This review was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the series being covered here wouldn’t exist.It’s been a long wait for Season 2 of Prime Video’s adaptation of The Wheel of Time — maybe not as long as it took audiences to get a successful small-screen adaptation in the first place, but the break between seasons has certainly built up more anticipation for what lies ahead. Although the series was already renewed for a third season prior to the second season’s upcoming premiere, there’s still a lot of ongoing uncertainty around streaming shows and what their ultimate fate might be. That said, if the future of The Wheel of Time is determined, then both longtime fans and newcomers have a lot to look forward to in terms of where the series is headed, based on the first four episodes provided for review. This time around, Season 2 isn’t pulling any punches — it’s a distinctly darker turn of the Wheel, so to speak, and now that our main characters are aware of the evil that exists in their world, it’s as if those of us watching are all the more primed to notice it too, staring into the darkest shadows and wonder what might be lurking within.

At the end of Season 1, the small group of friends that once lived out their lives peacefully in the small town of Emond’s Field now find themselves as far away from their original circumstances as they could possibly be. The former sheepherder known as Rand al’Thor (Josha Stradowski) has discovered that he is the Dragon Reborn, a man capable of channeling the One Power, and someone who has been prophesied to either be the world’s salvation or to lead it into total desolation. His confrontation with the Dark One (Fares Fares) at the Eye of the World results in a number of consequences — chief among them the devastating confirmation that the Aes Sedai Moiraine (Rosamund Pike), who has been searching for the Dragon Reborn herself, has been cut off from the One Power, leaving her unable to channel. Given that male channelers have always gone mad from wielding, and that Rand experienced that darkness in himself at the Eye, he decides to ask Moiraine to tell the rest of his friends that he perished in the battle in an attempt to keep them from harm — and then he flees, leaving everyone he cares for, as well as his destiny, behind.

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‘The Wheel of Time’ Season 2 Splits Up the Main Cast More Than Ever

Image via Prime Video

Given that The Wheel of Time has always been an ensemble show — say what you will about Moiraine being at the center of all of Season 2’s promotional posters, as she deserves — Season 1 made the choice early on to have divergent storylines for much of its main cast. Even though the core group, consisting of Rand, innkeepers’ daughter Egwene al’Vere (Madeleine Madden), local Wisdom Nynaeve al’Meara (Zoë Robins) blacksmith Perrin Aybara (Marcus Rutherford), and gambler Mat Cauthon (Barney Harris in Season 1, Dónal Finn in Season 2), may have started out their journey to the city of Tar Valon together, circumstances conspire to send them in wildly different directions, and Season 2 continues that story decision to the show’s benefit, changing things up a bit from Robert Jordan‘s second Wheel of Time book, The Great Hunt.

While Rand is trying to live out his existence in relative anonymity — having escaped to the Foregate outside Cairhien as a way to keep his head down, so to speak — the others have their own mission ahead, whether they want to play these parts in the Wheel’s turning or not. After their impressive display of channeling at the Battle of Fal Dara, Egwene and Nynaeve have joined the rest of the Aes Sedai at the White Tower in Tar Valon to continue their training. But while Egwene takes to her new role as a novice with caution and uncertainty, Nynaeve acts out against her teachers at practically every turn. Egwene strikes up a friendship with fellow novice Elayne Trakand (Ceara Coveney), while Nynaeve, surprisingly, uncovers more layers to Liandrin Sedai (Kate Fleetwood) than anyone, us viewers included, ever knew about. Perrin, alongside the Ogier Loial (Hammed Animashaun) and several warriors of Shienar, has joined the hunt for former merchant and confirmed Darkfriend Padan Fain (Johann Myers), who escaped with the famed Horn of Valere after the battle at Fal Dara. And as for Mat? You’ll just have to tune in to find out where he’s ended up in all this.

While it’s always a welcome, warm thing to see this terrific cast grouped up together in scenes, splitting up their storylines like this allows each individual actor to shine on their own merits, as the show’s characters are ripped away from everything comforting and forced into new dangers. Stradowski plays a more paranoid, reclusive Rand who is determined to reject the truth of his identity at every cost, even if there are other temptations hovering around (chief among them the beautiful innkeeper Selene, played with suspiciously witchy energy by Natasha O’Keeffe). Those who were seeking more moments of sisterhood between Egwene and Nynaeve will be rewarded plentifully in Season 2, but beyond that, Robins is given so much emotional heavy lifting to do when her character has to face a significant trial in order to rise in the ranks of the Aes Sedai — and she infuses Nynaeve with all the defiance, power, and vulnerability that the sequence demands. As a newcomer to the cast this season, Finn steps into the role of a Mat who feels markedly different this time around — weathered and worn-down from his experiences, and not sure that he deserves to be reunited with his friends even if the opportunity presents itself. And with Moiraine severed from the source of her magic, that has repercussions on her connection with al’Lan Mandragoran (Daniel Henney), who has his own soul-searching to do when it comes to the intricacies of the bond between Warder and Aes Sedai, as well as where he fits into the bigger picture.

