The Wheel of Time Directors on Shooting Darkfriend Gatherings, Trollocs, and a Certain Set of Arches

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the series being covered here wouldn’t exist.

The Prime Video adaptation of The Wheel of Time is in its second season, and the first three episodes are setting up the stakes for what’s in store for the characters in the episodes to come. The opening scene, which teases the infamous Darkfriend social from the books, has already been released by Prime Video.

Shooting that scene, which included several shots from a young girl’s point of view under a table, was no easy feat. “We did a recce, myself and the cameraman, underneath various tables to see how we were going to do it,” that episode’s director, Thomas Napper told me. “It was one of the more complicated things to achieve because, honestly, getting cameras and three guys underneath the table with a little girl with the legs all around—it was a bit of a jigsaw under there.”

I had the chance to talk with Napper, who directed the upcoming season’s first two episodes, and Sanaa Hamri, who directed the third and fourth in the lead-up to the second season premiere.

Read on for that discussion, but be warned! While we don’t spoil any major plot points, we discuss happenings shown in the trailer and other already-released promotional material for the second season of The Wheel of Time.

Credit: Jan Thijs/Prime Video

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

So Thomas, I’ll start with you. I know you directed the premiere episode of the season, and the first scene of that is the Darkfriend social. I would love to hear about what shooting that scene was like, including how you managed shooting the moments with the girl underneath the table, because I imagine there were some logistical challenges with that.

Thomas Napper: That’s funny, I saw it being called the Darkfriend social on Twitter yesterday, and someone asked if that was a title of one of the books they hadn’t read. [Laughs.] I think it’s a good name for the scene. That scene was quite a challenging one to begin with—we found this amazing little girl called Amy Sharp, who’s an eight year old girl from England, and she just fitted perfectly underneath the table.

We did a recce, myself and the cameraman, underneath various tables to see how we were going to do it, and it was one of the more complicated things to achieve because, honestly, getting cameras and three guys underneath the table with a little girl with the legs all around—it was a bit of a jigsaw under there. I think seriously though, the scene starts the episode off with a question about the Darkfriends and the Forsaken, and it brings to the front of the show a very real sense of the antagonists, and begins to describe those characters and drops some lovely eggs for who those characters may be.

You know, there’s a Black Ajah, there’s a Shienaran, and there’s a Tuatha’an mother and, in fact, the little girl is also a Darkfriend, so it’s a lovely Easter egg hunt for fans of the books. And we were very conscious of that. And it was also my only chance to get to work with Trollocs. So as a fan of the books—to finally get my hand on a Trolloc, I was quite excited to get to play with the Trollocs.

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Credit: Prime Video

And that Trolloc scene is the nicest we’ve ever seen a Trolloc be.

Napper: Pretty much. They’re covered it in goo—honestly, they’re really slimy, and there’s a lot of slime that goes into that look. But it was so much fun working with Nick Dudman, the head of makeup effects, who is a film legend. I mean, he has done everything, and he created those Trollocs and he allows us to build them, so we can find the right kind of assets that we want, and then he’ll form them and create the teeth and the mouth and watching him work, watching him build these characters, he’s unbelievable to work with and so generous and one of many great collaborators on the show.

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Credit: Jan Thijs/Prime Video

There’s a lot of work the show does in establishing different places, and in the second episode, we spent a lot of time in the White Tower. One thing that struck me was how labyrinthine the Tower is in terms of the hallways and corridors. What was it like shooting those scenes and making sure you captured the sense of place in the Tower while making sure you got what you needed from the actors?

Napper: Yes. It was a joy to work on that, just because Ondrej Nekvasil, the production designer, is again an incredibly gifted, very generous collaborator, and he had created the novices’ quarters for the arrival of Elayne Trakand, for Nynaeve, for Egwene. And so that whole set was new; the warders’ yard was a reinterpretation of the main power meeting room. And so there were lots of new elements to work within the White Tower. And also my favorite set, which is pretty unspectacular but one of my favorites, is the kitchen set. I really enjoyed working in that space as it was building the Tower from a different perspective. So not the power center, but the kitchen; not the Amyrlin Seat’s apartments but the novices’. And I think that, to me, is very much part of Robert Jordan’s detail in the writing, where you see things from different perspectives. It’s politically very expansive and the White Tower is built over many books into a whole universe. I really enjoyed being part of that and building this labyrinthine journey for Egwene at the beginning, where you see her go down and down and down, all the way down into the basement.

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Credit: Jan Thijs/Prime Video

And Sanaa, the third episode has a big fight scene with the Seanchan. For you, what was it like, first establishing that action scene and making sure all those components came together?

Sanaa Hamri: I will say that, especially in season two, we’re really focused on the journey of each character. And what I love about specifically within those scenes is we established very strongly the Seanchan and that culture, and that was really riveting for us because there was so many nuances to the wardrobe, to the hair, the makeup, all of that good stuff that supports the story.

There’s a lot of natural light that was used to make it feel like a visceral, dangerous moment. I would say that season two has a lot more action. It feels dangerous. We really follow these characters where they interact solo with new characters. And as you go through the entire season, you see that they really have to face fear itself, and it deals with one of Jordan’s themes of destiny versus free will. We don’t know what’s going to happen, but are we predestined to have a bad fate? Or can we make other choices? You’ll see that some of the characters have made great choices. And then as you’ve seen in episode three, there were some choices that led to some crazy events.

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Credit: Jan Thijs/Prime Video

We also know that Nynaeve goes through the arches. When you approached shooting those scenes, did you approach them differently given their otherworldliness?

Hamri: For Nynaeve, she has to face herself and fear itself in the arches. The first thing we did was work with our production designer and block out the scene where the arches go, because where the arches go in terms of position really would affect my camerawork.

From the beginning—when I read the scenes, and going through Nynaeve’s struggle, I wanted to feel like I was part of it. So there’s a lot of camera movement, and it’s almost like a dizzying effect because as she goes through the arches, and we reveal what each arch is, you’re transported into another world that has another type of camerawork, and lighting, and energy to it. So the approach was very mapped out. I wanted to make sure that it was not redundant, but fresh every time we came back out of an arch.

And Zoë Robins, who plays Nynaeve, was amazing. She has some very difficult emotional scenes because she had to face different fears in each arch, and from a filmmaker’s perspective, you want to really rehearse those intimately with your actors as well as create an environment on set that’s conducive to that. I had so many shots that went over the arch and roamed around and then landed, and those were all choreographed and designed to the dialogue. There was also a lot of thought put into it, even with the lighting; it was moody—they were down deep in the basement of the White Tower. It’s a different look, with earthy, warm, redder earth tones there. So it was quite a thing.

The first three episodes of The Wheel of Time are now streaming on Prime Video. New episodes become available every Friday.

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