When Amazon Studios’ The Wheel of Time season 1 wrapped up in December 2021, things were looking pretty grim for our heroes.
Sure, Rand (Josha Stradowski) came out on top in his showdown with the Dark One (Fares Fares), but as victories go, it was a bit of a downer. Not only did the newly depowered Moiraine (Rosamund Pike) declare that the Last Battle is still very much on the horizon; the bad guys took off with the Horn of Valere, a relic capable of summoning (and controlling) history’s legendary warriors. And if this wasn’t enough, the Seanchan — an invading force that uses female channelers as living weapons — invited themselves to the party too.
Like I said, it’s dark times for Rand, Moiraine, and the gang — and the first three episodes of season 2, which dropped on Prime Video last Friday, have somehow raised the stakes even higher. Will the forces of the light rise to the challenge? Just how badly are the odds stacked against them? And where is this conflict headed, both in season 2’s remaining installments and beyond? Only the people behind The Wheel of Time know for certain, and Polygon recently caught up with several crew members to wheedle the answers out of them.
A recurring theme throughout these conversations was the difference between The Wheel of Time the series and the bestselling fantasy book series of the same name by the late Robert Jordan. Season 2 is nominally an adaptation of Jordan’s second tome, The Great Hunt. Yet showrunner Rafe Judkins (absent from my set visit in late August due to the WGA strike) and his team have elected to honor the spirit rather than the letter of Jordan’s lore. This is perhaps exemplified most by the prominent role Pike plays in proceedings, despite Moiraine being relegated to the sidelines for much of the novel. Purists will balk at the change, as they always do, but executive producer Mike Weber insisted it was a natural byproduct of translating Moiraine’s overarching journey in the books to the screen.
“You have this amazing character in Moiraine that the book fans love and […] we’re making the absolute most of her while we have her, without giving away any spoilers,” Weber said during a late August set visit at Jordan Studios, the sprawling repurposed truck factory in Prague that’s home to The Wheel of Time’s Tar Valon set (the show also shot on location in Italy and Morocco). Weber also acknowledged the need to streamline Jordan’s sweeping 15-volume narrative for TV, a sentiment the director of season 2’s first two episodes, Thomas Napper, agreed with.
“One of the key things with The Wheel of Time [books] is these huge arcs that the characters go on,” Napper said. “We see them go on these epic arcs through book after book and yes, [Moiraine’s season 2 storyline] diverges from the book and it has to because we’re going from your imagination to the screen and things will always be different to how any individual can imagine it. But those choices are to do with character development, and fundamentally this [show] is about character.”
Another major adjustment to Jordan’s canon sees Rand and his Two Rivers pals Mat (Dònal Finn) and Perrin (Marcus Rutherford) start The Wheel of Time season 2 separated. Rand is rocking a shaved head and moonlighting as a sanatorium orderly in Cairhien, Mat is imprisoned in the White Tower, and Perrin is with the Shienarans tracking the Horn of Valere and the Darkfriend who stole it, Padan Fain (Johann Myers). As with Moiraine’s expanded role, the different demands of character development on the page versus the screen were once again behind the decision to split the trio up.
“For the second season, we really developed [Rand, Mat, and Perrin] as characters,” executive producer Marigo Kehoe explained. “It’s a very character-driven season, and I think you see Perrin grow, you see Rand grow, you pick them up when they’ve changed because there’s a bit of a time jump [from season 1].” Kehoe’s emphasis on Rand’s and Perrin’s season 2 trajectories reflects the strong focus on the pair’s respective predicaments, which are arguably more important upfront than Mat’s travails in the White Tower.
As in the books, Perrin is still coming to grips with his supernatural connection to wolves hinted at in season 1 — and enigmatic newcomer Elyas (Gary Beadle) may have the answers. (In an elegant bit of story compression, Elyas takes the place of a more minor Great Hunt player; such amalgamations are found elsewhere in season 2 and according to Napper are the show’s way of keeping Jordan’s roster of 5,400 named characters under control.) For his part, Rand is trying to escape his destiny as prophesied savior/destroyer the Dragon Reborn via both a fling with sultry innkeeper Selene (Natasha O’Keeffe) and tense one-on-ones with former would-be Dragon Logain (Álvaro Morte).
Rand turning to Logain for advice is likely to surprise those who’ve read the books and those who haven’t in equal measure. Yet The Wheel of Time producer Holger Reibiger maintained that the scenes between Rand and Logain invented for season 2 help underscore just how desperate Rand is to harness the literally world-changing power now at his fingertips. “I think in Logain, he finds someone who he… not can look up at, but he wants to know more about it,” Reibiger said. “Because [Rand] came from this village not knowing anything and just was thrown into this world and now he’s experienced things he hasn’t experienced before. And Logain is someone who [can teach Rand] how he can control his power.”
