Prime Video’s series The Wheel of Time returns for season 2, bringing new magic, locations, and characters to its expansive fantasy world.

In season 1 Rand al’Thor learned he is The Dragon Reborn—a dangerous figure from history destined to save the world…or break it. In season 2, threats new and old seek out the young friends from the Two Rivers, now scattered over the world. With Moiraine cut off from the One Power by the Dark One, they must find other sources of strength. But will they seek out the Light… or the Dark?

Season 2 of Wheel of Time stars Rosamund Pike as Moiraine Damodred, Daniel Henney as Lan Mandragoran, Josha Stradowski as Rand al’Thor, Zoë Robins as Nynaeve al’Meara, Madeleine Madden as Egwene al’Vere, Marcus Rutherford as Perrin Aybara, Dónal Finn as Mat Cauthon, and Ceara Coveney as Elayne Trakand, among others.

The following review is based on the first four episodes of season 2 provided to critics.

An excellent expansion of the world of Wheel of Time

By far the best part of season 2 of The Wheel of Time is the expansion of the world. With our key characters separated and flung out across different places, we get to visit a lot of new locations. 

Atmospherically, Wheel of Time really shines as a fantasy series. The set design, unique costuming, and makeup/hair/prosthetics all work in tandem to bring Robert Jordan’s fantasy world to life. You really do feel immersed in this world, and because of that, the settings and characters feel much more real. I definitely think there’s some award-worthy aesthetics going on here.

Bringing on the battles (for better and for worse)

In addition to exploring new parts of the world, season 2 of The Wheel of Time also seems to increase its number of fights and battles. This brings some interesting stunt and fight choreography to the table. Plus, we get to see more on the fantasy action side, with the One Power being used in new and exciting ways. As our main characters explore their different strengths – through both traditional fighting and channeling the One Power – we get to see what people with different skill levels, backgrounds, and personalities bring to a fight. It makes for some nice action setpieces, and hopefully some of these moments will pay off in a future big battle.

Unfortunately, on the flip side, it does sometimes feel like Wheel of Time launches into a fight scene just for the hell of it. Like it’s self-aware enough to realize the story needs something interesting to happen, but doesn’t have a good reason to make people break out their swords. The moments flash by briefly and without lingering implications for the characters or story. With episodes running over an hour long, I definitely feel like things could have been done to hone these stories more to get to the good stuff.

The story starts and stumbles in season 2

Like the Wheel’s own blend of light and dark, season 2 of The Wheel of Time brings both good and bad developments in story and character. On the plus side, the separating the Two Rivers gang finally makes them feel like more distinct, individualized characters; instead of figuring out which of them is the Chosen One, we now get to see Rand, Egwene, Perrin, Mat, and Nynaeve explore their individual powers, strength, and place in the world.

Of course, some of these character journeys are more compelling than others (at least in this first half of the season). Nynaeve gets to explore her powers and relationship to the Aes Sedai in a compelling way, and Perrin draws closer to figuring out his unique powers. Personally, I’m a bit annoyed with Rand, just because I find the “abandoning your friends and family for pseudo-noble reasons” a very frustrating plot device in any media. (Your powers make you too unstable and dangerous to be around your friends, but not too unstable and dangerous to live in some random village? Ok, Rand.)

The Wheel of Time also suffers a bit from a classic case of an over-hyped Big Bad. The season attempts to show the Dark One’s influence on the world as he gathers his followers together, presumably to rally them for the ultimate “good vs. evil” showdown. But we’re told several times in both season 1 and season 2 that even the Aes Sedai’s magic is basically a parlor trick compared to the Dark One’s power. (Besides, in the season 1 finale, he severs Moiraine’s connection to the One Power like it’s nothing.) If the Dark One is already that powerful, why bother wasting time building armies and playing mind games?

And of course, there’s the usual high-fantasy series struggle of… well, being a fantasy series. For Wheel of Time, the expansive world means a lot of dense material, very bloated episode runtimes, and a simultaneous problem of over-explaining some things while under-explaining others. (The repetitive, circular instructions when Nynaeve entered the Arches vs. me Googling to try to figure out what’s going on with the Seanchan and channeling the One Power…) It also feels like the series wants to dive more into the political landscape of the world. However, it never really creates the sort of intrigue found in a show like Game of Thrones

Overall, the first half season 2 of The Wheel of Time comes across as a series of starts and stumbles. There’s great potential in this world and these characters, but it’s still struggling to streamline a path forward. Hopefully, the back half will find a way to embrace the light and shake off the darkness.

The Wheel of Time premieres on Prime Video September 1 with three episodes. Afterwards, new episodes will air weekly.