Remember iwot? Last time they came up, the possibly imaginary two-person production company that’s been clinging for dear life to the film and television rights for Robert Jordan’s The Wheel Of Time since 2004 had just announced that Kari Skogland would be directing their (still entirely hypothetical) live-action film trilogy set three-thousand prior to the events of Jordan’s books. There’s been no movement on that front, nor is there likely to be, since iwot has a long and well-documented track-record of announcing projects and abandoning them just as quickly (to date, their entire output consists of one low-quality, half-hour long fan-film scraped together just in time to retain the rights when they were in danger of reverting back to Jordan’s estate), but they’ve previously taken the estate to court over their right to continue racking up failed business ventures to add to their resume, so there’s not much that anybody can do to stop them at this point.
Now, however, cofounders Rick Selvage and Larry Mondragon are back with a new announcement; and I’m covering this, even though I strongly suspect it will never get off the ground, because it’s not just another silly, eyeroll-inducing, ultimately harmless empty promise from these guys. Selvage and Mondragon are claiming to have partnered with an AI software company called D1srupt1ve (okay, that name is eyeroll-inducing) to turn The Wheel Of Time into the “first-ever AI-enabled entertainment franchise”. Their press release contains all the usual vague, hyperbolic, self-aggrandizing language we’ve come to expect from these two; lots of stuff about how the experience will “energize an array of products and services that will extend, expand, and enhance the franchise’s current and future media formats, including books, television, movies, video games, and location-based entertainment”, and “intensify the emotional ties that bind fans to the franchise, bringing stories and characters to life in a way that is both dynamically interactive and deeply personal” and so on and so forth.
I don’t believe I’ve ever talked about AI on here, so let me state for the record that I am firmly and unequivocally against this usage of the technology. Selvage and Mondragon intend to train their AI (called The One Power, by the way) on Jordan’s books without his consent or the consent of his estate, scraping his source material for their glorified wiki-page which they claim will be able to answer all your Wheel Of Time-related questions in-character as Padan Fain or whomever. And of course, The One Power will have a visual component as well, “bringing to life the vivid imagery of the story” i.e. combing through Darrell K. Sweet’s iconic book covers and countless pieces of beautiful fan-art on the internet until it can regurgitate some atrocious picture of a person with three-hundred fingers and toes that it will swear is actually your favorite character. AI “art” is theft, plain and simple. There are methods to implement the technology into the creation of art by humans, but that is not what Selvage and Mondragon have in mind.
That’s the really important takeaway from this story, but while we’re here, I do want to address one of the claims I saw being repeated on social media yesterday, that because Selvage and Mondragon are credited as executive producers on Sony and Amazon’s television adaptation of The Wheel Of Time, that this AI must somehow be connected to the ongoing series, or is being implemented into upcoming seasons. Currently, there is nothing to suggest that is the case. Firstly, Selvage and Mondragon have those credits because they still own the rights, and because of the aforementioned legal battle they waged against Jordan’s estate in 2015, at least in part to prevent the estate from courting Sony without their involvement. There is no evidence of them actually having been involved in the series’ production beyond that (on the contrary, Jordan’s widow Harriet McDougal and Brandon Sanderson, the author she selected to finish the Wheel Of Time books after her husband’s death, were both involved in the writing and making of the first season). Selvage and Mondragon love to flaunt their EP credits because it’s really all they’ve got, but their press release makes no mention of any collaboration with Sony/Amazon, and Sony/Amazon have not made any comment on this or any of their other projects in the Wheel Of Time universe. I sincerely doubt that they even want to be involved.
Hopefully, that’s all I have to say about this, and it will either go the way of all the other projects that iwot has announced, or else be so totally unremarkable and inconsequential that no one will pay any attention to them ever again. At this point, I’m not planning to cover any of their future endeavors, even if, by some miracle, their live-action film trilogy or their animated film ever gets made. Anyway, share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!
Not many people ever watched it, for reasons that should become clear before the end of this sentence, but way back in February 2015, late at night and without any advertising, Winter Dragon, a roughly half-hour long adaptation of the prologue of Robert Jordan’s The Eye Of The World starring The Price Is Right‘s Max Ryan as Lews Therin Telamon, and Wheel Of Time super-fan Billy Zane of Titanic fame as the Forsaken Ishamael, aired on the FXX Network. I have seen it. It is not good. But the bizarre short film was never really intended to attract a sizable audience, or even appeal to fans. It was self-produced by Red Eagle Entertainment (or Manetheren LLC, or Ree Productions…they change their name every few years), a company cofounded by Rick Selvage and Larry Mondragon in 2003, which had bought the film and television rights to The Wheel Of Time from Jordan in 2004, sold them to Universal in 2008, got them back when Universal decided not to move forward with a film adaptation of The Eye Of The World, and then sat on them until the year that the rights were set to revert back to Jordan’s estate, at which point they frantically put together Winter Dragon for the sole purpose of preventing that from happening.