Rand’s efforts to master the One Power mirror those of Nynaeve (Zoë Robins) and Egwene (Madeleine Madden), who start season 2 studying at the White Tower. This plot thread broadly follows the roadmap laid out by the show’s source material, particularly in how it further contrasts Egwene’s more optimistic attitude toward the Aes Sedai with Nynaeve’s deep distrust of the all-female organization of channelers. Kehoe described these scenes as both young women “working out who they are” and later agreed with my suggestion that a brief moment in episode 1, “A Taste of Solitude,” subtly signposts one of their fates.
The White Tower strand of season 2’s story also introduces a new supporting character, Ceara Coveney’s Elayne — someone book readers will recognize as a future romantic foil for Rand. With Ayoola Smart locked in to portray another of Rand’s love interests, Aviendha, later this season, is the former sheep herder’s relationship status circling a refresh earlier than expected? The crew remains tight-lipped on the subject, although Weber assured me that “fans will not be disappointed” with how things ultimately shake out. So does this mean we’re getting a Rand/Elayne/Aviendha thruple? Don’t rule it out — especially given season 2 has already leaned hard into the polyamorous arrangement between Alanna (Priyanka Bose) and her Warders Maksim (Taylor Napier) and Ihvon (Emmanuel Imani).
Not that there’s likely to be much time for romance in what’s left of The Wheel of Time’s second eight-episode run. The Seanchan alone are primed to rain on that parade, immediately establishing themselves as a credible threat in episode 2, “Strangers and Friends.”
Part of the danger posed by this visually distinctive invading army is obvious. For starters, as stunt coordinator Jan Petrina highlighted, the Seanchan are more of a precision outfit than season 1’s rampaging Trolloc hordes (their Special Forces-like snatch-and-grab maneuver in episode 2 is proof of that). Then there are the damane — the female channelers the Seanchan keep on leashes (costume designer Sharon Gilham confirms this detail will show up in certain scenes) and deploy as heavy artillery on the battlefield. But episode 3 director Sanaa Hamri argued the Seanchan’s menace is more insidious than well-drilled troops or even militarized practitioners of the One Power.
“First and foremost, we’re in a world that is very special in The Wheel of Time where the women wield the power,” Hamri said. “So it’s great to have the Seanchan, who come and invade like colonial powers and take that power away. And I think that is the big symbol of themes that we’ve dealt with as humans on Earth, as well as in the show. I think it is very frightening.”
But even the borderline existential terror of the Seanchan pales in comparison to The Wheel of Time season 2’s other big bad: Ishamael (Fares Fares). Initially presenting himself as the Dark One in season 1, Ishamael is outed as merely a top-shelf tribute act in season 2. He’s not the Dark One, but he is the Dark One’s right-hand man (a bait and switch Jordan held over for the third book in the series, The Dragon Reborn). Ishamael is also the leader of the Forsaken — a cabal of deadly channelers from a bygone era — and his return further validates Moiraine’s “the end is nigh” mentality in season 2.
I put it to Hamri and Napper that the parallel rise of the Seanchan and the Forsaken is what will bring our heroes together when The Wheel of Time’s second season finally draws to a close. Hamri indicated that I wasn’t too wide off the mark, teasing the involvement of both factions in a climactic clash like the one that dominates The Great Hunt’s last few chapters. And if the ensuing skirmish isn’t quite what book fans imagined — there’s no word yet on whether religious zealots the Children of the Light will also enter the fray as they do in Jordan’s novel — Hamri promised it will be a suitability bombastic set-piece all the same.
“Obviously, Moiraine is trying to make sure that the Dragon Reborn’s prophecy is fulfilled, but at the same time, she wants to make sure that the Darkfriends and dark forces aren’t all breaking free and causing chaos. So, I feel like that’s very much the overview of season 2: a lot of danger, a lot of peril, a lot of action, and a lot of big decision making from our group like, Will they come back together? We do have a lot of action sequences, there is going to be a big battle… [The Great Hunt’s Battle of Falme] is teased, and it was really amazing directing it and it’s going to be what one expects from such a show.”
Hamri didn’t elaborate further on The Wheel of Time season 2’s blockbuster finale, and the wider crew proved equally adept at sidestepping spoilers. This includes Petrina, who refused to be drawn on whether Rand will cut loose with his iconic heron-marked sword at least once before the credits roll on episode 8 (although he did confirm the second season’s big battle employed practical stunts over CGI wherever possible). But what is clear from my time on the Wheel of Time set is this: Regardless of how massive a spectacle season 2 ends on (or what changes get made along the way), it’s still all just a warm-up for the Last Battle itself.
“The sense of impending climax pervades the series,” Weber said. “You have these people that are going to have grow up very quickly because they’re gonna have to be involved in an earth-shattering conflict. I think the tease of that and the setting up of that is foundational to a lot of what drives the plot […] and I think it’s really important for these characters as they grow, as well.”