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 ONE THROUGH FOUR, AHEAD!
The Wheel Of Time recently aired its second season finale, and fans of the epic fantasy series are eagerly looking forward to season three, currently filming in South Africa. So I thought I’d put together a list of the top ten things I’m most excited to see in season three, based on the fourth book in the original series of novels by Robert Jordan. The Shadow Rising, which picks up roughly around the same point in the narrative where the second season ends, is widely considered Jordan’s best book, features some of the most iconic scenes and sequences for which the series is known, and gives nearly every character a strong arc. Let’s jump right in, shall we?
10: Gawyn and Galad and Morgase
Whether due to time constraints or a deliberate choice by the writers to avoid attracting comparisons to Game Of Thrones, The Wheel Of Time has only briefly touched on the complex political situation in the Westlands, going no further than vaguely referencing nations and their monarchs: but politics become increasingly important as the book series progresses, particularly for Elayne Trakand and her family, who have for generations ruled the largest nation, Andor (which encompasses the Two Rivers region, where the story began). In the first book of the series, The Eye Of The World, it’s in the Andoran capital city of Caemlyn, rather than in Tar Valon, that Rand al’Thor reunites with his friends after being separated in Shadar Logoth, and there he meets for the first time Elayne, as well as her brothers Gawyn Trakand and Galad Damodred, and her mother Queen Morgase Trakand (and Morgase’s Aes Sedai advisor, Elaida; more on her later). In season three, with civil war brewing in Andor, these characters will become crucial at long last. They’re low on my list, however, because I detest Gawyn (shocking, I know), I have no strong feelings towards Galad whatsoever, and while I like Morgase, it’s evident that Robert Jordan never figured out exactly what he wanted to do with her, and both he and his successor Brandon Sanderson kept her pointlessly meandering about for a ridiculously long time. Hopefully the show can do better by all three of them.
9:Return of Thom
You probably wouldn’t guess it from how the adaptation has handled his character, but Thom Merrilin, the grizzled traveling bard or “gleeman” that Rand and Mat Cauthon briefly traveled alongside in season one, is one of the main characters in the books. After seemingly being killed by a Fade in The Eye Of The World, Thom reappears in Cairhien during the events of The Great Hunt, shares a few scenes with Rand, and dips out of the story to assassinate King Galldrian for reasons of his own, unintentionally plunging Cairhien into a civil war of its own. It may be that Thom was supposed to do something similar in season two, which would explain why Galldrian was name-dropped several times only to never actually appear, but whatever happened there, Alexandre Willaume ended up having scheduling conflicts with the now-canceled Netflix series 1899. Season three, for which he will finally return to the role, should find the gleeman in his The Shadow Rising storyline, escorting Nynaeve al’Meara and Elayne to Tanchico.
The hunt for the Horn of Valere was very nearly a wasted subplot in season two, but at least now the groundwork has been laid for the introduction of the most famous Hunter for the Horn, Faile Bashere. The thrill-seeking runaway princess of Saldaea first appears in The Dragon Reborn, traveling with a party of Hunters each hoping to win fame and glory for themselves by being the one to recover the fabled Horn and bring it to Illian. Perrin Aybara runs into her in the same small town where he frees an Aiel from a cage and makes an enemy of Whitecloaks, but seeing as that scene already played out quite differently in season two, the setting and circumstances of their meeting will obviously have to change in the show. Faile is a complex and flawed character who, by a supremely unfortunate accident, is presented to the reader from Perrin’s point-of-view before her own. He, like so many of Jordan’s male characters, regards all women as exasperatingly incomprehensible, and treats her with a kind of patronizing affection that only enrages her, leading him to become more confused, and so on and so forth. Their inevitable romance is not much fun to read about. I hope and pray with all my heart that the show does away with most of the miscommunication between them, including every instance of Perrin trying to figure out what Faile is thinking or feeling by smelling her. Ick.
