While it will undoubtedly go down in history as the worst ending for a TV series since Lost, Game of Thrones’ conclusion in 2019 did nonetheless leave a massive void for viewers around the world, many of whom – thanks to the show – were craving their next epic fantasy fix. We shared our thoughts on the shows angling to fill that void and correctly predicted The Witcher’s breakout success. The show broke Netflix records, spawned countless memes, and even bolstered sales of CD Projekt Red’s The Witcher video games.
However, for all its popularity, we at Nerdgasm found the series rather disappointing, and while it was the biggest smash hit of the year (next to Jon Favreau’s The Mandalorian) the show did not quite live up to its ambitions of being the next Game of Thrones. It was simply not as ubiquitous nor as controversial as HBO’s quasi-medieval fantasy saga. Regardless, it was a huge success for Netflix, and production is already underway for season 2 with a release date slated for 2021. But while The Witcher basks in its victory as the current king of the fantasy TV hill, another competitor is quietly preparing to make their own bid for the throne.
The biggest fantasy saga you’ve never heard of
Imagine a story based in a world that is simultaneously the future and the past of our current world, while sourcing inspiration from Christian allegory, Eastern mysticism, Tolkien-esque high fantasy, and even Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Written by the late Robert Jordan and first published in 1990, The Wheel of Time is a sprawling, 15 book fantasy epic renowned for its massive cast and vividly imagined setting. Though virtually unknown outside of fantasy literature circles, within the high fantasy subgenre the saga is surpassed only by JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice & Fire (the novels adapted into the Game of Thrones TV series) in terms of sales, with over 80 million copies sold.
The story revolves around a quest to uncover the true identity of the Dragon Reborn, a prophesized hero destined to vanquish the forces of evil in a cyclical apocalypse. In 2018, fantasy nerds everywhere rejoiced as Amazon Studios announced that they had purchased the rights to the property, with the intent of developing a big-budget TV adaptation of the insanely popular franchise. Here are some reasons we believe that Wheel of Time will unseat The Witcher as the biggest fantasy TV series out there.
Simpler and (arguably) a better story
With its convoluted, non-linear plotline, The Witcher often proved a frustrating watch for many. Its storyline, compiled from several different short stories from Andrzej Sapkowski’s books, often felt disjointed and haphazard. While The Wheel of Time, with its record-breaking 4,410,036 word count, is certainly massive in its scope, the story itself is fairly linear and easy to follow. In fact, for the most part, Jordan employed a very simplistic style of writing that made the books easy to follow even as the cast and plot threads grew exponentially. Not only should this make for a viewing experience that’s considerably easier to digest, but newcomers are also likely to find themselves hooked in no time.
Appealing to a larger audience
If there was one thing The Witcher had in common with Game of Thrones, it would be an affinity for full-frontal nudity, profanity-laden dialogue, and unmitigated, R-rated violence. Needless to say, both shows made for decidedly mature viewing. By contrast, The Wheel of Time is far more family-friendly. Hell, the most commonly used curse-word in the books is “light”, and the characters rarely so much as a kiss. And while this may put off some viewers hoping for the gritty realism and adult themes of Game of Thrones, it could potentially open doors to a much larger audience.
The magic system is something to see
For all its flaws, one of the best things about The Witcher TV series (aside from the brooding Cavill and sensual Yennefer) was the unique – and often terrifying – magic system. All magic in the world of The Witcher is drawn from Chaos, which is in itself a bit of a red flag, and it’s established early on in the show that using it can come with dire consequences. In the gripping season finale, we watched in horror as kamikaze sorcerers were lined up to quite literally magic themselves to death. In the world of Wheel of Time, the magic system (known as channeling) is just as fascinating, and at least as complex, with implications depending on skill level, elements, and even gender. To go further would mean delving into spoiler territory, but viewers of the show can expect the most elaborate and intricately detailed magic system since Harry Potter.
Amazon’s deep pockets
Finally, epic fantasy isn’t cheap. All those pitched battles, exotic locations, and CGI dragons are known to take quite a toll on the budget. By the time the credits rolled on the shockingly disappointing season finale, Game of Thrones’ budget had swelled to a staggering S100 million (almost R 2 billion) per season. Netflix’s investment in The Witcher was nothing to scoff at either. At an estimated $80 million, it was the studio’s biggest gamble since the epic $200 million flop that was Marco Polo. But all of this pales in comparison to the kind of money that Bezos and co have thrown into the mix. The budget for The Wheel of Time TV series may not be revealed, but if Amazon’s $1 billion splurges on the upcoming Lord of the Rings TV series is anything to go by, we can be certain that they will spare no expense to ensure that it’s the most epic thing that viewers have seen thus far.