It's clear from curtain rise on the first episode that this ambitious book-adapted fantasy epic is angling to be the heir to the Thrones (Game of Thrones, that is), but alas, it misses the mark. Nor does it hit the world-building heights of the Lord of the Rings franchise, though The Wheel of Time, a 14-volume series with each book hovering at the 1,000-page mark, surely must have given plenty of world to build onscreen. Instead, both characters and the world they inhabit feel generic; their arcs don't have the bite and intrigue we wish for. For one thing, some more thoughtful set-dressing would have helped. Everything's too clean: spotless clothes, pristine squire-like hobbit houses. People are supposed to live in those houses; people are filthy; why are they so clean if they're not supposed to be brand-new?
The lack of depth and thoughtfulness extends to characterization. Perhaps the coolest idea in The Wheel of Time is that this world's muscle is an all-female clan of spiritual warriors, Aes Sedai. It's Aes Sedai who set the series' plot in motion by seeking the one true hero (or villain), the Dragon. It's a simple setup, one that Game of Thrones managed to pull off so successfully by creating an alternate world where magic gave women equal or sometimes even more power than men. There's a early moment that may make viewers think the show may actually pull it off: Pike, an actor with nothing but gravitas, tersely gives us exposition in voiceover as her assistant (or Warder in the show's parlance) helps her dress. She twirls a cape with flash and strength, and it's thrilling. It's rare to see women depicted onscreen as powerful warriors in this way. Unfortunately, this thread of intrigue is abandoned to begin a ho-hum quest, with lots (and lots) of long shots of its cast on horseback. The Wheel of Time is as beautiful as a painting, and has plenty of source material to work on, but it feels like we're on a road to nowhere.