“The Wheel Of Time” Episode 8 Is Messy So Season 2 Doesn’t Have To Be

SPOILERS FOR THE WHEEL OF TIME EPISODE EIGHT AND THE EYE OF THE WORLD AHEAD!

As if Amazon’s The Wheel Of Time didn’t have enough problems going into its very first season finale, between budget and time constraints, COVID-19 restrictions, and a lead actor leaving during filming, the harsh reality was that this season finale was probably always going to be difficult to get right (and therefore divisive with fans) no matter what…because there’s a precedent in the source material itself.

Wheel Of Time
“The Dark One”, Moiraine, and Rand | winteriscoming.net

The convoluted and convenient ending of Robert Jordan’s first Wheel Of Time novel, The Eye Of The World, is widely cited as one of the main reasons that fans regard the book as weak in comparison to its sequels; well that, and the fact that tonally and stylistically, it reads more like Tolkien than Jordan, or that it’s heavy on exposition yet the complex magic-system remains vaguely-defined by the end of the book and main characters are just barely fleshed-out. But seriously, a lot happens in the last few chapters that is still confusing even by the end of the series.

Leaving aside the extremely random nature deity who literally appears out of nowhere, Jordan’s version of events involves two of the series’ most inconsequential Forsaken popping up out of the ground to challenge Rand al’Thor (Josha Stradowski) to a magical battle at the Eye of the World. Things get really weird and trippy from there, Rand instantaneously teleports to Fal Dara and singlehandedly defeats an army of Shadowspawn because he can just…do that now, kills “The Dark One”, possibly talks to The Creator (a.k.a. God), then returns to the Eye to find the long-lost Horn of Valere and the banner of the Dragon Reborn.

Some of the questions that first-time readers have upon finishing The Eye Of The World are answered in later books. Some aren’t. The general consensus among fans is that while Robert Jordan had a lot of his story already figured out when he wrote that first book, the rules of his magic-system weren’t locked down at that point. On top of that, he wanted The Eye Of The World to work as a self-contained story in case he never got to publish the sequels, which explains the deceptive triumphant tone of the ending.

It’s unsurprising and understandable that Amazon’s Wheel Of Time adaptation didn’t aim for loyalty to the books in this instance, because frankly it wouldn’t have made much sense if they had. Jordan’s fourteen-volume series came to an end in 2012 with the help of Brandon Sanderson, so the magic-system is now fully-realized and the inconsistencies in The Eye Of The World are outliers anyway. And because Amazon greenlit The Wheel Of Time for a second season months ago, there’s no need for the writers to tack on a misleading happy ending as Jordan did.

But for every problem solved in the adaptation process, a new one arises that is exclusive to this medium – and hopefully to this first season, specifically. Amazon dictates have apparently been a thorn in showrunner Rafe Judkins’ side since early days of production, when the studio shot down his idea for a 2-hour pilot episode. Then COVID-19 happened, and when The Wheel Of Time was allowed to resume filming after a months-long hiatus with new restrictions in place, one of the show’s lead actors, Barney Harris, didn’t return to set, requiring Judkins and his team to rewrite the last two episodes to account for his absence.

Behind the façade of this otherwise mostly enjoyable episode hide patches of frantically-rewritten story and dialogue loosely holding the whole structure together – like puzzle-pieces that when assembled, form a picture of chaos behind-the-scenes. Most egregiously, the writers don’t seem to have finished removing Mat Cauthon (Barney Harris) from this episode, so the silhouette of what was clearly intended to be his subplot remains visible, awkwardly filled by the character of Perrin Aybara (Marcus Rutherford).

Thematically, it makes no sense whatsoever for Perrin to confront the Darkfriend Padan Fain (Johann Meyers), or for their conversation to unfold the way it does, with Padan taunting Perrin about succumbing to the darkness. This entire sequence, which concludes with Padan Fain stealing the Horn of Valere from its secret vault under the throne of Fal Dara (in the books, it’s discovered at the Eye of the World), was very obviously intended to feature Mat – the only character with whom Padan ever interacted, whose potential for darkness was so strong that Padan guided him to the cursed dagger in Shadar Logoth.

Wheel Of Time
Padan Fain | denofgeek.com

Presumably, in the version of the finale we’ll never get to see, Padan would have encouraged Mat to take the next step towards joining the Dark One, before stabbing him with the cursed dagger and leaving with the Horn of Valere after Mat inevitably fought back. In the version we did get, Padan randomly stabs Loial (Hammed Animashaun) and leaves him for dead, although Rafe Judkins has confirmed that Loial is alive. Either way, it would have set up the events of The Great Hunt and the connection that Mat has to the Horn more effectively than a split-second shot of Mat in Tar Valon while Padan is talking to Perrin.

Perrin actually spends most of the episode talking and running around aimlessly, while a battle rages outside the walls of Fal Dara that we barely get to see because apparently Perrin adopted the pacifistic Way of the Leaf at some point (never shown onscreen) and now refuses to fight. Don’t get me wrong, I’d be fully onboard with that character development if Perrin did anything cool or compelling instead, but the weak action scenes scattered throughout this episode really could have benefited from a character with the instincts, reflexes, and unique abilities of a wolf.

There’s a lot of buildup to the Battle of Tarwin’s Gap, and the characters even delude themselves into thinking that the Last Battle, Tarmon Gai’don, is upon them, but all the time spent developing Fal Dara’s warlords Agelmar (Thomas Chaanhing) and Amalisa (Sandra Yi Sencindiver) goes to waste on a “battle” that consists of one embarrassingly puny cavalry charge and a single barrage of arrows. Agelmar, who survives The Eye Of The World, is impaled within the first five minutes by a Trolloc, at which point the fortress at Tarwin’s Gap falls (they call it a fortress, I call it a glorified palisade).

Throughout this…skirmish, the camera refuses to linger very long on the close-quarters action, for good reason. COVID-19 restrictions prevented The Wheel Of Time from filling out the armies on either side with human extras, and even the actors who portrayed the Trollocs and Myrddraal in the first few episodes using extraordinary practical effects and prosthetics have been replaced by a patchy CGI swarm that pours into the flat wasteland before the walls of Fal Dara and is conveniently obliterated by Amalisa, Nynaeve al’Meara (Zoë Robins), and Egwene al’Vere (Madeleine Madden) before they come into focus.

To the surprise of no one (including the VFX department, I’m certain), this unfinished army of Shadowspawn doesn’t look all that great even from a distance, in total darkness. But it still required money to build from scratch, and that’s money that’s clearly been siphoned away from the special effects in other areas, including the incoherent thunderstorm of saidar summoned by Amalisa (using Nynaeve and Egwene’s power) that eventually reduces the Shadowspawn to cinders in what is already one of the finale’s most confusing – and controversial – original scenes.

Let me try to break it down for you. During the final battle, as the Shadowspawn approach, Amalisa orders Nynaeve, Egwene, and a handful of weaker channelers to “link” with her, something we saw the Aes Sedai do in episode four to collectively gentle Logain. But as we learned from Moiraine (Rosamund Pike) in episode seven, Amalisa herself is weak, and clearly lacks the necessary Aes Sedai training to pull off this difficult maneuver. Instead of equally distributing the One Power amongst her teammates, Amalisa absorbs it all into herself and goes nuclear, quickly burning out.

