Wheel of Time's Production Designer on Creating a Future That Looks Like the Past

Daniel Henney as Lan in Wheel of Time season 2

As fans of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time stories know—as do viewers of Prime Video’s series adaptation, thanks to a startling season one flashback—its setting only feels like the past. Despite its lack of machines and technology, The Wheel of Time takes place in the future, thousands of years after a magical battle “broke” the world and decimated its advanced civilization.

The fallout from that fraught history reverberates in The Wheel of Time’s second season, which drops its fourth episode (of eight total) on Friday. With a glimpse of season two’s expanded setting now established, io9 got a chance to talk to production designer Ondrej Nekvasil about how he envisioned a world that’s still very much in the rebuilding process.

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Viewers got a glimpse of Wheel of Time’s futuristic-looking past in a season one episode that flashed back to a key moment just before the battle that broke the world. From what Nekvasil said, we’ll be seeing more of that setting in season two, as the story builds to a potential repeat of that devasating history. “It will be more and more visible in the season that we are kind of jumping between these two wars,” he said. “But that’s kind of the impressive part, that actually whatever looks like a future is actually the past. Regarding whatever is made, whatever is manufactured, it’s always the combination of what was possible to manufacture in the 17th or 18th century in our world, and that’s possible for them as well. So they can have windmills, but they don’t have engines and trains and stuff like that. The world which you see is our world before the technical revolution.”

As you might guess, considering how important color is to the powerful women of the Aes Sedai—a sisterhood of magic users who divide themselves into chosen specialties, or “Ajahs”—that specificity spilled over into the production design. Season two devotes a lot of screen time to scenes that take place in the White Tower, the headquarters for the Aes Sedai.

Photo: Jan Thijs/Prime Video

“Every Aes Sedai belongs to a certain color, and we tried to show that in the different rooms—for example, the green room of Alanna, or the red rooms of the red Ajah. In the set, there’s slightly more of these colors depending on where we are,” Nekvasil said. “But in general we were trying to [show that] each city or each country [uses] a specific type of materials, a specific type of texture, and a specific type of color. We [made a lot of] color charts and texture charts; for example, the White Tower [is notable for] limestone and some carved details into the stone; for Cairhien, it’s more like a sandstone and gold. These are the combinations of the set and location that we are trying to create, not only the color itself, but also the texture and the patterns are different [in each setting]. That was very important for us for the second season, because we travel and we are jumping from place to place; [as the season continues], you will see that we are jumping even more between the different places.”

One setting we get to visit in season two is the palatial home in Cairhien where Moiraine, Rosamund Pike’s character, grew up. We even get to see her childhood room, which Pike herself helped the production designer bring to life.

“Regarding the whole city of Cairhien—we always looked at mixing the styles and the influences and making them a melting pot to create our world,” Nekvasil explained. “For Cairhien, it was a kind of combination between European medieval architecture, French architecture, and Japanese culture as well. [You can] see that in the furniture when she’s entering the rooms; the room itself looks European. [But] the design of the windows and the furniture is kind of turning into the Japanese style. Regarding her room, there was much more actually in the room than was visible and featured on the screen. We came with some ideas, I spoke with Rosamund about her ideas, what she wanted to see there. And some of the [contents of the room] actually came from her, and some came from the set decorator. It was a mixture of ideas we put on together and we placed [them] there. And I think it was kind of good, because that was the first moment that you were thinking about Moiraine apart from the Aes Sedai—[instead, you see her as] somebody who had a childhood and who went through that childhood and had some memories for that.”

New episodes of The Wheel of Time season two arrive Fridays on Prime Video.

Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel, Star Wars, and Star Trek releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about the future of Doctor Who.

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