SPOILERS FOR THE WHEEL OF TIME BOOK TWO AHEAD!
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.
Every day from now until September 1st, fans waiting with bated breath for the release of The Wheel Of Time‘s second season can seemingly expect to be treated to a full scene from the first three episodes being released on social media, each one focusing on a different member of the series’ large (and ever-expanding) ensemble cast. Yesterday, it was a conversation between Rand al’Thor and Logain Ablar, Dragons true and false, in the “sanatorium”, described by Josha Stradowski in interviews, where Rand will be working, undercover, to help male channelers gentled by the Aes Sedai. It was a good scene, very well-written and well-acted, but today’s scene is more special to me personally. The Accepted Test of Nynaeve al’Meara is not only one of the most iconic sequences from The Wheel Of Time‘s second book, The Great Hunt, but from the entire width and breadth of Robert Jordan’s epic fantasy series, which spans fourteen volumes and a prequel novel.
And The Wheel Of Time‘s showrunner, writers, and actors have actually done it justice; evidence alone, if you ask me, of why they deserve everything the WGA and SAG-AFTRA have been asking for, because this was no easy feat. Although not every line of dialogue has made it into the show’s version of this scene, all but a few of the actresses’ lines are lifted either directly from the book, or with only the most minor tweaks. The scene opens with Nynaeve, wearing Novice-white (because in the show, I believe she does choose to train as a Novice for Egwene’s sake), warily approaching the three silver arches standing on low daises arranged in a semicircle in the White Tower’s basement. She asks what they are, just as she does in the book, and receives a similar, arguably more informative, answer from Sheriam Bayanar, the Tower’s Mistress of Novices, and Liandrin Guirale of the Red Ajah, who has taken a suspiciously active role in Nynaeve’s training. Below, I’ve quoted the passage from the books, and highlighted in bold the parts that made it into the show, with original dialogue in parentheses. Please forgive my rather, uh, messy presentation.
“Ter’angreal do many things, child. Like angreal and sa’angreal, they are (from before the Breaking, made during a time when women could create objects from the One Power itself) remnants of the Age of Legends that use the One Power, though they are not quite so rare as the other two. While some ter’angreal must be (are) made to work by Aes Sedai, as this one must (like this one), others will do what they do simply with the presence of any woman who can channel….We don’t know why they were made. We dare use only a handful of them, and the ways in which we do dare to use them may be nothing like the purposes the makers intended. Most, we have learned at our (great) cost to avoid. Over the years, no few (Many) Aes Sedai have been killed or had their Talent (been) burned out of them, learning that.”
– The Great Hunt: Chapter 23; The Testing, by Robert Jordan
As you can see, with just a few tiny alterations, excisions, and additions here and there, that entire passage has made it into the show. And with just one new line of dialogue, the show not only clarifies what ter’angreal actually are for general audiences (without sacrificing any of their mystery in the process), it also subtly establishes that the art of creating ter’angreal is lost to the Aes Sedai of the present day, as well as signaling to attentive viewers that Liandrin is a highly unreliable narrator (possibly Jordan’s favorite writing-device), because her implication that only women ever created ter’angreal is, well, totally in-character for her but simply untrue. That’s good writing right there.
Nynaeve is taken aback by the mention of women burning out, having almost experienced that fate worse than death in the first season, and asks if they expect her to just walk into the arches after that. Leane Sharif of the Blue Ajah, who was not present for this scene in the books, responds to her with a line borrowed from Sheriam, to say that they know how the arches work; entering them brings a woman face-to-face with her greatest fears, which Nynaeve can keep secret to her grave, if she wishes. Dividing the dialogue between these three women helps to break up what would otherwise be a very long and exposition-heavy monologue from Sheriam, giving the scene a little more dynamism, and providing Leane with screentime she was sorely lacking throughout the first season. It’s Sheriam, however, who still delivers some of my favorite lines in the scene.
“Two things I (we) will tell you now that no woman hears until she is in this room. The first is this. Once you begin, you must continue to the end. Refuse to go on, and no matter your potential, you will be very kindly put out of the Tower with enough silver to support you for a year, and (but) you will never be allowed back.”
