What’s that in the plot? It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s the Dragon Reborn! Who could totally be a woman, you understand – he just isn’t this time. In a total coincidence. That’s right, we’re talking about the Wheel of Time TV show. Is it better than the books? Yes, but better how, exactly? We discuss what they changed, what they didn’t change, and why Egwene has to get in the river.
Generously transcribed by Nikki. Volunteer to transcribe a podcast.
Chris: You’re listening to the Mythcreant podcast. With your hosts or an Ashkenazi west Matlock and Chris Winkle. [opening song]
Chris: This is the Mythcreant podcast. I’m Chris and with me is…
Chris: And according to a certain show that came out recently, I could totally be the Dragon. [Laughing] Don’t you believe that I have just as much chance of being the Dragon as anybody else?
Oren: Look, it could be you. There’s no rule saying it can’t be you.
Wes: Yeah. And it’s not like there’s source material that we’re not going to risk changing at all.
Oren: The funniest part about that is that they say that, oh, the dragon could be a woman and they don’t ever acknowledge how huge a win that would be for them. It’s like we have this coin flip and 50%, we have a huge advantage. Can it please be that one?
Wes: That’s a great point.
Chris: So we’re going to talk about the Wheel of Time, which… Fans of the Wheel Time always love it when we talk about Wheel of Time. They’re always posting on Reddit about it saying very nice things about us, of course.
Oren: Yeah, there’s so nice. That’s great. Thanks to a bunch of very nice and not at all super-angry Redditers, I knew that the BBC linked to one of my articles as a source. Sorry, not the BBC, the Guardian, which is just fantastic, I’m so excited. But I was specifically talking about the show mostly today because that’s what we’ve all watched recently.
Wes: I read the first book when I was 15 and that was enough.
Chris: Of course what’s in the books is good context for what’s in the show. And the other thing, before we go further, just want to reiterate it’s okay.to love a story that’s sexist. I, Chris, give you permission to love a story that’s sexist. We just like it if people acknowledge the story’s failings and admit that like any other story it has room for improvement, and then go on enjoying the story. And if somebody calls you a bad person for liking something, Then just give them the finger and move on.
Oren: Just move on with your day.
Chris: Or on the internet, giving someone the finger is just silence, as in don’t respond. But yeah, those people are jerks. Don’t worry about them. It’s okay to be a Wheel of Time fan and also acknowledge that, yeah, the premise is really sexist.
Wes: The Dragon Reborn has blessed us to tell people to F-off.
Oren: I just loved watching the show. First of all, it’s a pretty decent show. I give it a B plus.
Wes: It was pretty good, definitely.
Oren: And in terms of live action high fantasy, competition is pretty slim. So I feel comfortable in saying it’s the second best live action, fantasy show, behind Game of Thrones. But it’s a lot easier to watch than Game of Thrones. And it might take the lead if its ending isn’t horrible. We’ll see. Because its other competition is the Sword of Truth books and the Sword of Shannara series. There’s not a lot trying to compete for that crown.
Chris: And there was clearly a lot of time and effort put into the show. And I got to say, it’s so pretty. We’re going to talk about story craft, but it’s so pretty. Like I might watch it if it was really bad, just because of how pretty it is.
Oren: I really found myself liking the magic battles. I wasn’t expecting that.
Wes: That was done really well.
Oren: Partly just because in the books, the magic battles just sort of happen. They’re very hard to keep track of because the magic is almost unlimited in what it can do. You just kind of have to let it gloss over you. But in the show, you can actually see what the magic is doing. And I think that was a really cool choice. And I like it a lot, and other than the occasional gripes, I really liked watching the magic battles.
Chris: It’s really nice seeing the magic as opposed to just somebody waving their hands and then the thing moves. It allows you to tell what they’re focusing on at that time. And so it makes things feel like they are actually following physical rules for combat. And if you can make sense of the combat and what people are doing, then you can better understand what are the chances of success or failure for any character. For a character, you can see that their magic means that they are focused on one thing. That it makes more sense when somebody else is able to get the drop on them, as opposed to just hand wavy, thing moves.