‘The Wheel of Time’ Season 2 Is Darker (and Better For It)

A still from The Wheel of Time Season 2 trailer
Image via Prime Video

It seems with Season 2 of The Wheel of Time that things are primed to become darkest just before a new dawn, though when that dawn will come has yet to be determined. The Season 1 finale introduced the arrival of a new imperialistic force known as the Seanchan (just in case you thought Rand and co. already had enough to deal with in terms of the threat of the Dark One) and from the very beginning, they’re here to prove they’re not messing around. Visually, they look like nothing else we’ve ever seen in this show before, and series costume designer Sharon Gilham and team have truly outdone themselves with the aesthetics of the Seanchan, making them imposing on an outward level even before someone among their number utters a single line of dialogue. From impressive insectoid-style gold headpieces to the terrifyingly long nail caps worn over the first two fingers, it only takes a single wave of a hand to mean the difference between life and death for anyone unfortunate enough to be in that position. The Seanchan have absolutely no qualms about striding into any village or city and demanding allegiance from its people — as well as subjugating any who choose to resist them — as Perrin and the rest of the team hunting Fain discover firsthand, and it’s one of the earliest signs that this new season is willing to go there in terms of devastating places.

Of course, those who caught the very first scene of the Season 2 premiere know that the Dark One is reconnoitering with his own group of loyal followers, and one of the best elements of Jordan’s world lies in the fact that Darkfriends are so often hiding in plain sight. Someone you’ve known all your life could be a sympathizer, and the mystery surrounding who might be serving the Shadow — perhaps even members of the Aes Sedai themselves — is something that the new season doubles down on, meaning that any new face introduced into the story isn’t necessarily someone to be trusted. It plays into that sense of overarching darkness that hovers over the entire season. Even Rand, who is trying to exist at the margins of the story, gets drawn into the complicated political games in Cairhien, which Moiraine herself is also pulled into as a sort of homecoming with ulterior motives involved, even if not everyone is pleased to see her returning to the land of her origins.

‘The Wheel of Time’ Season 2 Is One of the Best Fantasy Adaptations on TV

Image via Prime Video

There’s really no such thing as a completely faithful adaptation. In the translation between mediums, from the page to the screen, certain adjustments are necessary — not just taking into account the differences in storytelling format but in condensing a book (or two) clocking in at several hundred pages into a single season of television.

The first time I watched Prime Video’s take on The Wheel of Time, I didn’t crack open The Eye of the World until after I had almost the entirety of Season 1 under my belt; this time around, I decided to read The Great Hunt in tandem with watching Season 2, and it made for a fascinating experience in terms of seeing where the series chose to branch off from the original books. Ultimately, the conclusion I came to was that these changes don’t necessarily take away from the story; they enhance it, while still evoking all the intricacies of this fantasy world that successfully captured readers all the way back in 1990 when the beginning of Jordan’s series was first published. Series developer Rafe Judkins, as well as the season’s writers Katherine B. McKenna, John McCutcheon, Dave Hill, Rohit Kumar, Rammy Park, Justine Juel Gillmer, and Timothy Earle, all have an important part to play in rendering the undeniable magic of this fictional realm on-screen. The Wheel of Time Season 2 continues to embrace the riches of its source material’s lore and worldbuilding, diverting from the books when it makes the most sense to but never sacrificing depth of character and overarching plot — and continuing to offer one of the best fantasy adaptations on television.

Rating: A-

The Big Picture

  • Season 2 of The Wheel of Time takes a darker turn, exploring the evil lurking within the world and challenging the characters’ beliefs and identities.
  • The main cast is split up in Season 2, allowing each actor to shine in their individual storylines and face new dangers outside their comfort zones.
  • The Wheel of Time Season 2 is a fantastic fantasy adaptation that diverges from the books in enhancing the story while maintaining the depth of character and plot.

The first three episodes of The Wheel of Time Season 2 premiere September 1 on Prime Video, with new episodes released weekly thereafter.

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