Casting The Wheel of Time: Your Auntie Leigh Has an Opinion On It

What ho, Tor.com! What news hath ye? WOT casting news, what? Whoa.

Indeed, O my Peeps, as you most likely have heard even if, like me, you’re obstinately allergic to social media and facesnapping your twitgrams or whatever the e-fants are calling it these days (yeah, you saw that, I’m hip to the lingo), the ever-more-really-happening Wheel of Time TV series has revealed some key casting choices, and the WOT section of the fandom world is het up about it.

And, as someone with, shall we say, a BIT of experience being het up about WOT things, my input was requested. And here we are. Don’t say I never did nothing nice for ya. Click on for my hot takes, y’all!

So, what can we determine from perusing the casting choices presented to us by showrunner Rafe Judkins and his merry band of beings?

Well, I’ll be straight up and say that other than Rosamund Pike (whose casting as Moiraine was revealed back in June, and who will be a bomb-ass Moiraine in my opinion), I have never heard of any of these actors, or seen any of the (relatively scant) projects they have previously been in. And while I am hardly a barometer of whether someone is Known or not, especially these days, nevertheless I feel it is safe to say that these actors fall firmly in the category of Relatively Unknown (So Far).

And that’s pretty awesome, in my book.

Yes, I had a great deal of fun imagining my fave actors in various WOT roles in my epic casting post back in, oh God, 2016, as we have always as a fandom had fun doing since time immemorial, since before the Internet had trolls. (This is a lie. The Internet has never not had trolls, they’re like those eyebrow mites you get ten seconds after you’re born, ew.) But as I later acknowledged: “But honestly, the SuperYoots should all be played by unknowns anyway, who are actually teenagers, whose careers will hopefully be launched thereby.”

And I stand by that, really—or, as it turns out, I stand by unknowns who are twenty-somethings who can convincingly play teenagers, which is generally what you get on TV anyway for multiple reasons (not the least of which is being able to avoid dealing with child labor laws and, like, acne, probably). I’m going to haughtily ignore the fact that even so, most of these actors were not even born when many of us were first arguing over who would best play Rand, Perrin, Egwene, Mat, Nynaeve and all the rest. WHAT I CAN’T HEAR YOU YOU’LL HAVE TO SPEAK UP SONNY.

The other thing we can determine from these casting choices is that Rafe et al. were a lot bolder and more forward-looking than I was when I did my pretend casting picks. As you may recall from my 2016 post, one of the dilemmas I ran into was that since I had more or less limited myself to casting the first book, The Eye of the World, my casting turned out to be a lot more lily-white than I was particularly comfortable with. My reasoning in defense of that was that TEOTW was, in true Lord of the Rings homage style, very much set in either the Hobbitesque bucolic English-y countryside of the Two Rivers, or the extremely Arthuriana-laden, Camelot-with-the-serial-numbers-filed-off city of Caemlyn, and later on the series moved on into much more non-European-inspired nations and got very diverse indeed, so the whiteness of my TEOTW-only cast was okay.

Except that apparently Rafe & Co. were like, fuck that, and reasoned instead that if indeed Randland was the Third Age post-apocalyptic agrarian remnant of an extremely cosmopolitan and advanced Second Age (which it was), there was absolutely no reason to think that cities like Manetheren (the Two Rivers’ ancestral forebear) wouldn’t be just as culturally and ethnically diverse as London or New York or Dubai or any major city in the world today, and that this diversity would perforce be passed down to their descendants, no matter how isolated from the rest of the world they ended up becoming.

In retrospect, it makes perfect sense to me, and I now think it is my unwittingly narrow view of it that was in the wrong.

And look, I’ll be frank—even if it didn’t make sense in-universe to have the Superboys and Supergirls be an ethnically diverse bunch, I’d still applaud the decision to make them so anyway. Representation is a real and needed thing, and I have long since tired of the idea that fantasy and sci-fiction settings are reserved for white people, no matter how European that setting’s origin may be. And that’s not just for social justice reasons, it’s because that’s boring. We in SF are supposed to be looking for the different, the new, the forward-thinking; we are meant to be the quintessential think-outside-the-boxers. We’re supposed to be the ones who think of things we never thunk before, and yet we can’t picture the Two Rivers having people of color in it? Pfft. Y’all, I am the whitest white woman who ever whited; if I can think of it, if I can love it, so can you, I promise.

In other words, in case it wasn’t clear, do not come crying to me about Nynaeve not being white, because I am not interested in your racist gate-keeping exclusionary bullshit. Nynaeve can be Nynaeve whether she tugs on one French braid or a beautiful coif of goddess braids, and that is a fact. So There.

The infinitely more relevant (and much less answerable) question, then, is not what skin tone our casted actors possess, but whether they can play the parts they’ve been put up for. And that is something that really only time can tell.

Nevertheless, some individual reactions!

 

YouTube was not very helpful in providing me much footage of Dutch actor Josha Stradowski, but if his acting chops are as sharp as his cheekbones we will be in very good shape for Rand al’Thor. I love his look, and am very interested to see how he will portray our central tortured Messiah figger.

 

I haven’t seen Obey, but if the trailer for it is any indicator, Marcus Rutherford’s ability to play a stoic strongman dealing with a world gone mad is solid gold. I think he’ll make a great Perrin.

 

I am… a little more on the fence about Barney Harris as Mat, and Googling him is definitely hindered by the fact that Neil Patrick Harris is famous for playing a character named Barney. But honestly, Mat is one of my (if not the) most favorite characters in all of WOT, so it’s pretty much a guarantee that I would have been skeptical no matter who they cast. We shall see (she says, one eyebrow raised).

 

Zoë Robins is apparently most known for playing a Power Ranger, but I tend to dismiss this as any indication of acting ability, because I firmly believe that at least half of all great acting depends on having great writing to work with, and the Power Rangers oeuvre is… er, not known for that. So, she is a (lovely) blank slate as far as I am concerned. I look forward, hopefully, to seeing what she can do when she’s got dialogue and a character worth the acting to work with.

 

I am especially intrigued by the casting of Madeleine Madden to play Egwene. While she is not necessarily anything like what I had pictured of Egwene in my head, this clip of her I found from 2018’s Picnic at Hanging Rock certainly gives me promise for her acting ability, and additionally confirms that she’s got the “enormous beautiful eyes” market cornered, and that’s something I rather always liked for Egwene. I like the idea of Egwene being a girl who looks so soft and vulnerable and yet turns out to be made of pure steel underneath, and I feel like (based on admittedly very little evidence) that Madden is up to the task.

 

All in all, I profess myself, in all honesty, very satisfied indeed with the casting choices the WOT TV folk have made thus far, and look forward to see what they come up with in future. If they are as innovative with the rest of the series as they have been with their casting, I think we might actually be in for a treat once this finally comes to fruition. Fingers most definitely crossed, y’all. More As It Develops.

Leigh Butler is a writer, blogger and critic, who feels that humor, weirding of language, and the occasional application of head to desk is the best way to examine the impact of sociocultural issues on popular SF works (and vice versa). She has been a regular columnist for Tor.com since 2009, with multiple series to her name: The Wheel of Time Reread, A Read of Ice and Fire, the Movie Rewatch of Great Nostalgia, and now the Reread of the Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons. Leigh lives in New Orleans, and therefore advises alla y’all to let your good times roll.

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