The Wheel of Time Showrunner Answers Our Burning Questions About Season Finale

The Wheel of Time ended its first season today with an explosive finale that saw entire armies fall, revealed several new mysteries, and left every major cast member changed in some significant way. From the opening moments of the episode, when we saw Lews Therin Telamon (the last Dragon) during the Age of Legends to the ending confrontation between Rand, Ba'alzemon, and Moiraine in the Eye of the World and the tantalizing tease of the Seanchan arriving as a new invading force, there were a lot of questions we had about where The Wheel of Time would go next. And who better to answer those questions than Rafe Judkins, the showrunner for The Wheel of Time? had the chance to pick Judkins' brain about the season finale, why he changed certain things from the book, and if he really killed off a fan-favorite character. 

(Photo: Amazon Studios) So, my first question is how did you decide on the futuristic aesthetic for the Age of Legends? It was a really interesting choice but was not what I was expecting.

Rafe Judkins: When our production designer started building the look for the Age of Legends, the thing we really wanted to feel was a timeless quality to it, that when you're first sitting in it that it feels simultaneously ancient and modern.

So, a lot of what both costume and production design used a lot Greek lines and both clothing and for the set design, because they convey something that feels old, and is old, but actually has a really modern sensibility to it. And so that was the sort of guiding light of designing what the Age of Legends would look like.

And then when you come out the window, you really see that aesthetic that exists inside. The nursery, sort of built out into a big, massive modern city that people can really read just how futuristic it was. That was really important to us, that the audience is able to see. It's such an important aspect of The Wheel of Time, as a whole series, to understand the history of the Breaking of the World and that this very technologically-advanced society was broken.

One of my favorite parts of the season as a whole was how you built the romance between Rand and Egwene. It's different how it was in the books and it seems to be building up to be a bit more of a tragic romance. And I was curious, how does that pairing, having it be a much more established relationship, change the dynamic of the story?

Judkins: I mean, for me, it only deepens the dynamic of the story, I think all the actions that they take moving forward into the books  has that underpinning beneath it. I don't want to spoil anything for non-book fans, but there's a scene in Episode Seven where she says to him, "I'll always stand behind you." There's something really beautiful about it when you think of what's to come for them and how hard some of the choices both of them will have to make are.

So, I think it exists in the text that they always thought that they would be together, that they really did love each other, and I think just deepening that gives the character so much more to play the further on they go.

(Photo: Amazon Studios)

In the finale, the show shifted the destruction of the Trolloc army that is attacking Fal Dara from an action of Rand channeling to something that Nynaeve and Egwene and the other channelers of Fal Dara did. I was curious what went into that decision. 

Judkins: One of the guiding adaptation points of the first season that we had was to take this from being Rand's story, like it is in the first book, and make it an ensemble story because the whole series of The Wheel of Time books are very much an ensemble story, not a Rand story. 

We tried to do the same with the finale of The Eye of the World book. In the books, Rand faces off against Ba'alzamon, then essentially teleports to Tarwin's Gap and levels an army, and then finds the Horn of Valere. He does all of the things himself, so what we really tried to do is take that and split it out amongst our ensemble, so that each of them has something to do in the finale. The girls, I think, just kind of get knocked out at the Eye of the World early on, and then are sort of unconscious.

To give this more of an ensemble feel, we gave pieces of what happened in that finale to each of them, and then maintained the piece that's most important for Rand and his journey for him. We gave the girls something that's very important for what their story is going to be in Season Two, book fans will know where they're headed and why, what that moment means to them moving forward. And then likewise for Perrin and where he's headed with the Horn of Valere. It felt like a really natural way to set up where all those characters were going in season two, deliver all of the pieces of the finale from the book, but spread out more evenly amongst the characters.

Okay. I have a very pointed and direct question next. Is Loial dead? 

Judkins: No.

Did you kill Loial?

