The Wheel of Time has made its triumphant return with a second season, and it’s shaping up to be quite the unpredictable journey for fans of Robert Jordan’s book series, which served as the inspiration for the Amazon Prime adaptation. The conclusion of the first season introduced some fairly significant deviations from the initial novel, which left many fans with mixed feelings. It’s worth noting that some of these changes were likely necessitated by external circumstances rather than deliberate choices.
The production of the first season faced numerous challenges, primarily stemming from COVID-related work stoppages. Additionally, the departure of Barney Harris, who portrayed Mat Cauthon, one of the central characters, before filming was completed, added another layer of complexity. The reasons behind Harris’s exit from the series were never fully explained, but it forced a substantial alteration in the show’s narrative compared to the books. Instead of embarking on the journey to the Eye of the World with his companions, Mat chose to leave them and return to Tar Valon, the city of the Aes Sedai. This departure was just one of many ways in which the show diverged from the source material, and it left numerous fans wondering whether season 2 would realign with the original storyline.
After watching the first four episodes of season 2, it’s a bit of a mixed bag in terms of whether the show is aligning closely with the books or not. However, this ambiguity is turning out to be a positive aspect, despite the possibility that some book enthusiasts might miss certain cherished scenes from the original story.
Choosing a Less Conventional Path.
Season 2, which premiered on September 1st on Amazon Prime with three new episodes, is ostensibly based on The Great Hunt, the second book in The Wheel of Time series. However, right from the beginning, it’s clear that things are taking a markedly different course. For instance, in the opening of the book, all our main characters, including Rand al’Thor and Mat Cauthon, regroup at the walled city of Fal Dara. Here, Moiraine sets her intricate plans into motion for the people from Two Rivers, and Rand, among other things, has a meeting with Siuan Sanche, the leader of the Aes Sedai, who informs him that he is the Dragon Reborn. When Ingtar, the lord from Shienar, embarks on his quest for the legendary Horn of Valere, both Rand, Mat, and Perrin accompany him.
However, in the first few episodes of the show, none of these events unfold as they did in the book. Rand, who fakes his own death at the end of the first season, finds himself alone in the city of Cairhien. Here, he becomes entangled in a casual romantic relationship with Selene, a mysterious and captivating innkeeper. Simultaneously, he works at a sanitarium in the city, all for his own enigmatic purposes. Mat, on the other hand, has been captured in the White Tower by the Red Sister Liandrin Sedai and strikes up an unlikely friendship with a fellow prisoner named Min Farshaw, the reluctant seer and fortune teller introduced in the first season. Meanwhile, Perrin is the only one from Two Rivers to join Ingtar on his quest for the Horn, where they encounter an enigmatic invading force known as the Seanchan, led by Lady Suroth. These newcomers possess women who can channel and keep them muzzled.
For fans of the novels, this divergence in the storyline will certainly appear as a rather unusual progression of events. Even the adventures of Egwene and Nynaeve in the Tower, which initially follow the book’s narrative more closely, are gradually diverging from the novel’s events.
As a devoted fan of the books, witnessing the unfolding events in the first few episodes of season 2 feels akin to observing a game of Telephone. Each alteration in the story, whether deliberate or accidental, spawns further changes, creating a peculiar funhouse version that retains the essence of the original but becomes delightfully distorted through each iteration. Surprisingly, this approach works remarkably well for the show, as it remains true to the spirit of The Wheel of Time books, even if not always adhering to the letter.
The deviations from the source material have proven to be more intriguing than disconcerting. They create a scenario where someone well-acquainted with the original narrative can only form a broad understanding of how this particular rendition of the story will progress. This means that even when I had a strong inkling that a certain ambiguously portrayed character would eventually reveal their villainous nature, the way it unfolded was genuinely shocking.
Everything seems to be jumbled: events that occur much later in the books are happening earlier here, and vice versa. Characters who barely interacted in the novels are now intricately intertwined in the storyline. Events that unfolded in one location now transpire elsewhere. It’s unclear how, or if, the show will manage to eventually align everything in the correct direction, but it promises to be a captivating journey to see them attempt it.
The Elephant in the Room is the Size of Matt Kathon
The burning question on most fans’ minds regarding season 2 is undoubtedly: How does Dónal Finn, the new actor playing Mat Cauthon, stack up against Barney Harris’ portrayal from season 1? Well, opinions will naturally vary, but after diving into the first four episodes, it’s evident that Finn has seamlessly slipped into the role, capturing that irreverent and roguish essence that makes Mat a beloved character. In contrast to Harris, Finn’s Mat appears more world-weary and perhaps a tad bitter about the challenges he’s faced since we last saw him. However, he’s resolute in not letting those hardships dampen his spirit or his trademark snark.
The main drawback with Mat lies in how the show has tweaked his storyline, which means that some of the iconic moments from the books involving him may not make it onto the screen. For instance, in one memorable book scene, Mat unintentionally ends up in a duel with two aspiring Warders at the White Tower, armed only with a quarterstaff while his opponents wield swords—and he emerges victorious, decisively. Aside from being a gripping moment, it serves as our initial hint that Mat might be more than meets the eye, a force to be reckoned with. However, the way Mat’s tale unfolds in the show, this particular event doesn’t happen—at least not yet.
Similarly, it remains uncertain how the ways in which Mat, as well as Rand, Perrin, Egwene, and Nynaeve, become heroes in the books will unfold in the show, if they do at all. The show, having been diverted from the original narrative, has evidently chosen to embrace this divergence rather than desperately attempt to realign with the book’s path.
Screen adaptations of books can never replicate the stories that passionately captivated fans, but the aspiration is that they can stand on their own as creations deserving of affection. As The Wheel of Time embarks on its second season, it will be fascinating to observe whether the show manages to achieve this goal.