Genshin Impact Version 4.3, Roses And Muskets, has the unenviable challenge of following up what is now widely considered to be one of the best updates to the open-world game since launch, Masquerade Of The Guilty, which capped off the Fontaine Archon Quest with an epic, emotionally devastating final act that solidified the Archon Quest in many peoples’ minds as better-written and more engaging than most, if not all, of those that came before (for myself, the meandering nature of the middle-act set almost entirely in the dreary underground Fortress of Meropide prevents it from climbing all the way to the top of my ranking, but then, my extreme dissatisfaction with how the Sumeru Archon Quest ended makes it more of a close match-up). Version 4.2 also featured the release of the former Hydro Archon Furina as a playable character, and she has single-handedly changed the game for those who have her (not me, however, I’ve been saving my Primogems all throughout this patch, resisting the temptation to try for Furina by reminding myself that Navia is up next).
We have official confirmation now that Navia is, indeed, up next in Version 4.3. The five-star claymore user will be Genshin Impact‘s first Geo character in a long time – but despite all she brings to the underrepresented Element and her stunning character design, it’s highly unlikely that her banner sales will break any records in the way Furina’s have. She’s not exactly niche, but with a playstyle built around Crystallize, the underwhelming Elemental Reaction between Geo and Pyro, Electro, Cryo or Hydro that produces a pitiful shield, she’s not a guaranteed game-changer either, and I have a feeling that positive word-of-mouth will be a big factor in her success as a unit. Navia is intended to function as an on-field Geo DPS in teams that employ her as a hypercarry, meaning she’ll be dealing the majority of your team’s damage. And in contrast to past Geo DPS’ like Arataki Itto, who have been held back by their inability to synergize with anyone but other Geo characters or make much use of Geo’s one Elemental Reaction, Navia’s unique kit not only gives her greater freedom, it practically necessitates that you run her with characters who can trigger Crystallize frequently.
Will this suddenly make Crystallize any good? Well, yes and no, because while Navia needs all the Crystallize Shards she can get from her teammates, and she deals massive damage via her Elemental Skill in exchange, she’s very much alone in that. Until we get more Geo characters who benefit from Crystallize, including a more easily obtainable four-star and/or a dedicated support for the Elemental Reaction, Navia isn’t really going to do anything for the Element as a whole – even with her best teams needing one other Geo support for the energy, that role is going to go to Zhongli in most cases, and Zhongli is a character who has enjoyed success largely despite his Element. That being said, this is a first step in the right direction for Geo, and the release of a new Artifact Set, Nighttime Whispers In The Echoing Woods, that boosts Geo DMG by 20% after using an Elemental Skill and by an extra whopping 150% while under the protection of a Crystallize shield, makes it very likely that it won’t be the last (this Set and Song Of Days Past, which translates Healing into DMG, will be obtainable through a new Domain).
While Navia will be joining Genshin Impact‘s roster in the first half of Version 4.3, a new four-star character named Chevreuse, will be making her debut in the second half, featured on Raiden Shogun and Yoimiya’s rerunning banners. Chevreuse, a Pyro polearm-user and Captain of Fontaine’s Special Security and Surveillance Patrol, makes use of the underrated Overloaded Elemental Reaction between Pyro and Electro, which knocks affected opponents back a short distance – when a character in her team triggers Overloaded, Chevreuse gains an Overcharged Ball that she can use during her Elemental Skill, entering Aiming Mode to fire and deal widespread Pyro DMG. During her Burst, she launches a grenade that explodes on contact with an opponent, creating smaller grenades that explode again after a short duration, dealing even more DMG. As someone who actually likes the Overloaded reaction, I’m very excited to test out Chevreuse’s kit.
Both Chevreuse and Navia will feature heavily in the version’s main Event, Roses And Muskets, which I gather is a festival to celebrate the fact that Fontaine did not sink beneath the waves of the Primordial Sea. Furina, no longer the Hydro Archon, is directing a film for the festival starring Navia, Chevreuse, journalist Charlotte, and special guests all the way from Inazuma, Kamisato Ayaka, Kamisato Ayato, and Yoimiya, whose inclusion on the cast-list might have something to do with the fact that Xavier of the Inazuma-based Tatarasuna Tales questline is listed as the film’s director. An as-yet unplayable character, Chiori of Chiori’s Boutique, is onboard as the art director, and of course, Furina assigns us, the player, to be her cameraperson. Scene-blocking, lighting and cinematography will be incorporated into several of the Event’s minigames, while other activities include…sniping opponents and sheepherding? I’m not sure if I totally understand those last two, but hey, I’ll do anything for more Primogems.
Following that, Arataki Itto and Kuki Shinobu arrive in Liyue Harbor for Shinobu’s class reunion, and Itto wastes no time setting up the Arataki Blazing Armor Beetle Boot Camp to bring the Inazuman art of beetle-fighting to Liyue. Much like the last iteration of this Event, players will commandeer a stag-beetle through progressively more challenging duels against the best players that Liyue has to offer, including some new characters. In Fontaine, the Lost Riches Event gives players another opportunity to claim a floating Seelie companion in a range of beautiful colors. And back in Mondstadt, the traveling salesman Liben returns at long last with a series of daily errands for players to complete in exchange for gifts, while surely tantalizing us with gossip about our next destination after Fontaine, the volcanic region of Natlan (about which we know next to nothing except what Neuvillette told us in Version 4.2, that the land is populated by both dragons and humans, and that the Fatui Harbinger Capitano seeks to exploit the permanent state of conflict between their peoples).