7: TheBattle of Emond’s Field
Having just put book Perrin on blast, let me clarify that show Perrin has done nothing wrong in his entire life, and behind Egwene al’Vere and Nynaeve al’Meara, he is indeed my favorite of the Emond’s Field Five (technically, that holds true for the books as well, but book Perrin trails the two women by a much larger margin and it says a lot about how much I don’t care for either Rand or Mat in the books that they’re still behind him despite that). Reaching and maintaining a balance between the wolf and the man within himself has been Perrin’s greatest challenge. He first wanted nothing to do with the wolves, perceiving them as manifestations of his worst instincts, and that resulted in failure. In season two, he took steps to learn about and embrace being a Wolfbrother, which led to the death of Geofram Bornhald at his hands. He needs to make peace with himself, and that will only happen when he finally comes to terms with what happened to Laila, his wife, in season one. Returning home to Emond’s Field in the Two Rivers will provide him with that necessary closure, and it just so happens that’s exactly where his The Shadow Rising storyline takes him (and Loial, Faile, Bain and Chiad). Much has changed there since he left, however, and Perrin will find himself reluctantly leading an uneasy coalition of Two Rivers folk, Whitecloaks, Tuatha’an, and Aes Sedai to repel an army of Shadowspawn led by the mysterious “Slayer”, an amalgamation of souls bound to the Dark One, in the Battle of Emond’s Field. If done well, this could be what ensures a fourth season for The Wheel Of Time all on its own – it’s that epic.
6: The Aiel Waste
Though his destiny does not lie in the Two Rivers, season three will be a homecoming of sorts for Rand as well. At the beginning of The Shadow Rising, he learns that he must go to the Three-fold Land (called the Waste by outsiders) beyond the Spine of the World, and there reconnect with his heritage as a long-lost son of the Aiel, the nomadic warriors who have lived in the Three-fold Land since the Breaking of the World, adopting a unique and complex system of honor and debts called ji’e’toh that informs nearly everything they do. Rand, like the spear-maiden Aviendha introduced in season two, belongs to the Taardad Aiel, one of twelve clans further divided into dozens of individual “septs” – his the Iron Mountain, hers the Nine Valleys. Each clan has a chief and a governing body of Wise Ones (the Aiel equivalent to the Aes Sedai of the Westlands), and to become either of these things means venturing alone into the ruins of Rhuidean, a city built shortly after the Breaking of the World by the now-extinct Jenn Aiel, glimpsing visions of the past through the glass columns ter’angreal, and returning burdened with the knowledge of where the Aiel came from, who they were, and what they did to become what they are now. Men who pass the test (and only men, because…sexism, mostly) come out bearing a dragon tattoo on one arm. As you can probably guess, Rand will have to undergo this test and experience for himself what awaits in the glass columns.
5: The Sea Folk
While I know I’ll hear some grumbling about their placement on this list over the Aiel and the Battle of Emond’s Field, I absolutely adore the Sea Folk, and I was overjoyed to learn that showrunner Rafe Judkins evidently does as well, from how he excitedly teased their introduction in season three at New York Comic-Con. The Sea Folk, or Atha’an Miere, are a seafaring people (obviously) who live on ships in the Aryth Ocean, making landfall in the Westlands very rarely except to trade their priceless porcelain and goods from the land of Shara in the east. Their elected leader is named the Mistress of the Ships, and rules alongside a Master of the Blades, often her consort. When the story opens, the Mistress of the Ships is Nesta din Reas Two Moons.Among the Atha’an Miere, most women who can channel do not go to the White Tower to become Aes Sedai but instead act as “Windfinders”, using secret weaves of Air and Water to calm the oceans, alter the weather, and turn the winds in their favor, propelling their peoples’ ships further and faster around the world. As a rule, the Atha’an Miere do not allow Aes Sedai passage on their ships for fear that their Windfinders will be found out. However, in The Shadow Rising, Nynaeve and Elayne negotiate with the Sailmistress Coine din Jubai Wild Winds to take them and Thom to Tanchico onboard the raker Wavedancer, and the two women cross paths with the Atha’an Miere regularly after that.
4: Elaida’s Coup
I told you we would circle back to Elaida eventually. Elaida do Avriny a’Roihan of the Red Ajah is one of The Wheel Of Time‘s great antagonists, more enduring and more efficient – if only by sheer accident – than any of the Forsaken in the books, dividing the White Tower against itself at a time when it needs to be whole, and driving a wedge between Rand and the Aes Sedai. In The Shadow Rising, Elaida discovers evidence of collusion between Siuan Sanche and Moiraine Damodred to secretly assist the Dragon Reborn, something so antithetical to the Red Ajah’s entire philosophy that Elaida has no choice, as she sees it, but to orchestrate a coup against Siuan and ascend to the Amyrlin Seat herself, in a last-ditch effort to save the world. The fact that she genuinely believes she’s doing the right thing makes her all the more dangerous, because there’s no reasoning with her. Of course, in season two, Siuan was uncharacteristically written to share many of Elaida’s opinions on how to handle the Dragon (seemingly, at least), and the Aes Sedai all saw her try to shield and cage Rand before he escaped with Moiraine, so Elaida will have a much harder time convincing them that Moiraine and the Amyrlin are working together, but that will hopefully only make Elaida even more compelling, if she’s positioned as the underdog. The Wheel Of Time is lucky to have Oscar-nominated actress Shohreh Aghdashloo (unofficially) onboard to play this phenomenal character in season three and beyond.