I genuinely did not expect most of this detail to make it into the show, but I’m so glad it did, because the rock-solid worldbuilding of The Wheel Of Time is one of many reasons why it’s considered a fantasy classic, and while the first book had to be slimmed down a great deal to work as a season of television, with much of that rich detail subsequently being shed for the sake of new fans and casual viewers, the second season won’t suffer from those same limitations and is free to delve deeply into Jordan’s world and mythology. But of course, these words aren’t merely decorative. They hold great relevance for Nynaeve, as she has been looking for an escape-route from the Aes Sedai, and now one is being dangled right in front of her. And at the same time, this entire scene is quietly setting up future storylines involving certain characters who actually took that escape-route.
“Second. To seek, to strive, is to know danger. You will know danger here. Some women have entered, and never come out. When the ter’angreal was allowed to grow quiet, they – were – not – there. And they were never seen again. If you will survive, you must be steadfast. Falter, fail, and…” Her silence was more eloquent than any words.
These lines are intriguingly delivered by Liandrin in the show; further evidence that she is beginning to care for Nynaeve, or have concern for her well-being at least, something that never occurred in the books. I’m all for this change, if only because it gives the phenomenal Kate Fleetwood much juicier, more compelling material to dig into as an actress, if her character isn’t innately cold and callous, as seemed to be the case throughout the first season. Obviously, she’s Aes Sedai, and Red Ajah at that, so there’s a lot of calculating going on behind her eyes, but the Aes Sedai are still human at the end of the day, and they ought to have human vulnerabilities. I look forward to later scenes between Nynaeve and Liandrin that build off this dynamic.
“This is your last chance, child. You may turn back now, right now, and I will put your name in the novice book, and you will have only one mark against you. Twice more you will be allowed to come here, and only at (on) the third refusal will you be put out of the Tower. It is no shame to refuse. Many do. I myself could not do it, my (the) first time here.“
Leane steps forward to speak these words. Again, I can’t help but marvel at the fact that so much of this monologue made it from page to screen. I don’t care in the slightest that it’s Leane in the show, not Sheriam, who declined to take her Accepted test once. It’s never going to be relevant again, I suspect, but what it does is it gives viewers a little bit of background information about Leane that they can use to start forming an attachment to her, which is important because she’s important, more so than Sheriam I’d argue.
Finally, Liandrin comes back with the one and only line in the entire scene that’s completely new, as far as I can tell. “If you are doing this for someone else, you will fail,” she tells Nynaeve, with an expression of genuine compassion once again flitting across her steely features. “Do this for you, or not at all.” Is she…trying to protect Nynaeve? After all, if Nynaeve passes the Accepted test, she comes one step closer to being “raised to the shawl” and made a full Aes Sedai, and with her raw power and status as ta’veren (able to bend the weavings of the Wheel of Time around her) there is nothing the Dark One and his minions will not do to prevent the White Tower from weaponizing her. It also sounds like this is a continuation of some conversation Nynaeve must have had with Liandrin earlier, where Nynaeve must have revealed (or Liandrin must have discerned) that Nynaeve came to the Tower primarily to protect Egwene, though she herself is still opposed to the Aes Sedai and distrustful of her own abilities. Again, it’s surreal that it’s Liandrin bringing this up, but I’m not at all upset.
Silence falls after she speaks, and the camera lingers on Zoë Robins’ Nynaeve, in whose dark, expressive eyes you can catch glimpses of all the emotions swirling within her – fear, frustration, curiosity – before they finally coalesce into steady determination, and she speaks the words that start the trial: “I’m ready”. She’s passed the point of no return, and now we must wait until September 1st to follow her into the arches. But hopefully we won’t have to wait that long for the next clip from The Wheel Of Time! If the pattern holds, tomorrow we could see either Egwene, Perrin, or Mat, followed by Moiraine and Lan, and then perhaps Elayne, Aviendha, and Min. On the one hand, I don’t want to see that many scenes from the first few episodes before the season premiere, but on the other hand…I kinda do, and I definitely won’t be able to resist watching them if they’re out there. Who are you hoping to see next? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!