The same fate befalls everyone tied to her by the link, as one by one the weaker channelers are ripped apart from within by the One Power, which leaves blackened craters where their facial features used to be (a delightfully grisly visual). But eventually Nynaeve wrests control of the One Power from the disintegrating Amalisa to protect Egwene, and burns out. For a moment it’s even implied that she’s dead…but then Egwene heals her anyway. And that, to me, is the only part of this sequence that warrants criticism, because honestly everything else is appropriately terrifying and exhilarating.

Wheel Of Time
Amalisa and Agelmar | dragonmount.com

But seriously, another fake-out death? Really? This is a trope that is extremely difficult to write well even once in a story, and The Wheel Of Time has now “killed” Nynaeve twice. The first time around, when Nynaeve was abducted by a Trolloc, the manner in which she cheated death actually told us a great deal about her character – and as we learned from Padan Fain, she was never really in danger of being killed because the Trollocs planned to bring her to the Dark One. We don’t learn anything new about Nynaeve when she “sacrifices” herself to save Egwene; only that she’s apparently invulnerable.

Across all fourteen volumes in Robert Jordan’s Wheel Of Time saga, no burned out channeler ever has their ability to channel restored – and the fact that in this instance it’s Egwene (canonically one of the weakest healers) who miraculously saves Nynaeve makes this scene all the more amusingly inaccurate to the books. That’s not necessarily a problem for the time being, because The Wheel Of Time hasn’t established many of the laws of channeling yet, but down the line one would hope that we get an explanation for what Egwene did in this moment.

My fear is that the explanation, if we ever get one at all, will be in the form of some dismissive offhand comment to the effect of “she’s ta’veren; deal with it”. My hope is that The Wheel Of Time plans to actually explore the intricate mechanics of channeling in its second season, partially through Nynaeve and Egwene as they try to piece together what went wrong with their linking-circle and how they can learn from their mistakes (by training with the Aes Sedai in Tar Valon), and partially through Moiraine, who was unexpectedly humbled by “The Dark One” (Fares Fares) at the Eye of the World, losing her own ability to channel.

Fans are divided over what exactly happened to Moiraine. She can’t channel, but can still feel the One Power at her fingertips, indicating that “The Dark One” either “shielded” her or “stilled” her. The former is more likely, because the magic net that “The Dark One” cast over Moiraine was very similar to the shield that the Aes Sedai used to bind Logain in episode four, and nothing like the probes they used to rip the One Power out of his chest when they “gentled” him. Gentling and stilling both refer to the act of removing a person’s ability to channel entirely, and the consequences are believed to be permanent.

Shields, thankfully, can be undone – although the process requires patience, persistence, and in many cases assistance from another channeler, especially if the “weaves” used to create the shield were extremely complex or archaic (and “The Dark One” is many thousands of years old, so we can safely assume he learned his weaves sometime during the fabled Age of Legends). That’s good news for Moiraine, but keep in mind that women in Jordan’s world can’t see when men channel (and vice versa), so Moiraine doesn’t know what “The Dark One” did to her, or how deep the damage goes.

It’s reasonable to assume that Moiraine will have to search for help from other Aes Sedai in season two, seeing as Nynaeve’s mental block is now firmly in place, preventing her from channeling, even to heal, except when she’s angry, and Egwene, well…actually, this would be a lot simpler if Egwene were still really bad at healing, but…yeah, I don’t know how they’re going to explain why Egwene can’t just undo Moiraine’s shield the same way she undid Nynaeve’s burning out. This is why we need that explanation for what she even did to Nynaeve in the first place, and fast!

Wheel Of Time
The Seanchan | collider.com

On top of all that, the Seanchan colonists make their first live-action appearance at the very end of the episode, leaving audiences with a frightening mental image of all the sadistic, creative ways in which the One Power can be abused. Women with the ability to channel, including captured and enslaved Aes Sedai, make up the lowest class in Seanchan society, where their movements can be controlled by non-channelers through the use of special collars (which in the show are coupled with golden gags). The Seanchan are seen using them to conjure a tidal wave in advance of their arrival on the western shores near Falme.

There’s not much I can actually say about the Seanchan without skirting around Wheel Of Time spoilers. I mean, I could just rant for hours about the production design and costume design failures that continue to plague this show, including the tacky skull helmets that I naively want to hope were stolen from the set of a 1990’s B-movie because the thought of any professional costume designer approving those in 2021 is frankly embarrassing, and the fact that every flat surface on the Seanchan ships is inexplicably covered in giant spikes, but nobody wants to hear me rant (unless you do, in which case I will happily oblige).

Besides, I actually have nice things to say about the production design, too. Not as many nice things as I would like to be able to say, but enough to fill out this paragraph at least, because for one brief flashback to the Age of Legends (hopefully the first of many), the eclectic sets, props, costumes, and production values are in perfect harmony with each other, united by a sleek and streamlined science-fantasy aesthetic. The actors even speak in the Old Tongue invented by Robert Jordan to immersive effect.

The scene gives us insight into the events that preceded the Breaking of the World three-thousand years before Rand’s time, when Lews Therin Telamon (Alexander Karim), in his arrogance, impatience, and desire to protect his loved ones, foolishly chose to try seal the Dark One away forever, ignoring warnings from the Tamyrlin Seat that he would expose the male half of the One Power to the Dark One’s corrosive influence in so doing. Rand al’Thor, Lews Therin’s reincarnation in the Third Age, similarly fails to see the bigger picture, which is why his victory at the Eye of the World is…incomplete.

And yet, Rand’s confrontation with “The Dark One” at the Eye is an unequivocal improvement on the world-hopping swordfight that concluded the first book in Jordan’s series. Usually, adaptations look for opportunities to expand on action and visual spectacle – but this is the rare instance where the opposite is true, and Rand finds himself battling not a physical opponent, but his own worst impulses. “The Dark One” tempts him with a tantalizing vision of the simple life he wanted with Egwene back in the Two Rivers, telling him that with his newfound power he can force the Wheel of Time to weave this fiction into a reality.

And he still wants it, desperately. The scene wouldn’t be effective if he didn’t. But his epiphany, which ultimately gives him the strength to turn on “The Dark One” and blast him out of existence with a blinding sunbeam of power, is that he wanted this future with Egwene because he loves her deeply, deeply enough to know that she doesn’t want it. She has her own hopes and dreams of becoming the village Wisdom someday, or even an Aes Sedai, dreams he may never understand but which he will always respect and accept because he loves her. And I just think that’s beautiful.

Of course, by giving up his one chance at the life he always wanted, Rand simultaneously shoulders the responsibilities and burdens of the lonely life he’s got. And Rand being Rand, instead of seeking guidance, he chooses to go into self-imposed exile after defeating “The Dark One”, instructing Moiraine not to come looking for him or even to tell his friends that he’s alive – because the way he sees it, he won’t be for much longer. All that’s left for him now is the slow descent into insanity that awaits all male channelers.

At least, that’s what he thinks. Without getting into spoilers for the books, all I’ll say is what’s already implied by Moiraine in the episode itself; that the events at the Eye of the World warrant close examination, because what Rand thought happened and what actually happened are not necessarily the same thing. This may not have been immediately obvious to readers back in 1990, but Robert Jordan’s series now has fourteen books, a prequel novel, and several spin-off stories, so there’s not much point in hiding that this is just the beginning of Rand’s story.