3: Black Ajah
One of the major plot twists in season two involved the so-called “Black Ajah”, a faction of Aes Sedai that, far from being loyal to the Amyrlin Seat, are secretly sworn to the Dark One and have strived for decades to destabilize the institution of the White Tower from within. I will say that the early books in the series did more with the Black Ajah than the first two seasons of The Wheel Of Time, and I would have liked to see some reference to how they carried out the assassinations of various Aes Sedai over the years, including the Amyrlin Seat before Siuan and every other searcher for the Dragon Reborn besides Siuan and Moiraine (not for lack of trying). But the Black Ajah will have a more prominent role in season three, as antagonists to Nynaeve and Elayne in the coastal city of Tanchico. In the books, Liandrin brings her Darkfriends there to steal a version of the Seanchan a’dam designed specifically for male channelers, hoping to use it on Rand. Seeing as that particular storyline kinda goes nowhere in the books, it’s entirely possible the circumstances will change, but either way Rafe Judkins has assured us that from the get-go, we’ll know what Liandrin and the Black Ajah have been up to.
Tel’aran’rhiod, the “Unseen World” or “World of Dreams” as it is more often called, refers to the infinitely vast, intangible yet treacherous labyrinthine dimension accessible through dreams, which encompasses and connects all of the alternate realities brought into being over the course of the Wheel of Time’s turnings. It was the setting of some particularly memorable sequences in season two: Nynaeve stepping through a stone archway ter’angreal into a version of the world where she left the White Tower to be with Lan; Ishamael and Lanfear casually infiltrating each other’s dreams, and exerting their mastery over Tel’aran’rhiod to manipulate the environment around them; Lanfear taking Rand to see Egwene while they were both asleep, with hundreds of miles between them. It’s a place where the protagonists are immediately out of their depths and at a disadvantage compared to their centuries-old opponents, but that’s all about to change in season three. Egwene and Perrin are both “Dreamwalkers”, and equally powerful there as any of the Forsaken, though their two paths could not be more different. Egwene is on her way to the Waste to learn from the Aiel Wise Ones, while Perrin will delve into the Wolf-dream, where wolves dead and alive congregate (whether the wolves will talk in Tel’aran’rhiod, as they do in the books, remains to be seen). However, it’s Nynaeve, not a Dreamwalker, who will soon face the greatest opponent lurking in the World of Dreams.
Coming in at number one on my list is Moghedien, which might be confusing to some as she is widely regarded to be the weakest of the Forsaken in physical strength. But this small and slight villain, played by Laia Costa in the final minutes of season two, takes her name from a species of inconspicuous spider with a fatal bite discovered during the Age of Legends, and uses similar tactics, silently stalking her prey from the safety of Tel’aran’rhiod, waiting until their guard is down before delivering one decisive strike and retreating back into the shadows whence she came. In the World of Dreams she is more experienced than any of the Forsaken, even Lanfear, and to challenge her there, on her territory, is nothing short of suicidal. Her sprawling webs ensnare even the wariest Dreamwalkers, and once you’re tangled up in them, there’s no escape.
Well, that’s my totally subjective ranking of the top ten things I’m most excited to see from The Wheel Of Time season three. What’s yours? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!
MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE WHEEL OF TIME SEASON TWO AND BOOKS 1 – 4, AHEAD!
I’m not gonna lie, I was worried that the second season of Amazon’s The Wheel Of Time wouldn’t be able to stick the landing. The consistently larger scale action sequences and higher quality visual effects somewhat assuaged my fears that we’d see a repeat of season one’s disappointing final skirmish between an entirely CGI army of Shadowspawn and a handful of Shienarans, but ultimately, none of that would matter if the characters weren’t handled well and season arcs didn’t reach satisfying (albeit only temporary) conclusions. And season one kinda failed on that front, too, stranding certain subplots in the weirdest places. Factor in the penultimate episode’s mischaracterization of Siuan Sanche, and going into the finale, I was justifiably stressed.