And apart from a few adjustments to the game’s interface and quality-of-life improvements (for instance, teleporting players automatically back to the “Start Challenge” button when they choose to re-enter a combat Domain, and providing players with better Artifact filters – nothing particularly revolutionary, just smart small stuff like that), there’s not a whole lot happening in Version 4.3, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Version 4.2 was already pretty overwhelming, Version 4.4 will be Lantern Rite to mark the Chinese New Year, then Dainsleif is scheduled to pop up again in a revelatory Interlude Quest before disappearing again for another year, new regions of Fontaine and Liyue are likely to become available, Furina’s second Story Quest will probably be a big deal, and the Fatui Harbinger Arlecchino is speculated to become playable before Version 5.0, so it’s okay to have a breather, you know?
Who will you be pulling for in Version 4.3, if anyone, and why or why not? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!
MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE WHEEL OF TIME SEASON TWO AND BOOKS ONE THROUGH FOUR, AHEAD!
The Wheel Of Time recently aired its second season finale, and fans of the epic fantasy series are eagerly looking forward to season three, currently filming in South Africa. So I thought I’d put together a list of the top ten things I’m most excited to see in season three, based on the fourth book in the original series of novels by Robert Jordan. The Shadow Rising, which picks up roughly around the same point in the narrative where the second season ends, is widely considered Jordan’s best book, features some of the most iconic scenes and sequences for which the series is known, and gives nearly every character a strong arc. Let’s jump right in, shall we?
10: Gawyn and Galad and Morgase
Whether due to time constraints or a deliberate choice by the writers to avoid attracting comparisons to Game Of Thrones, The Wheel Of Time has only briefly touched on the complex political situation in the Westlands, going no further than vaguely referencing nations and their monarchs: but politics become increasingly important as the book series progresses, particularly for Elayne Trakand and her family, who have for generations ruled the largest nation, Andor (which encompasses the Two Rivers region, where the story began). In the first book of the series, The Eye Of The World, it’s in the Andoran capital city of Caemlyn, rather than in Tar Valon, that Rand al’Thor reunites with his friends after being separated in Shadar Logoth, and there he meets for the first time Elayne, as well as her brothers Gawyn Trakand and Galad Damodred, and her mother Queen Morgase Trakand (and Morgase’s Aes Sedai advisor, Elaida; more on her later). In season three, with civil war brewing in Andor, these characters will become crucial at long last. They’re low on my list, however, because I detest Gawyn (shocking, I know), I have no strong feelings towards Galad whatsoever, and while I like Morgase, it’s evident that Robert Jordan never figured out exactly what he wanted to do with her, and both he and his successor Brandon Sanderson kept her pointlessly meandering about for a ridiculously long time. Hopefully the show can do better by all three of them.
9:Return of Thom
You probably wouldn’t guess it from how the adaptation has handled his character, but Thom Merrilin, the grizzled traveling bard or “gleeman” that Rand and Mat Cauthon briefly traveled alongside in season one, is one of the main characters in the books. After seemingly being killed by a Fade in The Eye Of The World, Thom reappears in Cairhien during the events of The Great Hunt, shares a few scenes with Rand, and dips out of the story to assassinate King Galldrian for reasons of his own, unintentionally plunging Cairhien into a civil war of its own. It may be that Thom was supposed to do something similar in season two, which would explain why Galldrian was name-dropped several times only to never actually appear, but whatever happened there, Alexandre Willaume ended up having scheduling conflicts with the now-canceled Netflix series 1899. Season three, for which he will finally return to the role, should find the gleeman in his The Shadow Rising storyline, escorting Nynaeve al’Meara and Elayne to Tanchico.
The hunt for the Horn of Valere was very nearly a wasted subplot in season two, but at least now the groundwork has been laid for the introduction of the most famous Hunter for the Horn, Faile Bashere. The thrill-seeking runaway princess of Saldaea first appears in The Dragon Reborn, traveling with a party of Hunters each hoping to win fame and glory for themselves by being the one to recover the fabled Horn and bring it to Illian. Perrin Aybara runs into her in the same small town where he frees an Aiel from a cage and makes an enemy of Whitecloaks, but seeing as that scene already played out quite differently in season two, the setting and circumstances of their meeting will obviously have to change in the show. Faile is a complex and flawed character who, by a supremely unfortunate accident, is presented to the reader from Perrin’s point-of-view before her own. He, like so many of Jordan’s male characters, regards all women as exasperatingly incomprehensible, and treats her with a kind of patronizing affection that only enrages her, leading him to become more confused, and so on and so forth. Their inevitable romance is not much fun to read about. I hope and pray with all my heart that the show does away with most of the miscommunication between them, including every instance of Perrin trying to figure out what Faile is thinking or feeling by smelling her. Ick.
7: TheBattle of Emond’s Field
Having just put book Perrin on blast, let me clarify that show Perrin has done nothing wrong in his entire life, and behind Egwene al’Vere and Nynaeve al’Meara, he is indeed my favorite of the Emond’s Field Five (technically, that holds true for the books as well, but book Perrin trails the two women by a much larger margin and it says a lot about how much I don’t care for either Rand or Mat in the books that they’re still behind him despite that). Reaching and maintaining a balance between the wolf and the man within himself has been Perrin’s greatest challenge. He first wanted nothing to do with the wolves, perceiving them as manifestations of his worst instincts, and that resulted in failure. In season two, he took steps to learn about and embrace being a Wolfbrother, which led to the death of Geofram Bornhald at his hands. He needs to make peace with himself, and that will only happen when he finally comes to terms with what happened to Laila, his wife, in season one. Returning home to Emond’s Field in the Two Rivers will provide him with that necessary closure, and it just so happens that’s exactly where his The Shadow Rising storyline takes him (and Loial, Faile, Bain and Chiad). Much has changed there since he left, however, and Perrin will find himself reluctantly leading an uneasy coalition of Two Rivers folk, Whitecloaks, Tuatha’an, and Aes Sedai to repel an army of Shadowspawn led by the mysterious “Slayer”, an amalgamation of souls bound to the Dark One, in the Battle of Emond’s Field. If done well, this could be what ensures a fourth season for The Wheel Of Time all on its own – it’s that epic.
