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‘The Wheel of Time’ Season Finale Postmortem: Rafe Judkins on Those Big Twists and What’s Next

Josha Stradowski also addresses how the finale changed Rand

“The Wheel of Time,” Amazon Prime Video’s epic fantasy series, wrapped its Season 1 run on Friday.

(Spoiler alert! This story contains details from the finale episode.)

The series, from executive producer Rafe Judkins, and based on the books by Robert Jordan, delivered its biggest episode yet, featuring major battles, major carnage, and major turning points for the show’s main characters.

What began as rapidly accelerated preparation to stymie the Dark One’s armies and the Dark One from escaping and taking over the world, quickly turned into life or death battles. Egwene (Madeline Madden) and Nynaeve (Zoe Robbins) joined the channeling women of Far Dala, led by Lady Amalisa (Sandra Yi Sencindiver), to halt the advancing Trolloc army, leaving one of our five Two Rivers’ members burned up/out by the process, though, thankfully, Egwene’s abilities brought Nynaeve back (Lady Amalisa and the other women of Far Dala, however, perished).

After journeying through the deadly Blight to the Eye of the World, the Dragon Reborn – Rand (Josha Stradowski) – managed to defeat the Dark One (Fares Fares) by channeling the One Power, multiplied by the sa’angreal Moiraine gave him for his world-saving task. Unfortunately for the Aes Sedai, her ability to touch the One Power was severed in the fight.

While the threat of the Dark One is minimized – for now – as Perrin (Marcus Rutherford) learned from the returned peddler from episode 1 – Padan Fain (Johann Myers) – there are more battles coming as the dark friends continue to try and seek “balance” (Padan’s word). All five young adults from the Two Rivers, who we learned are connected earlier in the episode, will have a part to play, even Mat (Barney Harris, who in Season 2 will be played by Donal Finn) who looked worse for wear in a glimpse at the character not long before the credits rolled and a giant wave threatened to destroy a little girl on a beach.

With the return of the series a long way away, let’s unpack the episode (with a little help) and learn a little more about what lies ahead.

On living up to the epic scale set in the Season 1 finale in Season 2

“We were just having conversations about that today,” showrunner Rafe Judkins told TheWrap. “We really delivered a lot in Season 1 and we hope to be able to deliver the same thing in Season 2. With inflation racing across the world, we’re trying to figure out how to do that.”

Addressing how the show will stay in budget for Season 2, Judkins said the books, “start small but then they go to such an epic scale and we’re really trying to do everything we can to deliver that.”

He continued: “We don’t have the budget of a lot of shows on TV, but we’re trying to deliver everything we can, like every dollar that we have is being juiced to put something on screen so that we can bring as much of this big, epic world that Robert Jordan created to life.”

On Rand’s battle with the Dark One

Rand had to channel like no one (but himself) before to keep the Dark One in his cage, and actor Josha Stradowski credits Jordan’s books for helping him through those scenes.

“That was one of the biggest challenges for me was actually the channeling but I was really thankful for the for the books because in the books they [have] a lot of description – beautiful descriptions – about what channeling is for men and how it feels and what it is like,” he told TheWrap, noting he also discussed those moments with finale director Ciaran Donnelly and EP Judkins.

“And what I wanted it to be is that you can see that it definitely costs something of you,” he continued of the experience. “And, as a man it’s also something that is a dangerous thing as well because that One Power – if you use that as a man it’s tainted by the Dark One, so that means the more you use it, the closer you go to madness, really.”

It’s due to his concerns about this descent into madness (which for men leads them to kill the ones they love) that Rand tells Moiraine to inform his friends he died/didn’t come back. “What he is as a person, you know, won’t allow that and to protect the people he loves he’ll stay away from them,” Judkins said.

"The Wheel of Time" (Amazon Prime Video)
“The Wheel of Time” (Amazon Prime Video)

On what’s next for Rand

“Rand always had a pretty good idea of who he was, and what he wanted in life, and that changed when Moiraine entered the village,” but there’s more change than he could have imagined, Stradowski said. “He’s now cut off from his roots. And this is the start of an identity shift. Becoming the Dragon Reborn means that you’re the only person in the whole wide world who can save or destroy the world and that responsibility is insane. That weighs heavy and yes, I think Rand now has to go his own way to do what he needs to do. And it’s just the start of his transformation to — now knowing that he is the Dragon Reborn, now it’s actually about becoming the Dragon Reborn. And how do you do that? Who can help you with that? And it’s the start of a very heavy, dark, dramatic journey.”

On Moiraine’s Loss of Power

“Not being able to touch the One Power is one of the most sort of like, gutting feelings that a person can experience in the world of the books and so you see [Moiraine] just starting to grapple with that at the end of this season, and then obviously, it’ll be a huge story for her in Season 2, emotionally,” Judkins said of the Aes Sedai, played by Rosamund Pike.

That will also impact her warder, whom she can no longer bond with – Lan Mandragoran (Daniel Henney). But will it rip his heart out, or possibly free him? “I think that’s the question – is you don’t really know. We don’t know fully what that – I mean, people who read the books know a little bit about what will happen in the relationship between those two characters, but this is a piece we added for the show to help underline what happens within that relationship between the two of them.”

"The Wheel of Time" (Amazon Prime Video)
“The Wheel of Time” (Amazon Prime Video)

On the battle between dark and light

Peddler Padan delivered a few huge lines in the final sequences, including revealing he’s on the dark side because there needs to be balance. So does that – to use a common superhero trope – make this seeming villain the hero of his own story?

“You don’t get to spend a lot of time with the dark friends in the books outside of the forsaken. And so, we really wanted to make sure that each dark friend that we meet in the show like Dana, who you met in Episode 3, and Padan Fain … that you kind of understand them as people and that their goal is not, you know, the evil. They’re not just evil people who are born evil who want evil,” Judkins explained. “They have complex human emotions and feelings and they probably view what they’re doing as being positive either for themselves or for the world or for their loved ones, or for whatever reason they view what they’re doing as important and we wanted to give that to Padan Fain. And that sets up a lot of what we’ll see in Season 2 with each of our core characters also struggling with the balance of dark and light within themselves.”

On the connection between the five from Two Rivers

Padan also told Perrin (Marcus Rutherford) that Rand may be the Dragon Reborn, but they’re all connected and all have a part to play. What’s “huge for the whole book series is the idea that, yes, there’s the mystery in Season 1 of who is the Dragon, but what you realize as you read the books, and hopefully as you watch the show, too, is that it’s about all five of them,” Judkins said. 

What’s up with Mat?

Mat, who chose not to go through The Waygate two episodes ago, was spotted at the end of the finale, just as peddler Padan said in voiceover some of our core five  might turn to the dark. “He’s one that obviously struggles so much with the darkness inside of him, even more textually than some of our other lead characters do. And so, you’ll see that happen – we’ll pick up that story in Season 2 as well with Donal,” Judkins said.

Will there be more Wolf Brother material next season for Perrin?

“Yeah, all of the characters will really [get] the deep dive,” Judkins said. “Season 1 was so much about the characters all moving together in a group. In a TV show, it can be really tough to feel like you’re getting to know people when they’re all in a group together. So, Season 2, getting to split them each off on their own and find out who they really are and what light and dark exists inside them, I think it’s my favorite thing about Season 2 so far, is seeing each of those actors really start to come into their own.”