And for the first fifteen to twenty minutes, I remained stressed. Characters move around at a rather hectic pace as they all become belatedly aware that it’s the finale and somehow they’re not in place yet even after eight episodes. Things just start happening abruptly because there’s no time left to properly establish why, for instance, the Whitecloaks are attacking Falme today, and many crucial scenes, like the theft of the Horn of Valere, were obviously cut for time, or flow, or because scenes in earlier episodes had already been cut. But once everyone is settled down, the episode begins anew. By remaining laser-focused on specific characters throughout the rousing action, the writers (mostly) succeed at crafting an epic, high-stakes, and engaging finale that should keep viewers invested until the third season (which has nearly finished filming).
There’s a lot of moving parts in this episode, so I’m gonna go character-by-character, in no particular order, to break it all down.
Egwene al’Vere (Madeleine Madden) has never been more popular. She single-handedly holds back Ishamael (Fares Fares), the strongest of the Forsaken, and it’s of course awe-inspiring, a scene destined to make its way into every end-of-the-year tribute to women in movies and television, but it’s not even Egwene’s best moment in this episode. Placing a collar around Renna (Xelia Mendes-Jones)’s neck, putting her through the same torture that Egwene suffered at her hands and letting it kill her, that’s the moment where I think Egwene comes into her own fully. The woman who stands and silently watches as her cruel sul’dam dies gasping out her name is not and never will be the same woman she was before. She is more dangerous now, more cunning, and still as capable as ever, despite all the attempts by the Seanchan to break her indomitable spirit. Those who underestimate her do so at their own risk. It’s kinda surreal to see the fandom finally come around on Egwene, when it used to be that you couldn’t admit to Egwene being your favorite character in the books without eliciting some shocked or horrified responses (why yes, I’m speaking from personal experience), but hey, at least we can all agree now that Egwene is the best.
If there’s one downside to Egwene becoming completely self-reliant this early in the story, it’s that it throws Nynaeve al’Meara (Zoë Robins)’s arc off-balance. Nynaeve is terribly underused in this episode, and I’m tired of having to explain this, but it’s not that I wanted her to magically break through her Block and overcome all her trauma because it’s the finale. What I and other fans of Nynaeve actually wanted was for her to not be benched just because she can’t channel the One Power. Nynaeve has never been a character who relied on the Power. That’s not even how she’s been depicted in the show, where she uses her wits and brute force to solve problems more frequently than weaves of earth, water, fire, air, and spirit. In The Great Hunt, she has a key role in rescuing Egwene from the Seanchan by capturing the sul’dam Seta (Jade Eleena-Dregorius), collaring her, and marching into the kennels with Seta disguised as her damane – and that’s exactly where Nynaeve’s subplot in the finale appears to be going until about halfway through, when Seta abruptly dies before they ever make it to Egwene, Elayne Trakand (Ceara Coveney) gets injured, and for maybe fifteen minutes Nynaeve stares blankly at her arrow-wound – until it falls to Elayne to remind her that she used to be the Wisdom of the Two Rivers, and that she can probably treat this injury in her sleep.
Apparently nobody on the production team studied how to treat an arrow-wound, however, because Nynaeve simply pushes the bolt through Elayne’s leg, fletching and all, and within moments Elayne is miraculously able to stand and climb to the top of a tower just in time for the climactic showdown with Ishamael, with enough energy left over to heal Rand al’Thor (Josha Stradowski) from a life-threatening injury of his own. I’m sorry to have to say it, but it’s bad. It’s as if halfway through filming, the decision was made to have Egwene rescue herself and Nynaeve’s role in the finale had to subsequently be reduced to this. It’s arguably worse than when Perrin Aybara (Marcus Rutherford) ran around doing nothing in the first season finale.
Perrin, at least, has a much meatier role in this episode. He really only does one important thing – killing Geofram Bornhald (Stuart Graham) in revenge for Bornhald’s merciless slaughter of Perrin’s wolf-companion Hopper (Ka Lupinka, an incredible actor who really sells the animal’s last moments) – but it marks a turning-point in his journey towards reconciling the vastly different identities of the wolf and the man tangled up within him to form what is known as a “Wolfbrother”. And he now has Geofram’s vengeful son Dain Bornhald (Jay Duffy) to worry about heading into season three. A shame, that whole situation. Those two were were cute together, fighting back-to-back in the streets of Falme with a dexterity and speed that would give anyone the impression they had known each other for more than a few hours, at most. My only disappointment is that Perrin didn’t get a meaningful scene with Ingtar (Gregg Chillingirian) before the latter’s sudden death, which might have had a chance of resonating with viewers if a scene confirming that he was a Darkfriend seeking redemption (as in the books) had not been cut from the episode.