6: The Aiel Waste
Though his destiny does not lie in the Two Rivers, season three will be a homecoming of sorts for Rand as well. At the beginning of The Shadow Rising, he learns that he must go to the Three-fold Land (called the Waste by outsiders) beyond the Spine of the World, and there reconnect with his heritage as a long-lost son of the Aiel, the nomadic warriors who have lived in the Three-fold Land since the Breaking of the World, adopting a unique and complex system of honor and debts called ji’e’toh that informs nearly everything they do. Rand, like the spear-maiden Aviendha introduced in season two, belongs to the Taardad Aiel, one of twelve clans further divided into dozens of individual “septs” – his the Iron Mountain, hers the Nine Valleys. Each clan has a chief and a governing body of Wise Ones (the Aiel equivalent to the Aes Sedai of the Westlands), and to become either of these things means venturing alone into the ruins of Rhuidean, a city built shortly after the Breaking of the World by the now-extinct Jenn Aiel, glimpsing visions of the past through the glass columns ter’angreal, and returning burdened with the knowledge of where the Aiel came from, who they were, and what they did to become what they are now. Men who pass the test (and only men, because…sexism, mostly) come out bearing a dragon tattoo on one arm. As you can probably guess, Rand will have to undergo this test and experience for himself what awaits in the glass columns.
5: The Sea Folk
While I know I’ll hear some grumbling about their placement on this list over the Aiel and the Battle of Emond’s Field, I absolutely adore the Sea Folk, and I was overjoyed to learn that showrunner Rafe Judkins evidently does as well, from how he excitedly teased their introduction in season three at New York Comic-Con. The Sea Folk, or Atha’an Miere, are a seafaring people (obviously) who live on ships in the Aryth Ocean, making landfall in the Westlands very rarely except to trade their priceless porcelain and goods from the land of Shara in the east. Their elected leader is named the Mistress of the Ships, and rules alongside a Master of the Blades, often her consort. When the story opens, the Mistress of the Ships is Nesta din Reas Two Moons.Among the Atha’an Miere, most women who can channel do not go to the White Tower to become Aes Sedai but instead act as “Windfinders”, using secret weaves of Air and Water to calm the oceans, alter the weather, and turn the winds in their favor, propelling their peoples’ ships further and faster around the world. As a rule, the Atha’an Miere do not allow Aes Sedai passage on their ships for fear that their Windfinders will be found out. However, in The Shadow Rising, Nynaeve and Elayne negotiate with the Sailmistress Coine din Jubai Wild Winds to take them and Thom to Tanchico onboard the raker Wavedancer, and the two women cross paths with the Atha’an Miere regularly after that.
4: Elaida’s Coup
I told you we would circle back to Elaida eventually. Elaida do Avriny a’Roihan of the Red Ajah is one of The Wheel Of Time‘s great antagonists, more enduring and more efficient – if only by sheer accident – than any of the Forsaken in the books, dividing the White Tower against itself at a time when it needs to be whole, and driving a wedge between Rand and the Aes Sedai. In The Shadow Rising, Elaida discovers evidence of collusion between Siuan Sanche and Moiraine Damodred to secretly assist the Dragon Reborn, something so antithetical to the Red Ajah’s entire philosophy that Elaida has no choice, as she sees it, but to orchestrate a coup against Siuan and ascend to the Amyrlin Seat herself, in a last-ditch effort to save the world. The fact that she genuinely believes she’s doing the right thing makes her all the more dangerous, because there’s no reasoning with her. Of course, in season two, Siuan was uncharacteristically written to share many of Elaida’s opinions on how to handle the Dragon (seemingly, at least), and the Aes Sedai all saw her try to shield and cage Rand before he escaped with Moiraine, so Elaida will have a much harder time convincing them that Moiraine and the Amyrlin are working together, but that will hopefully only make Elaida even more compelling, if she’s positioned as the underdog. The Wheel Of Time is lucky to have Oscar-nominated actress Shohreh Aghdashloo (unofficially) onboard to play this phenomenal character in season three and beyond.
3: Black Ajah
One of the major plot twists in season two involved the so-called “Black Ajah”, a faction of Aes Sedai that, far from being loyal to the Amyrlin Seat, are secretly sworn to the Dark One and have strived for decades to destabilize the institution of the White Tower from within. I will say that the early books in the series did more with the Black Ajah than the first two seasons of The Wheel Of Time, and I would have liked to see some reference to how they carried out the assassinations of various Aes Sedai over the years, including the Amyrlin Seat before Siuan and every other searcher for the Dragon Reborn besides Siuan and Moiraine (not for lack of trying). But the Black Ajah will have a more prominent role in season three, as antagonists to Nynaeve and Elayne in the coastal city of Tanchico. In the books, Liandrin brings her Darkfriends there to steal a version of the Seanchan a’dam designed specifically for male channelers, hoping to use it on Rand. Seeing as that particular storyline kinda goes nowhere in the books, it’s entirely possible the circumstances will change, but either way Rafe Judkins has assured us that from the get-go, we’ll know what Liandrin and the Black Ajah have been up to.
Tel’aran’rhiod, the “Unseen World” or “World of Dreams” as it is more often called, refers to the infinitely vast, intangible yet treacherous labyrinthine dimension accessible through dreams, which encompasses and connects all of the alternate realities brought into being over the course of the Wheel of Time’s turnings. It was the setting of some particularly memorable sequences in season two: Nynaeve stepping through a stone archway ter’angreal into a version of the world where she left the White Tower to be with Lan; Ishamael and Lanfear casually infiltrating each other’s dreams, and exerting their mastery over Tel’aran’rhiod to manipulate the environment around them; Lanfear taking Rand to see Egwene while they were both asleep, with hundreds of miles between them. It’s a place where the protagonists are immediately out of their depths and at a disadvantage compared to their centuries-old opponents, but that’s all about to change in season three. Egwene and Perrin are both “Dreamwalkers”, and equally powerful there as any of the Forsaken, though their two paths could not be more different. Egwene is on her way to the Waste to learn from the Aiel Wise Ones, while Perrin will delve into the Wolf-dream, where wolves dead and alive congregate (whether the wolves will talk in Tel’aran’rhiod, as they do in the books, remains to be seen). However, it’s Nynaeve, not a Dreamwalker, who will soon face the greatest opponent lurking in the World of Dreams.
