Well, the FXX Network aired something related to Robert Jordan's bestselling fantasy series last night. Subtitled "Winter Dragon," no one seems to know what exactly it is. A failed pilot? A stealthy promo? Something else? As we investigate, ODeck's Nicole has an excellent breakdown of... whatever it is.
The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the First Age by some, called today by others, there was a secret 30 minute Wheel of Time based episode, put on in the middle of the night. Called Winter Dragon, the episode was a bit of a mixed bag. Some spoilers below.
The episode, covering about 6 pages of the prologue of the first book, opens with a CG animation of a wheel turning as a narrator gives us an outline of the War of Power and the Dragon, Lews Therin Telamon. While the CG wasn't great, I did like the use of chapter icons to help illustrate the story some. The episode opens on Lews Therin, played by Max Ryan, wandering the halls of a rather palatial looking estate, looking for his wife and children. When he does find them they are constantly disappearing around corners as they run around playfully.
Billy Zane with a bushy beard and dressed in black (he might be evil), shows up and tries to talk to the clearly out of sorts Lews Therin. I found his portrayal of Elan Morin, aka Ishamael, to be oddly jovial in tone. I didn't think it was bad per se but different then I imagined.
As Lews walks around we start seeing cracks in his world. An inordinate amount of dolls litter the ground of his home. With a shift we see that the place is actually dark and he has a beard and is dirty and his clothes in tatters. Thanks to Billy Zane's healing hands and some mocking, the truth is revealed. The place is wrecked and dead bodies litter the floor. All slain by Lews Therin himself, driven mad by Billy Zane's boss Shai'tan (which is pronounced differently by both of them), The Dark One's retaliation for Lews Therin's victory.
Trying to lure Lews Therin over to the side of Darkness, Ishamael summons an image of Lews Therin's wife Ilyena and tells him that with the Dark One, they could all live again.
Lews Therin's reaction to this revelation that he was a Kinslayer and this temptation really had to have been the worst part of the episode for me. In the books he was grief stricken at the horrible deed he had done, and reacted as you would probably expect a person to. Here it comes off more as he is just rejecting a job offer as he apologizes to his wife and calmly grabs a sword and heads upstairs to "be with his family."
I am not sure if they were implying he commits suicide with the sword or what. Either way unfortunately they cut out one of the most iconic and lore important scenes of the series, the creation of Dragonmount. Where in his mad grief, Lews Therin used the One Power to kill himself and create a giant mountain on the spot.
The narrator closes out the episode reading the Prophecies of the Dragon that are at the end of the prologue.
Changes for Better and Worse
In some ways this is a pretty loyal adaptation of the prologue. A lot of the lines seemed word for word with the book. In the book his madness was more apparent as we are told right off the place was damaged and there are bodies lying on the floor. But I thought the change here of teasing that something was wrong by showing us Lews Therin's vision of the world worked very well for TV. I don't think I would call Ilyena's hair red-gold but that is a minor change. The lack of Dragonmount is the biggest sticking point. I don't know if it was out of their budget constraints or if they thought they couldn't do it justice or they wanted to save that for later if this was actually a pilot of a television series.
Start of Something More or Greedy Play to Keep the Rights
There is a lot of doubt as to what this was exactly. Many see this as just a way for a company to keep the rights to the franchise by just creating a throw away cheap product no one will see. In 2008 Universal Pictures acquired the rights to produce a Wheel of Time based film series with Red Eagle Entertainment to produce it. The episode is listed as a film at the end so this could possible be their long promised "film".
On the other hand it has been pointed out that pilots sometimes air on obscure channels at obscure times and certain people are informed ahead of time in order to watch it and fill out surveys via phone or email. Maybe this wasn't supposed to be a exciting premier of a pilot, or a throw it out there and hope no one notices it. This could be just a market survey that others just happened to catch.
Game of Thrones is big business and everyone wants to be Game of Thrones. It seems ridiculous that anyone would have the means to make a Wheel of Time series and not try to cash in on it right now.
Good or Bad?
I came to this with low expectations given and was pleasantly surprised. Other then the CG opening it didn't look that terrible and I liked Lews Therin, other then the under reaction. If this is going to be the start of a TV series we won't get much of him for a long time anyways. The portrayal of his madness worked well enough. I can imagine non-Wheel of Time fans could find it boring, confusing, and a bit too expository for an introduction to a series they weren't familiar with. A big Dragonmount finish would have helped with that.
Overall I would describe it as surprisingly not terrible and that if it was made into a series I would be willing to give it a try. If nothing else I kind of want to see Billy Zane haunting dreams as Ba'alzamon.
Edit: Harriet McDougal Rigney, Robert Jordan's wife and editor, released a statement about the show via Ta'Veren Tees.
"This morning brought startling news. A "pilot" for a Wheel of Time series, the "pilot" being called Winter Dragon, had appeared at 1:30 in the morning, East Coast time, on FXX TV, a channel somewhere in the 700s (founded to concentrate on comedy, according to the Washington Post).
It was made without my knowledge or cooperation. I never saw the script. No one associated with Bandersnatch Group, the successor-in-interest to James O. Rigney, was aware of this.
Bandersnatch has an existing contract with Universal Pictures that grants television rights to them until this Wednesday, February 11 – at which point these rights revert to Bandersnatch.
I see no mention of Universal in the "pilot". Nor, I repeat, was Bandersnatch, or Robert Jordan's estate, informed of this in any way.
I am dumbfounded by this occurrence, and am taking steps to prevent its reoccurrence."