Wes: The visual aspect that I liked a lot about this was: they talk about the Source, they talk about touching it or whatever; and you just get a sense that the magic that they’re interacting with is coming from there. Or somewhere right around. It’s not manifesting at their feet. They’re pulling it from the ether. And I think that is super cool. It’s like there is an external thing that they’re tapping into. And we can see it there in action.
Oren: One really cool example of how it benefits the show is in the big trolloc fight scene in the early episodes. There’s a moment where Moiraine gets hit by a thrown knife or something. And she has a barrier that she’s using to protect herself. But you can see because of the way you can see her magic, that it’s not everywhere. So she has to direct where she wants it to be. And in a show where you couldn’t see her magic, you might ask “How did that knife get through when other attacks didn’t?” But you could actually see it happening; you’re like “Oh, ok. I see how it got through. It’s cause her defenses were elsewhere.” And that was really cool, and it made it feel much more physical, and less like, yeah, I just have to take your word for it that these things are happening.
Chris: The only thing that’s funny about that is how obviously plot convenient whether we can see the male channeling is.
Oren: One of the things they decided to keep from the books for some reason is the idea that men can’t see women’s weaves and women can’t see men’s weaves, and they immediately drop that. Any time there’s a fight, the characters of different genders act, like they can see each other’s weaves. There is a very weird line that they threw in there, and I don’t know why.
Chris: It’s so that they can explain why Rand… It’s not obvious that he’s the Dragon, or it’s not obvious when he’s channeling.
Oren: Oh, right. Yeah. I didn’t even put that together. That is what that’s for.
Chris: Because otherwise they would just know was him right away. And this way we can go back and show the same clips, but then add the visual channeling effect. This scene when Rand bursts this door open, we see, he was using magic there.
Oren: The thing is, is that they only need it for that one trolloc sequence though, because they also establish, and this they’re more consistent on, that non magic people can’t see the magic, but the different genders thing, they are really inconsistent about that. In the scene when he breaks down the door, no one there except him has magic, so it’s reasonable that they couldn’t see it. But in the trolloc sequence, there’s other characters there who would be able to see it, so they had to put in the gender bit. I’m just hoping they ignore that – whatever, it happened – season two, let’s pretend it didn’t.
Chris: But here’s the thing. If we were going to say everybody can see channeling, then they wouldn’t have as big an excuse to hide it from the viewers either. So they’re also trying to hide who the Dragon is from viewers, which we can talk about…the potential problems of that.
Wes: We are all not men; we can see Moiraine’s weave.
Chris: But I think it would be harder to support the idea that the channeling isn’t showing whenever Rand is using it. If we don’t keep this conceit that most of the channelers in the story couldn’t see him do it, then we would just always expect to see channeling in the video. I know it’s kind of like fourth wall, but I think that conceit allows them to get away with hiding more things from the audience than they would get to otherwise.
Oren: I guess that makes sense. It was very funny to me, because they do this in the books too. In the books, they really drag out who the Dragon Reborn might be for longer than you would expect. I think they might even still be doing it after the first book, if I remember correctly, but they definitely do it well into the first book. And in the show, I was like, oh, it’s even more obvious now. Granted, it’s hard to tell because I have read the book. But most people I know who haven’t still guessed, it was Rand very quickly.
Chris: Well, ok. So I watched the show with my sister who has not read the books and had no idea who the Dragon was. No, unfortunately we accidentally spoiled it for her fairly quickly. But the issue in the show with doing this whole thing, where like, oh, the Dragon could totally be a woman and then hiding who it is, is it does end up feeling like a bait and switch. Because coming in, we’ve got all these trailers highlighting the woman, and then we have, oh, you know, the Dragon could be a person of any gender.
And then we have this moment where Nynaeve has this “Yo like a raging sun” where she shows off how much magic she has, and it’s really impressive. And it does make it seem like it’s her. And when my sister found out, she’s like, “What, you mean it’s one of the lousy dudes?” And it’s funny because she wasn’t even super-attached to Nynaeve; she just thought that Nynaeve at least had some screen presence, whereas the dudes feel pretty forgettable in comparison.
