Prime Video’s The Wheel of Time brings Robert Jordan’s fantasy realm to life with striking detail. Season two, which just kicked off last week, opens the story even wider, revealing new characters who bring menace to the screen just by the fierce way they dress—and accessorize.
At a recent press day, io9 got a chance to ask Wheel of Time costume designer Sharon Gilham and make-up and hair designer Davina Lamont about one very memorable new villain: the High Lady Suroth (Karima McAdams), a noblewoman from the Seanchan empire whose army is almost as scary as she is. Almost. Considering she barely speaks, the presence she brings to every scene is formidable, and a lot of that has to do with her outfit (including an elaborate mask) and the eerily long nails she uses to signal her minions to do her bidding.
“The nails were always going to be difficult,” Lamont said when asked about those frightening talons. “I’ve worked on shows before where we’ve had very long fingernails; the approach [on Wheel of Time] was—she had to obviously be able to take them on and off, which was a big process, so that she could have some downtime or go back to her trailer. So we needed to make it quick and fast, because they are so long and they are such a big part of her character. You’ll see going forward what happens with her; the revealing of her taking off her mask is pretty incredible. It was such a big collaboration between Sharon and I, with her look and the Seanchen in general.”
Gilham agreed. “In the book, the nails are lacquered blue. As part of the process of [designing her look for the show], it was decided that we’d keep them [natural] nail-colored, because they tended to look a bit artificial when they were painted, whereas as they are, you could kind of believe they are actually real nails in that color,” she said. “With the rest of the costume, it was a definite collaboration between us. The headpiece, it was to create that look of being insect-like and strange and having the face hidden. We had a kind of ‘wow’ moment when we were putting that together; we had sort of the framework of the mask and wanted to find something to create that visor. I found this piece of metal in the workroom that had kind of punched holes in it. We had a meeting with [one of the Wheel of Time episode directors], Thomas Napper, and when I said, ‘Well, what about if we just wrap this around the front?’, they went, ‘Oh my god, that’s it.’ It’s those kind of moments that we wanted to keep generating so that we can support visually the powerful text of the books and the script, and keep creating those ‘wow’ moments throughout the series.”
The High Lady Suroth makes her cruel presence felt with an army whose weapon-slinging ranks include a group of intensely powerful female magic users, or “channelers” as The Wheel of Time calls them, who wear silver covers over their mouths. The visual takeaway is very nearly as frightening as those fingernails.
“That’s the idea,” Gilham laughed when told how nightmarish those characters look. “In the Seanchan world, the idea is that the highest-level people don’t speak. They have someone to speak for them, which is called their voice. So the power of speech and talking is very important in that world. And the young women who can channel who’ve been taken prisoner by the Seanchan, [called the ‘damane’ in The Wheel of Time], are used as a weapon. And my idea there—the mouth stoppers were not in the books, but it was part of some research that I did about the culture, which is Mesoamerican and imperial Chinese. And there was a reference picture I found from a pre-Aztec community that had actually had these gold stoppers in their mouths. And I thought, ‘That’s very cool. That’s very symbolic of the powerlessness of the damane,’ and it’s going to be a very strong image, which clearly it is. I’m glad it worked.”
The first three Wheel of Time season two episodes are now streaming on Prime Video, with new episodes arriving Fridays.
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