Unlike Prime Video's other fantasy series The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, which acts as a prequel to Peter Jackson's six-movie franchise, The Wheel of Time had the challenging task of introducing viewers to a whole new world in its first season. Sure, The Rings of Power finds most of its inspiration outside of its big-screen predecessors, with characters and lore pinched from Tolkien's notes and literary works, but due to the flicks' cultural relevance, its creators could count on a wider audience already knowing what Elves, orcs, Mordor, and more were. The same couldn't be said for The Wheel of Time's One Power, Amyrlin Seat, and Aes Sedai.
Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson's books, which the show is based on, boasted several bestsellers but due to them never having been adapted before, season 1 was predominantly concerned with laying the groundwork; establishing characters, settings, visuals, and rules before delivering a dramatic finale that felt almost like the end of a prologue. Season 2, then, is where the story really begins and if the first four episodes are anything to go by, we're in for a treat.
After discovering that he's the Dragon Reborn, Rand (Gran Turismo's Josha Stradowski) is lying low at the start of the new installment. Terrified of succumbing to the dark side of the One Power and harming those closest to him, he's exiled himself to the small town of Cairhien – though there's more to his choice of new home than anonymity.
Elsewhere, Egwene (Madeleine Madden) is struggling to prove her worthwhile learning to channel at the White Tower; an endeavor made all the more difficult by the existing Aes Sedai fawning over her powerful but reluctant pal Nynaeve (Zoë Robins). Perrin (Marcus Rutherford), meanwhile, has aligned himself with a pack of hunters, who are tracking down the Horn of Valere (and the mysterious Padan Fain) – all while beginning to connect to his wolfey side.
It's interesting how much more assured and engaging the younger cast are here, when you consider how each of their on-screen counterparts are plagued with self-doubt and angst. Each of them finally seem settled in their roles, relishing the darker material and more lasered focus. It's Robins, however, that fares best as Nynaeve is put to the ultimate test by her fellow Aes Sedai, peppering the character's stubborn-minded resolve with vulnerability. She makes for a great parallel to Rand, who's seeking questionable allies in an attempt to learn to control the One Power, as she'd rather reject the responsibility all together.
Opposite the returning players, Natasha O'Keefe joins the show as the morally ambiguous Lanfear, who proves the perfectly sultry scene partner to Stradowski, while Meera Syal adds some welcome warmth and wit as sassy sister Verin. Rosamund Pike takes a bit of a back seat this time round, not appearing at all in episode 3, as a now-powerless Moiraine distances herself from former warder Lan (Daniel Henney) and embarks on a solo quest to catch up to Rand – and keep the Dark One from corrupting him. As good as she is in the role, it's a natural and necessary evolution, allowing the other characters to step out of her Dumbledore-esque shadow. It adds intrigue to Moiraine herself, too, as writers Katherine B. McKenna, John McCutcheon, and Rohit Kumar lean into her more manipulative, cold side.
Like season 1, the show still employs a somewhat slow-burn approach but the seemingly meandering, location-hopping tale is punctuated by a bunch of thrillingly big moments, including a slickly choreographed Fade attack, a tease of the Black Ajah (Aes Sedai who are secretly serving the Dark One), and the unexpectedly gory introduction to the masked invaders of the Seanchan Empire. Dare we say, the deft mix evokes early Game of Thrones?
Back in 2021, showrunner Rafe Lee Judkins confirmed that season 2 would have a more sizeable budget – season 1 is said to have set Prime Video back $80 million, a fraction of the $500 million the streamer spent on Rings of Power. With that, it all feels expectedly more epic, but that scale hasn't come at the cost of production design, creature design or costuming, the latter of which in particular continues to be stunning. The separate colours of the Aes Sedai – rich reds, deep blues, and vibrant greens – pop so vividly against the stark, stoney walls of the White Tower and contrast, too, with the more dreary earthy tones present in Cairhien or the Two Rivers.
Nor does it replace the more intimate, human moments that made season 1 so refreshing. In the first four episodes of season 2, things like polyamorous relationships are explored, as well as the emotional toll of never-aging and watching the ones you love grow old – and ultimately, pass away – around you. Familiar themes of overwhelming power and the allure of using it for the wrong reasons are fun, but they only really mean something when you care about those wielding it after all.
"Everyone has a choice, and every choice has a consequence", Moiraine states sternly in the second chapter's first episode. If you choose to skip The Wheel of Time, you won't just be missing out on Prime Video's best high fantasy shows, you'll be missing out on one of the best high fantasy shows in years.
The first three episodes of The Wheel of Time season 2 will be available to watch from September 1, with the series continuing weekly after that. For more, check out our list of the best Prime Video shows streaming now for some viewing inspiration.