And if you look closely and you know that this is actually a male wish fulfillment tale, they’re like, okay, who is super bland and kind of generically good and has the best looking actor? You can figure out who might be the Dragon in the show, but it would make more sense to me if they’d tried to align expectations a little better, because at this point in their effort to make the show attractive to women, you don’t want women to be actively upset when they find out the reveal.
Oren: Yeah. They’re definitely trying hard to market this as a feminist story, which when I first saw they were doing that, I couldn’t believe it. I was like, have you read these books? But they’re doing it and to definitely focusing really hard on Moiraine and her story and who she is, and that’s good cause she’s the best character. So that’s not a terrible choice. I just don’t know how long they’re going to be able to maintain that, because they’ve also shown that they aren’t really willing to deviate from the plot that much. They’ll change some things, but not a lot. And. Rand is going to become increasingly important as the story goes forward, and Moiraine increasingly unimportant. So I’m very curious to see what happens. Are we just going to drop that off? Is it just going to be nope, now it’s the Rand show? Who knows?
Chris: Right. And the audience can be upset because they’ll feel lied to about who is the main character. This is one of the tough things: in the first season, Moiraine has all of the agency. So it’s really hard to get behind and root for any of the other characters, because they’re just not doing anything, they’re just there.
Oren: Yep. They’re just around.
Wes: They do stuff that’s really annoying. Like I got bit, or slashed or whatever happened to Perrin’s leg, and I’m just never going to tell anyone about it. And hey, don’t touch anything in this dead city, ok. All the guys are just jerks.
Oren: I loved how in the show, they tried to introduce a reason why the Two Rivers characters would distrust Moiraine because in the books they don’t even bother. The books are all about how, well, we can’t let Moiraine tell us what to do, she’ll put strings on us. That’s their favorite metaphor in the books, they love that metaphor. And even though Moiraine is literally right about everything, the same way she is in the show, the characters are constantly complaining about how she’s telling them what to do, and how they desperately don’t want to do what Moiraine tells them to do.
Chris: Isn’t it threatening when women are right?
Oren: Yeah, I guess it must be. So in the show they have the sequence with the self-destructing ferryman – that’s what I’m calling him – which is to try to give some justification for why the Two Rivers characters don’t trust Moiraine because she kills this ferryman to stop him from taking his boat back across and being eaten by trollocs. It’s like, look, man, I believe that you care about your son and that you’re upset that now your son’s going to get eaten by trollocs, but I just don’t believe that you would try to roll back into that and also get immediately eaten.
Chris: Especially since the son’s best bet at this point is running away from where the trollocs are, which is right along the river. So he should probably stay where he is.
Oren: From a rational perspective it makes no sense at all, but even from an emotional one I just don’t believe that this random farmer is that self destructively brave. And so it was a very weird sequence. It also, to me, demonstrated something else from the books and I thought it was funny, which is that the three oaths are meaningless. Because one of them is don’t use the power as a weapon or to take life, or what have you, except in extreme circumstances.
And what we saw there was that Moiraine can just decide what extreme circumstances are, because she didn’t have to kill that guy. She had other options, but she decided to anyway, because that was the most efficient route. So the don’t kill people is like the equivalent of you can shout, “I feel threatened,” and then immediately unload magic on them.
Chris: Or just create a magical hazard that will kill anybody nearby and wait for them to stumble into it or something. It’s like, I didn’t kill them, they walked into it.
Oren: Yeah. The bullets and the fall killed them.
Wes: That was what she tried to explain later to Nynaeve about; just like, I didn’t do it to him. I did it, and he chose. And it’s like, ok, great. Moiraine’s stand your ground magics.
Oren: Yeah. They also try to explain why the oaths are even there, which is also not in the books. They changed that. Cause in the show they mentioned like, oh, it was a compromise to end the siege of the tower by Artur Hawking. That siege is in the books; they do talk about it. But that’s not where the oaths come from. The oaths are just unspecified why they exist. I legitimately don’t know why they exist. At first. I thought it was an attempt to limit the Aes Sedai’s power in the books, but it became increasingly clear to me that Jordan didn’t care about that. So I literally don’t know why these oats are there. They’re a very weird bit of world-building of, okay.