Coming in at number one on my list is Moghedien, which might be confusing to some as she is widely regarded to be the weakest of the Forsaken in physical strength. But this small and slight villain, played by Laia Costa in the final minutes of season two, takes her name from a species of inconspicuous spider with a fatal bite discovered during the Age of Legends, and uses similar tactics, silently stalking her prey from the safety of Tel’aran’rhiod, waiting until their guard is down before delivering one decisive strike and retreating back into the shadows whence she came. In the World of Dreams she is more experienced than any of the Forsaken, even Lanfear, and to challenge her there, on her territory, is nothing short of suicidal. Her sprawling webs ensnare even the wariest Dreamwalkers, and once you’re tangled up in them, there’s no escape.
Well, that’s my totally subjective ranking of the top ten things I’m most excited to see from The Wheel Of Time season three. What’s yours? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!
MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE WHEEL OF TIME SEASON TWO AND BOOKS 1 – 4, AHEAD!
I’m not gonna lie, I was worried that the second season of Amazon’s The Wheel Of Time wouldn’t be able to stick the landing. The consistently larger scale action sequences and higher quality visual effects somewhat assuaged my fears that we’d see a repeat of season one’s disappointing final skirmish between an entirely CGI army of Shadowspawn and a handful of Shienarans, but ultimately, none of that would matter if the characters weren’t handled well and season arcs didn’t reach satisfying (albeit only temporary) conclusions. And season one kinda failed on that front, too, stranding certain subplots in the weirdest places. Factor in the penultimate episode’s mischaracterization of Siuan Sanche, and going into the finale, I was justifiably stressed.
And for the first fifteen to twenty minutes, I remained stressed. Characters move around at a rather hectic pace as they all become belatedly aware that it’s the finale and somehow they’re not in place yet even after eight episodes. Things just start happening abruptly because there’s no time left to properly establish why, for instance, the Whitecloaks are attacking Falme today, and many crucial scenes, like the theft of the Horn of Valere, were obviously cut for time, or flow, or because scenes in earlier episodes had already been cut. But once everyone is settled down, the episode begins anew. By remaining laser-focused on specific characters throughout the rousing action, the writers (mostly) succeed at crafting an epic, high-stakes, and engaging finale that should keep viewers invested until the third season (which has nearly finished filming).
There’s a lot of moving parts in this episode, so I’m gonna go character-by-character, in no particular order, to break it all down.
Egwene al’Vere (Madeleine Madden) has never been more popular. She single-handedly holds back Ishamael (Fares Fares), the strongest of the Forsaken, and it’s of course awe-inspiring, a scene destined to make its way into every end-of-the-year tribute to women in movies and television, but it’s not even Egwene’s best moment in this episode. Placing a collar around Renna (Xelia Mendes-Jones)’s neck, putting her through the same torture that Egwene suffered at her hands and letting it kill her, that’s the moment where I think Egwene comes into her own fully. The woman who stands and silently watches as her cruel sul’dam dies gasping out her name is not and never will be the same woman she was before. She is more dangerous now, more cunning, and still as capable as ever, despite all the attempts by the Seanchan to break her indomitable spirit. Those who underestimate her do so at their own risk. It’s kinda surreal to see the fandom finally come around on Egwene, when it used to be that you couldn’t admit to Egwene being your favorite character in the books without eliciting some shocked or horrified responses (why yes, I’m speaking from personal experience), but hey, at least we can all agree now that Egwene is the best.
If there’s one downside to Egwene becoming completely self-reliant this early in the story, it’s that it throws Nynaeve al’Meara (Zoë Robins)’s arc off-balance. Nynaeve is terribly underused in this episode, and I’m tired of having to explain this, but it’s not that I wanted her to magically break through her Block and overcome all her trauma because it’s the finale. What I and other fans of Nynaeve actually wanted was for her to not be benched just because she can’t channel the One Power. Nynaeve has never been a character who relied on the Power. That’s not even how she’s been depicted in the show, where she uses her wits and brute force to solve problems more frequently than weaves of earth, water, fire, air, and spirit. In The Great Hunt, she has a key role in rescuing Egwene from the Seanchan by capturing the sul’dam Seta (Jade Eleena-Dregorius), collaring her, and marching into the kennels with Seta disguised as her damane – and that’s exactly where Nynaeve’s subplot in the finale appears to be going until about halfway through, when Seta abruptly dies before they ever make it to Egwene, Elayne Trakand (Ceara Coveney) gets injured, and for maybe fifteen minutes Nynaeve stares blankly at her arrow-wound – until it falls to Elayne to remind her that she used to be the Wisdom of the Two Rivers, and that she can probably treat this injury in her sleep.
Apparently nobody on the production team studied how to treat an arrow-wound, however, because Nynaeve simply pushes the bolt through Elayne’s leg, fletching and all, and within moments Elayne is miraculously able to stand and climb to the top of a tower just in time for the climactic showdown with Ishamael, with enough energy left over to heal Rand al’Thor (Josha Stradowski) from a life-threatening injury of his own. I’m sorry to have to say it, but it’s bad. It’s as if halfway through filming, the decision was made to have Egwene rescue herself and Nynaeve’s role in the finale had to subsequently be reduced to this. It’s arguably worse than when Perrin Aybara (Marcus Rutherford) ran around doing nothing in the first season finale.
