The Wheel Of Time: Season 2 REVIEW – Second Time’s the Charm

The Wheel Of Time's second season has learned the ropes of adaptation.

The Wheel Of Time Season 2
The Wheel Of Time Season 2

Cultured Vultures spoilers

When Amazon Studios’ The Wheel Of Time premiered back in 2021, it didn’t exactly light the world on fire. Critics were divided on the quality of its storytelling and production values, while fans of Robert Jordan’s original fantasy novels debated how effectively the show adapted its source material. Still, The Wheel Of Time Season 1 drew big numbers for Prime Video across its initial eight-episode run, making a second season all but inevitable.

Fast forward two years and The Wheel Of Time: Season 2 is finally here – and the good news is that showrunner Rafe Judkins and his team have addressed many of the criticisms leveled at Season 1. The result is a more satisfying, slickly executed second outing than its predecessor that does a bang-up job of capturing the spirit of Jordan’s canon despite often straying wildly afield of it.

This last point is worth underlining: The Wheel Of Time’s second season is not a direct adaptation of the second book in the series, The Great Hunt. Heck, there’s barely any hunting in Season 2 at all, after Perrin’s (Marcus Rutherford) mission to track down the mythical Horn of Valere is scuttled early on. So, anyone who enters this batch of episodes expecting a quest-driven narrative as related by Jordan is going to leave pretty bummed out (and understandably so).

Similarly, Judkins and his writers devise decidedly different, less interconnected arcs for many of Wheel Of Time Season 2’s core ensemble, which can be jarring (even infuriating) if you’ve read the books. This applies to Moiraine (Rosamund Pike) in particular, who plays a much larger role in proceedings than described in the relatively brief number of pages devoted to her in The Great Hunt – but then, you don’t hire an actor of Pike’s caliber only to sideline her after a single season. Again, changes like this will bug devotees of Jordan’s novels rather than Wheel Of Time newcomers, although even the latter group will clock how Season 2’s pacing takes a hit up front with so many characters running around in so many different places.

“…a more satisfying, slickly executed second outing than its predecessor”

The pace picks up with The Wheel Of Time: Season 2’s second episode, though, and without the sensation of racing through key events that occasionally plagued Season 1. What’s more, some of Judkins and co.’s decisions – such as containing the relationship between protagonist Rand (Josha Stradowski) and the enigmatic Selene (Natasha O’Keeffe) entirely to the city of Cairhien – make more sense as the second season’s narrative comes more into focus. The creative team also deserves props for adapting certain Great Hunt plot threads with a reasonable amount of fidelity where they can. Notably, the journeys Egwene (Madeleine Madden) and Nynaeve (Zoë Robins) are sent on on broadly align with what’s outlined in the books, but tweaked to better play to the strengths of TV as a medium.

But what Judkins and the writers – alongside directors Thomas Napper, Sanaa Hamri, and Maja Vrvilo – truly deserve kudos for is digging deep into the essence of their source material. Most of the themes that Jordan layered into his high fantasy doorstops are present and accounted for here, albeit refracted through a slightly more contemporary lens. So, while Jordan didn’t necessarily envision the second season’s big bad, the Seanchan, as an analog for colonialism, it nevertheless rings true when the creative team leans into this aspect of the would-be world conquerors and the manifest destiny that drives them.

The gender politics of the Wheel Of Time universe, so central to Jordan’s novels, make the jump to the big screen largely intact in Season 2, as well. Indeed, this is arguably where the show aligns with The Great Hunt most closely and to best effect. The Seanchan’s subjugation of women who can channel the One Power, the way they strip them of their agency (and often, their voice) while weaponizing that power, is as harrowing in live-action as it was in print. Admittedly, these scenes don’t hit quite as hard as they might have at the height of the MeToo movement, but they still pack an undeniable punch all the same.

This is heavy stuff, however, just like the books, Wheel Of Time: Season 2 makes it easier to digest by wrapping it up in a fully realized world we’re happy to hang out in, no matter how bleak things get. The costumes and makeup (especially for the Seanchan), overseen by Sharon Gilham and Davina Lamont respectively, are even more striking this season and give each of the show’s new and returning cultures a tangible sense of authenticity. This same vibe applies to the second season’s continued emphasis on location shooting and practical sets over purely CGI environments, which ensure you’ll completely buy into Wheel Of Time’s made-up reality.

Not that the show’s execution is entirely blemish-free over the course of this second eight-episode jaunt. The cinematography noticeably lacks the cinema-like sheen that defines other prestige TV efforts such as Game of Thrones, and some of the pixel-powered vistas used for establishing shots aren’t quite as convincing as you’d hope for. The Wheel Of Time: Season 2’s action scenes are also noticeably small-scale (Episode 8’s final battle notwithstanding), especially compared to Amazon’s other high-profile fantasy effort The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. It’s not that these set pieces are poorly choreographed or staged (far from it), they’re just a bit contained.

“…you’ll completely buy into Wheel Of Time’s made-up reality.”

The unevenness of The Wheel Of Time: Season 2’s production values is mirrored by the performances of its cast, which range from serviceable to very good. Pike is once again the major draw as she was in Season 1 and brings plenty of nuance to the stoic Moiraine. Her younger co-stars are less memorable, in part because Judkins and his team saddle them with more po-faced angst for most of the second season’s run. Even so, Stradowski makes a decent go of conveying Rand’s inner turmoil and Madden sells the emotional rollercoaster of Egwene’s captivity with admirable aplomb. Newcomer Dònal Fin also leaves a strong impression as the roguish Mat, playing up the character’s cocky charm in a way that’s bound to impress long-time fans.

However, Wheel Of Time Season 2 ultimately belongs to its baddies. Whereas Season 1 largely focused on introducing our heroes, here our villains get the chance to shine – and the likes of Fares Fares and Natasha O’Keeffe don’t waste this opportunity. As the Dark One’s right-hand man Ishamael, Fares is equal parts disarming charisma and chilling madness, and we immediately accept him as a credible threat. Peaky Blinders veteran O’Keeffe is likewise on top form as Ishamael’s fellow Forsaken Lanfear, expertly shifting gears between beguiling and bloody-minded as required. Whenever this pair is on screen – or Kate Fleetwood’s Liandrin and Karima McAdams’ High Lady Suroth, for that matter – you’ll immediately sit up and pay attention.

Not that your mind is likely to wander all that much during Wheel Of Time: Season 2. There are too many schemes being hatched and cool new sights to see for that. If anything, the second season is over before we’ve had a chance to process it all fully, and Judkins and the gang could’ve easily justified one or two more episodes before the climactic finale. Still, if the worst you can say about The Wheel Of Time: Season 2 is that there should’ve been more of it, that’s a good indication that the second time really is the charm for Amazon Studios’ fantasy show.

Screeners were provided by PR for this review.

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The Wheel Of Time Season 2
A marked improvement on its predecessor, The Wheel of Time: Season 2 serves up an engaging – if decidedly free-spirited – adaptation of Robert Jordan’s beloved fantasy novels.