Well, let me rephrase that; it is not the beginning, for there are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time.

Wheel Of Time
Lews Therin Telamon and Latra Posae Decume | winteriscoming.net

But it is a beginning – perhaps even a new beginning for Amazon’s series, which will enter its second season free of the heavy baggage that season one struggled to carry. A recast Mat’s return will obviously restore some cohesion to the story, but on top of that the budget has been increased, and The Wheel Of Time is now a proven success on streaming, which will appease the skeptical Amazon executives. The writing choices made throughout season one allow season two to hit the ground running and almost immediately branch out in exciting new directions.

If this season finale was messy (and don’t get me wrong, it absolutely was), it’s only so that season two doesn’t have to be.

Episode Rating: 6/10

“The Wheel Of Time” Episode 7, Down A Lead Actor, Forges Ahead

SPOILERS FOR THE WHEEL OF TIME EPISODE SEVEN AND BOOKS AHEAD!

Tug a thread carelessly from any piece of fabric, and it will begin to unravel. The same is perhaps doubly true of story-threads, especially in a narrative as carefully and deliberately woven as The Wheel Of Time. Many of the major events and character moments in the fourteen-volume book series, written and published over a span of roughly twenty-nine years, were plotted out by author Robert Jordan from near the beginning of the series, allowing him to layer foreshadowing into the early books for story beats that wouldn’t transpire until after his death in 2007, when Brandon Sanderson completed The Wheel Of Time.

Wheel Of Time
Moiraine in the Ways | arstechnica.com

This hasn’t prevented Amazon Prime’s adaptation from rearranging the order of events and character introductions, excising or swapping out characters and locations, or otherwise streamlining Jordan’s sprawling series, but until episode seven these changes haven’t dramatically altered the predetermined course of the story and individual character arcs. Most of the material in the Baerlon and Caemlyn chapters of The Eye Of The World, for instance, has simply been redistributed across the width of the first season – including the character of Min Farshaw (Kae Alexander) who’s been transported halfway across the map from Baerlon to Fal Dara.

But those changes were part of showrunner Rafe Judkins’ plan for The Wheel Of Time, and he and his team of writers had already comfortably integrated them into the story by the time filming began. By contrast, it does not appear that anyone foresaw Barney Harris’ abrupt departure midway through filming, and if I had to hazard a guess based solely on the quality of the scripts for the last two episodes, I’d wager that the writers were not provided anywhere near enough time by Amazon to try and work around Harris’ absence in such a way that it felt planned.

To be fair, it’s a miracle that the loss of a series lead – coupled with COVID-19 and budget constraints – didn’t halt The Wheel Of Time dead in its tracks, and that they were able to move forward at all with revised scripts and a new direction for Harris’ character, Mat Cauthon. Judkins wisely chose to put off the recasting process until he had time to fully devote himself to finding the right actor for the role, but the consequence of that decision is that Mat doesn’t appear again between episode six and a few moments worth of presumably repurposed footage in episode eight.

Now, anyone who’s read The Wheel Of Time knows that major characters often disappear for entire books to go do their own thing, and Mat is one of those characters. But that’s roughly halfway through a fourteen-book series, after readers have gotten to know, and to care for, and to love Mat Cauthon. The effect is quite different when you’ve only got to know a character throughout six episodes of a crowded debut season, the last four of which said character spent being driven mad under the influence of a cursed dagger. If I didn’t know why I should care about Mat by virtue of having read the books, I’m not sure I would.

And all of that is exacerbated by the shoddy justification for Mat’s decision not to enter the Waygate at the end of episode six; that he has an “inherent darkness” within him that’s apparently pushing him towards the Dark One. It only further alienates the character from the audience at a point where he’s not here to defend himself, and clashes with what we thought we knew about Mat given that his only firmly-established character trait was a selfless desire to help his family that was driving him away from his destiny, but certainly not to the Dark One’s side.

It’s a flimsy excuse and a hurtful one, not only to Mat but to the characters forced to halfheartedly state it as if it’s an irrefutable fact that Mat’s already succumbed to the darkness. I could perhaps get onboard with the idea that Moiraine Damodred (Rosamund Pike), ever the wariest of the Aes Sedai, would be reluctant to bring Mat near the Dark One because of his exposure to darkness through the cursed dagger, but I can’t easily accept that she never actually intended to bring Mat to the Eye of the World, as she claims in hushed tones to Lan (Daniel Henney), until I understand why she brought Mat to the Waygate at all in that case.

If he hadn’t decided to stay put of his own accord, was she planning to kill him in the Ways or after reaching their destination? Did she have a reason for telling him where she was going if she genuinely feared that he would join the Dark One? And if she always planned to send the Red Ajah after him, why not do so back in Tar Valon, when she could have used the opportunity to appease Liandrin Guirale? If, on the other hand, she’s doing all of this for Mat’s protection, why not leave him in safe hands instead of stranding him in the middle of nowhere near a Waygate he can’t open even if he wanted to?

Wheel Of Time
Perrin, Egwene, Rand, and Nynaeve | telltaletv.com

The one person you can usually rely on to see through Moiraine’s smokescreens is Nynaeve al’Meara (Zoë Robins) – so naturally in this situation, instead of demanding truth from the Aes Sedai or fighting to reopen the Waygate, she’s quickly convinced that that would be impossible and decides to follow Moiraine into the darkness of the Ways, remarking that they’ll find Mat once they’re out (a promise she doesn’t even attempt to keep once they reach the city of Fal Dara). Soon, the only character consistently standing up for Mat is Rand al’Thor (Josha Stradowski).

If the intent behind all of this was to endear Rand to viewers just in time for the big twist that he’s also the Dragon Reborn, it comes at the cost of exposing the lack of character development amongst all the Emond’s Field Five (well, four now), and is undermined by Rand himself. I get that Rand makes himself unlikable in the books to try and distance his friends from the fallout of his actions, but that plot-device is so poorly utilized here that it alienates us from Rand without providing any reason to keep sympathizing with him.

Gone is the quiet yet affable sheepherder whose presence we tolerated through the first six episodes; in his place is the sullen, irritable woolhead I fear we’ll be burdened with from this point hence. Not content with privately pushing his friends away one-by-one, Rand stirs up drama between them and stokes rivalries and divisions in the group under the pretense that he’s trying to unite them against Moiraine. He leaps at the opportunity to berate Egwene al’Vere (Madeleine Madden), calling her out for doubting Mat and not having his back when Rand did.

But this argument – this entire subplot – hinges on the viewer knowing these three characters more intimately than The Wheel Of Time has actually allowed us to, even seven episodes deep. Egwene and Mat only shared a handful of scenes in the first two episodes before separating at Shadar Logoth, and never had any interactions in which Rand could plausibly have interpreted some sort of animosity on Egwene’s part, so everything they’re arguing over in episode seven is largely meaningless to us, based on stuff that I guess must have happened before we entered the story.

And, well, don’t even get me started on the other big revelation that comes out of this argument. At some point while everyone is fighting, Nynaeve blurts out that Perrin Aybara (Marcus Rutherford) had an unrequited crush on Egwene while married to Laila, something that comes as a shock to Egwene, to Rand, and to us, the viewers. Technically, this is not a new development. Perrin was implied to have a slight crush on Egwene in The Eye Of The World, but Jordan never referenced it again afterwards. It was unbelievable even by his standards, and that’s saying something.

