clopping around grimly in cape and hood –  Rosamund Pike taking up the baroque baton from Thrones’s Sean Bean.

There are also murky mutterings about dragons and ancient prophecies whilst an all-powerful dark lord slumbers in the shadows (the Jeff Bezos jokes write themselves). But substantial differences exist, too, between WoT and GoT. And the success or failure of this $100 million adaptation of Robert Jordan’s cult fantasy saga may hinge on how its more distinctive elements are received by audiences hungry for further helpings of what Game of Thrones had to offer.

The biggest departure is tone. In a stark break from Game of Thrones, Wheel of Time does not feature 10 year-olds shoved from windows or right royal incest. And when Pike told the Radio Times that the show would emphasise male nakedness rather than the female variety she was half right. In fact, there’s almost no nudity aside from an early and relatively demure love scene.

The Wheel of Time isn’t entirely squeaky clean and is too scary and gory for children. But it is recognisably a grand adventure in the tradition of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings – rather than, as Thrones was, a subversion of fantasy cliches. And in its early episodes this big Wheel has enough sweep, mystique and momentum to suggest that it can keep on turning and give Amazon the global hit it dearly craves.

That oomph is partly down to the massive budget. It is also, though, a testament to the mythic grandeur of Jordan’s 14-volume tale. The Wheel of Time, it should probably be acknowledged at the outset, is unlikely to become as big a phenomenon as Game of Thrones. In terms of media interest and cultural buzz, Thrones’s heir has already arrived in Succession. However, The Wheel of Time squeezes in enough excitement into the six instalments sent to reviewers – three of which will be available at launch on November 19 – to suggest it could well be a blockbuster on its own terms.

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