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Six years before Prime Video’s record-breaking adaptation of The Wheel of Time premiered in 2021, there was a failed pilot episode called Winter Dragon that attempted to adapt the prologue to the first book, The Eye of the World. The Dragonmount prologue is notoriously known to be confusing for first-time readers of the series, and it is often said that fans should go back and reread to fully understand what happened. Prime Video’s adaptation skips this prologue altogether in the first season, likely leaving it to be adapted later after the overwhelming worldbuilding has a solid foundation for it to rest upon. Winter Dragon, however, did not. It is a nearly half-hour mess that stars Billy Zane and aired on television in the middle of the night, so no, this was never really meant to take off into a long-running epic series — but what went wrong?
What Is ‘Winter Dragon’?
Curiously starring Billy Zane as fan favorite Forsaken Ishamael and Max Ryan as Lews Therin Telamon, aka The Dragon, the most powerful channeler in the Age of Legends, the episode’s adaptation of the prologue is rocky at best. The pilot is too stretched out, and most of the jokes in the fandom revolve around how it mostly follows Lews Therin walking around yelling for his wife, Ilyena (Candice Neill), and looking for his children. Unfortunately, that is what most of this episode is, offering up nothing more than a few bits of world-building. Add to that this episode’s uninspired wardrobe and set design and it ends up feeling bland and unoriginal, two things The Wheel of Time is not. Zane’s campy performance as the taunting Ishamael can’t save this one, even with his constantly changing pronunciation of names. In the end, this episode commits the biggest sin of all: it’s just boring.
Winter Dragon ends with Ishamael telling Lews Therin Telamon that he has murdered his family and gone insane, and the show fades to black. In the book, after the same realization, Lews Therin Telamon draws too much of the One Power in a suicidal effort and creates Dragonmount, the mountain by the future home of the Aes Sedai, Tar Valon. Don’t get excited about any special effects here; all of this is just barely implied for book readers. The episode is even bookended with some truly terrible CGI of the Wheel turning, with a very oddly accented voiceover that just doesn’t fit. It’s not a good episode, but a popular fan edit by The Dusty Wheel, a Wheel of Time channel on YouTube, cuts the episode down to make it much more digestible. Once seen, and considering the middle of the night airtime, it starts to be understood that this was no attempt at creating an epic fantasy series. So why was it made?
The Failed ‘Wheel of Time’ TV Pilot Was a Matter of Rights
Red Eagle Entertainment, one of the production companies behind this pilot, found themselves in a predicament: they were about to lose the film and television distribution rights to The Wheel of Time. Their solution was to rush a low-budget production of a TV pilot to be aired at 1:30 ECT on FXX so they could keep the rights to Robert Jordan‘s book series. Red Eagle Entertainment was no stranger to Wheel of Time fans, as Jordan had notably spoken out about their unprofessional attitude toward adapting his source material, which caused him to be displeased while working with them. He even went as far as to say, “So they get no further help from me. Once they are completely out of the picture, we’ll see what happens.” Jordan never planned to work again with Red Eagle and instead intended to wait until their contract was up. Unfortunately, Jordan passed away in 2007, long before this Winter Dragon episode ever aired.
To make matters even worse, Harriet McDougal, Jordan’s widow and the editor of his novels, had no prior knowledge that the pilot was being made until after it aired. “I never saw the script. No one associated with Bandersnatch Group, the successor-in-interest to James O. Rigney, was aware of this,” she stated, and went on to say that she would be “taking steps to prevent its reoccurrence.” Red Eagle’s CEO Rick Selvage also made a comment suggesting that a show would be on its way shortly thereafter: “This video is a lead-in to a well-funded full series, with a tie into Red Eagle’s mobile games.” This, we would come to learn, was not so. Thankfully, after a legal battle, Rigney regained the rights, and it wouldn’t be until 2021 when a Wheel of Time series was finally completed, bringing in one of Prime Video’s highest viewerships ever. This new series, which is about to drop a second season with a third season already underway, is in no way connected to Winter Dragon — which is definitely for the best.
‘The Wheel of Time’s Look at the Age of Legends Is Way Better Than ‘Winter Dragon’
Winter Dragon is an unfortunate mark against the history of The Wheel of Time. If you are a new fan, don’t be swayed away from the current show or book series by this single episode; they are quite good. Prime Video’s adaptation may not be perfect, but it is leagues better than the disaster we got here, punctuated by its peek into the Age of Legends with the Season 1 finale’s cold open in a futuristic setting and a look at Lews Therin Telamon, played by Alexander Karim.
Helmed by showrunner and longtime book fan Rafe Judkins, The Wheel of Time has solidified itself into the fantasy TV space with a lot of potential in Season 1. By the looks of it, Season 2 is an even bigger step up — and this adaptation of The Wheel of Time has the stamp of approval from McDougal, who is a consulting producer (along with author Brandon Sanderson, who finished the last three volumes of the book series after Jordan’s passing). Winter Dragon may be one of the worst TV episodes of all time, but fans clamored for a big-budget Wheel of Time series befitting of Jordan’s epic books, and we got that in the end.
The Wheel of Time is currently streaming on Prime Video.