Perrin, at least, has a much meatier role in this episode. He really only does one important thing – killing Geofram Bornhald (Stuart Graham) in revenge for Bornhald’s merciless slaughter of Perrin’s wolf-companion Hopper (Ka Lupinka, an incredible actor who really sells the animal’s last moments) – but it marks a turning-point in his journey towards reconciling the vastly different identities of the wolf and the man tangled up within him to form what is known as a “Wolfbrother”. And he now has Geofram’s vengeful son Dain Bornhald (Jay Duffy) to worry about heading into season three. A shame, that whole situation. Those two were were cute together, fighting back-to-back in the streets of Falme with a dexterity and speed that would give anyone the impression they had known each other for more than a few hours, at most. My only disappointment is that Perrin didn’t get a meaningful scene with Ingtar (Gregg Chillingirian) before the latter’s sudden death, which might have had a chance of resonating with viewers if a scene confirming that he was a Darkfriend seeking redemption (as in the books) had not been cut from the episode.
Ingtar at least steals the Horn of Valere back from the Seanchan, so he’s not a total waste of precious screentime in an episode that needed to be a half-hour longer, but of course it’s Mat Cauthon (Dónal Finn) who eventually blows the Horn – which has a very silly design and is distractingly reminiscent of a plastic bottle of laundry detergent – summoning an equally silly troupe of Renaissance Faire-goers to fight for the Light. To be fair, some of them look pretty cool: Amaresu (Hélène Tran), mentioned in the books to be the female counterpart of the Dragon Reborn in other Turnings of the Wheel, is absolutely stunning, and I want to see more of her (I hope that her taking the Horn from Mat is an an indication that we will). But it’s hard to believe this was “probably the most expensive shot in season two”, when most of the other Heroes, including fan-favorite Birgitte Silverbow, are portrayed by uncredited extras on whom the camera lingers for only a few seconds.
To the delight of many, however, one-eyed warrior Uno Nomesta (Guy Roberts) returns as a Hero of the Horn, allowing the character – who did not die in the books – to show up again in the future. But the biggest surprise is that Mat, too, is a Hero. It’s a change, and it will have consequences, but it might not be such a bad idea. His arc has been building to this moment of much-needed catharsis, where he realizes that he is not, in fact, bound to the Dark One in every lifetime, and if having your soul cosmically linked to a musical instrument for eternity sounds only marginally better to me, it’s still huge for Mat’s character development. Since childhood, he’s been told that he’s not a good person or capable of becoming one, and everyone from his parents to total strangers have made him believe it. But there’s a goodness in Mat Cauthon that nothing and no one can suppress.
Still, though, that pesky cursed dagger he stole from Shadar Logoth tempts him, and even Mat’s solution of tying it to the end of a quarterstaff so he doesn’t come in contact with it ultimately backfires, as he tries to impale Ishamael with his makeshift weapon and accidentally stabs Rand in the stomach, fulfilling Min Farshaw’s viewing of him “killing” Rand with the dagger, albeit not quite how she envisioned. Luckily, the dagger which has corroded most of its other victims from the inside out in a matter of seconds takes its sweet time with Rand, or Elayne might not have been able to save him. In all seriousness, it’s not that big a deal, but it is a little convenient.
Rand, controversially, spends much of the episode lying glassy-eyed in a pile of rubble while his friends hold off Ishamael, shielded by Seanchan damane and suffering from the injury in his side. Between killing the High Lord Turak (Daniel Francis) and his elite bodyguards with a volley of highly precise armor-penetrating fireballs and somewhat meekly pushing his burning sword through Ishamael’s chest, he doesn’t do anything particularly flashy with the One Power, certainly nothing on the level of Moiraine Damodred (Rosamund Pike) blowing the Seanchan fleet to smithereens from miles away, and his big moment – telling Ishamael to his face that he will never serve the Dark One, because “in a thousand lives, I never have” – falls flat without the full weight of the Flicker, Flicker, Flicker sequence from The Great Hunt underscoring his words. The Wheel Of Time keeps putting off Rand’s truly epic and iconic scenes for another season, and it’s a worrisome trend.
With that said, Rand being less powerful than in the early books makes sense for where he is in the show – he’s only reached out to the True Source a few times, after all, mostly without thinking, and he hasn’t had any training outside of a single short conversation with Logain, who was cut off from the Source and therefore of very little help to Rand. But it’s worth noting that Nynaeve has had almost the exact same experience, and when she wields the One Power, the extent of her strength seems almost infinite. When Rand channels, I always get the sense that he’s holding back, using threads of the Power when he could be pulling on the very tapestry that makes up reality itself. At least he has plenty of room to grow from here, but it has to happen soon. The Forsaken are coming, and I’d rather we see actual, evenly-matched battles between them and Rand as opposed to…whatever the heck happened with Ishamael.
Ironically, Ishamael’s defeat isn’t all that different from how it plays out twice in the first three books, but if it was underwhelming then, it’s doubly so in a visual medium. Especially because the show is trying to do better by the Forsaken, and was on the right track giving them nuance, complexity, and depth to their motivations. It was refreshing to see a soft-spoken yet devastatingly competent version of Ishamael, completely unlike his snarling cartoonish counterpart from the books but far more engaging. To be fair, it’s heavily implied in the show that he went into the confrontation with Rand assuming he would die and even looking forward to it, which is very in-character for him, but he exerts too little of his power to make the charade seem believable. We’re talking about a character who could easily be teleporting behind Egwene’s barrier to catch her off-guard, and he’s standing still the whole time, firing off insignificant bullets.