Chris: But the pattern of, ok, there’s a weird thing in the book where all of the characters are suspicious of Moiraine for no reason, so then we create something in the plot to justify that. Do the same thing the book did, but make it seem more reasonable. That also shows up in Perrin and the fridging. Oren, do you want to go over this one?
Oren: Oh yeah. I love this. Okay, I mean, I don’t love it because they invented a wife for Perrin to fridge But in the books, one of the weirdest things is that Perrin has this whole arc of feeling really angsty about this axe that he has. And he feels just the angstiest about it because at one point he had to kill some Whitecloaks in self-defense. And it’s just the weirdest thing that doesn’t make sense because everyone in the book kills people in self-defense and the Whitecloaks are the least sympathetic people in the entire story. Killing a Whitecloak is about the same as killing a trolloc in these books. And so the idea that Perrin specifically is going to feel really angsty about that never made any sense, and it just felt silly. So in the show they were like, I know, what if he accidentally murdered his wife with an axe; then it would make sense for him to be angsty.
Oren: It’s like, wow, this is a wild ride, how did we get here?
Chris: Instead of retooling Perrin’s character a little bit, we just decided to give him a woman to fridge, to try to justify why he is that way. Which is a very strange thing to do when all of your edits of the original material focused on appealing more to women. So it was really interesting to see how they took the book and how they tried to cover up all the sexism, but at the same time, also try to appeal to the old-time fans.
And I love watching this. It’s fascinating to see what they try to do. And to some extent, they used a tactic that the new Dune movie used a lot, which was just to leave the sexist information out but not to contradict it. And that way fans can still believe in the sexist stuff in the world, but people who are new to the story don’t know how sexist it is. So we had some of that here too. I’m guessing they’re going to leave out stuff about how channeling for men and women is supposed to work differently.
Oren: Yeah. I don’t imagine them having lines about how women have to submit to their power and men have to seize their power. Seems unlikely. And they’re probably not going to have Thom Merrilin have a scene where he explains to Rand that men forget but never forgive, and women forgive but never forget. Those scenes are probably not going to be in the show, but for the fans who want them, they can imagine they’re still true.
Chris: But Dune stuck very closely to plot events as far as I could tell whereas Wheel of Time was willing to make small changes. It’s clear that they want it to be close, but they were willing to spread Rand’s candy around a little bit.
Oren: Yeah. Some of the hardcore fans on Reddit are big mad about how in the climax it’s Nynaeve and Egwene who destroyed the trolloc army instead of Rand. I had honestly forgotten that Rand even did that in the books, because the end of the Eye of the World is so crowded that it’s easy to forget certain things. So I couldn’t understand what people were talking about when they were like, they gave Rand’s stuff to Nynaeve and Egwene, how dare they? I’m like what, what stuff? Oh, it was the trolloc army. Right. Okay. Weird thing to be mad about.
Chris: That was where he showed he was a manly man, ok? We needed that scene.
Oren: Another small, but I think significant change that they made is they’ve decided to make Nynaeve very strong in magic instead of very strong for a woman. Because, now granted the official Wheel of Time channeling power ranking thing is impossible to read; it’s ridiculously hard to read. But just from reading the books, you can get a pretty good idea of where the power rankings are. They’re actually pretty clear about that. And it’s established that in the books, Logain is maybe the third most powerful channeler we meet. Aside from Rand and the Forsaken he’s definitely the most powerful. And Nynaeve is strong, but nowhere near that. Whereas in this one, they were like, actually, we’re just going to have Nynaeve be really strong and she’s going to be stronger than Logain. And that’s an actual change. It’s subtle. I’d be surprised if a lot of people even noticed it, but it was there.
Chris: I spend my time, scratching my head over what the power dynamics were supposed to be in this world, during the show. And they’re definitely very confused, partly because of the books. The books pretend it’s a matriarchy, but we don’t act like it’s a matriarchy. With the show, it was a little confusing because when they first introduced Two Rivers, it sounded like they were trying to show the world as a matriarchy. Maybe Two Rivers is supposed to be, but then later, like actually girls are still persecuted, and the Red Ajah says that.
Oren: Get in the river, Egwene.
