It’s been over a month since Harriet McDougal announced that the rights to her late husband Robert Jordan’s sweeping fantasy epic, The Wheel of Time, had been optioned by a new studio interested in bringing the series to television. While the name of the new studio hasn’t been released, the producers and show runners, whoever they are, have a mighty task ahead of them. The Wheel of Time has some truly devoted fans and adapting a story that spans 14 novels is going to require a lot of time, a lot of money, and a lot of clever editing. They also face the task of creating a unique brand that will last long enough to tell that story. The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter films brought fantasy storytelling back into the mainstream, and Game of Thrones proved that audiences have a taste for epic fantasy on TV. Shows like Once Upon A Time and even Vikings have tried to bring that appeal to a slightly different market. But as the wheel of television programming turns, more and more fantasy series, like The Shannara Chronicles and Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles are being optioned by studios to try to get in on the action, which will make it difficult for a new series telling the same kind of story of heroic feats, massive battles, and cosmic destiny to gain any traction. Turning the story into an animated series gives it not only the advantage of being immediately different from other shows of its ilk, it could appeal to new audiences, make it possible to show the story on a truly epic scale, and present a vision of the series that is faithful to the source material with less risk of looking hokey.
Five Reasons The Wheel of Time TV Show Should be an Animated Series
1. A Cast of Thousands
For the uninitiated, the core of the story follows Rand al’Thor, a young boy from the Two Rivers who learns he possesses immeasurable power that can help restore the world to balance. The book series has a cast of characters that puts similar series to shame, and filming schedules would be a nightmare to coordinate with a live action production. The need for an actor to move on to another project could have disastrous consequences, and the principal characters, Rand, Nynaeve, Perrin, Mat Cauthon, and Egwene all start at such a young age that they would be noticeably older by the time filming was complete. Maisie Williams, Isaac Hempstead-Wright, and Sophie Turner were 13, 12, and 14 when filming began on Game of Thrones, and they’ve grown up significantly on screen. Animated characters offer a flexibility in casting that would make it much easier to disguise those jumps in age, or cover an actor’s exit from the show. Also, it stands to reason that no female actress, wigged or no, could physically survive pulling on her own braid as much as Nynaeve does.
2. Creatures Great, Small, Dark & Twisted
Robert Jordan dreamed up a menagerie of beasts to populate his world. Trollocs, Ogier, Myrddraal, Dragkhar, and the various war beasts of the Seanchan thunder through the pages of the books. Warcraft, which was released this week, demonstrated that the human characters in an epic surrounded by fantastic beasts can often seem out of place or overshadowed by the other elements of the story. An animated series would allow all of those creatures to roam freely and truly inhabit the same world as their human counterparts and, perhaps more importantly, give the ordinary humans a chance to hold their own.
3. The One Power
The books of The Wheel of Time are filled with colossal, earth-altering magics. Aes Sedai, the Forsaken, and those others who can channel the Power, use the elements of earth, water, air, fire, and spirit to weave incredible, destructive magic that would be difficult to capture with live-action and special effects. Actors often complain that acting against a blue screen is difficult because no matter what the production team shows you it’s difficult to reckon the true scale of what your character is experiencing. Not everyone can handle the task as adroitly as Ben Foster did as Medihv in the new Warcraft movie. Animation would allow for magic on an epic scale and without the wooden reactions from the actors that can often impede the action sequences or storytelling. With animation, the magic will always be real to the characters, and can be that much more impressive as a result.
4. Fantastic Landscapes
Robert Jordan’s story spans a wide world of his invention. Location scouts could certainly find some locations to fill in for smaller towns and places on the open road, but the fantastic cities and magical non-places like the Ways and Tel’aran’rhiod would need to be recreated on sound stages or with CGI. It also limits the kinds of stories the showrunners could tell, as characters would have a harder time being in two places at once. The various meetings that occur between geographically distant characters in the world of dreams could be near impossible if one set of characters was in, say, Venice and the other on the plains of Montana. Animators have been able to create some truly breath-taking scenery over the years, and seeing Tar Valon as a beautifully-drawn living city would be such a spectacular thrill.
5. The Target Audience
Wheel of Time devotees will almost certainly tune in to watch an adaptation of the series, but how can the showrunners attract a new following? Animated series in the U.S. are often perceived as targeted to children or young adults. Some shows, like Avatar: The Last Airbender, have transcended those boundaries by virtue of being incredible stories, but they get their start as shows that reach preteens or young adults. The viewers of that show are hungry for something to fill the void left by the end of the Legend of Korra, and the saidar–slinging witches of the White Tower might be just the answer. By tapping into a younger audience, The Wheel of Time could captivate an entirely new generation and carry the series’ popularity forward for years to come, long enough to see the sprawling epic through to its conclusion.
The Studio Weaves as the Studio Wills
The series has already been subjected to a terrible first attempt at a pilot episode, an adaptation of the prologue of the first book, “Dragonmount.” The finished product was a truly spectacular mess, with no real production design to speak of, terrible special effects, and uninspired performances. Featuring the actors stumbling through the halls of a giant, empty mansion, the episode felt more like a delirium tremens the morning after a rager at Jay Gatsby’s estate in West Egg than the start of an epic fantasy series. Until we see a press release from the studio now holding the reins of this series, we cannot be certain what format it will take. It is sure to be exciting to watch the development, and it has the potential to be a truly compelling saga on the small screen. In the meantime, if you’re hungry for an onscreen taste of the Wheel of Time, you can watch the entirety of “The Winter Dragon” on YouTube. Be warned: it may make you mad enough to turn you into a Darkfriend.