HBO's ground-breaking fantasy drama Game of Thrones has proved that there's a real appetite for the genre. Sadly, of course, all good things must come to an end; even as we eagerly await Season 7, we know that next year's Season 8 will bring the game to a close. With a Westeros-sized gap soon to emerge on the market, it's no surprise that networks are eyeing up other fantasy franchises.
Step forward, The Wheel of Time. The original story is told in an immense 14 book series of novels penned by Robert Jordan (and completed by Brandon Sanderson after Jordan's untimely death in 2007). According to Variety, Sony has signed up to bring this epic saga to the small screen in what they no doubt hope will be the next fantasy hit.
Are they likely to succeed?
A Phenomenal Plot With Compelling Characters
Like all the best fantasy series, The Wheel of Time begins with a narrow focus on just a handful of characters. As it progresses, though, it uses these characters to introduce us to an ever-expanding cast, and to explore the rich fantasy world that Robert Jordan created. As an expansive fantasy series, then, it's also a character study.
It all kicks off with the sorceress Moiraine. In Jordan's world, female sorceresses are trained as part of a powerful cult known as the Aes Sedai, who wield the One Power in defense of the world. Moiraine believes that the Dark One, Shai'tan, is soon to loose the bonds that bind him; she is seeking out a figure from prophecy known as the Dragon Reborn, who she believes to be the world's only defense.
The Dragon Reborn, it seems, will be found in the most inauspicious place: he'll be a humble villager, a shepherd who nobody would think twice of. If Moiraine is right, then young Rand al'Thorn will be forged by battle and bloodshed into becoming the greatest champion the world has ever seen. But she foresees surprising fates for his friends Matrim Cauthon and Perrin Aybara too...
Each character has their own distinctive journey, with countless twists and turns. We see these youths grow and develop into strong, confident figures - who can carry the weight of the world upon their shoulders. Meanwhile, other characters who at first seem secondary also rise to prominence; most notable is Egwene al'Vere, the girl Rand loves, who proves to be far more than a mere love interest as she rises through the ranks of the Aes Sedai.
Robert Jordan uses his three villagers as the primary lens to explore a strange new world, and he takes the trouble to give each corner its own distinctive history and culture. By the time the series ends, you've explored all the lands — and even met a race of invading slavers, coming to understand their culture too.
Everything about the world is so carefully thought out. Jordan creates his own beautifully realized mythology, merging some basic Christian ideas with the most relatable concepts lifted straight from Buddhism, Hinduism, and Daoism. He creates the most well-developed magical 'system' I've seen in any work of fantasy; Jordan's sorcery has limits and well-established rules, and you can easily come to understand the abilities each character possesses.
Here's the catch, of course. If Sony is going to make the next Game of Thrones, they'll need to invest in the series. Game of Thrones is one of the most expensive series of all time, with HBO spending between $5 and $10 million per episode.
That's partly due to the incredible special effects demanded by the series, as well as to the far-flung filming locations that give the show such a distinctive aesthetic. Wheel of Time features the same kind of special effects (perhaps more so), and visits so many different locations that it's sure to be expensive to produce. I firmly believe that this show can be a hit - but that Sony will need to invest first.
Wheel of Time Actually Has Better Book Sales Than Thrones Already
Let me give you a sense of just how much potential this series has. George R. R. Martin's novels have sold more than 60 million copies worldwide - and remember that, since 2014, they've had the world's attention focused on them courtesy of a hit TV series.
In contrast, without any such series to promote awareness of The Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan's books have sold a phenomenal 80 million copies.
It's clear that The Wheel of Time is dearly-loved by fantasy fans. Sony's challenge is to bring this series to life in a way that captivates fans of the novels, but also draws in new viewers. They have a solid chance; according to Variety, the project will be helmed by Rafe Judkins (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Hemlock Grove).
At the same time, though, I have to confess that I have real concerns. Sony doesn't exactly have a strong history with fantasy series, and it looks as though the TV rights to the show still sit with Red Eagle Entertainment in some form. In 2015, Red Eagle and Radar Pictures shocked the world by releasing a poorly-produced pilot - which aired at 1.30am, with little promotion. Fans were not impressed.
The relationship between Red Eagle and Robert Jordan's estate has been fraught with tension - and even with lawsuits after the estate claimed no knowledge of the pilot. At the time, Red Eagle was negotiating with Sony, and they considered the estate's statement to be damaging to their negotiations — and a breach of contract. The lawsuit was only resolved last year.
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I'm glad to see Wheel of Time getting the love it deserves from a major studio, and I dearly hope that Sony's gamble pays off. If they want to make this show work, though, they'll need to let the series breathe, and that will mean a significant amount of investment. With the right team on board, and with the money available, Wheel of Time could indeed be the hit series we're looking for.