I have faith, still, that this was a poorly executed but deliberate choice, and that Rand will not be able to blow through the remaining Forsaken like so much paper. Ishamael was the only one who so eagerly anticipated the Wheel of Time’s annihilation and his own along with it that he would sacrifice himself on Rand’s sword without hesitation if it could potentially result in the Dark One’s final victory over the Light and the unmaking of the Pattern. The others, with the possible exception of Lanfear (Natasha O’Keeffe), may fear the Dark One and at times revere him, but none would not happily betray him if they felt safe doing so. They each have an agenda. Take Lanfear, for instance. I don’t think she’s seriously considered breaking the Wheel for one moment; her goal is and has always been to win back the heart of Lews Therin Telamon (Karim Alexander), whose soul now resides in Rand’s humbler body, and to rule the world alongside him, never letting him leave her again. She won’t let the Dark One have him.
I’m curious to know what drove Laia Costa’s Moghedien to the Shadow in the first place, and what she wants now. From the little time we spend with her at the very end of the episode, I’m honestly not sure if she has a single coherent thought in her head, but the books do tell us that during the Age of Legends, she was named Lillen Moiral, and worked as an investment advisor, violating every rule of ethics in her pursuit of material power. As a relatively weak channeler, she had to master the art of fading into the background, letting her opponents walk all over her until she had gotten them to lower their guard, and then striking with deadly precision, disappearing before the body hit the floor. She uses this exact tactic on Lanfear, playing at being helpless and child-like until she suddenly has the stronger Forsaken tangled in her webs. She can’t kill Lanfear, but she leaves her with a warning to stay away from Rand: “He’s ours now. All five of them are.”
With Ishamael dead and the series caught up to the ending of The Dragon Reborn, the characters are poised to begin their Shadow Rising arcs; Rand, Egwene and Mat heading to the Aiel Waste for the kind of training they can’t receive elsewhere, Perrin returning to the Two Rivers to deal with the unresolved issue of Padan Fain (Johann Myers), and Nynaeve and Elayne hunting the Black Ajah in Tanchico, while at the White Tower Siuan will face the greatest challenge to her authority as Amyrlin Seat. The Shadow Rising is widely regarded to be one of, if not the, best book in The Wheel Of Time, so expectations are understandably high – and the third season needs to be a hit, because season four was not greenlit far in advance and the second season’s viewing numbers, while relatively strong, were obviously impacted by the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes preventing writers and actors from doing promotion on their social media or attending premieres and events, not to mention Amazon’s already sparse marketing (a single trailer, that’s all we got) and the gap of almost two years between seasons.
But The Wheel Of Time deserves to keep turning for a long time yet. The second season, even this imperfect but wildly enjoyable finale, earns the series its place alongside many of its higher-profile competitors in the fantasy genre (dare I say above most, including the more expensive but not as instantly engaging Rings Of Power). The vast world that Robert Jordan created and The Wheel Of Time‘s production designers, set designers, propmakers, costumers, hairstylists, and makeup-artists made into a richly detailed reality is one in which fans can immerse themselves for years and still discover something new. The magic system, vividly realized by the VFX artists and fight coordinators, is among the most intricate that exist, and its depths were unplumbed even by their originator. Most importantly, the characters ripped off the page and brought to life by the series’ incredible cast of actors, from established stars Rosamund Pike and Daniel Henney to relative newcomers Madeleine Madden and Zoë Robins, can support at least as many stories as any of the minor historical figures mentioned in The Lord Of The Rings and A Song Of Ice And Fire who now lead movies and series’. The Wheel Of Time has reached the big leagues. In fact, it got there before the season midpoint. But whether the average viewer knows it will entirely depend on word-of-mouth as long as Amazon’s promotion continues to be nonexistent. And not to be too pushy, but I kinda need that fourth season (and a fifth, and a sixth, and so on), so, uh, go watch it maybe?
MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE WHEEL OF TIME SEASON TWO AND BOOKS 1 – 4, AHEAD!
This piece was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the series being covered here would not exist.
I do not regard myself as a Wheel Of Time book purist. The Amazon adaptation of Robert Jordan’s massive fourteen-volume epic fantasy series has made some pretty substantial changes from page to screen, some of them unintentional but unavoidable (like when a member of the main cast abruptly left halfway through filming season one and had to be written out of the remaining two episodes), some of them purposeful (like altering the rules of the magic-system so that channelers, most of them, can’t innately sense when someone of the same sex can channel), and I have generally been accepting of this because, with all due respect to Jordan, his books are deeply flawed even by the standards of the time they were written, and I don’t think The Wheel Of Time would resonate with general audiences if it were adapted word-for-word. So with very few exceptions, I have forgiven or made peace with every change I didn’t like, while acknowledging that the majority were necessary or justifiable. Maybe I wasn’t so keen on what the show did with Agelmar in season one, but it didn’t ruin my enjoyment. I grumbled about it, and moved on fairly quickly.
But Agelmar was also a very minor character, in the grand scheme of things. Even killing him off in the Battle of Tarwin’s Gap will have only a small impact on future events. When it comes to major characters, I confess to being more protective – though until season two, episode seven, I never really felt that I had to be, because most of the major characters I liked were obviously favorites of the writers already. Showrunner Rafe Judkins seems to share my personal preference for reading about the magic-wielding, often morally ambiguous women who make up the Aes Sedai, and that translates into more screentime for characters like Moiraine Damodred (Rosamund Pike), Liandrin Guirale (Kate Fleetwood), and Alanna Mosvani (Priyanka Bose)…too much screentime, according to those who would rather see more of the Emond’s Field Five, but never enough, if you ask me and others who find the Aes Sedai as a whole more interesting.
So for The Wheel Of Time to fumble a character I assumed was another one of Judkins’ favorites is more than a little surprising. The fact that said character just so happens to be my favorite is frustrating, and makes this personal. So let’s talk about Siuan Sanche (Sophie Okonedo).
