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16 November 2021

Amazon Prime fantasy series The Wheel of Time is a colossal waste of time and money

Can this derivative series really have cost $10m an episode to make? I went into a kind of death spiral after one episode.

By Rachel Cooke

Can every episode of Amazon Prime’s big new series The Wheel of Time really cost $10m dollars to make? Pretty much everything in it, after all, looks or sounds vaguely familiar.

The villages are reminiscent of those in Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth, and set in a landscape that might be either New Zealand or the Eden Project in Cornwall, before they built the café. The costumes are straight out of the Toast catalogue. And when the Enya-ish soundtrack strikes up – to be honest, it never strikes down – you half expect Gwyneth Paltrow to appear, bearing a collagen mocktail and a particularly whizzy vibrator. As for the monsters, up close they look like Lemmy out of Motörhead (RIP) after a bad night. Quick, someone! Fetch me a litre of bourbon and24 Solpadeine.

Not that anyone at Amazon cares the tiniest bit about what I shall call, for legal reasons, these cultural echoes. The producers seem to be quite upfront about this being their answer to HBO’s Game of Thrones. What kind of answer? The word “feminist” has been mooted, and a loose gynocracy does indeed seem to be in operation.

If, for instance, you’re the sort of clever girl who can “listen to the wind” – no, not a reference to the conjugal bed – then you’re allowed to wear your hair in a plait. Plus, the show’s main character is a woman: Moiraine Damodred (Rosamund Pike). To me, her name brings to mind one of the Rovers Return’s more mature barmaids – “Betty, have you met Moiraine? Newton & Ridley have sent her to us for a few shifts over Christmas.” But in fact, she’s a beautiful warrior sorceress with a special ring (another echo) that she uses to generate long white streams of energy, which make her look like she’s appearing in (sorry, more ancient pop culture ahead) an old Ready Brek ad.

The Wheel of Time is based on 14 books by Robert Jordan (he also wrote a prequel and several companion works), the contents of which run to tens of thousands of pages in total: an epic that is not only more mammoth than George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones series, but one of the longest narratives ever written (not counting the Chilcot Inquiry report, the Leveson Inquiry report and, of course, Katie Price’s 64 autobiographies). I’m aware that I need to tell you a little about its plot, and though I could probably learn to code more easily, I’ll now make a stab at doing so. OK, here goes. There was a Woman with White Eyes, and she couldn’t see, but now the Dark One is waking, and One must be found who can Stand Against Him and be a Dragon Reborn. Yes, I think that’s the gist of it!

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Moiraine has four possible dragons: Matrim (Barney Harris), Egwene (Madeleine Madden), Perrin (Marcus Rutherford) and Rand (Josha Stradowski). But before she takes them far from their homeland, removing them to a place where they’ll be safe from the marauding Trollocs – narrowing her eyes, she can see the lights of Donington Park or, possibly, Wolverhampton in the distance – she’s determined to enjoy a little light relaxation in the village inn. And so it is that we find her and her bodyguard, Lan (Daniel Henney), enjoying a hot tub out back. “It could be warmer,” he says, slipping in beside her, to which she replies, in the manner of Alex Polizzi, AKA the Hotel Inspector: “I’m impressed they have this at all.” The good news, however, is that she can sort the temperature in a jiffy, not by nudging the hot tap with her big toe as you or I might do of a Sunday night, but by waving her ring around a bit. “Better?” she asks. “Better,” he agrees.

Yes, the dialogue really is this bad (though at least they don’t start soaping one another: in the Third Age, Badedas is rarer even than dragons). Will The Wheel of Time be a hit? Don’t ask me. All I know is that I went into a kind of death spiral after watching the first episode. I’d read somewhere that it was Jeff Bezos himself who decided that Amazon needed its very own Thrones, and I kept picturing him and his girlfriend in their new Hawaiian mansion (cost: $78m), watching this drivel while wearing matching white fluffy robes. Ugh. This, and his rocket. How not to spend it.

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This piece appears in the forthcoming issue of the New Statesman magazine, subscribe here.

This article appears in the 17 Nov 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Democracy's last stand