The Wheel of Time boss explains why he made the characters older

Image: The Wheel of Time/Amazon Prime Video
Image: The Wheel of Time/Amazon Prime Video /

The Wheel of Time is coming to Amazon in a few short days, and expectations are sky high. After all, fans of Robert Jordan’s 14-book epic fantasy series have been waiting decades for a screen adaptation, and showrunner Rafe Judkins is feeling the pressure.

“The pressure is unbelievable from all sides at all times,” Judkins told Deadline. “I feel the personal pressure because I love this series. I fought to get it made for TV and that fight was so hard. It’s a success we’re getting it made but now I face the additional pressure to do everyone proud. So many people love these books so much.”

Judkins grew up reading the books with his mom, who it ends up is still helping him. “I send the scripts to her to get an opinion and she always tells me the truth. ‘You screwed up on this and you gotta fix it.’ I tell her, ‘Ok, mom. I’m going to fix it.’ My mom should get a consulting fee.”

Although he does have other help, including author Brandon Sanderson, who finished the final three Wheel of Time books after Jordan died in 2007. “Brandon is super honest, saying, ‘I don’t think this works, for this reason,’ and then I’m like ‘OK I have to pay serious attention to this,’” Judkins told Variety. “And then there have been times to where I’m like, ‘No, this is why we’re doing it. It’s a choice and I actually think it really works and it’s going to work for us long-term.’ And then we agree to disagree on it.”

Why does The Wheel of Time make the characters older?

And what might Sanderson and Judkins disagree on? Well, Judkins is pretty open that this show won’t be a one-to-one adaptation of the books; things will be changed, as they pretty much have to be with a series this huge. For instance, several of the main characters we meet in the sleep Two Rivers region — including Rand, Mat, Perrin and Egwene — have been aged up, so they’re 20 or 21 rather than 16-17-ish like in the books.

“One of the key changes from the book series that was important to me to make right off was aging up the core four a little bit,” Judkins told SyFy Wire. “In the space when the books came out, they were read as adult fiction. But if they would come out today with that same age group, they might be read as YA fiction. I think it’s really important for the show that it still delivers in the adult space that the books were written in, so aging up those characters was really important to me.”

"They obviously have lived deeper and longer emotional lives in order to be those ages, so we had to be realistic to that, too. A lot of the changes that you see in the first episode are just being true to the idea that these kids are 20 or 21, and your life is very different at that point than it is when you’re 17. I think it’s helpful because it gives this feeling that they have emotional lives and wants and needs from the world before Moiraine walks into the town, that that’s not the first day of their lives. For both of those reasons, I was really keen to make that change in the series. Even though I’m sure it will have ripple effects that some fans don’t like, I think it’s really important for us to do that. And to break new actors in these roles."

But even though Judkins and co will change details about the characters and the plot, he’s determined to stay true to the core of the story. “I think that’s the thing we do, above all else is respect the characters,” he said. “I love these characters, even the bad guys. So every change that we make in the show, the thing we try never to change is these characters in the core of who they are and the actors captured that so perfectly. If that’s the thing that fans are really looking for, I think they will like this show. If they’re looking for us to stick to every single detail of the machinations of the plot or the places that they go or the people that they’ve talked to, they will more likely be disappointed. But if they’re looking for us to get these characters to screen, the heart of who they are alive, then I think we’re doing that.”

The transition to the second actor playing Mat will be “seamless”

Speaking of the actors, one of the principle had to split after the end of the first season: Barney Harris plays Matrim Cauthon in season 1, but come season 2 the role will be taken over by Dónal Finn.

“It’s always hard but we’re really lucky that Barney is so great in the first season; I love him in the show,” Judkins said. “And Dónal Finn, who is playing Mat in Season 2, is amazing. I have seen him up on set doing his scenes now and they’re incredible and they fully capture the character. I think it’s a testament to this character and how great the character of Mat is that it really feels seamless between the two actors.”

The Wheel of Time is cast with mostly unknown actors, with a few exceptions. The biggest of them is definitely Oscar nominee Rosamund Pike as Moiraine, the Aes Sedai sorceress who comes to the Two Rivers and whisks characters like Mat off on a journey to the far corners of the world.

“She is so committed to bringing this character, that means so much to so many people, alive in a way that feels grounded,” Judkins said of Pike. “That’s been one of my most important things too in making the series, is just trying to ground everything so that you are not constantly pulled out and going, ‘Oh, this isn’t my world so I don’t have to worry about this.’ And so she provides that at the core.”

"And I think everyone around her lifts to try to come to where she is. It’s just something that we’re so lucky to have in the show and has made the actor part of the show, which is obviously, one of if not the most important things we’re doing is the people thing, these characters, and they’re just incredible. I feel so lucky to have found Rosamund and that she has built this environment with Daniel (Henney) who plays Lan, everyone else around them wants to come and match their level."

The Wheel of Time could run for eight seasons

If The Wheel of Time takes off, these actors will have these jobs for a long time, because Judkins sees the show going for eight seasons; how else could you adapt 14 huge books? “For me, I always have to approach it as if we’re going to get to tell the whole story that’s in the books,” Judkins said. “If we don’t approach it that way, then we’d set ourselves up to not stick the landing and these books have such a good ending. I really need to set us up to get there if we’re able to. That’s not up to me ultimately. If people watch it and Amazon wants to keep doing more, I’d love to continue to expand this world further.”

And with Amazon’s resources, he might actually be able to see if all the way through. The company is putting some serious money behind this, as will be evidence from the jump. “This [pilot] episode feels huge, but we never go back to those sets: Every two episodes, the show keeps expanding and you go to new worlds, and that’s part of the journey, that’s part of what makes the books great. It’s exciting for me that this is starting to finally come out because I know the expansive places that it’s going in the next two seasons.”

The Wheel of Time premieres on Amazon Prime Video this Friday, November 19.

dark. Next. Rand and Perrin actors talk changing The Wheel of Time for TV

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