So obviously there was a great deal of shock and disappointment from fans (including myself) who felt that Perrin’s crush on Egwene maybe wasn’t the most vital part of the books to bring over into live-action. Don’t get me wrong, I like relationship drama in my fiction as much as anybody; when it’s just the right amount of juicy and spicy, that’s good stuff. But this is neither. It’s the bare bones of a love-triangle, which is already a generic trope, but on top of that Perrin never indicated any romantic interest in Egwene ever, and now I’m supposed to believe that his marriage was on the ropes because he couldn’t get over her?

Perrin’s wife, Laila, has lingered in the back of my mind as I’ve waited for The Wheel Of Time to reveal why she existed in the first place except to die horribly and motivate her grieving husband. Supposedly, part of the thought process behind her inclusion was that aging the main characters up from teenagers to twenty-something adults in the show required them to act more mature, and to come across as more comfortable in their love-lives than the helplessly awkward, angsty protagonists of Jordan’s books. A married Perrin exemplified that. The ham-fisted reveal that he was secretly crushing on his best friend…eh, not so much.

It’s obviously insulting to Laila. As if the poor woman didn’t go through enough, trapped in an apparently listless marriage and fridged by her own husband with an axe to the stomach (against Brandon Sanderson’s wishes), now the secrets she confided in Nynaeve to keep are shared with a roomful of her friends and enemies. Not to mention the fandom is still convinced she was a Darkfriend, no matter what Rafe Judkins might say. But perhaps The Wheel Of Time is even crueler to Perrin, who’s spent most of season one cycling through pointless subplots, patiently waiting for the show to remember that he’s a major character.

Hopefully he can hang in there a little while longer, because as Judkins himself revealed, Perrin was intentionally sidelined throughout this season to preserve the mystery around the identity of the Dragon Reborn, which Judkins worried non-readers might have solved on their own if The Wheel Of Time had explored how far Perrin’s connection to the wolves goes.

Personally, I feel like the guy who can literally talk to animals would have shot to the top of my list of potential Dragons if I didn’t already know it was Rand going in, but be that as it may, the mystery resolves itself at the end of episode seven and…Perrin still gets nothing to do with wolves in the finale, because he’s burdened with the role that was clearly meant to be Mat’s before these episodes were heavily rewritten.

That said, the mystery was effective in at least one regard. It got non-readers talking and speculating and having fun watching The Wheel Of Time, trying to guess the identity of the Dragon Reborn based on the limited clues that the writers were willing to spare. And at the same time, book readers got a good chuckle out of watching those reactions, or, alternatively, felt their hearts sink to their stomach when they saw how non-readers reacted with joy to the misdirect that Nynaeve was the Dragon.

I admit to being partially biased in this matter because I never liked Rand, and about five books into the series I basically had to reconcile with the fact that I was only tolerating him because the supporting cast was worth the blood, sweat, and tears required to make it through every one of his POV chapters. I proceeded to tolerate Rand for the next seven books. The experience left me tired – and in need of more likable and offbeat protagonists. Learning that some fans really adore Rand is something that invariably shakes me to my core, although I suppose after a couple rereads one grows numb to the pain.

But on a serious note, I really love hearing the various reasons why people like Rand because I can see the potential in his arc. For Rand, the responsibility of being the “chosen one” is claustrophobia-inducing, because he can never be free of it. Wherever he goes, his very existence alters the Pattern and causes irrevocable damage to the people he loves. He’s haunted day and night by the deranged musings of the last Dragon, Lews Therin Telamon. He’s hounded by the Dark One and the Aes Sedai. The corrupted male half of the One Power offers no escape, only a constant reminder of his duty to “cleanse the taint”.

Fittingly, Judkins stages the Dragon reveal in episode seven as a revelation for the audience, but not for Rand. A montage of flashbacks to recontextualized moments throughout the season tell us that Rand has actually suspected that he is the Dragon Reborn for a long time; since he channeled in the Ways to kill a Trolloc and let Egwene take the blame; since he used weaves of saidin to escape from Dana (Izuka Hoyle) in episode three; since the Battle of Bel Tine, when his delirious father Tam al’Thor (Michael McElhatton) revealed that Rand was actually born far from the Two Rivers, on the blood-soaked slopes of Dragonmount during the Aiel War.

Wheel Of Time
Tigraine Mantear | decider.com

The cold-open for episode seven takes us back twenty years to that battle on Dragonmount (known simply as the “Blood Snow”), giving non-readers an indelible mental image of the ferocity and determination they should come to expect from the Aiel – and therefore from Rand. Vikings director Ciaran Donnelly brings an expertise in shooting raw and gritty action to the table, coupled with an almost painterly understanding of how to elegantly compose and choreograph scenes of brutal violence so that they remain one step removed from the hyper-realism of Game Of Thrones‘ early seasons.

The Wheel Of Time is the kind of fantasy show where a pregnant woman in labor can climb up a mountain in the middle of winter, leap through the air with a heavily-armored man in tow before killing him and several others in intense hand-to-hand combat, sustain a stab-wound to the stomach, and only finally die after giving birth to a healthy baby. It’s fantastical, which is refreshing in this case because the fantasy genre is usually known for mercilessly slaughtering mothers and their babies in numbers that rival Disney’s kill-count. Tigraine Mantear (stuntwoman Magdalena Sittova) reclaims agency over the last moments of her life and goes out like a warrior.

A private audience with the seer Min Farshaw confirms Rand’s suspicions that he was adopted by Tam in the aftermath of the Blood Snow, while tentatively establishing the groundwork for a romantic relationship between their characters. If they’re not quite as flirty off the bat as some fans had hoped, it’s only because Rand has just been informed that there’s a strong likelihood he’ll die the very next day, and it kind of throws a damper over any flying sparks. But Amazon’s Wheel Of Time is taking a slow-burn approach to the canonical romances, so I wouldn’t have expected Rand and Min to fall in love yet anyway.

Jordan had many strengths as a writer, but romance was not one of them. His canonical couplings often play out like some of the weirdest and most random “crackships”, with characters falling in love on their first meeting, or on a whim after several books. Even Nynaeve and Lan, whom most fans (including myself) agree are perfect together, are revealed to be deeply in love with each other almost as a side-note nearly fifty chapters into The Eye Of The World. Amazon ‘s Wheel Of Time follows that relationship more closely throughout the season, cluing us in to what both characters are feeling.

The mystery regarding the Dragon Reborn adds a sense of urgency to their relationship in episode seven, as Lan and Nynaeve are both aware that if Nynaeve is the Dragon, there’s a good chance the Dark One will kill her at the Eye, and if she’s not, she’ll almost certainly be obliterated in the clash between the Dark One and the actual Dragon. Either way, the outcome doesn’t look good, and Nynaeve resolves to die having loved Lan as fully as she can. Not content with longing from afar, she joins Lan at his home in Fal Dara, where she meets his foster-family, before returning to his bedroom with him.

Or rather, Lan returns to his bedroom without even kissing Nynaeve goodnight, and Nynaeve enters a minute or two later as he’s getting undressed for bed. Lan can’t bring himself to tantalize her with what they both know is beyond their reach, but Nynaeve is living in the moment, accepting that she’ll probably never have the chance to settle down with Lan or start a family – hell, she’ll be lucky if she survives one more day, but at least right now they can have this together. Before we cut away and leave them to their lovemaking, the unshakable, headstrong Nynaeve we adored is back.