Soon thereafter, Jordan’s widow Harriet McDougal voiced her frustration with Red Eagle Entertainment, and they took the very smart and rational approach of suing her for slander. Though the legal battle was not long, and directly resulted in the joint announcement of the Wheel Of Time television adaptation from Amazon Studios which this year released its critically-acclaimed second season, the fandom has not forgotten or forgiven Red Eagle Entertainment for their underhanded methods, and the prevailing attitude towards them and all of their independent ventures ranges from mild bemusement to open disdain. But that hasn’t stopped Red Eagle Entertainment, or should I say “iwot Productions” as it was renamed (again) in 2021, from trying to get several of their own projects off the ground, with…uh, varying degrees of un-success.
Just in the past two years, iwot has announced (1) a trilogy of live-action films set long before the events of the book and television series during the fabled Age of Legends, to be written by Zack Stentz and executive produced by Eva Longoria, (2) an animated film centered around the White Tower, to be written and produced by Zack Stentz and directed by Jay Oliva, best known for Justice League: War, and (3) most recently, an “immersive adaptation” of the books that will use “360-degree visuals and sound, holographic projections, and spatial storytelling, to create a riveting entertainment experience”…whatever the heck that means. Nothing in iwot’s history suggests that any one of these projects will ever make it past the indefinite pre-production stage in which they’re all currently stalled, but the most ambitious, the live-action film tentatively titled The Age Of Legends and intended to kickstart a trilogy, now has a director attached.
And Kari Skogland, who previously directed all six episodes of The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, as well as episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Walking Dead, is not exactly nobody. That’s not to say she can magically save iwot from their own proven ineptitude, or make something great from a Zack Stentz script (X-Men: First Class is considered some of his better work, and the first Thor movie is an example of his worst), but I know I can trust Skogland to tackle the intricate philosophy of Jordan’s invented cosmos, dive into the dark complexities of his painfully human heroes and villains, and bring us some awesome action sequences using the mechanics of the One Power to the fullest extent. If this were being produced by anyone else, I might actually be excited.
If you’re new around here or in need of a refresher, The Wheel Of Time is set in a world, technically our world, in which time literally forms a loop, meaning that history endlessly cycles back around on itself in what is referred to as a “Turning”. Every Turning may not be the same length, but they are all divided up into seven Ages, and a new Turning begins when the Seventh Age ends. Every Turning is different, too, sometimes only slightly, sometimes dramatically, but there are certain consistencies across time. The First Age is this one, the modern world in which we live, and it is always followed by the Second Age or Age of Legends, the almost utopian sci-fi fantasy world in which the One Power is rediscovered and one half of it tainted by the Dark One, and that event is probably always followed by the Breaking of the World, which leads into the Third Age, the fantasy world into which the Dragon is eventually reborn to defeat the Dark One.
In the Turning during which Jordan’s books take place, the end of the Age of Legends is presaged by the Drilling of the Bore, when a physicist and Aes Sedai named Mierin Eronaile opens a rift in reality that allows the Dark One, who has been caged outside the universe since the Moment of Creation, to seep into the world. Mierin, later known by the name Lanfear, becomes the first of many powerful Aes Sedai to join the Dark One in his mission to break the Wheel of Time itself. The thirteen most powerful of these ambassadors are named the Forsaken, and their ranks include representatives of every field, from philosophers, surgeons, and military historians, to athletes, singers, and psychiatrists. Their tragic tales could each be spun into compelling and dramatic feature-length stories.
The question that a lot of fans are asking is whether the film trilogy will aim for some semblance of continuity with the Amazon series, or whether iwot will try to establish their own competitive aesthetic for the world of The Wheel Of Time. Depending on which approach they take, iwot might approach Natasha O’Keeffe, Fares Fares, and Alexander Karim to reprise their roles as Lanfear, Ishamael, and Lews Therin Telamon, respectively, though I have a gut feeling that will not happen, and that they will instead try to hitch some unsuspecting high-profile Hollywood actor to this project next. But let’s cross that bridge when we come to it. We don’t even know if they’ll make it that far. Here’s hoping, though. I’d genuinely love to see Wheel Of Time enter the mainstream in a way it still hasn’t quite been able to, even after fifteen best-selling books and two fantastic seasons of television. Maybe a film trilogy is what it takes. But Winter Dragon, the only thing that iwot (or Red Eagle Entertainment or whatever you wanna call them) has ever released on their own, doesn’t inspire much confidence.
How about you? Are you excited for The Age Of Legends? Does Skogland boarding the subject actually make it any more likely that this thing ever gets made? 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.