I didn't kill Loial. Everyone is worried about it. I can say that he is safe, alive and currently shooting for season 2. And that there are a couple people who are at death's door at the end of the finale who are not dead and a couple people who are in fact dead.

Hopefully, the finale will prepare people emotionally for the deaths that will come. Because one thing The Wheel of Time books do so beautifully is they maintain a massive cast of characters for 14 books. And we can't do that in a television show. So, there will be shocking deaths to come, but I can confirm that this is not the end of Loial. 

Thank you. I appreciate that. 

Judkins: No, Hammed [Animashaun, who plays Loial] is too good too. He's amazing.

He's so nice!

Judkins: He's the best guy. 

(Photo: Amazon Studios)

In the show, the Eye of the World seems to have a very different purpose and role than it kind of does in the books. It almost seemed like it and Shayol Ghul were kind of combined into one location. Is that accurate or is that some kind of misdirection? Because we saw Lews Therin in Rand's flashback at the Eye of the World. 

Judkins: Yeah, it's purposefully left ambiguous. One thing we do do that's different than the books, the books take a lot of what is said as true, where it's like, "Oh, 3000 years ago, this happened and it is 100% true. We know it for sure."

In the show, people are a little more skeptical about the truth of things. The narrators are less reliable sometimes just because we're making them a little bit more human too, so you see more of their flaws. I would not trust everything that comes out of any of our characters' mouths.

We have a clear plan for what we saw there, but it won't be clear to the audience for... I don't know. It depends on how many seasons we get to come. I think that's one thing I've noticed that some book fans are very literal with what characters say and do and just that they are right about everything. But I think in reality, people are very often not right about everything.

Speaking of things to come, the Forsaken were mostly excluded in the first season. They don't really get introduced until the end of the first book and I can see why you didn't have just two new bad guys show up for five minutes. My big question is, are we going to see Aginor, and Balthamel in the future? Or are you pearing down the number of Forsaken that appear in the show? 

Judkins: Well, I think that this is kind of along the lines of what I just mentioned. However, we very clearly show on screen that there are eight Forsaken statues back in Episode 5.

Just be careful what you believe and don't believe about what our characters believe and don't believe. But I think that the Forsaken are incredible characters in the books. I love them. If anything, the Forsaken's world have been expanded in the show.

(Photo: Amazon Studios)

In the Eye of the World confrontation, Moiraine is stilled, and Rand goes off on his own so that he doesn't hurt his friends during his descent into madness as a male channeler. Obviously, that's a big departure from the books, but how do those two decisions and departures from the books kind of set us up the next season?

Judkins: We were really precise about the end of the season and what our plans were for Season Two and Season Three. We needed to land this correctly so that we can tell all the story that we need to tell, which is a lot. I think I'm allowed to say that you'll see some characters are being set up for their storylines from the second book and some characters are being set up for their storylines from book three. And that is purposeful. 

And obviously, Moiraine is desperately underutilized in book two. And so, from a show perspective, we have Rosamund Pike and Daniel Hanney, they're the most incredible actors. We're going to give them stuff to do. And so we're taking everything that they have in the books and really expanding on it.

My last question: is there anything that you wish you could have put into the first season that you couldn't squeeze in due to your episode constraints or just because you just couldn't quite make it fit within the story of the show?

Judkins: Oh my God, there's 80 things in my mind. There's so many things that I wish we could have done. I think most of it is I would wish some things could have been expanded. We originally had plans for an episode in The Ways, and an episode in Shadar Logoth. I wish we could have expanded on them more.

And then for something that we cut out completely... I loved the whole story in Caemlyn, but I very much stand behind why we moved it to Tar Valon, and we had to for production reasons. But if money were no object, I think it would've been really wonderful to be able to do that story too.

Well, I'm really looking forward to seeing how you incorporate Elayne into Season Two. She's a favorite. 

Judkins: The actress is wonderful. I can guarantee that you will love her because she is so Elayne that it is like a joke.

The first season of The Wheel of Time is available now on Prime Video.