To be clear, I don’t think anyone on the writing team dislikes Siuan. But do they regard her as a fully three-dimensional person apart from Moiraine, her lover and the lead character on the show? That’s the question I’m having a hard time answering. Siuan has only appeared in three episodes across two seasons – likely due in part to Okonedo’s busy schedule – and although she doesn’t share every one of her scenes with Moiraine, the narrative has tied her to Pike’s character, bringing Siuan out only when she’s relevant to Moiraine. So much happened at the White Tower throughout this season – the training of the two most powerful Novices in recent history, the emergence of the Black Ajah, a kidnapping – and Siuan was absent for all of it. Where was she? What was she doing? We don’t know, and the show doesn’t seem to care.
When she finally reappears, she’s immediately framed as an antagonist, placing a shield on Rand al’Thor (Josha Stradowski) – which we know, through Moiraine, to be an incredibly violating and disturbing experience for the shielded individual – and implying, without outright stating, that she means to keep Rand shielded until the Last Battle, which the Aes Sedai will win by pitting him against the Dark One, gentling him afterwards to prevent another Breaking of the World. We simply haven’t spent enough time with Siuan in the show for this apparently spur-of-the-moment decision to come off as anything but unreasonable and unethical. If the framing and dialogue didn’t already make it clear that Siuan is in the wrong here, the episode cuts away from her monologue to a scene of Egwene al’Vere (Madeleine Madden) being weaponized by the Seanchan in the exact same way Siuan describes using Rand.
Mind you, this is the exact opposite of how Siuan approaches Rand in the books. Very early in The Great Hunt, the two meet in nearly identical circumstances, albeit at a different time, in a different place. An easily intimidated Rand believes Siuan is out to get him (because men can’t find it within themselves to trust women, even in fantasy), and Siuan doesn’t exactly assuage his fears, but the reader is privy to an earlier conversation between her and Moiraine where she reveals that they were to “bring him to Tar Valon, where we could hide him, keep him safe and guide him.” No mention of shielding him, caging him, or using him as a weapon; not so much as a hint. Now, that’s not to say Siuan wasn’t wary of Rand in the books, but she’s acutely aware that he can’t be controlled, mostly because he’s the subject of prophecies, and prophecies have a way of fulfilling themselves in this particular world, without exception. Hence why she ultimately decides to let Rand go off on his own, or at least to give him the illusion of free will in the matter. Of course, the show has diverged from the books in the past many times, but this time I simply can’t justify the deviation when it makes Siuan come across so poorly, especially to fans of the show.
Because Siuan has conspired with Moiraine in the past, some have speculated that the two had a plan going into the meeting with Rand – and have pointed to Siuan’s sidestepping language as proof that she didn’t ever actually intend to keep Rand caged, but guided him to that conclusion so he’d be more willing to trust Moiraine, who comes off very rational and heroic, pointing out the glaring flaws in Siuan’s proposal and pleading with her to let him go. Call me cynical, but I don’t buy it. The plan would have to be so complex that laying it out for the audience later on would only be confusing. And unless the plan fell apart somewhere along the way (requiring even more explanation), Siuan wouldn’t have gone alone to the Waygate to stop Moiraine from leaving with Rand; she certainly wouldn’t have exploited the oath that Moiraine swore to her in season one to make her close the Waygate against her will, when there were no other Aes Sedai around and Rand didn’t even know such an oath existed. No knowing looks pass between her and Moiraine, and Moiraine doesn’t say anything to Lan (Daniel Henney) when they’re alone in the next episode that hints at a conspiracy. The evidence doesn’t add up.
Rather, we’re left with the impression that Siuan is just that confident in her absolute power that she would openly declare Rand the Dragon, bring him back to the Tower, and expect him not to be gentled upon arrival…and if we saw for ourselves the authority she commands over the Aes Sedai, maybe we could believe it, but we’ve seen the opposite. Her right-hand woman, Leane Sharif (Jennifer Cheon Garcia), was openly threatened by Liandrin in episode four. Three Novices were kidnapped by the Black Ajah under everyone’s noses, and several Aes Sedai, including a Sitter of the Blue Ajah, were captured or killed by the Seanchan. The show’s version of Siuan talks a big talk but has no tangible control, and this is again in contrast to the books, where at least for a time she is shown to be a strong and capable leader.
With this in mind, even the costuming department’s decision to dress her up in the most ostentatious version of the Amyrlin Seat’s traditional regalia with an askew headdress of golden baubles, and a heavy, floor-length fur-coat that gives off strong “Denethor from the Lord Of The Rings trilogy” vibes, feels deliberate. Siuan has always been a character who abstains from flaunting her power and wealth. “Even the nearly ten years since she had been raised to the Seat had not made her comfortable with too much luxury,” it is noted in The Dragon Reborn, where Jordan describes in great detail the spartan furnishings of her chambers in the White Tower. Now, Siuan isn’t above intimidating people if it comes down to it, but these heavy furs and layers of gilding just make her seem smaller, more vulnerable, weighed down by the trappings of her position.
In short, my feelings on the matter boil down to this: if Okonedo could only appear briefly in season two, bringing her character in at the very end to oppose the by-now beloved protagonists of the series was an unwise and potentially damaging use of her limited screentime. Siuan is already being demonized by the fandom for “betraying” Moiraine and Rand. Granted, it doesn’t take much for a fandom to abruptly turn on Black characters, Black women especially, and anything Siuan does or says will inevitably be blown out of proportion, but the writers still made the choice to pit her – a Black woman with very little screentime and interiority – against a white woman with the lion’s share of both. And they show their favoritism towards the latter in this episode, going so far as to have Moiraine’s sister Anvaere (Lindsay Duncan) deliver an uncharacteristically tearful monologue in her behalf.
Never mind that Moiraine, throughout this season, has been acting recklessly self-sacrificial, and Siuan has every right to be frustrated with her, even angry. Obviously, being shielded wasn’t Moiraine’s fault, and sure, she wants to believe it won’t slow her down, but it does, and she knows better than anyone how imperative it is that they stay one step ahead of the Dark One. But instead of admitting that and making arrangements for Siuan to take on some of the responsibilities of protecting Rand, she hid the truth, insisting to herself that she could do everything on her own, even without the Power at her fingertips. And that’s fine, all very much in-character for Moiraine. The writers really get her.