Chris: And we have the weird, witch hunter guys, what are they called? Child of Light?
Oren: The Whitecloaks.I think the Children of the Light is their official name. They don’t make any sense in the book either, but it’s fascinating to watch that. So the thing at the beginning with Egwene going into the river: that is the writers trying to take what in the books is Jordan being like, hee hee, girls are weird, because in the books the women have their own parallel power structure to the men, and it doesn’t do anything. It’s there, but the men still make all the decisions. It’s just Jordan doing the whole, ah, but actually the women have power because they can nag their husbands. It’s like that. But world-building? And so in the show they were like, hey, what if we tried to make that cool and showed the fun river initiation sequence that only the women go to? And it’s like, okay, I guess you can do that if you want to; none of what happens in the Two Rivers will matter after the second episode, but why not? Push Egwene into a river. Enjoy it.
Chris: I will say the first episode also has this moment where Nynaeve basically tells Perrin he should go home to his wife. And it was such a casual thing, but it was also kind of a command. Like, where’s your wife, parent, don’t you think you should be with her or whatever. That’s the kind of thing that patriarchies and books casually have men doing to women all the time casually giving them commands that then the female characters just follow and nobody thinks about it. So that was interesting.
But then later, of course, in the same episode, we make a big deal, but how Mat’s father is being unfaithful to his mother and his mother is aggrieved and can’t do anything about it, which definitely doesn’t look like a matriarchy. So it was just very like, okay, what exactly are we trying to do with the gender dynamics? Because are the Aes Sedai supposed to be oppressed majges? We have people going around burning them, but they should be really powerful because they’re the only people who have magic in the setting.
Oren: That’s the other weird thing. Again, the Aes Sedai in the books are like weird quasi oppressed mages. Cause they’re not really, but at the same time, everyone kind of acts like they are because a big part of Robert Jordan’s sexism is that women can’t be trusted. And so the Aes Sedai are obviously constantly trying to manipulate everyone all the time for no reason, just because they can. And because manipulation is a thing that women do and the more powerful the woman, the more manipulative they are, that’s the Wheel of Time flowchart.
Chris: Right, because powerful women are very threatening, you see?
Oren: Yes. And so as a result, everyone in the setting hates the Aes Sedai. And so that I think is what in Jordan’s mind made the Children of the Light seemed like a good idea. And it’s really weird cause the Aes Sedai are sort of the good guys, but Jordan clearly doesn’t like them. He clearly finds them threatening and so finds every opportunity to cut them down. And so that is what leads to the extremely confusing power dynamics in the show.
Chris: And to me, the way that it always struck me, and I’ve read the books a long time ago; but both the books and elsewhere, is that this is a male fantasy of “As a man. I am so oppressed because the power was taken away from us and given to the womens. And isn’t it scary that the women’s are so powerful, but I, by being the chosen one will restore the natural balance. Of men big on top.” It’s kind of what is it’s base. And the show has done a lot to try to obscure that, but that’s still inherently what’s happening in the background. And the Red Ajah are still man haters. And as you pointed out Oren, and that’s something that they kind of need for the plot, if they’re going to be antagonistic, because we have no other explanation for how they could possibly be antagonistic.
Oren: Yeah, by any rational explanation, the Red Ajah do a necessary job, because what we are told in this setting is that any man (and this obviously has some unfortunate gender implications because it assumes that gender binary is hard-coded into the setting, but that’s the premise) who has magic will eventually lose their mind and self-destruct.
Chris: And hurt themselves and others. This is what has been established. And it was so weird in the show where they talk about needing to bring Logain in for trial. And it’s like before removing his powers. And it’s like, what do you mean for trial? What are the other options? And it’s not really about whether or not he’s done crimes. He could be punished for doing crime separately, of course, but the matter of taking away his powers for him, it has nothing to do about his innocence or guilt. It’s about removing a hazard that will hurt people. And the fact that he has it is all that you need. And doesn’t sound like trying to remove channeling from somebody would hurt them if they don’t have channeling in the first place.
