Wheel of Time showrunner talks adaptation challenges, VFX, timelines and more

Although production is currently suspended, The Wheel of Time remains one of Amazon’s most anticipated series. And just because the actors and crew members are rightfully staying home during the coronavirus crisis, we’re still getting some new information!

We’ve got to start with a recent Q-and-A session showrunner Rafe Judkins ran on his Instagram. He answered lots of questions about the production and how everything is coming together. Here are some of the big takeaways:

  • According to Judkins, the hardest thing about adapting Robert Jordan’s epic series is capturing the scope. “In the first book alone they go to more than 20 villages and cities,” he said. “To try to do that is physically impossible for the show, so most of the work we do in the room is geographical, figuring out how to condense the story and move it through places we can physically create.”
  • That said, Judkins said that his favorite set so far is Fal Dara, a heavily fortified city in the Borderlands, so we at least know we’re going there.
  • Judkins also hinted that they’ve cut down a bit on Jordan’s absolutely massive cast of characters, saying that any “new” character is “inspired by characters in the books or a number of characters combined. If we paid to cast all speaking roles in the books, we could only afford to have a radio play.”
  • But lest you think that too much was going to be cut, Judkins is here to reassure you: “I genuinely think we are cutting less than most people think,” he said. “When I see people ask questions like, ‘Are you cutting Min?’ It blows my mind. I don’t know how you do an adaptation without some of these characters. I think it’ll be more of the smaller stories you’ll miss. We can’t have Rand and Mat travel to many, many inns on their travels across the countryside for instance. It’s just not producible. So that will be more of what you miss I think, and the books always exist to read for that.”
  • Speaking of Min, Judkins confirmed that she will appear in season 1, and also that she will NOT be combined with Elayne, another important character, because apparently that’s been a concern?
  • Judkins and his team have have worked hard to convey Jordan’s lengthy internal monologues onscreen. “A lot of the changes we make and stories we tell differently are designed to serve exactly that purpose – showing you what those characters internal monologues from the books are without them just saying it out loud in exposition,” he said.
  • Will the show be understandable for those who didn’t read the books? “That’s the idea,” Judkins said. “If there are little things they don’t get though, luckily google exists.”
  • The show shoots and does post-production all at once. “Before the corona(virus) hit, I was prepping 2 episodes, shooting 2 episodes, in post on 4 episodes and writing season 2 simultaneously.” He also confirmed that the first season will consist of eight episodes.
  • Along the same lines, Judkins confirmed that we wouldn’t have to wait until season 2 to see characters from the Aiel people, a hardy race who live in the Aiel Waste. “And the one you see will shock you,” Judkins said. My money’s on Aviendah, Judkins’ favorite Wise One.
  • Apparently a couple of cast members have already spoken “the Old Tongue” and they “NAILED IT.”
  • Judkins had trouble choosing one costume to single out as his favorite, but settled on the one worn by Geofram Bornhald, a Lord Captain of the Children of the Light.
  • Has Judkins had to make any cuts he found painful? “Yes.”
  • There’s a lot of magic involved in The Wheel of Time. How will the show depict it visually? “We are trying to stay as true to the books as possible,” Judkins said. “I’ve been giving a bunch of VFX folks long diatribes about channeling, weaves, threads, earth vs. air, etc. And the early stuff has started coming in. It looks FUCKING AWESOME. I screamed when Rosamund started channeling.” That said, the show is trying to do as many of the effects “in camera” as possible.
  • The Wheel of Time makes rather a lot sword forms and names, and Judkins is taking it seriously. “We have a for real sword master on the show who walks into every room and test out everything as a weapon,” he said. “He could most definitely kill me with any item in my office.
  • Will we see the prologue from The Eye of the World? Judkins said only that we “will hear that phrase.”
  • We probably won’t see a trailer for the show “for a long while, sadly.” Judkins would love to give us some casting information in the meantime, but offered no guarantees. “I’ll try to get them to put out something soon. A lot of folks in all departments are affected by the state of the world right now though, so I can’t promise a timeline.”

That said, work on the show does continue during the crisis, to an extent. “I’m still doing VFX, editing and the Season Two Virtual Writers Room!” Judkins said. “And I can do it all in my pajamas.” Here’s hoping the production will be back firing on all cylinders sooner rather than later.

And speaking of the writer’s room, Brandon Sanderson — the author who wrote the final three Wheel of Time books after Jordan passed, is involved to some extent. “Brandon is hugely helpful,” Judkins said. “I talked to him before we started Season Two while he was in Prague to get advice and he reads all the scripts and gives notes. He’s incredibly thoughtful and understands the process of adaptation and what’s required from it. I feel so lucky to have him involved. I would have him do more if I could make him!”

Speaking of Sanderson, he visited the set a while back, and shared a little of what he saw during a live signing session of his book Mistborn last week.

Sanderson was asked if he could tell fans anything about his time on set. “I got to meet all of the actors, which was awesome,” he said. “And they were really cool. Mat (Barney Harris) talked my ear off, in a good way. He was asking my impressions of the character. I mentioned to him that his character was the hardest to write for me. We had a big conversation about why I thought that was, and things like that, and I pointed him at some fan resources, who talk about how Robert Jordan wrote Mat different from how I wrote Mat, which I thought would be very useful to him. But I chatted with all of them. It was really fun.”

I got to see Bela. I tried to get a picture with Bela, but they were moving the horses away and I didn’t end up getting the picture with Bela, so I’m sorry about that. I wanted to do the “cast reveal” where I’m like “I’ve got casting news!” and then it’s me with a picture with the horse playing Bela.

It was great. I don’t know what else I can say, other than they treated me really well. The actors were all great. The scenes that I saw, I was really impressed by, just the acting quality of them. Moiraine is just spot on. I was so impressed with her, the way she was acting. She is great! She was doing the thing where a character commands, or an actor commands attention in a scene, without saying so. She had presence in just the perfect Moiraine sort of way. So, there’s a few things for you. I’m very excited for the series.

So say we all.

Wheel of Time

LOS ANGELES, CA – JANUARY 05: Rosamund Pike attends The BAFTA Los Angeles Tea Party at Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills on January 5, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)

And Sanderson isn’t the only person who’s visited the set. Earlier this month, a reporter for The Times visited and talked to Rosamund Pike (Moiraine) on a “gigantic” set built in a former truck factory. All she could say about Moiraine is that she “will look quite sorceressy.” I think we can all approve of that.

Pike also commented on the ongoing discussion around diversity in film and TV, discussions that flared up earlier this year after both the Oscar and BAFTA nominations were announced. “We’ve still got a long way to go,” she said, but also pointed to The Wheel of Time’s diverse cast as a hopeful sign of things to come. “If you carry on casting the way Wheel of Time is, they aren’t going to be able to ignore it.”

One more thing: actor Alvaro Morte, who’s playing the False Dragon Logain, talked a bit about his expanded role during a live stream:

It sounds like Morte and Judkins have filled out Logain’s character a bit. “In the saga he appears as this guy who’s always dressed in black, like more of a cool guy. I’ve tried to work more with the tragedy that happens to the character, which is a very, very big one. You’ll see, I think it’s a very, very interesting production.” It sounds like we’ll see more of the story of how Logain is gentled by the Aes Sedai?

Thank you to @TheDailyTrolloc and The Wheel of Time fan community for making this article possible!

Next: Let’s rank all 14 books in The Wheel of Time series

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