Even in Jordan’s world, the Pattern comes undone sometimes, but it always finds a way to correct itself. That process usually involves ta’veren in the books, but seeing as Amazon Prime Studios doesn’t just have one of those hanging about the place to help out (that we know of, at least), the combined talents of Rafe Judkins and his creative team will make up for the lack of cosmic intervention.

Wheel Of Time
Nynaeve and Lan | lrmonline.com

And of course they’ll make mistakes sometimes, but keep in mind that this and the next episode had to be rewritten in the middle of a pandemic to accommodate the absence of a lead actor, so the ending we got is not the ending that Judkins wanted to give us, and the slightly lower quality of these last two episodes is not indicative of where The Wheel Of Time is headed, only of how many obstacles had to be surmounted in order for this first season to see the light of day.

Episode Rating: 6.9/10

“The Wheel Of Time” Episode 6 Goes Gay, And It’s Wonderful

SPOILERS FOR THE WHEEL OF TIME EPISODE SIX AHEAD!

I appreciate that, in vaguely acknowledging the existence of queerness at all, Robert Jordan was far ahead of many of his straight white cisgender male peers in the fantasy literature scene of the 1990’s when it came to LGBTQ+ representation, but I think that speaks more to how low the bar was at the time for mainstream fantasy than to any particularly strong or noble effort by Jordan to write queer characters and relationships into his Wheel Of Time novels. And women in fantasy and in speculative fiction at large had been raising that bar for decades before Jordan, so I’m not sure how many points he deserves for giving us…”pillow-friends”.

Wheel Of Time
Siuan Sanche | winteriscoming.net

Ah, the infamous pillow-friends – a bit of queer(ish) terminology unique to the Jordan lexicon, and therefore conveniently flexible. In and of itself, the phrase was seemingly so self-explanatory that queer readers could choose to interpret it as representation without straying too far into head-canon territory…but because the term was never explicitly defined, others could very easily dismiss those interpretations as frivolous, and find textual evidence for their arguments.

What was never in question was that pillow-friends were women (always women) who slept with other women on occasion, but Jordan seems to have been intent on over-complicating what could have been as simple as that by insisting there had to be rules to these relationships. Pillow-friends are almost always shown to be straight women who, temporarily deprived of their access to men, turn to other women for comfort – as seen in the environment of the White Tower, where the term originated to describe the relationships formed between young Aes Sedai Novices out of necessity and almost universally abandoned as these women grow older.

Some of the most prominent Aes Sedai in the books had pillow-friends as Novices, but the list of Aes Sedai who try to maintain these relationships as adults or are otherwise depicted as being romantically/sexually attracted to women, is far shorter, and includes a troubling amount of “man-hating” sadists and sexual predators from the antagonistic Red (and later the straight-up villainous Black) Ajahs. A handful of minor lesbian characters are scattered among the other Ajahs, but the general rule is that the heroines eventually grow out of their “gay phase” and find fulfilling relationships with men while the villains don’t.

Throughout The Wheel Of Time books, there’s a repeated theme of straight women in same-sex relationships being heavily fetishized for the straight male gaze, while actual queer women (especially lesbians) are chastised – as if the latter have chosen to be inaccessible to straight men. Among the Aiel people, there’s a time-honored tradition of straight women becoming “sister-wives” if they both love the same man and decide they want to share him romantically and sexually. Naturally, there’s no equivalent for straight men in love with the same woman.

If you’re wondering where queer men fit into Jordan’s world at all, well…they don’t. The Wheel Of Time features 2782 named characters, only two of whom are canonically gay men – both extremely minor characters, of course, and both added into the final books in the series by Brandon Sanderson, who completed The Wheel Of Time after Jordan’s passing. Amazon’s Wheel Of Time series has already done slightly better in that regard.

Not having known the late author personally, I’d like to assume that Jordan had good intentions with his queer representation, and by all accounts he did. That’s great. It’s also irrelevant to whether he wrote that representation well, but good luck telling that to the Wheel Of Time purists who claim that Jordan’s books are already so progressive for their time that Amazon’s adaptation shouldn’t need to modernize his questionable depictions of queer people. You’d think that if said purists actually cared that Jordan had good intentions, they’d want to be see better LGBTQ+ representation in Amazon’s series.

But judging by some of the outraged reactions to The Wheel Of Time‘s sixth episode, apparently that’s not the case (*pretends to be shocked*). Undone by an authentic depiction of queer loved rooted in the subtext of the books, the most blatantly homophobic of these purists are claiming to have abandoned the series and its gay agenda. Ah well, their loss. The Wheel Of Time is moving merrily along without them, and it is gayer now, which I see as an absolute win.

To be fair, it’s been at least a little gay since Rosamund Pike as Moiraine Damodred first appeared onscreen and started hurling fireballs left and right. But in the books, it’s also canon that Moiraine was the pillow-friend of another Aes Sedai, Siuan Sanche (Sophie Okonedo), when both were Novices at the White Tower – although neither woman is confirmed to be queer, and their relationship appears to have ended after both obtained their Blue Ajah shawls. Not so in showrunner Rafe Judkins’ vision for The Wheel Of Time, where the backbone of Moiraine’s entire character arc is revealed to be her epic love-story with Siuan.

Like many star-crossed lovers of myth, Moiraine and Siuan are held apart by forces beyond their power to control – but in a refreshing twist befitting Jordan, the master of subverting tropes and clichés, it’s not because they’re queer but because Siuan is the Amyrlin Seat of the Aes Sedai. Her political duties must always take priority over her heart’s desires, and both women understand that this is not only for Siuan’s benefit but for the good of the world. Only by exploiting the power and influence of the Amyrlin Seat have Siuan and Moiraine been able to secretly orchestrate their plan to find the Dragon Reborn and throw them into battle against the Dark One.

At this point, much of the responsibility falls on Pike and Okonedo to locate the grain of human truth in this fantastical story of political intrigue, and The Wheel Of Time is lucky to have two actresses so fully immersed in their characters that the subtlest nuances of their physical performances speak volumes when words would be too dangerous or too clumsy. Outwardly, it’s through their raw, desperate, excruciatingly swift exchanges of eye-contact or the gentle collision of fingertips yearning to hold, to cling to what must always slip away, that we experience the magnitude of Moiraine and Siuan’s bliss and misery around each other.

These moments of modesty and restraint lend real emotional weight to the one sexual encounter they share when they’re finally given an excuse to meet in private. Director Salli Richardson-Whitfield’s decision to keep the camera close to Moiraine and Siuan’s faces throughout the entire scene is noteworthy for how it accentuates expression, individuality, and humanity above all – in stark contrast to how sex scenes between queer women (particularly one involving a queer Black woman) are often filmed, with a dispassionate focus on dehumanized body parts. The effective characterization is what makes this scene sensual.

Wheel Of Time
Moiraine | amazonadviser.com

Unfortunately, they’re only allowed a few hours in each other’s arms before Moiraine informs Siuan that as Amyrlin Seat, she has to do what’s best for both of them and officially banish Moiraine from the White Tower – taking some of the pressure off of Siuan from her opponents who claim that she’s soft on the Blue Ajah, while giving Moiraine the freedom to continue her mission. Their dangerous love is built on a mutual tenacity and trust that Siuan draws on to perform the punishment, and that gives Moiraine the strength she needs to continue moving.