Ingtar at least steals the Horn of Valere back from the Seanchan, so he’s not a total waste of precious screentime in an episode that needed to be a half-hour longer, but of course it’s Mat Cauthon (Dónal Finn) who eventually blows the Horn – which has a very silly design and is distractingly reminiscent of a plastic bottle of laundry detergent – summoning an equally silly troupe of Renaissance Faire-goers to fight for the Light. To be fair, some of them look pretty cool: Amaresu (Hélène Tran), mentioned in the books to be the female counterpart of the Dragon Reborn in other Turnings of the Wheel, is absolutely stunning, and I want to see more of her (I hope that her taking the Horn from Mat is an an indication that we will). But it’s hard to believe this was “probably the most expensive shot in season two”, when most of the other Heroes, including fan-favorite Birgitte Silverbow, are portrayed by uncredited extras on whom the camera lingers for only a few seconds.
To the delight of many, however, one-eyed warrior Uno Nomesta (Guy Roberts) returns as a Hero of the Horn, allowing the character – who did not die in the books – to show up again in the future. But the biggest surprise is that Mat, too, is a Hero. It’s a change, and it will have consequences, but it might not be such a bad idea. His arc has been building to this moment of much-needed catharsis, where he realizes that he is not, in fact, bound to the Dark One in every lifetime, and if having your soul cosmically linked to a musical instrument for eternity sounds only marginally better to me, it’s still huge for Mat’s character development. Since childhood, he’s been told that he’s not a good person or capable of becoming one, and everyone from his parents to total strangers have made him believe it. But there’s a goodness in Mat Cauthon that nothing and no one can suppress.
Still, though, that pesky cursed dagger he stole from Shadar Logoth tempts him, and even Mat’s solution of tying it to the end of a quarterstaff so he doesn’t come in contact with it ultimately backfires, as he tries to impale Ishamael with his makeshift weapon and accidentally stabs Rand in the stomach, fulfilling Min Farshaw’s viewing of him “killing” Rand with the dagger, albeit not quite how she envisioned. Luckily, the dagger which has corroded most of its other victims from the inside out in a matter of seconds takes its sweet time with Rand, or Elayne might not have been able to save him. In all seriousness, it’s not that big a deal, but it is a little convenient.
Rand, controversially, spends much of the episode lying glassy-eyed in a pile of rubble while his friends hold off Ishamael, shielded by Seanchan damane and suffering from the injury in his side. Between killing the High Lord Turak (Daniel Francis) and his elite bodyguards with a volley of highly precise armor-penetrating fireballs and somewhat meekly pushing his burning sword through Ishamael’s chest, he doesn’t do anything particularly flashy with the One Power, certainly nothing on the level of Moiraine Damodred (Rosamund Pike) blowing the Seanchan fleet to smithereens from miles away, and his big moment – telling Ishamael to his face that he will never serve the Dark One, because “in a thousand lives, I never have” – falls flat without the full weight of the Flicker, Flicker, Flicker sequence from The Great Hunt underscoring his words. The Wheel Of Time keeps putting off Rand’s truly epic and iconic scenes for another season, and it’s a worrisome trend.
With that said, Rand being less powerful than in the early books makes sense for where he is in the show – he’s only reached out to the True Source a few times, after all, mostly without thinking, and he hasn’t had any training outside of a single short conversation with Logain, who was cut off from the Source and therefore of very little help to Rand. But it’s worth noting that Nynaeve has had almost the exact same experience, and when she wields the One Power, the extent of her strength seems almost infinite. When Rand channels, I always get the sense that he’s holding back, using threads of the Power when he could be pulling on the very tapestry that makes up reality itself. At least he has plenty of room to grow from here, but it has to happen soon. The Forsaken are coming, and I’d rather we see actual, evenly-matched battles between them and Rand as opposed to…whatever the heck happened with Ishamael.
