The detail and extravagance of The Wheel of Time world isn't shocking, as such reports suggest $10 million was spent on each episode. "There’s an implicit understanding that everything will be better if it’s real, real and huge, if an entire fictional village actually exists and then is actually burned down," says Kathryn VanArendonk. "And I get it! I love practical effects as much as the next person, love the specific detailing of carefully constructed costumes and the feeling that everyone really is out there in the woods, running around in the mist for a big battle scene. I can’t argue that it’s not cool to build an entire village and then actually burn it all down, much cooler than it would be to burn a couple houses, or even simpler, to watch the flickering of an offscreen burning village get reflected in two character’s shocked faces. Except that Wheel of Time also feels hollow, especially in the department of character development and well-defined stakes. It’s hard to stop thinking about how gorgeous it all looks, because there is so little else to really hang onto: Too often, it substitutes physically building a world for narrative world-building. The characters are mostly figurines getting placed in various beautiful dioramas, with little sense of what differentiates this particular Fantasy World Forest from any other franchise’s Fantasy World Forest, what makes this Probable Chosen One distinct from every other wide-eyed, pale-skinned, sweet-looking young man who loves his friends and will try to live up to this great burden. Painstaking production of beautiful set pieces become counterintuitively distracting. The backgrounds are too real; their fictionality is oddly absent. Yes, yes, I know, there’s a metric ton of narrative world-building in the books, and Wheel of Time is trying to cram all of that into these opening episodes. In many cases, the series does a yeoman’s job of collapsing pages and pages of backstory, like condensing buckets of material about the Aes Sedai and how they came to be and why they have different colors and etc. etc. into more clipped, economical dialogue. Still, all of it feels simultaneously overexplained and undermotivated, more like flipping through a giant behind-the-scenes coffee-table book than watching a story play out. It’s why Wheel of Time has been underwhelming so far."