Thursday, 7 March 2019

The Wheel of Time TV series update: multiple books per season, production to start in September

There's been a lot of low-key news emerging about the Wheel of Time TV series for Amazon Prime, so it's probably a good idea to catch up on everything that's been going down recently.

The Talent

Rafe Judkins is the showrunner and head writer on the project. He has written the first episode of the series, Leavetaking. His pop culture career began when he was a contestant on American reality show Survivor: Guatemala (the eleventh season of Survivor) in 2005. He came third (out of eighteen contestants).

Judkins subsequently began writing for Hollywood TV productions, starting with My Own Worst Enemy. He then joined the writing staff of Chuck, contributing several episode scripts and becoming a script editor and producer. He co-wrote the two-hour series finale. He then moved to Hemlock Grove and then Agents of Shield, where he has been credited as one of the writers who helped turn the show around after its disappointing first season. He also developed several drafts of a script for a movie based on the Uncharted video game franchise.

Amanda Kate Shuman is a writer on the show, having penned the second episode, Shadow's Waiting. Shuman also started her career on Chuck, writing two episodes and working as a writers' assistant. From 2013 to 2015 she worked on The Blacklist as a writer and story editor, and was then promoted to a producer on Berlin Station (also working as a writer and script editor).

Identical twins Paul and Michael Clarkson (aka the Clarkson Twins) are also writers on the show, having penned the third episode, A Place of Safety. Their previous credits include The Feed, See and the BBC/HBO project His Dark Materials.

Dave Hill is the writer of the fourth episode, The Dragon Reborn. He is - so far - the show's first scalp from fellow fantasy behemoth Game of Thrones. He started work as a writer's assistant on Season 2, providing support to the rest of the writing team. He started writing for the series directly in Season 5, picking up the slack when George R.R. Martin chose to stop writing for the series. He has so far written three episodes: Sons of the Harpy (Season 5), Home (Season 6) and Eastwatch (Season 7). He has also written an episode for Season 8.

Justine Juel Gillmer is the writer of the sixth episode, The Flame of Tar Valon. She started working in Australian television in the early 2000s, working on shows such as Home and Away. Her American writing credits include The 100 and Into the Badlands, serving on both shows as a script editor.

Celine Song is an experienced playwright, having written The Feast, Family, Tom & Eliza and Endlings, which premiered recently. She has also recently moved into television, working on Tuesday Nights. On Wheel of Time she is working as a writer.

Sarah Nakamura is the show's creative consultant. She is a "superfan" of the series, well-known in the fan community, and even played Moiraine in Tor Books' trailer for the release of Towers of Midnight in 2010.

Harriet McDougal, Robert Jordan's widow and editor and Brandon Sanderson (the writer who completed the final three Wheel of Time novels) have also been involved in consulting on the series.

Uta Briesewitz is the director of the first two episodes of The Wheel of TimeLeavetaking and Shadow's Waiting. Briesewitz is an experienced cinematographer and director. She is best-known as the cinematographer of HBO's The Wire, developing the show's signature look. Her directing credits include Jesscia JonesThe DefendersStranger ThingsThe DeuceAltered CarbonBlack SailsThe 100Fear the Walking DeadOrange is the New Black and This is Us.

The Episodes

So far we know about the following episodes:

101: Leavetaking
Written by Rafe Judkins
Directed by Uta Briesewitz

According to Rafe Judkins, the first episode opens on Tam al'Thor and Rand on the Quarry Road, riding towards Emond's Field. This is the start of Chapter 1 of The Eye of the World. Judkins has confirmed that they are skipping New Spring, the prologue and the special YA bonus prologue, which are all chronologically set before this point in the story. Those elements may be revisited later on in the series in flashbacks.

Leavetaking is the name of Chapter 10 of The Eye of the World, suggesting that the first episode may cover all of the material in those chapters (147 pages), including all of the Emond's Field events.

