The Wheel of Time brought Daniel Henney and their animated Origins series to the first day of SDCC 2022 in order to debut two shorts all about Lan. They also used the opportunity to announce The Wheel of Time season 3. Read on for all the details.
When the San Diego Comic-Con 2022 schedule first began trickling out, I scoured the blogs hoping for some big coverage of season 2 of The Wheel of Time. I was a bit sad that there wasn’t a season 2 panel, given that filming has wrapped, but I was excited to find a panel featuring the creative team behind the show’s animated companion series The Wheel of Time: Origins.
In Prime Video’s Origins shorts, each episode explores a different aspect of the history and lore of The Wheel of Time universe. A few days before SDCC, it was announced that, in addition to Wheel of Time writer Rammy Park and EPs Mike Weber and Craig Muller, showrunner Rafe Judkins and Daniel Henney, the actor portraying Lan Mandragoran, would also be appearing on the Origins panel. I was overjoyed but a bit confused about why Henney might be joining, as Lan had not been featured in any of the The Wheel of Time: Origins shorts, which were, to the best of my knowledge, complete.
Anyone who has read my coverage of The Wheel of Time knows that Lan has been a favorite fictional character of mine for 30 years and the way the creative team and Daniel Henney have brought him to life has exceeded my expectations, so I was thrilled to be presented with an unexpected opportunity to hear his thoughts on Lan, even though this whole experience, in retrospect, was a testament to my lack of imagination in terms of considering why he might be there.
‘The Wheel of Time’ at SDCC 2022
When the panel began, the moderator (Amy Ratcliffe of Nerdist) came out and immediately informed the room of a special treat for the attendees — a screening of two new Origins shorts for season 1, as of yet unavailable on Prime Video. The lights went down and the first short began. When the title of the episode, “Malkier,” appeared on the screen, the audience erupted in cheers and applause. Clearly, most fans in the room were as excited as I was to see more of Lan’s history brought to life.
For the next 9 minutes I was in heaven. I have enjoyed all the Origins stories. Each one has brought to life a different, interesting aspect of the world that has helped to compliment the main series. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t say that these two episodes were my favorite so far.
Lan’s tragic backstory has been embedded in my psyche for a long time, so to see it brought to life, especially in the context of how Daniel Henney has brought Lan to life, was an emotional experience. In the main series, viewers learn about Lan’s backstory as a Malkier prince in episode 7 when Nynaeve follows him to a home in Fal Dara where he (and eventually she) have dinner with a Malkier family who treat Lan like a son coming home for a visit. Lan tells Nyneave an abbreviated version of his history when she presses him on his close relationship with this family.
The two shorts give some context to Lan’s story with beautifully rendered scenes of the fall of Malkier and of Lan’s parents, al’Akir and el’Leanna Mandragoran, entrusting baby Lan to al’Akir’s best swordsman, Bukama, who flees the city to protect and raise Malkier’s future king.
The great thing about meeting Lan’s parents in animated form is that the artists were able to take Daniel Henney and imagine what his ideal parents would look like. In an unsurprising turn of events, they are both total babes.
We then flash forward to Lan as a young man, returning to the ruins of Malkier with Bukama and saying, “It feels right to be home.” Even though it shouldn’t have been a surprise, the joy I felt at seeing this animated version of Lan, looking so much like Daniel Henney, and voiced by him, was electric. I’m sure if someone had filmed me watching the clips, you would have been able to see the animated hearts floating around my head. Clearly, when considering why they might have invited Henney to the panel, I was not thinking big enough.
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Right from the beginning, I’ve felt that the casting of The Wheel of Time was inspired. They’ve managed to cast based on the spirit of the book rather than a dogmatic reading of physical characteristics. Only a few characters (Moiraine being the most obvious) are a close match to how I visualized them when reading the books, but as each cast announcement came out, I was struck by how perfect the show’s interpretation was. They didn’t necessarily match what was in my head, but somehow they still felt absolutely correct. Every time I watch the show I have the nonsensical notion that I’d like to send the casting department a fruit basket and after this panel especially, I wished for the ability to convey my sincere gratitude for casting Daniel Henney!
The panel offered some interesting tidbits about how they ended up creating Origins by “pushing and pushing” what they could do with Prime Video’s X-Ray technology until they got to the final concept for animated shorts, but the real highlight of the panel was getting to watch the new Malkier shorts combined with Daniel Henney’s passion and love for portraying Lan. From a fan perspective, the investment he has in Lan, the thoughtfulness of his portrayal and his way of expressing interest in all aspects of Lan’s character arc feels like a dream come true. When asked about his involvement, Henney gave a typically impassioned answer:
“I was in conversations with Mike about six months ago and he proposed the idea of being involved and I do feel some sort of ownership over the Lan we’ve created in the show, so anything that goes out with him I want to be involved. And then as soon as i saw some of the concept art and saw what they were doing, you know, I was floored. And it’s such a cool, gritty, guttural, dark look at the Wheel of Time and to be able to tell the story of Malkier and to have that scene as an actor was such a valuable thing, I jumped at the chance.”
I’m particularly interested in the feedback loop Henney described when asked if this Origins short impacted how he would play Lan moving forward:
“I wish I would have had this even before season 1 although I’m pleased with how it turned out. I was surprised how much it affected me. When you see something in the visual medium, it’s much different than reading it and having read what I’ve read in the books and sort of started to build this character, adding my own touches here and there, it was challenging, but when I saw this represented visually — the moment when he’s sort of smuggled out of the palace on back of the horse — it was very emotional for me to see that, to see what this man has been through. To devote his life to service after having come from this incredible kingdom and just to see the scale of Malkier and what they go through and what his parents sacrificed — it’s incredible. And to be able to access that now as an actor is very special and it will definitely influence my performance moving forward and it’s definitely a tool.”
The idea of reading the book and working to translate that version of Lan into a version that works for television, to becoming so invested in that character that you want to help bring to life his backstory through a third medium, which in turn informs the continued portrayal of Lan in the main series is a fascinating insight into Henney’s process and a real testament to how much more there can be to bringing a character to life than simply the words in a script.
There were three other pieces of good news offered at the panel. One: the creative team said that as long as the main series is running we can expect to see new episodes of The Wheel of Time: Origins. Two: we were treated to a very fun behind the scenes clip from the filming of season 2, which had a brief glimpse of the Aiel that made me sit up straight, as well as a tantalizing clip of Lan practicing his sword forms shirtless, that my daughter felt it necessary to screenshot and text to me as soon as she saw it on Twitter.
— The Wheel Of Time (@TheWheelOfTime) July 21, 2022
And three: Judkins finished up the panel by announcing that Prime Video has already renewed The Wheel of Time for season 3 ahead of the airing of season 2! Let’s hope the good news for Wheel of Time fans keeps rolling in for many more SDCCs to come!