Ironically, Ishamael’s defeat isn’t all that different from how it plays out twice in the first three books, but if it was underwhelming then, it’s doubly so in a visual medium. Especially because the show is trying to do better by the Forsaken, and was on the right track giving them nuance, complexity, and depth to their motivations. It was refreshing to see a soft-spoken yet devastatingly competent version of Ishamael, completely unlike his snarling cartoonish counterpart from the books but far more engaging. To be fair, it’s heavily implied in the show that he went into the confrontation with Rand assuming he would die and even looking forward to it, which is very in-character for him, but he exerts too little of his power to make the charade seem believable. We’re talking about a character who could easily be teleporting behind Egwene’s barrier to catch her off-guard, and he’s standing still the whole time, firing off insignificant bullets.
I have faith, still, that this was a poorly executed but deliberate choice, and that Rand will not be able to blow through the remaining Forsaken like so much paper. Ishamael was the only one who so eagerly anticipated the Wheel of Time’s annihilation and his own along with it that he would sacrifice himself on Rand’s sword without hesitation if it could potentially result in the Dark One’s final victory over the Light and the unmaking of the Pattern. The others, with the possible exception of Lanfear (Natasha O’Keeffe), may fear the Dark One and at times revere him, but none would not happily betray him if they felt safe doing so. They each have an agenda. Take Lanfear, for instance. I don’t think she’s seriously considered breaking the Wheel for one moment; her goal is and has always been to win back the heart of Lews Therin Telamon (Karim Alexander), whose soul now resides in Rand’s humbler body, and to rule the world alongside him, never letting him leave her again. She won’t let the Dark One have him.
I’m curious to know what drove Laia Costa’s Moghedien to the Shadow in the first place, and what she wants now. From the little time we spend with her at the very end of the episode, I’m honestly not sure if she has a single coherent thought in her head, but the books do tell us that during the Age of Legends, she was named Lillen Moiral, and worked as an investment advisor, violating every rule of ethics in her pursuit of material power. As a relatively weak channeler, she had to master the art of fading into the background, letting her opponents walk all over her until she had gotten them to lower their guard, and then striking with deadly precision, disappearing before the body hit the floor. She uses this exact tactic on Lanfear, playing at being helpless and child-like until she suddenly has the stronger Forsaken tangled in her webs. She can’t kill Lanfear, but she leaves her with a warning to stay away from Rand: “He’s ours now. All five of them are.”
With Ishamael dead and the series caught up to the ending of The Dragon Reborn, the characters are poised to begin their Shadow Rising arcs; Rand, Egwene and Mat heading to the Aiel Waste for the kind of training they can’t receive elsewhere, Perrin returning to the Two Rivers to deal with the unresolved issue of Padan Fain (Johann Myers), and Nynaeve and Elayne hunting the Black Ajah in Tanchico, while at the White Tower Siuan will face the greatest challenge to her authority as Amyrlin Seat. The Shadow Rising is widely regarded to be one of, if not the, best book in The Wheel Of Time, so expectations are understandably high – and the third season needs to be a hit, because season four was not greenlit far in advance and the second season’s viewing numbers, while relatively strong, were obviously impacted by the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes preventing writers and actors from doing promotion on their social media or attending premieres and events, not to mention Amazon’s already sparse marketing (a single trailer, that’s all we got) and the gap of almost two years between seasons.
But The Wheel Of Time deserves to keep turning for a long time yet. The second season, even this imperfect but wildly enjoyable finale, earns the series its place alongside many of its higher-profile competitors in the fantasy genre (dare I say above most, including the more expensive but not as instantly engaging Rings Of Power). The vast world that Robert Jordan created and The Wheel Of Time‘s production designers, set designers, propmakers, costumers, hairstylists, and makeup-artists made into a richly detailed reality is one in which fans can immerse themselves for years and still discover something new. The magic system, vividly realized by the VFX artists and fight coordinators, is among the most intricate that exist, and its depths were unplumbed even by their originator. Most importantly, the characters ripped off the page and brought to life by the series’ incredible cast of actors, from established stars Rosamund Pike and Daniel Henney to relative newcomers Madeleine Madden and Zoë Robins, can support at least as many stories as any of the minor historical figures mentioned in The Lord Of The Rings and A Song Of Ice And Fire who now lead movies and series’. The Wheel Of Time has reached the big leagues. In fact, it got there before the season midpoint. But whether the average viewer knows it will entirely depend on word-of-mouth as long as Amazon’s promotion continues to be nonexistent. And not to be too pushy, but I kinda need that fourth season (and a fifth, and a sixth, and so on), so, uh, go watch it maybe?