Leavetakings (the plural) is also the name of Chapter 9 of The Great Hunt, Chapter 16 of The Shadow Rising and Chapter 48 of The Fires of Heaven, but that's probably irrelevant for now.

102: Shadow's Waiting
Written by Amanda Kate Shuman
Directed by Uta Briesewitz

Shadow's Waiting is the name of Chapter 19 of The Eye of the World and refers to the ruined city of Shadar Logoth, suggesting that the second episode may cover all of the events between Chapters 11 and 19 (9 chapters, 127 pages), incorporating the trips to Taren Ferry and Baerlon, the chase along the Caemlyn Road and the arrival at Shadar Logoth.

103: A Place of Safety
Written by the Clarkson Twins

A Place of Safety is, curiously, the name of Chapter 8 of The Eye of the World and should already have been covered in Episode 101.

Assuming a similar page/chapter distribution to the first two episodes, A Place of Safety could cover Chapters 20-30 (11 chapters, 161 pages). This would incorporate several "places of safety", including Whitebridge and the Ogier stedding where Perrin and Egwene take shelter. This episode would introduce characters such as Bayle Domon and Elyas Machera and concepts such as wolfbrothers, Tinkers, the Children of the Light and the Tower of Ghenjei (in brief passing). This might be quite a lot to pack in, but it'd be a busy episode.

Another possibility for the title is a new side-visit to Tar Valon (the "place of safety" Moiraine is referring to in Chapter 8) to set up the storyline there.

104: The Dragon Reborn
Written by Dave Hill

The Dragon Reborn is, of course, the name of Book 3 of the series and also the name of Chapter 8 of The Great Hunt. At this juncture it seems unlikely to be referring to either of those.

Assuming a similar page/chapter distribution to the first two episodes, The Dragon Reborn could cover Chapters 31-40 (10 chapters, 139 pages). This would incorporate Rand and Mat's journey to Caemlyn via Four Kings, their meeting with Loial and Rand meeting Elayne, Gawyn, Galad, Morgase and Elaida for the first time (and Logain, sort of).

The title allusion would be to Rand seeing the false Dragon Logain from the walls of Caemlyn.

105: Unknown
Written by Celine Song (?)

Not much on this one, although I'd assume that Celine Song was in line to write this episode.

Assuming a similar etc etc, my guess is that this episode finishes off The Eye of the World, covering chapters 41-53 (12 chapters, 164 episodes) and will feature the Ways, Fal Dara, the Eye of the World, the Green Man, Tarwin's Gap and so on.

Against the Shadow could be a good title in that case, or maybe The Eye of the World itself.

106: The Flame of Tar Valon
Written by Justine Juel Gillmer

The Flame of Tar Valon is the title of Chapter 1 of The Great Hunt and one of the titles of the Amyrlin Seat, who is also introduced at the start of The Great Hunt.

Logically this infers that this episode will feature the introduction of Siuan Sanche, the Amyrlin Seat, and her meeting with Moiraine and Rand at Fal Dara, as well as other events that happen in the first 10-15-odd chapters of The Great Hunt.

Production Details

The Wheel of Time TV show starts shooting in and around Prague, in the Czech Republic, in September. Production will run well into 2020 and will be followed by a lengthy post-production phase. When the show will air is unclear and depends on the amount of effects work required. It could be late 2020, but early 2021 sounds more likely.

It sounds like the scriptwriting stage is wrapping up and location scouting is currently underway. The next key stage will be casting, which I suspect will begin fairly imminently with announcements to be made over the summer.


It's hard to fully assess the structural status of the project since we are lacking a key piece of information, namely how many episodes will be in the first season. It could be 8 or 10 or 13 or anything between. The episode titles seem to be heavily leaning towards Season 1 covering all of The Eye of the World (Book 1) and part or all of The Great Hunt (Book 2) as well. This makes sense because clearly the show is not going to get 14 seasons, so they need to cover far more than 1 book per season (as Game of Thrones did). The only question is if they are covering both books in full or stopping partway through The Great Hunt.