In the universe of The Wheel Of Time, destiny comes for everybody regardless of whether they’re strong enough to meet it in the field. All the characters can do is try and figure out the part they’ll be required to play, and be prepared to go through with it even if it’s not the part they wanted or expected. Moiraine and Siuan’s preparations for the inevitable Last Battle have forced them to make hard choices at the cost of their own personal happiness, something Siuan indirectly laments later in the episode while advising Nynaeve al’Meara (Zoë Robins) and Egwene al’Vere (Madeleine Madden) on how to face their own destinies.

It’s no coincidence then, that this is also the episode in which Moiraine finally uses her most iconic quote from the books – “The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills”. Although the phrase implies some level of sentience on the Wheel’s part, Robert Jordan was adamant that the the Wheel of Time is much like a computer, in that it was programmed (by a vague and nameless Creator) to achieve a purpose, that being the preservation of the Pattern of history. Woven into this Pattern are the people and events the Wheel requires to combat the unending threat of the Dark One and continue turning.

In the books, there’s a name for certain people chosen by the Wheel to influence and even shape the Pattern around themselves – ta’veren. When the Pattern is at risk of coming undone, one or more ta’veren are spun out depending on the severity of the situation, and for as long as they are needed they change the world wherever they go simply by existing. Jordan’s books revolve around the deeds of three prominent ta’veren, although in Amazon’s adaptation I suspect the number will increase slightly; if not to exaggerate the scale of the current threat to the Patten, then at least to diversify the group (the ratio of men to women among ta’veren is…statistically perplexing).

Fans will be able to guess the identity of at least one ta’veren after episode seven, but throughout episode six Moiraine is still keeping all of her options open…something that becomes significantly more difficult as her agenda clashes with those of the Emond’s Field Five. Only Egwene trusts her wholeheartedly and seems genuinely in awe of the Aes Sedai at this point (even trying to be on her best behavior to impress potential mentors), which makes Moiraine’s refusal to share the details of Egwene’s friends’ whereabouts with her particularly hurtful – although I suspect she did so to prevent any of them teaming up and fleeing Tar Valon.

To be fair to Moiraine, Nynaeve did just straight-up leave the White Tower without telling anybody to go find Rand al’Thor (Josha Stradowski) and Mat Cauthon (Barney Harris) in the city below. It’s classic Nynaeve, on so many levels. Put in any situation where she’s scared or overwhelmed, her instinctive reaction is always to fight her way out tooth-and-nail, so her simply ignoring Moiraine’s instructions to stay put is very in-character. She’s then drawn directly to her friends as if by an internal compass. And she doesn’t tell Moiraine, because frankly she doesn’t trust Moiraine or anyone but herself to keep her friends safe.

We learn a lot about Nynaeve through that incident alone; including that sometimes she doesn’t know what’s best for her friends and she can’t keep them safe by her traditional methods, which terrifies her. Mat is almost lost to the cursed dagger from Shadar Logoth because Nynaeve didn’t even consider going to Moiraine, much less any of the other Aes Sedai. It’s only when Moiraine takes action and sneaks in to see Mat after Nynaeve leaves him (Rand’s there, but he’s useless even with a cool sword) that she’s able to perform the necessary exorcism to save his life.

Is it technically an exorcism? It involves Moiraine pulling a veiny rope of sentient, wriggling darkness out of Mat’s throat and allowing it to clamp over her mouth and start sucking on her soul before…absorbing it into herself, I think…so yeah, I’m gonna call it an exorcism because honestly, I don’t know what the proper surgical terminology for any of that would be. It’s not fun to watch, whatever it is. Meanwhile, over on the other side of Tar Valon, Moiraine has arranged for a whole bunch of Yellow Ajah sisters to tend to Perrin Aybara (Marcus Rutherford)’s wounds while he sleeps tastefully half-naked in a greenhouse.

With all the coming-and-going this episode, it’s no surprise that others besides Moiraine and Siuan eventually learn of the Emond’s Field Five. Frustratingly, it’s Liandrin Guirale (Kate Fleetwood) who hears of them first from her eyes-and-ears, but her jealousy of Moiraine is so strong that she wastes time gloating to her when she could have been quietly wrangling potential Dragons. Moiraine in turn casually informs Liandrin that the latter’s boyfriend, a male channeler Liandrin had been hoping to hide from the Red Ajah…yeah, turns out he’s not so well-hidden as all that, and also Moiraine has the Red Ajah on speed-dial.

Although that shuts Liandrin up pretty quickly, the unwanted attention forces Moiraine to leave town with her companions. The group seeks out the ancient Ways, a network of interdimensional passages across the world that Moiraine hopes will take them straight to the Eye of the World for a prophesied confrontation with the Dark One. In the books, Waygates were designed to be used by the Ogiers, and could only be opened with a rare Avendesora leaf. For reasons that will soon become clear, the Waygates in Amazon’s Wheel Of Time are activated by channeling, which sadly undercuts Loial (Hammed Animashaun)’s role.

It’s here that The Wheel Of Time appears to have run out of footage of Barney Harris, who abruptly left the show midway through filming, leaving Amazon with no choice but to write around his absence for the final two episodes before recasting the role heading into season two (Dónal Finn will be our Mat from here on out). A temporary exit is therefore hastily and somewhat awkwardly arranged for the character at the end of episode six. As the others file into the Waygate, he stands a long distance back and just…waits there, without moving, turning around, or walking away, until the door closes.

The scene is very choppily-edited. On the one hand, that’s to be expected seeing as Harris doesn’t seem to have been called back in to film any more appropriate reaction shots before his departure, so his face is blank and expressionless throughout what’s intended to be a very dramatic scene. But honestly, it’s the other characters standing just inside the wide-open Waygate and yelling ineffectively at Mat to follow them that ruins the emotional impact we might have felt more deeply if they hadn’t noticed Mat’s absence until the door was already closing behind them.

Until Amazon or Harris himself say more regarding the matter, I have no interest in speculating as to why he left. Hopefully he’s in good health, and I appreciate the hard work he put into establishing the character of Mat Cauthon throughout this season. Obviously it’s upsetting that at such a pivotal moment in his character arc he’s suddenly rushed offscreen, but this isn’t a situation where much could have been done differently. And I’m actually glad that Amazon took their time to recast – it indicates that the creative team behind The Wheel Of Time thought long and hard about finding the right actor for this crucial role, and I trust that Finn is that actor.

Wheel Of Time
Egwene and Moiraine | arstechnica.com

Because I get a feeling of satisfaction out of coming around full-circle in any post involving The Wheel Of Time (it’s just so fitting, you know?), I’ll leave you to ponder the question of whether Finn’s Mat will be canonically bisexual as many fans have been hoping to see, some for literal decades. I’ll be honest, I was surprised to learn that of the Emond’s Field Five, Mat is the most commonly head-canoned as bisexual (if anybody ought to be bi in that group, it’s clearly Perrin and Egwene), but I hope that the show doesn’t stop at confirming Moiraine as queer. Jordan’s world could stand to get a lot gayer.

