The Wheel of Time showrunner answers our burning questions about the season 1 finale
Warning: This article contains spoilers for season 1 of The Wheel of Time.
The wheel turns, and ages come and pass. Season 1 of The Wheel of Time is now complete, with the season finale hitting Amazon Prime Video on Christmas Eve, but there's a lot more where that came from. Season 1 was mostly adapted from The Eye of the World, the first book in the epically long fantasy saga by Robert Jordan. Though the Dragon Reborn, Rand al'Thor (Josha Stradowski) appears to have triumphed over the Dark One, that victory is only temporary.
With one season in the books and a second currently being filmed, EW caught up with The Wheel of Time showrunner Rafe Judkins to discuss the series so far.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It's good to connect with you again, Rafe. The last time I talked with you was this past summer, before the show had premiered. Now here we are on the other side of season 1. It couldn't have been the easiest job in the world to turn a 600-page book into eight episodes of TV. How are you feeling about the job at this point?
RAFE JUDKINS: I mean, it's crazy seeing how many people are watching the show. It feels like we've done the thing we set out to do of connecting with people who really love the books, but a big majority of our audience is people who don't know anything about the books and aren't even necessarily fantasy fans. That's a really gratifying thing to see.
The show is really born out of your passion for the books, but clearly you guys weren't afraid to change details or shift characterizations. I wanted to ask you about some of those changes specifically, starting with something I was just talking about with Josha. When reading the first book, you basically always know that Rand is the Dragon Reborn, because it's almost all told from his first perspective. But the show made the Dragon's identity more of a mystery and even suggested it could be Egwene (Madeleine Madden) or Nynaeve (Zoë Robins). What did you like about doing that? Will the show continue with the ensemble feeling even now that Rand is revealed as the promised hero?
Yeah, that was the whole idea. A lot of the changes we're making in our adaptation are to serve the series as a whole more than just the first book. The Wheel of Time is interesting because it's like the opposite of Game of Thrones. With Game of Thrones, the first book is a perfect television season, and then it becomes much more disparate the deeper you go into the books. Whereas Wheel of Time starts out in a way that's hard to make a clean adaptation for TV, but then as you get into the later books, it really is built along a clear, clean TV structure of an ensemble story. I don't even think Rand has the most POV chapters in the books overall. It's very much an ensemble, even though the first book is not. So we really tried to make the season have that feeling from the whole book series of being a real ensemble piece. We made a lot of changes in the first season to make sure that you could see all the stories of the five main leads.
I also wanted to ask about Perrin (Marcus Rutherford) specifically, since he got a significant adjustment in the form of his wife Laila (Helena Westerman), who he accidentally kills in the first episode. That really drives him throughout the season. What motivated adding that in? You guys were more patient in rolling out his connection with wolves than the book is.
We needed to be patient with the wolf stuff because as soon as you know what's going on there, then you know he's not the Dragon Reborn and it takes him out of the mystery. But for the character overall, his arc in the book is about violence. It's really Robert Jordan's viewpoint into his own experiences in Vietnam, which I think is so interesting to have in a fantasy book series. You don't often get a character who stands up and asks, should we be going to war at all? So we wanted to give this character, who is also very internal, something really clear at the beginning of his story so that when he is sitting there and not really saying a lot about why he doesn't believe in violence later in the series, you have something seared into your mind that lets you put an internal monologue in his head. I don't want to change the character and make him suddenly a real talkative dude, so we have to make moments happen for him in the show that are impactful enough for the audience so they can create his internal monologue for themselves.
Mat (Barney Harris) ended up splitting off from the group in the final episodes. Even though we know now Mat's not the Dragon Reborn, what is the danger of him going off on his own like that?
I think Mat is the character who most clearly struggles with the darker elements of himself. Season 2, for all our characters, will be about peeling back the surface and trying to understand what balance between dark and light they're all trying to find within themselves. Mat's battle is the most clear and obvious, but I think it lets us put him in an interesting place for season 2 where we can also hit more of his lightness. The actor Dónal Finn, who's playing him for season 2 and on, is amazing at comedy stuff. He really brings a lot of lightness to the character. That's so great to see because it really cuts against some of the darker questions Mat has of whether he's a bad person at his core.
Looking ahead to season 2, we have Rand faking his death and going off on his own, while Moiraine (Rosamund Pike) loses her connection to the One Power. How will these events impact the next season?
Fans of the books will see that some characters are diving more into their book two story in season 2, and some of them are diving more into their book three story in season 2. We have to tell stories so efficiently on the show because we're trying to do 17,000 pages. Even if we're lucky enough to go as long as we possibly can go, that's still only gonna be 50 or 60 episodes of television. We're trying to be as precise about that as we can, so we had done a lot of breaking for season 2 before we finished season 1.
Reading the Wheel of Time books, it sometimes feels like they could be shorter. But those massive page counts allow Jordan to really build up the characterizations. How do you think about what you lose in changing formats, and how to compensate for that?
Mainly what we have to focus on is compression, and then reacting to those compressions. Like, we can't go to Caemlyn because we can't afford it and we don't have time, so that is a great compression, but it has ripple effects. All of those things have ripple effects, so we have to take the stories and tie them back together. We have a big round-up point at the end of season 2 that reconnects everything and pushes us off in a new direction where we've completed all the stories we need to get through, albeit in a slightly different order so we can compress them. We only add new stories when we need to. In season 1, we really needed to emotionally explain mythological things about Aes Sedai and Warders, so we had to add story there. We'll obviously have to add story for Moiraine and Lan (Daniel Henney) because they're basically sidelined for a couple books, but we're not going to put Rosamund Pike on the bench. We have to add some story while we're compressing, so it's still a tense battle to fit every season into those eight episodes.
Before we go, I just wanted confirmation on one thing: Is Loial (Hammed Animashaun) dead?
Loial is not dead. He is alive and well and shooting in Prague. I wanted people to be a little on their toes, because real deaths are coming for characters that don't die in the books. We have to, because we can't hold 2,000 series regulars through multiple seasons. It's coming, and I want people to emotionally prepare themselves. The thought that Loial might be gone will hopefully start to get people emotionally prepared, but I couldn't. He's my favorite.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
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Based on the bestselling series of novels by Robert Jordan, this fantasy show follows the mystic Moiraine (Rosamund Pike) as she searches for the reincarnated messiah figure known as the Dragon Reborn, who can save the world from the Dark One