There are a lot of beastly creatures in The Wheel of Time. Fans of Robert Jordan’s high fantasy novel series (credit also to Brandon Sanderson, who co-wrote the final three) will know all about the Shadowspawn, the fantastical evil servants of the Dark One. All newcomers need to know right now is that the Dark One is a “primordial, sentient, cosmic force of evil in the universe”. That’s according to the description on Fandom’s The Wheel of Time community.
The series follows the powerful Moiraine, played in the Prime Video series by Rosamund Pike, who assembles a group of five young people and embarks on a journey – believing that one of them is the Dragon Reborn, a prophesied chosen one meant to save the world (or destroy it).
On their journey, they’ll meet different incarnations of Shadowspawn and other creatures hellbent on standing in their way. If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ll have caught a glimpse of Trollocs, fearsome creatures with the body of a man and the head and feet of an animal. There are more Trollocs than any other kind of Shadowspawn, and it’s these that top actor Daniel Henney’s list of favourite creatures. We’re chatting to the cast, showrunner, and executive producers of The Wheel of Time ahead of the premiere on Prime Video about bringing the story’s creatures to life.
Trolloc Love… and Fear
“I spent so much time working with them and I got to see the costume and makeup and everything from beginning to end,” says Henney, who plays uncrowned king of Malkier, and Warder, or bodyguard, to Moiraine, al’Lan Mandragoran (Lan, for short), in the show. “Reading the books and the first scripts of our show, just being so frightened by how they came across… I had so much anticipation as to what they would be like in the show, and I’m very satisfied. I think they look great.”
The series as much as possible leans into practical effects and so the Trollocs you see on screen are all actors and stunt performers in makeup and costume.
“They’re on stilts because we’re trying to be as practical as possible and use real effects,” continues Henney. “So, sometimes in the middle of the fight, they’ll just fall over. And then I’ll have to stop while the camera’s rolling and help them up, and then slice them back down. Which seems counterintuitive. There were some really humorous moments because they’re really heavy costumes with full helmets and everything. They’re fantastic.”
Henney’s costar, Rosamund Pike, who plays Moiraine, laughs. “You have these lines going out — you hear the first AD going through the radio, ‘Do they have their heads on? Okay, do we see feet?’”
Practical Effects + Visual Wizardry = Maximum Impact
“On screen, they look even better than in real life,” says Rand al’Thor actor Joshua Stradowski as he explains that the Trollocs are enhanced with computer graphics, as the series merges the best of both worlds. “As an actor, you still get that fear because they are still really big and huge. I remember the scene with Tam and Rand — that was the first time we were introduced to the Trolloc. I think the take they used was actually the first real shock that we felt when that Trolloc bursts in through the door!”
Executive Producer Mike Weber admits to being a diehard Trolloc fan himself.
“The Trollocs were the most fun to see come to life. Just from the initial sculpting of them to the fur treatments, to the incredible craftsmanship that went into making these suits, and the height given to the actor. I mean, that to me was my geek-out moment in production.”
“Sadly, they weren’t too scary. They weren’t scary enough.” — Egwene actor Madeleine Madden
And there’s a lot of variety within the Trollocs themselves, never mind the saga’s other Shadowspawn.
“There are all sorts of different kinds of Trolloc,” explains Weber. “I think the fans will be really, really happy to see how much variety and how much detail was put into them. The Trollocs aren’t all just exactly the same like the orcs [from The Lord of the Rings] were, for example. You’ve got different facial things, different physicality, different everything. I think the attention paid to that variety of Trolloc monster… people will be very happy. Boars, birds… not all running the same way.”
Little Piggy Noses
Madeleine Madden who plays Egwene in the series offers a funny Trolloc anecdote.
“When we first saw the Trollocs all lined up, the amazing prosthetics [were breathtaking]. And we had stuntmen in stilts; they looked sensational,” she says. “And our wonderful director of Episode One and Two, Uta [Briesewitz, whose list of credits includes Stranger Things, Westworld, Jessica Jones, and more], was going along and picking which ones we would use in some of the battle scenes and on set. And I just remember down at the end of the line, there were these two little, small Trollocs. They looked so cute. They didn’t get the stilts so they weren’t eight feet tall like the rest of them. They had these little piggy noses and a little tuft of fur on the top. And they just looked so cute, and they didn’t get picked. Sadly, they weren’t too scary. They weren’t scary enough.”
Madeleine describes Egwene as “independent, ambitious, determined, and eager.” She’s a character who Madeleine feels is “how a lot of women are in this in this day and age; yearning for something great and wanting to make a difference in the world.”
There’s almost a reversal of traditional roles in The Wheel of Time, in terms of how we see men and women represented on screen – particularly perhaps when it comes to the fantasy genre. Women in The Wheel of Time appear to inhabit positions that are usually reserved for men – they’re independent, in control, confident, and assertive while men characters seem slightly disempowered. It’s a subtle shift, and all the more welcome and powerful for it. It also allows room for complexity and even monstrosity — more on which, later.
Zoë Robbins who plays Nynaeve embraces the flaws of her character.
“What I really love about Nynaeve is just how flawed she is: she’s so not one-dimensional. I feel like there’s a lot of fans who originally did not like Nynaeve at all when they first read [the books]. It takes a while to actually understand her, and the reasonings [as to] why she is the way she is, and her motivation. So I find her incredibly interesting and fleshed out and complex.”
Fazed by the Fade
It feels like it would take a lot to genuinely shake either Egwene or Nynaeve. Taking Trolloc encounters in their stride, which monsters in the universe do Robbins and Madden find the most frightening? They both agree on one.