Episode Rating: 8.9/10

In “The Wheel Of Time” Episode 4, Gender And Magic Intersect

SPOILERS FOR THE WHEEL OF TIME EPISODE FOUR AHEAD!

In the age of streaming television and the controversial “skip intro” button that allows audiences to jump straight into the action of their favorite shows, opening credits sequences are increasingly seen as a vanity – which is how they’ve managed to stick around at all, because they’re almost always strikingly beautiful or creative. But as more and more fantasy streaming series’ in particular forego the opening credits sequence entirely (looking at you, Shadow And Bone and The Witcher), The Wheel Of Time obviously stands out as an exception to this rule.

Wheel Of Time
Alanna Mosvani | businessinsider.com

And I suppose that’s why Amazon Prime’s adaptation of Robert Jordan’s sprawling fourteen-book fantasy has drawn ire from some fans of HBO’s Game Of Thrones, who feel that the opening credits sequences of the two shows have too many similarities to be purely coincidental. Perhaps you could argue that both Wheel Of Time and Game Of Thrones‘ opening credits depict something being constructed, but I see that as an obtuse surface-level reading of both series’ opening credits sequences, as illogical as if you were to say that the two are identical because they share the word “of” in their titles.

The opening credits for both these series’ are more than just pretty animation; they’re an extension of their individual themes. For instance, Game Of Thrones‘ opening credits play over a montage of tiny little mechanical castles and fortresses springing up across the map of Westeros, itself revealed to be nothing more than an elaborate gameboard on which humans play out their power fantasies through artifice and intrigue. But Wheel Of Time‘s opening credits illustrate the story of the gender divide that is central to the series’ worldbuilding and magic system.

That’s why I’ve held off on even talking about the opening credits sequence in my reviews of the first three episodes, because only in episode four does The Wheel Of Time dive into the complex subject of the gender divide, and its consequences on gender roles and gender expression in this world. The episode and its opening credits are thematically intertwined almost as firmly as any of the threads that make up the vast cosmic tapestry being woven in the background while the credits play.

This tapestry starts its journey as a single white cord comprised of many threads, representing the One Power – the magical energy that permeates the world of The Wheel Of Time. In the books, the act of reaching into the One Power, absorbing it into oneself, and expelling or redirecting it is known as “channeling”, and people capable of doing so are called “channelers”, emphasizing that they are in fact merely conduits of a power which flows through them but does not belong to them or derive from them, and can easily destroy their fragile bodies.

This concept has been translated into live-action very literally, with Rosamund Pike’s physical performance as Moiraine Damodred in particular capturing the strength, dexterity, and above all vulnerability required of a powerful channeler in this world. Pike is almost always in motion, her body bending and limbs snaking swiftly yet purposefully as if allowing the One Power to flow directly through her towards her targets without giving it time to build up inside her and potentially burn her to a crisp.

We actually see one Aes Sedai sorceress, Liandrin (Kate Fleetwood) of the Red Ajah, come dangerously close to spontaneously combusting in this episode. The One Power burns beneath her skin and in her veins, and all the while more and more strands of magic are flowing into Liandrin’s body; too many for her to absorb and dispel simultaneously. In Jordan’s books, these strands are frequently described as “threads”, and magical constructs built from threads are known as “weaves”. Powerful channelers like Moiraine can wield many threads at once and build elaborate weaves.

Weaving and textile-work is often used in The Wheel Of Time as a metaphor for channeling and other uses of the One Power. Even the titular Wheel is a spinning-wheel which relies upon the One Power to continue endlessly rotating, weaving people and events into the inconceivable Pattern of human history over and over for all eternity. But if that all seems fairly straightforward, this is the part where Robert Jordan suddenly superimposes a rigid gender binary over his magic system, and things get…complicated.

Because Jordan’s fantasy mythology is heavily reliant on dualism, it’s no surprise that the One Power has two halves, which correspond to the nebulous concepts of masculinity and femininity. Jordan really went the extra mile, however, when he decided that men can only access the male half of the One Power (known as saidin) and women can only access the female half (known as saidar). Saidin and saidar are intended to exist in a symbiotic relationship, each challenging and complementing the other but both required to keep the One Power healthy and the Wheel of Time turning.

The show appears to be keeping that concept, but doing away with some of the bizarre rules that Jordan worked into his magic system. Not content with giving men and women two separate forms of magic to use, Jordan was also annoyingly insistent that women can only channel by surrendering themselves to the One Power, while men channel by forcefully taking the One Power. Get it, because, like, women are submissive and men are dominant, right? If we could take that whole concept and throw it in the garbage where it belongs, and then set the trash bin on fire, I wouldn’t be opposed.

Anyway…in the books, men and women were both able to channel until a couple thousand years before the events of the story, when the Dark One permanently tainted saidin so that men couldn’t access it without going mad, even generations later. We see this taint spreading up the rope representing the One Power in Wheel Of Time‘s opening credits before the cord splits into two halves, one white, the other dyed black. The question of where people outside the gender binary fit into this situation has yet to be answered satisfactorily.

The consequences of the rift are visible throughout Amazon’s series, from the very first scene onwards. By the time the story opens, the order of Aes Sedai, which once accepted both men and women into its ranks of channelers, has become an all-female organization with entire subdivisions dedicated to eradicating male channelers. We’re told upfront that the women of the Aes Sedai rule the world and protect it with the One Power, but new fans will have become increasingly aware that that is not the case, and that the reality is…a mess, honestly.

And in episode four, our close focus on Logain Ablar (Álvaro Morte) allows us to go deeper into the messiness and complexity of that situation as we follow his meteoric journey. Even though Logain is only able to channel aggressive tentacles of blackened, decaying saidin that whisper threats and taunts in his ears, the world in which he lives, in which he can declare himself the Dragon Reborn without any proof and win allies in his rebellion against the Aes Sedai from both the peasantry and nobility, is one that still revolves around the notion that men are meant to lead, regardless of whether they can channel without going mad – regardless of whether they can channel or not.

I don’t think The Wheel Of Time wants us to view Logain as a misogynist, to be clear. He does imply at one point that the Aes Sedai are supposed to follow him, but that’s because he’s totally confident in his assumption that he’s the Dragon Reborn – which makes his epiphany at the end of the episode that he’s not the Dragon hurt all the more, because it truly shakes him to his core. It’s only after that, in episode six, that he resorts to overt sexism, and even then it’s in a desperate attempt to provoke the Aes Sedai into killing him. It’s infinitely more interesting to see Logain as a tragic figure buffeted by forces beyond his control.

Because outside of Tar Valon, patriarchal systems of government and society are still alive and well in this world, and the One Power wielded by the Aes Sedai doesn’t necessarily translate into political power. In that respect, and also in their pomp and pageantry, the Aes Sedai are The Wheel Of Time‘s rough equivalent to the medieval Catholic Church (an amusing parallel, given that the latter institution has for centuries exalted one woman as being above all other saints in heaven while oppressing them on earth). The semi-divine authority that the Aes Sedai claim to possess over the entire world is similarly theoretical and dependent on tradition.

The effortlessness with which Logain accumulates followers and support is therefore unsurprising. He’s irresistibly charming and incredibly powerful, of course, but one gets the sense that it wouldn’t matter if he were neither of those things, because as Logain himself acknowledges later, men across the world are looking for any opportunity to test the limits of Aes Sedai power. Logain is merely a weapon of the old patriarchy trying to reassert itself, a shield behind which its true objective could be masked. That the Aes Sedai themselves are hardly a “good” organization muddies the waters significantly.