But it’s another example of how, when Moiraine makes a mistake or does something downright heinous, the writers go out of their way to show us her reasoning and reassure us of who she is and what she stands for; we don’t ever get the same insight into Siuan’s thought process, and it’s a disservice to one of the strongest and most influential characters in the world of The Wheel Of Time. The Amyrlin Seat deserves to be more than a foil to Moiraine or a beat in her emotional journey, and that’s the real issue here. Not that Siuan made an error, or that she’s morally gray, which are fine and acceptable qualities in a character.
As I’m sure you can guess from the length of my rant, the mishandling of Siuan in this episode brought down my rating considerably, though there are – perhaps shockingly – things I liked, too. Okonedo and Pike are excellent, and their depiction of a love that endured for decades breaking down over the course of a single day is heartwrenching to witness, however you feel about the circumstances. Seeing their characters young and idealistic in flashback, just prior to the event that rocked their world, sheds a little more light on their distinct but complementary philosophies. We learn, too, from this glimpse into the past that there was a time when Moiraine and Siuan did not feel the need to conceal their romantic relationship (it was really cute to see them running through the halls of the Tower, hand-in-hand), and can surmise that the layers they’ve had to put between them to protect their mission have contributed to their growing distrust of the other’s true agenda.
Trust, or the lack thereof, is a major factor in everything that unfolds in this episode – even Moiraine’s long-awaited power-up is a result of her explicitly placing her trust in Rand to cut the knot shielding her from the True Source (in a scene that unfortunately can’t help but feel somewhat anticlimactic and cheap, after the several episodes spent following Moiraine through the long, arduous process of getting back on her feet after losing the One Power, analyzing all her trauma responses in depth). Siuan and Moiraine can trace many of their current problems back to Lan’s misinterpretation of Moiraine’s unwavering trust in his loyalty leading to her pushing him away for his own safety as her having lost all trust, which directly resulted in him sharing the true identity of the Dragon Reborn with Alanna and her Warders, and trusting Siuan to rescue Moiraine from herself. Lan’s actions, in turn, caused Moiraine to actually start distrusting both him and Siuan. Meanwhile, sweet innocent himbo Rand trusts the Forsaken Lanfear (Natasha O’Keeffe).
Lanfear’s intervention on Rand and Moiraine’s behalf is the final nail in the coffin, as far as Siuan is concerned, and you know I’m on her side here. Sure, the Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills and all that, but if the Dragon is colluding with the Forsaken and Moiraine is allowing it to happen, they have to be stopped before they inevitably walk straight into a trap. Anyway, Siuan goes to the Waygate to do just that, sees Moiraine channeling, and incorrectly assumes that Moiraine was lying to her all along about being shielded – and is therefore a Darkfriend. Hence why she resorts to using the Oath to prove that Moiraine is still on the side of the Light. As much as I personally dislike this plotline for its one-sided focus on Moiraine’s perspective, it does one thing right in that it brings back something seemingly insignificant from the first season – the Oath Moiraine swore to “honor and obey Siuan Sanche” – and gives it unexpected relevance in the story going forward, encouraging us to go back and revisit that original scene with the benefit of hindsight. The Wheel Of Time‘s foreshadowing is, as always, exceptionally clever.
And speaking of foreshadowing, I have to mention the scenes with Mat Cauthon (Dónal Finn) that are chock-full of hints and teases for future events. Whisked off to Falme by Lanfear, Mat finds himself an honored guest of the Forsaken and receives the dubious gift of insight into his past lives, courtesy of a hallucinogenic tea. He catches glimpses of himself killing and being killed many times over, and his alcoholic mother Natti (Juliet Howland) reappears for the second time this season to instill in him the fear that he’s just like her and his absent father, an inherently bad person with a soul that’s been bound to the Dark through countless Turnings of the Wheel. This isn’t entirely true, but still, you might wanna make a note of what Mat sees in his visions. Additionally, this scene gives us subtle confirmation that Mat is – as many of us have long-suspected – queer, as he flirts with Ishamael (Fares Fares), who is himself deeply queer-coded and has attempted to seduce all three ta’veren boys while completely ignoring the girls.
As for Perrin Aybara (Marcus Rutherford), he’s been a much larger presence throughout the second season but in this episode he takes a backseat, mostly watching on in utter confusion as his traveling companion, the Aiel spear-maiden Aviendha (Ayoola Smart), reunites with two warriors from her homeland and willingly submits to being beaten into a pulp by the both of them, which she casually explains to Perrin later was a fulfilment of her unpaid debt or “toh” to the Aiel warrior who died trying to save Aviendha’s life in the battle where she was taken captive. Ji’e’toh, the Aiel system of honor and obligation, never made much sense to me in the books, and it still doesn’t, but I’m weirdly happy that it’s not being simplified or downplayed for the show. Like Aes Sedai corporal punishment and everything to do with the Seanchan, it goes to show that none of the cultures and institutions that inhabit this world are without their own problematic aspects.
And that goes for characters as well, but it’s been weeks and I’m still having trouble accepting this version of Siuan Sanche that, while brilliantly portrayed by the incomparable Sophie Okonedo, is the complete inverse of Siuan as originally written. It surprises me just how strongly I feel about this. I’ve always thought myself more impartial because I had (and have) my fair share of complaints about the books, but I suppose everyone has that one character that they feel extremely protective over, and mine is apparently Siuan. If, in season three, Siuan’s role is expanded and she is no longer made out to be an antagonist or reduced to Moiraine’s love interest, it’s entirely possible I will revisit this divisive episode with newfound appreciation someday. But not today.