“I think that the Fade is terrifying,” says Robbins. “We saw the Fade walking around the studios and it didn’t look as ghastly as it does on screen. So that’s definitely [the one] for me.”
Fade is just one name given to the eyeless creatures known as Myrddraal in the books. Executive Producer Marigo Kehoe credits the visual effects for upping the scare factor.
“They’re a wonderful mix… you believe them because they’re real people,” she says. “Plus, we’ve got digital effects enhancements, and they’re very scary. I actually love the Fade, I think he’s incredibly scary. The way that he’s got amazing lips and, you know, teeth. He is very scary!”
How the Fades and Trollocs Were Created
Showrunner Rafe Judkins says his favourite creatures are yet to be seen in the series, “but the Trollocs and the Fades that we see are something we spent unlimited time on.”
He says it was important to build into the first few episodes everything that we know is coming for them later in the books.
“We’re not beholden to the books in terms of hitting every single thing that’s in there.” — Showrunner Rafe Judkins
“We always are inspired by the books,” says Judkins. “I have a researcher on the show who’s read all of the books 30 times and every character set or costume that gets designed starts with quotes from the books. We sent to a bunch of concept artists all the quotes from the books about these creatures — how they are, how they behave, everything about them — and then let those concept artists be inspired to create what they create. So, we’re not beholden to the books in terms of hitting every single thing that’s in there. But we always try to use them as much as we can as a source of inspiration for what these creatures are and how to make them feel special.”
Judkins adds that they have plans to include as many of the creatures as possible from the books. “We hopefully will be going on for seasons and seasons and can bring more of them to life. There’s a couple that we left out that are in the early books that won’t be in this first season. But my hope is that we will be able to get to them down the road. I don’t want to leave out any of that.”
News that will thrill fans. He might not tell us which creature is his favourite but he does agree that the Fades are the most terrifying.
“Until it gave me the same chills that I had reading the books, I felt like it was [not] done.” — Rafe Judkins
“I have always found the Fades to be horrifying,” he reveals. “They were always the one reading the books that haunted my nightmares. And so until that one — and that one we worked on a lot, actually, in post — until it gave me the same chills that I had reading the books like I felt like it was [not] done.”
Grolm and Draghkar
The Fade is Rosamund Pike’s favourite Shadowspawn – though not necessarily the creature she finds scariest.
“I think there’s something very haunting to me about something whose senses are so advanced because they have no eyes,” she explains. “I think anything that sort of disturbs the human anatomy that we know is always very uncanny. A bit like the alien in Alien when you can’t sort of locate the brain in it or you can’t locate something that you recognize. The eyelessness of the Fade with that sharp, feminine mouth… I find it really, really frightening and uncomfortable.”
Marcus Rutherford who plays Perrin agrees. “I think the Fade is quite cool. That open-mouth scream, I think that’s something that when you read it in the books is particularly scary. And just the thought of that no face kind of man was pretty creepy.”
As for most frightening, Pike lists Grolm (gray-green creatures the size of a large bear with frog-like skin and three eyes) and Draghkar (soul-sucking, pale-skinned, large-eyed, man-like winged creatures) as contenders.
Rutherford adds, “Yes, the big bear frog thing! When you read it, you’re like ‘Huh?’ but they’re quite scary and quite creepy. I heard rumors that they might be using them. If they came into the show, it’d be pretty epic.”
Terror Beyond the Creatures
“The scouts [too],” says Pike. “The fact that the Dark One in the books has all these scouts, even rats in the villages, and the ravens. I think there are lots. Robert Jordan’s imagination is boundless. And of course there are terrifying humans in the books, too. I think that’s the other thing to remember. Monstrosity doesn’t just come from monsters in these books.”
It’s all the stuff of nightmares, frankly. Marigo Kehoe agrees.
“There are so many of the real people that are quite scary,” she says. “The Seanchan, you’ve got to get into them, and Lady Suroth and Turak, and all of those people, and actually, Selene. But quite apart from the actual creatures themselves, there are the real people and how terrifying they are.”
“To me, [the Forsaken] are the most fascinating characters in the books. They represent the evillest of all of our evil characters. So I think when you see the Forsaken represented, you’re going to be very happy.” — Executive Producer, Mike Weber
Selene, who Kehoe mentions, is one of the thirteen Forsaken in the novels – powerful antagonists in the story. The lore around them is deep, and Kehoe is looking forward most to seeing these characters brought to life in the show further down the road. As is Mike Weber, who says, “To me, [they] are the most fascinating characters in the books. They represent the evillest of all of our evil characters. So I think when you see the Forsaken represented, you’re going to be very happy.”
If you love evil, that is. Could we ever see the Jumara – a gigantic worm-like creature — somewhere along the line?
Joshua Stradowski thinks maybe: “Benedict Cumberbatch played a dragon [in The Hobbit] … all the movement came from him and also the voice”, but Rosamund Pike is not so sure.
“I think there are things that will be too expensive to bring to life,” she says. “They’re huge builds, these creatures, in the way that we want to do them… and I think one thing that people will appreciate about the Trollocs is that they’re clearly not CGI. There’s some enhancement, but there’s something lived and embodied about them. We all know what computer graphics look like and we know when something is living and breathing. And I think any creature that we can’t do that with probably won’t appear in the show. That’s my heart.”
Jumara or not, there are plenty of remarkable creatures we will get to see if the series runs its full course. Bring on the Gholam…
The first three episodes of The Wheel of Time will be available on Prime Video on Friday, November 19.
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