Wheel Of Time
Logain and Moiraine | denofgeek.com

We saw hints of that way back in the cold open for episode one, when Liandrin led a pack of her Red Ajah sisters in a literal man-hunt to find a male channeler and “gentle” him. “Gentling”, the process of removing a man’s ability to channel, is depicted in this episode as violent and torturous – there’s nothing gentle about it. As we learn from Thom Merrilin (Alexandre Willaume) when he recounts the story of his nephew who was gentled by the Red Ajah, and as we later see evidenced in the hollowness of Morte’s Logain after his own gentling, men stripped of their ability to channel are almost always shattered by the experience.

The parallels between gentling (and its equivalent for female channelers, “stilling”) and the heinous real-world practice of conversion therapy for LGBTQ+ people are unmistakable. And throughout this episode, as Thom and Rand al’Thor (Josha Stradowski) struggle to help Mat Cauthon (Barney Harris) through the fear and loneliness of even potentially being able to channel, the language they use seems to intentionally play on the idea that the experience of being a male channeler in The Wheel Of Time is vaguely akin to the real-world experiences of many queer people, particularly in oppressive religious environments.

Showrunner Rafe Judkins, himself a gay man raised in a Mormon community, wisely balances out these instances of queer-coded metaphor with substantial queer representation. Following the casual confirmation in episode three that there are no social stigmas attached to same-sex relationships throughout most of this world, the show has a responsibility to show that onscreen – and in episode four, we’re introduced to Maksim (Taylor Napier) and Ihvon (Emmanuel Imani), a pair of queer Warders who love each other as deeply as they love the third member of their polyamorous trio, the Aes Sedai Alanna Mosvani (Priyanka Bose).

Examining the sacred bond between an Aes Sedai and their Warder(s) proves to be a large part of both this episode and the next. People tied together by the bond become true soulmates, gaining an almost telepathic ability to communicate their thoughts and emotions from one to the other – thereby allowing them to bridge them the gender divide of their world. For some, the partnership is completely platonic, as is the case with Moiraine and her Warder, Lan Mandragoran (Daniel Henney). For others, it’s romantic and/or sexual. But on every level, the bond increases a person’s capacity for love and empathy.

Of the two groups, however, the Warders clearly receive more love from a screenplay that favors their perspective on Aes Sedai teachings and practices to those of the Aes Sedai themselves. Through Nynaeve al’Meara (Zoë Robins), whose animosity with Lan in the previous episode is quickly developing into mutual curiosity and affection, we’re invited to spend time with the Warders around their campfire as they idly chit-chat and share stories. And it’s through the raw grief of the Warder Stepin (Peter Franzén) that we experience for the first time the severing of the bond after his Aes Sedai, Kerene Nagashi (Clare Perkins) is killed by Logain.

This choice would make more sense to me if the Warders were depicted as clearly the more relatable of the two groups, and the Aes Sedai as enigmatic and aloof as they were typically shown in the books – or even in The Wheel Of Time‘s opening credits sequence, where the tapestry being woven slowly resolves itself into an image of seven women arranged after the seven spokes of the Wheel of Time, representing the seven color-coded Ajahs of the Aes Sedai. But that sequence promises a mystique and magnificence that I feel we don’t quite get from the Aes Sedai in episode four, and even thereafter only see in quick glimpses.

Of course, there’s the caveat that the group of Aes Sedai we meet in episode four have been on the road for months, and are worn down by the exhaustion of trying to hold Logain captive without gentling him. But it’s harder to feel the effects of that mental and physical toll when we’ve barely gotten a chance to admire the full power and glory of the Aes Sedai – even Moiraine, awesome as she was in the battle of Emond’s Field, spent a fair amount of episode two and all of episode three wavering on the edge of unconsciousness after a single injury sustained in that fight.

And then there’s the costumes. I haven’t been impressed by many of the costumes on this show, but the Aes Sedai in particular were a missed opportunity to flaunt Amazon’s big budget with luxurious fabrics, unique textures and patterns, stylish cuts, and priceless jewelry. Even taking into account that they’re traveling, the Aes Sedai are always keenly aware of their image outside of Tar Valon for reasons I think I made clear above – what they lack in political power, they make up for with their influence. Look to the Catholic Church, and there’s a richness and brilliance to the traditional papal vestments that is designed to inspire awe.

But in the show, outside of a few stylish leather pieces like Liandrin’s knee-high boots and accessories like Moiraine’s shoulder-pads, the costume design is severely lacking when it comes to accentuating any sense of ostentatiousness or grandiosity that the Aes Sedai are supposed to have cultivated around themselves. Alanna’s costume perhaps comes closest to achieving a balance between practicality (which, for a member of the Green Ajah, is a top priority) and showiness (a little gold ornamentation here and there, nothing too outlandish really), but the rest are just…drab.

This lack of synchronization between the costumes and the characters wearing them is exacerbated by the overly bright lighting, which continues to be a major problem for this show but here really gets into every nook and cranny of the spotless soundstage that serves as the Aes Sedai camp, exposing just how little effort has gone into making this look like a lived-in environment with dirt and grime and wear. There are moments, particularly during action scenes, when the camp looks like a bad cosplay convention or an overly polished historical reenactment.

But if the Aes Sedai are lacking any depth and substance to their costumes, the far greater problem is that their subplot throughout this episode is itself devoid of much nuance. After being warned by Moiraine that Aes Sedai are master manipulators each with their own hidden agenda, we’re introduced to a group of Aes Sedai whose motives are shallow and obvious, and whose schemes are only half-baked. How much more compelling would Liandrin be as a villain if, instead of openly voicing her desire to gentle Logain, she only subtly encouraged debate of the topic and allowed others to prove her points for her?

For our introduction to the Aes Sedai, that weak writing coupled with poor costuming threatens to tear apart the tapestry so carefully constructed in the opening credits, but there are moments that save this episode for me. Balancing the badly-lit battle between the Aes Sedai and Logain’s army is a duel between Thom Merrilin and a Myrddraal that, while significantly shorter, is so up-close and personal that you can’t help but shudder in admiration for the practical effects used to achieve the Myrddraal’s hideous physical presence. Balancing the weak emotional impact of Kerene’s death is the pain and horror we feel from Nynaeve when she thinks she’s lost Lan.

(Without getting into spoilers for the books and presumably the season one finale, there’s not much I can really say about the incredible power display from Nynaeve at the end of this episode except that…well, it’s incredible. I think there are as many downsides as there are upsides to prolonging the mystery of the Dragon Reborn’s identity, and I hope new fans are allowed in on the big secret soon so we can all theorize together).

Wheel Of Time
The Aes Sedai | imaginaryforces.com

So while I can’t say that I loved this episode, it’s still very enjoyable and is interspersed with enough excellent scenes and heartfelt character moments to warrant just as much praise as criticism. Director Wayne Che Yip again delivers a thematically rich story that draws upon Robert Jordan’s fantasy cosmology and theology for inspiration, and if it’s less bold with regards to gender than episode three was with morality, it still has fun tinkering with the rules that Jordan laid out for his world and improving upon his dated representation.

Episode Rating: 7.5/10