I know we're all still reeling from the astounding degree of douchebaggery spewing forth from Red Eagle Entertainment, what with their atrocious not-pilot, and their subsequent lawsuit against Harriet McDougal. However, as I watched the beautiful catastrophe that was Billy Zane's Ishamael, it hit me that this was the closest anyone has EVER come to actually making a series out of The Wheel of Time. Oh sure, there was Flight From Shadow which was infinitely better in every way; but we all knew that was a one-time deal.
But it got me to thinking: If someone were to actually make The Wheel of Time, how could they go about it? My first thought was one season for every book. Of course, my SECOND thought was "No! That's a horrible idea!" Let's face it, fourteen seasons is a bit much to ask a non-fan to sit through, not to mention an unreasonable commitment for any interested network. And do we really want to spend a whole season on Crossroads of Twilight?
Well I've had a couple more thoughts since then. And since Boston has pretty much shut down due to the snow (which I remain convinced is due to some atha'an miere wiseass dicking about with the Bowl of the Winds) I've been able to seriously consider this matter, and I think I have an outline of how to adapt the Wheel of Time for Television.
It can be done in six seasons...
Now, to make sure we're all on the same page, let's define what I mean by a season: I'm talking about 16 to 24 hour-long episodes (which could actually be anywhere from 42 minutes to a full hour depending on whether the show gets picked up by network TV, premium cable or an online service like Netflix), released on a weekly schedule with a month or so hiatus roughly in the middle. So when I talk of a season, I'm talking about the Walking Dead model, instead of the Game of Thrones model.
Also, it goes without saying: Unmarked spoilers ahead...
Season one will cover books one and two. The Eye of the World takes up the first half of season one, with the action at the eponymous Eye and the aftermath acting as the midseason finale. The Great Hunt fills the rest of the season, with Rands sky-battle with Ishamael as the climax, and ending on the scene where the Shienarans all proclaim Rand the Dragon Reborn.
I know some of you are finding that hard to believe. After all, TEotW is 782 pages long. A Game of Thrones is a little smaller than that, and that one took a whole season! That is true, but Game of Thrones also has multiple PoV characters right out of the gate, and develops all of them right away, while TEotW has only one group of characters until the split after Shadar Logoth. Also let's be honest, a lot of the text of The Wheel of Time is spent in describing the world; when it comes to television, a lot of that can be packed into a single establishing shot.
For example, let's look at the design of a potential first episode:
Start with the prologue of course. In the audio book, the prologue takes up about 18 minutes, but if that rambling not-pilot is any indication, an unpadded version of the prologue won't take up nearly so long. I would estimate between seven and ten minutes for the prologue. Then we move on to the story proper. Rand and Tam see the myrddraal on the empty road (a very quick scene, a few minutes at most). Then Rand comes to Emond's Field and meets everybody, including Mat and Perrin, Egwene and Nynaeve, Lan and Moiraine, Padan Fain and Thom Merrilin. So far, this should about cover the first half of the episode. Then Rand and Tam go back to the farm and the trollocs attack. Rand and Tam escape, Narg gets his scene, and the episode finishes with Rand overhearing Tam's fever dream.
And that's the first episode! That covers from the prologue to the end of chapter 6; seven of fifty-four chapters or about 3 and a half hours in terms of the audio book. That's a good eighth of the book right there. Two books a season seems little more plausible now, doesn't it?
Season two will cover books three and four. The Dragon Reborn covers the first half of the season with the taking of the Stone of Tear as the midseason finale. The Shadow Rising covers the second half of the season, with the battle of Emond's Field and Rand vs Asmodean in Rhuidean as the finale.
One of the major advantages of getting the first two books out of the way in the first season has to do with Mat. Remember that Mat spends the majority of the first two books under the sway of the Shadar Logoth dagger. Doubling up the books for each season will keep Mat's early assholery confined to one season, thus preventing it from tainting his character too much in the eyes of fans who only know the series from the show. (Yes, there will be fans like that. Get over it.)
Doubling up the books also has a benefit for season 2, the Aiel. The Dragon Reborn introduces the first three major recurring Aiel characters; Aviendha, Gaul, and Rhuarc (though he doesn't get to do a whole lot in TDR.) However, the Aiel don't get a whole lot of development as a culture until The Shadow Rising. By having those two books in the same season, the Aiel get their introduction and development all in the same season.
As before, season three covers books five and six. The Fires of Heaven covers the first half of the season, but unlike the previous seasons, we end with Moiraine pushing Lanfear into the twisted redstone doorway. The second half of the season begins with the battle in Caemlyn, and continues through Lord of Chaos before finishing with the battle of Dumai's Wells.
The reason for Moiraine's apparent death being the midseason finale instead of the proper ending to TFoH is because it's the first major character death of the series (apart from one-offs like Ingtar of course) and the last major character death until the Last Battle. It needs the power of the midseason hiatus to really give it the impact it deserves.
In order to keep the dramatic significance of Demandred's bookend appearances in LoC, his first meeting with the Dark One might have to be bumped up to the beginning of the season instead of keeping it until the second half.
Most fans agree this is where the series starts to slow down, so season four covers three books, from Crown of Swords to Winter's Heart. Starting with the aftermath of Dumai's wells, the first half of the season covers ACoS and the first part of TPoD up to the activation of the Bowl of the Winds. The second half of the season finishes TPoD and WH, ending with the cleansing of Saidin.
The important thing about the finale of this season is the reaction. We need to see immediate reactions to the cleansing. And not just women going "Oh no! Someone's channeling over there!" We need to see how the men of the Black Tower react to the realization that they're not going to go insane and die horribly. It aways bothered me that we never saw any of their reactions in the books.
Like the previous one, season five covers three books, from Crossroads of Twilight to The Gathering Storm. CoT can probably be knocked out in an episode or two, leaving the rest of the first half free to cover KoD with Mat's battle with the Seanchan loyalists as the midseason finale. The season continues with TGS, with Rand's moment on Dragonmount as the season finale.
Not much else to tell about this season, apart from that I consider Rand's epiphany on Dragonmount to be the emotional climax of the series.
Also, Hinderstap is SO getting its own episode! No question!
Season six finishes out the books with Towers of Midnight and A Memory of Light. ToM serves as the first half of the season with the midseason coming as the trollocs sack Caemlyn. The last half of the season brings with it the last battle, and Rand's confrontation with the Dark One to close out the series.
And that's how it's done!
As is the case with any adaptation, some details in the story may have to change to fit the medium. Some of the lagging plotlines in the middle of the series might need trimming, like Elayne securing the Lion Throne, or the part where Faile and her girlfriends spend several books trapped by mountain lions ...I mean kidnapped by Shaido. Other plotlines could be expanded, like Logain's rivalry with Taim (two characters who shared a grand total of ONE scene in the whole series.)
One last thing: an animated series should be seriously considered as a possibility. Animation would solve many problems that a live-action series would inevitably have to contend with, including the more detailed environments and sets, the channeling effects, the Ogier and the Finn, the Seanchan animals, the actors aging over the course of six seasons and Tel'aran'rhiod. Some people may object that animation will make the whole series seem like a cheesy kid show, and I can't say I don't understand. Animation in the west has a reputation as being only for children's shows, and while shows like Avatar, Adventure Time and Gravity Falls are starting to wear down demographic barriers, there is still a lingering reputation in the west. Still, the option shouldn't be taken off the table without consideration.
Thanks for listening to one fan's idea on how to adapt The Wheel of Time for TV. Questions? Comments? Fan mail? Hate mail? Leave a comment below!
Listening to: Michael Kramer and Kate Reading
Reading: The Wheel of Time