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A Primer for Amazon's 'Wheel of Time'

By James Field | TV | November 13, 2021 |

By James Field | TV | November 13, 2021 |


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Thirty one years ago, the late Robert Jordan published the first novel in what would become a literary opus spanning 23 years, 14 novels, 13,000 pages, and a whole bunch of made-up, italicized words full of apostrophes. He was basically the anti-George R. R. Martin in terms of book publication. He died before completing The Wheel of Time, leaving Brandon Sanderson to finish the job. It was a slightly controversial choice back in the day because despite being a talented author, Sanderson was also a follower of the Church of Latter Day Saints and held backward views of LGTBQ folks. Sanderson has since educated himself significantly and finished the series with A Memory of Light in 2013. Now, Amazon is bringing the series to Prime Video beginning with a 3-episode premiere on November 19. But what’s it all about? Great question! Grab a drink and sit back, because this takes a while.

In the beginning, the Creator made the universe. It runs on the One Power, an elemental force that could be likened to nuclear fusion without radiation poisoning. He jump-started time, which in this universe is cyclical. People are born, live, die, and are reborn, usually with no knowledge of their past lives. Some few are eternal heroes, who spend their time between lives waiting to be called to battle. In the same beginning moments, the Creator sealed away Shaitan, the Dark One. It was a bad idea to say his true name long before Voldemort was a gleam in JK Rowling’s transphobic eye. This omnipotent being wants nothing more than to break free, shatter the Wheel of Time so he can never be imprisoned again, and rule over a hopeless cosmos for eternity. His work complete, the Creator removed himself from the day-to-day functioning of the universe and settled on his laurels, confident in a job well done.

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Enter people. An unknown length of time passed and humans created a society built on the male and female halves of the One Power, known as saidin and saidar respectively. Channelers known as Aes Sedai, blessed with the ability to use the elemental forces, could only access one side of the power based on their gender. By working together to combine the two they created true marvels. War was a distant memory and all knowledge of Shaitan was lost. There was plenty of food and resources for everyone, and it was a Golden Age for civilization. Then some idiot drilled into the Dark One’s prison in a selfish quest for more power. It’s generally considered a dick move. Evil was released back into the world. A great many people turned to the Dark One, desiring eternal life and boundless power. The most powerful 13 channelers to side with Shaitan were christened the Forsaken, and they generally made life hell for everyone. They created Trollocs, human-animal hybrids that look like what would happen if Dwayne Johnson made a baby with a bear. They also made Myrddraal, mutations in the Trolloc line that are much more powerful, intelligent, and look like Tolkein’s ring-wraiths.

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Centuries passed in this war between the Light and Shadow. Civilization went to hell, millions of people died, and the world’s landscape and weather were altered by powerful channelers. All hope seemed lost until a desperate attack by Lews Therin Telamon, a general and powerful Aes Sedai known as the Dragon, managed to catch the Forsaken communing with Shaitan at his cracked prison. This ambush closed the rift with manmade seals of cuendillar, a supposedly indestructible material made by the Aes Sedai, and locked both the Forsaken and Shaitan outside of time. Success! Except nothing is ever that easy.

The Dark One struck back at Lews Therin and his 100 Companions as the prison was sealed. This counterstrike tainted saidin, the male half of the One Power. Think of it as an oil slick atop the ocean. The water underneath may be clear, but there’s no way to reach it without dipping your hand in the polluted top layer. This taint, as it’s called, drives male channelers insane and rots their bodies while they still live. It’s like leprosy and infectious schizophrenia rolled into one. The Dragon and his followers went mad. Lews Therin gained the new title Kinslayer, because he violently murdered his entire family before ending his own life in a fiery cataclysm that spawned a new mountain. Not just the Dragon and his merry band lost it; every male channeler across the globe began smashing things almost immediately. Continents sunk, new ones were raised. Every major city was destroyed, fertile lands became deserts, and the human race came close to extinction in what’s called the Breaking of the World. Since then, every man born with the gift must be gentled - cut off from the One Power by female Aes Sedai - or killed. Either way it ends the same way; gentled men rarely survive long.

Despite the Dark One’s imprisonment, he still reaches and influences the world. A number of catastrophic wars have been fought against the Trollocs and their human masters, called Dreadlords. Darkfriends, spies for Shaitan, exist in every country at every level of society. Humanity has survived, often by the skin of its teeth. Female Aes Sedai, now the only ones that exist, fight the Shadow’s forces and support the various human nations, to their own ends. And they are not above espionage and blackmail to achieve their goals. Their organization is separated into color-coded Ajahs. The ones most frequently part of the WoT story are the Blue, counselors and mediators to nations; the Green or Battle Ajah, focused on fighting the Shadow; and the Red, who primarily hunt down and gentle all male channelers. The Aes Sedai are compelled by their Oaths, sworn on a magical device called the Oath Rod, to do no harm to humans, never make a weapon, and to never lie. There are rumors of a Black Ajah, devoted to Shaitan, whose Oaths have been removed.

The Dark One isn’t the only source of evil in the world. Many people are driven by hate, greed, or fear into terrible acts. There are the Children of Light, religious and misogynistic fanatics who kill every channeler they can. Any woman who received even the smallest training at the White Tower, home of the Aes Sedai, is subject to summary execution or burning at the stake. There is also the dead city of Shadar Logoth, one of the main setpieces for WoT’s first season. Its people were lost to suspicion, hate, and internal violence. Now something evil waits for the unwary traveler.

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This is a world where prophecy truly can tell the future, and the greatest of these is the Karaethon Cycle. It tells of the Dragon Reborn during the Wheel of Time’s last cycle, and of a final battle to determine the fate of the world. It’s been translated and retranslated so many times that much of the original meaning was lost. Moiraine Damodred is sent on a mission by the Amyrlin Seat, leader of the Aes Sedai, to find the Dragon Reborn. Moiraine has reason to believe he - or maybe she, in this updated version - will be found in the Mountains of Mist, a remote part of the nation of Andor. Andor is the most friendly nation to Aes Sedai and is led by a matrilineal line of queens. In the tiny village of Emonds Field, Moiraine finds three young men - Rand al’Thor, Matrim Cauthon, and Perrin Aybara - who are ta’veren, people who bend the world around them. Strange things happen in their presence, and they can shift the fate of an entire nation. She also finds a pair of channelers, Egwene al’Vere and Nynaeve al’Maera (see what I mean about the apostrophes?), with the potential of becoming two of the strongest Aes Sedai in centuries. Together, they may just save the world from the Shadow. Or not! Could go either way, really. Because the Shadow gathers its forces for the Last Battle, and its attention has turned to Emonds Field…

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All of that gets us to the beginning of the televised The Wheel of Time. This info dump is barely a drop in the worldbuilding bucket. No wonder it took Jordan so long to write the damn thing! Watch the first three episodes on Prime Video on Friday, 11/19, and then come back here for the recap.


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