GOT WOT? A series that can unseat the king of fantasy?
by DA Johnson
It was April 17th, 2011, when HBO debuted an epic- fantasy series based on George R. R. Martins books “A Song of Ice and Fire”, nobody was prepared for the impact that the series would have on the premium networks, cable TV, and the fantasy genre. Known as Game of Thrones, the epic story is nearing its end as the 7th of 8 seasons airs this July. Out of all the questions the series has posed over the past 6 years, now that it’s nearing its end, the biggest question of all is being asked: Is there anything out there that could make a better fantasy tv series? The answer is Yes.
Game of Thrones revolutionized the fantasy genre for TV in the same way Lord of the Rings revolutionized the fantasy genre for movies at the turn of the century. Prior to Lord of the Rings, fantasy movies were always low -budget productions that drew a limited crowd. It was rare to find a fantasy movie that wasn’t B grade and it was even more rare to find one that made Hollywood league money. Fantasy TV series were the same prior to Game of Thrones. Since their success, several studios and networks have tried to cash- in on the fantasy crowd. Most have been disastrous and few have made money, but nothing has come close.
The Game of Thrones, not only proved that fantasy done right can be a money maker for TV series, it also caused people to sign up for premium networks, simply to have access to the episodes as soon as they were released. It has become the King of Fantasy programming. With only two shortened seasons left, HBO has launched Westworld to keep its fan base and subscriber numbers up, so it’s doubtful they will continue in the fantasy genre. That doesn’t mean that another network may choose that route. Unseating Game of Thrones could bring a lot of subscribers to their network, but not every story will work.
Game of Thrones built its fan base by appealing to adults. Its unique combination of sex, violence, mystery and politcal sub-plots shunned the number one demographic of fantasy, young adults and teens. Many of the best fantasy novels out there don’t have the best combination of these characteristics. The elements of sex in the Game of Thrones always played a role in the developing of the story, not something that could be easily incorporated into a story that wasn’t written with it in mind. The Wheel of Time series, written by Robert Jordan, is the perfect series to unseat the Game of Thrones.
Over the past 17 years, there have been numerous attempts to make something happen with the Wheel of Time. There are two reasons why nobody has capitalized on its potential. First, a 14 book series was a large financial investment for a TV series. Up until the success of the Game of Thrones, the broadcast executives questioned whether or not it would be financially successful. The second reason is a history of complicated rights disputes. So far nothing has come from it, but it hasn’t been for the lack of interest.
The Wheel of Time series is much longer and larger than the Song of Ice and Fire. The series originally started in 1990 and was finally completed more than 20 years later in 2013. According to a French publishing company, the Wheel of Time is the second best -selling fantasy series of all time, coming in behind the Lord of the Rings. Its fan base is already of mature age and in its mid 30’s to 40’s, it is a demographic that is crucial to the success of premium programs.
The Wheel of Time Series follows a group of childhood friends from their discovery in a small farming village, to the achievement of their destiny. One boy in particular is the prophesied one who will both save and break the world. Each of his childhood friends also has a role to play, as their own fate is closely tied to the success of the hero. With more than 2000 unique characters written into the books, the creators could have lots of material to work with. In the fashion of Game of Thrones, there could be more than enough characters to win people’s hearts and then be killed. It also has all the political maneuvering, sex and violence that drew a more mature crowd to fantasy fandom.
Surprisingly, one of the largest demographics to show interest in Game of Thrones is political science majors. A recent study shows that they were second in numbers, only behind viewers that were both Lord of the Rings and Dungeon and Dragons fans. In Wheel of Time, as each country falls to the will of the hero, various subcultures plan to either overtake him, win his favor or control him. Behind, the eye of the hero, are numerous political subplots going on- even the opposing forces try to manipulate the hero through political means.
The Wheel of Time takes place covering many different lands and cultures. Some are conservative societies, in which women should be covered and out of harm’s way. Other societies, feature strong warrior women dressed in fine see-through silks. Introduction of tribal cultures that believe in polygamy and are free with nudity and intimacy, leave the door open for lots of the mature sex scenes that many people find an appealing reason as any to watch Game of Thrones. Similar to the Game of Thrones, it would be easy to work into the series, and still contribute to the overall plot.
The way, each of the cultures and sexes interact, is so vivid and believable that readers of the series find themselves hating some heroes as much as they like others. At the same time, readers find themselves loving the antagonists as much as they love the protagonists. If a director can capture each of these unique and beautiful interactions, there is no doubt that Wheel of Time can capture the fantasy throne.
The final aspect is the combat. The final showdown between the dark and the light covers more than 300 pages of the last book. Not only are the books scattered and littered with small skirmishes, they are also filled with epic battles larger on scale than the Lord of the Rings. However, the battles could also be the weakness of the series. One thing that successful fantasy movies and series have in common, is limiting the use of special effects when it comes to magic. This is something that is far more central to the storyline of Wheel of Time than it was to Song of Ice and Fire or Lord of the Rings. Any attempt, to make the Wheel of Time successful, will have to find a way to incorporate the magic used into a more acceptable display.
Recently Sony Pictures Television has announced they are producing a Wheel of Time series made for TV. Director Rafe Judkins has helped with the writing and directing of episodes for Netflix’s Hemlock Grove and Agents of Shield. His success with Hemlock Grove indicates he has what it takes to cater to the adult crowd. It hasn’t been announced what network it will be shown on, so we don’t know if it will be made for an adult crowd or if it will be made for a younger teen crowd. The story and directing talent are there, but you have to get it on an adult network. I don’t think it will unseat the King. Just because it can, doesn’t mean it will.