Oren: No, it would just do nothing. And so it’s just like the Red Ajah rationally are clearly doing a very important job that someone has to do, but the book desperately wants them to be bad guys. And the only way to explain that is that they hate men. But the show is trying to be more forward-thinking. So what you end up with is this weird situation where Leanne is the main red lady. I think that’s her name. She acts like a villain, but she doesn’t have any villainous motivation. She’s like, hello, Nynaeve, would you like to join the dark side?
But nothing about what she’s suggesting is actually in any way bad. And so the only reason that they can be bad guys, it must be because they hate dudes. At least they’re not gay anymore. Cause they used to be man-hating lesbians. And now they’re just man-hating celibate women.
Wes: Except for Moiraine knowing about that sweet piece the head Red Ajah has on the side.
Oren: Right, gonna out Liana as being a secret straight.
Chris: And the show of course goes a lot of way to justify why “gentling” is supposed to be bad. Gosh, the whole thing about like, oh, gentling is bad because of a guy who committed suicide. There are real men out there who try to attack social justice advocates by saying, oh, because of what you said, I’m gonna kill myself. That’s a real thing that men threaten to do if they feel like their privileges are being taken away. And so that whole like, oh, but don’t you see if these women protect people by eliminating this, basically, time bomb is how they present male channelers to be, then it’s so horrible because the guy will take his own life.
Oren: It’s like an extremely grimdark situation where it’s like, okay, we can either take away your magic, in which case you will have suicidal ideation for the rest of your life; or we can let you self-destruct and kill everyone around you. And I would never recommend doing that for a setting because Jesus, but that’s what Jordan did. That’s the premise he came up with. And then he tells us that the people going around trying to defuse the bombs are bad. That’s the level of cognitive dissonance we’re working with here.
Chris: Because we’ve got some man hating lesbians, castrating men. So very metaphorical.
Oren: Yeah. Thankfully the show is also easing up on the connection between taking away magic and castrating, which is a thing in the books that they just won’t let go of. And you could still see it cause that’s the obvious comparison, but the show is not doing that intentionally and making you make that comparison.
Chris: Watching these adaptations is definitely, ok, so we’ve got some writers, they’re taking a premise that is inherently problematic, and they don’t feel they can deviate it too much because they’re not willing to piss off fans. And they’re trying to change it around the edges to try to make it not problematic, but in the end, there’s still going to be problems because the core conceit has not changed.
Oren: But so far it seems like they have, at least from a marketing perspective, they have been very successful. The show is extremely popular. And as far as I can tell, even though some of the voices on the Wheel of Time, Reddits are extremely mad, it seems like most of the book fans really like it. And honestly, that makes sense to me because a huge number of Wheel of Time fans have practiced a lot of very interesting compartmentalization, and don’t recognize the things that I’m talking about. When I say the Wheel of Time is sexist and they seem legitimately surprised that I’m talking about this stuff.
So that makes perfect sense to me, that most of the book fans, aside from like a handful of books super-fans who actually know all the sexist stuff and think it’s good, most of them are going to love this show because it keeps the good parts of the book and downplays the bad parts, but it can’t really get rid of them. And most of the people who haven’t read it, a lot of the sexist stuff will go over their heads. Not all of it, but a lot of it will. And so I think they did a really good job from a perspective of making a show that people want to watch.
Chris: Yeah. They clearly managed to somehow appeal to both groups, threaded that needle.
Oren: And to end something a little positive, man, I love Moiraine and Siuan. That’s so great. Their relationship in the show is so touching and I’ll just say it’s a big improvement over what they had in the books.
Wes: Yeah, that was really nice.
Oren: I’ll just leave it at that. So I think that’ll be all for this week. Those of you at home, if anything, we said piqued your interest, you can leave a comment on the website. Though, you know, if you’re angry, be aware that we do moderate our comments, pretty significantly. So think about that before you post.
Before we go, I want to thank a few of our patrons. First we have Kathy Ferguson who is a professor of political theory in Star Trek. Next we have Ayman Jaber, he is an urban fantasy writer and a connoisseur of Marvel. And finally, we had Danita Rambo and she lives at therambogeeks.com. We’ll talk to you next week. [Closing song]
This has been the myth grant podcast, opening, closing theme, the princess who saved herself by Jonathan Coulter.
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