The Wheel of Time is difficult to define, but in simplified terms the story follows a cycle of history that repeats: one in which a hero called the Dragon is reborn into each turn of the wheel to defeat the Shadow. But the light the Dragon Reborn brings is earned through much hardship, and the only guiding force through this peace by the sword are the Aes Sedai, the women who harness elemental forces and use their magic to influence the pattern of the prophecy as it unfolds.
So while The Wheel of Time is not exactly about the Aes Sedai, the hero’s journey would be impossible without them. “In our world, they function very much like the Catholic Church might have in medieval Europe,” showrunner Rafe Judkins says. “They are not the presidents of countries or the queens of countries, but they are the people who sit at the center of political power in the world and pull the strings of the world from the White Tower, the place where the Aes Sedai are based.”
While headliner Rosamund Pike plays a key Aes Sedai influencer in the lives of The Wheel of Time’s potential group of heroes, she is by no means the only one of her kind. “The thing I love in the books is that there are so many named Aes Sedai — there’s a crazy amount of them!” says Judkins. “But every time you meet one of them, they have their own agenda, their own set of contacts, their own goal that they’re working toward, and how they work towards goals is different.”
Even on set, anyone playing an Aes Sedai was put on a pedestal. “They are as revered in the world of production of The Wheel of Time as they are in The Wheel of Time itself in terms of how we approach them — even the extras — from casting to costuming to makeup to how they’re shot and covered in the show,” Judkins says. “There’s a reverence that is always given to the Aes Sedai that will hopefully translate to the viewer, and that they get the same feeling you have in the books when an Aes Sedai walks into the scene: she’s the most powerful person in the room, and everyone is orienting themselves to her.”
Part of an Aes Sedai’s strength comes from the ability to call on the elements to control confrontations and intimidate enemies, and Pike had to exude that power beyond just the visual effects of magic in The Wheel of Time. “When Moiraine is channeling, which is the first channeling that we shot for the show, we didn’t just send it off to VFX and be like, ‘Give us a simple light show,’” says Judkins. “It was starting with Rosamund and a movement coach… who has helped create the channeling look for the show.”
The Wheel of Time takes great care to pull its interpretation of magic directly from the source material. “We went through everything in the books, and passages were pulled out discussing what it feels like to embrace the Source,” Judkins says. “I basically told [Rosamund Pike], ‘I want to look in your eyes and believe that you are moving the elemental forces of the planet with your power, so you need to believe it; you need to feel it!’ So she designed what she felt would let her tap into that, and then we bring VFX and lighting into it.”
There are even different magical disciplines within the Aes Sedai indicated by the color worn by their group, called an “ajah,” which Judkins admits was a delicate concept to interpret. “The risk is that they look like Power Rangers, and what we’d like to achieve is that this is something that you’d want to dress up for for Comic-Con,” he says. “Everyone, I think, should be taking a quiz when the show comes out of ‘Which ajah are you?’ online and keeping those distinctions alive between the ajahs.”
But Judkins wants to reassure fans that Moiraine’s blue ajah focused on justice and the healers of the yellow ajah such as Nynaeve will be well-represented. “Even though we don’t meet a lot of them necessarily in the first season, the degree of detail that has been given to their costuming and the casting of the roles and everything for each of those groups to make the ajahs distinct has been almost excessive to make sure that they feel right,” says Judkins. “But yeah, they wear their colors.”
The Aes Sedai provide the flash in the foreground and the influence in the background of The Wheel of Time, giving the tale its own flavor despite the inevitable comparisons to The Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones. The cycles of history that give The Wheel of Time its name is determined by an ever-repeating Pattern, as it’s called, and it’s the Aes Sedai, both with their channeling and with their intelligent manipulation, who pull on the threads of the tapestry.
The Wheel of Time premieres on Amazon Prime Video November 19, 2021.