Some people I know will be concerned that with only 5 episodes per book - compared to 10 per book for Game of Thrones - the series may end up feeling rushed. The traditional Hollywood rule of thumb is that 100 pages of paperback = 1 hour of screentime (the extended Lord of the Rings trilogy, for example, is 11 hours long for an 1,100-page book, although it still omitted a lot of material). Game of Thrones, at least in its first season, covered a relatively leisurely 80 pages per episode, with plenty of time for diversions and even new material. We don't know if they are really just doing 5 episodes per book, but if so, this suggests they are getting a move on. Although essential to cover the 14 books in a reasonable number of seasons, some may fear this will end up hurting the story.

We will, eventually, find out in late 2020 or early 2021.


John said...

Is it bad that my main concern is that they won't cut the books enough? I love the first few, but I might be able to drop entire novels from the middle of the series...

insurrbution said...

...hmmm.....I have a feeling this SHOW will be quite good, but fans of the BOOKS will hate it. Like, it'll be good on its own merits, but many won't be happy with the adaptation portion.

Anonymous said...

While that may feel a bit rushed at times, I think that it will be a big help to them in the long run. Eventually, when things bog down a lot more in the middle books, they'll probably be able to cut a lot of material, and as you said it feels like doing around 7-9 seasons would probably be the max for a show like this.

Anonymous said...

Awesome post! Great summary of what we know so far.

Anonymous said...

How long are the episodes going to be?

Adam Whitehead said...

We don't know at present. I imagine 60 minutes, but they could go longer.

Yeebo said...

They really need to cut some of the books if anything. I stopped reading about a third of the way into the series because there were entire novels where almost nothing happened. The last one I read I was so frustrated with I actually threw the book away rather than inflict it upon some unsuspecting soul in a free book exchange.

When the whole thing finally was wrapped up, a friend of mine convinced me to go ahead and read the last two books. I was amazed to discover that in the 8 or so intervening books between where I stopped and where I picked up again, apparently almost nothing of any consequence had happened. It was nice in a way because I was still able to follow the story just fine, but also completely baffling. This is not a book series that needs to be filmed at a 100 or likely even 500 pages to an hour ratio over most of it's run.

Brett Moore said...

It sure will be a good day when I can read through a comments section of a wonderful article about a series I love without someone (or several someones) obnoxiously complaining about the length of the series. Your boredom is not some notable achievement and this isn't your diary. No one is going to edit the series so it is easier for you to read. If you skipped the entire middle of the series, you missed a lot. To claim otherwise is just blowing smoke. Stop blowing smoke. It's annoying.

Paulo M said...

While I read the full series, and wast never bored, there is in fact much that is not essentail or adds very little to the story. The production has plenty of possibilities for cutting material. I would much rather have less material and less rushing through than trying to cover each and every thing.

Jeremiah S. said...

When Robert could spend a few pages just describing a bush i think its fine to not follow the 100 pages per hour format

Devil said...

I read all the books and I can say I wasn't bored nor do I think any chapters were a waste. There were world building and character developments being done throughout the books and I pity the people who didn't experience it. WOT was never about a single or even multiple characters. It was about a world. Every aspect of it matters!

Unknown said...

Yes, thank you!!!

Unknown said...

Well done! Cant agree more....

ArikMan said...

And you know, the nice thing about film compared to descriptive text? Jordan HAD to spend a page to describe a dress to you if he wanted you to know what it looked like. On TV, you'll just be looking at the dress. The scene involving it can just happen.

So why cut books just because little happens? If little HAPPENS, then you could probably get through the actual EVENTs of the book as they will go quickly on screen.

I imagine the more descriptive a writer actually is, in some ways the easier it must be to adapt his stuff. Because there's less dialogue per page you have to film. :-p