“The Wheel Of Time” Season 2, Episode 1 – Vindication For The First Season’s Flawed Finale


This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the series being covered here wouldn’t exist.

I wrote once that The Wheel Of Time‘s season one finale was a necessarily messy episode of television, having to hurriedly clear pieces off the board and wipe it clean so that season two could jump into a new game in a new setting (narratively and thematically as well as physically), and no longer be burdened with the consequences of working around COVID-19, star Barney Harris’ sudden departure, and the occasional incoherence of the source material itself, which piled up in the back-half of season one and threatened to bog down what was otherwise an enjoyable, fast-paced trek along the margins of Robert Jordan’s expansive world. Nearly two years later, I am pleased to report that my prediction has come to pass, as surely as any of Min Farshaw’s foretellings. The Wheel Of Time hits the ground running in its second season specifically because of the dirty work done in season one, episode eight.

Fares Fares as Ishamael in The Wheel Of Time season two, wearing a dark coat, kneeling in short grass while holding the hands of a small girl wearing a red and blue dress. Behind them looms a massive Trolloc, man-shaped but with the face of a boar, with antlers sprouting from its head. It is night, and fog is rolling in.
Ishamael at the Darkfriend Social | telltaletv.com

The choice to depower Moiraine Damodred (Rosamund Pike) at the Eye of the World, controversial at the time, is one that forces Pike to resituate herself in her character’s fundamentally altered body and mind, and to which the Oscar-nominated actress responds enthusiastically by punching jagged holes in the façade of unreadable micro-expressions and mannerisms that Moiraine was accustomed to using as a shield, gaps in her defenses through which her raw humanity now spills in angry torrents, deliberately aimed to hurt the one person staying and trying – in his eyes, harder than Moiraine herself has ever tried – to patch up her wounds, who will continue to fail and hurt himself in the process as long as he refuses to acknowledge that these wounds run far too deep for him to heal; her loyal Warder, al’Lan Mandragoran (Daniel Henney). The more Lan tries to force Moiraine to talk through her grief, the more she pulls away from him and the wider the rift between them grows. They can’t get on the same page without the Bond to guide them in the right direction, and so in the first episode’s final minutes Moiraine runs, deeming it safer for them both if she does, only to have all her fears and doubts confirmed when Lan follows and nearly kills himself to protect her. The devolution of what once seemed an indestructible relationship founded in mutual trust is the episode’s central through line, around which all other plot-threads must loosely swirl, reflecting how the characters find themselves being buffeted by the winds of change to far-flung corners of the world at the beginning of season two.

But the wind lifts each of these threads and binds them to the others before episode’s end in a sequence that appropriately brings the Wheel of Time almost full-circle, as Bel-Tine lanterns last lit on the fateful night before the Emond’s Field Five left home – a year earlier, in-universe – now flicker once again on a stream in Arad Doman where Perrin Aybara (Marcus Rutherford) makes camp alongside Shienaran soldiers, on the stone windowsill of a room in the White Tower where Egwene al’Vere (Madeleine Madden) and Nynaeve al’Meara (Zoë Robins) find fleeting moments of comfort amidst their grueling training, and on a street-corner in the scaffolding-encased city of Cairhien where Rand al’Thor (Josha Stradowski), the Dragon Reborn, waits patiently for madness to consume his soul. Dónal Finn’s Mat Cauthon, meanwhile, makes do without a lantern in the White Tower dungeon where we find him languishing, months after he abandoned his friends to go after a cursed dagger. Wherever these places are in relation to each other and Emond’s Field (and, for the viewer unfamiliar with a map of the Westlands, there really isn’t any indication), this scene forcefully reiterates that home is never far from any of our main characters’ hearts, and that right now, more than anything, they yearn for what they’ve lost.

With the exception of Rand, who doesn’t appear again until episode two, each of these characters, and Moiraine and Lan, face challenges in the premiere that test how far they’re willing to go, and what they’re willing to lose, to become the heroes they need to be if they’re to have any hope of winning the coming Last Battle – and no one is feeling the pressure more than Nynaeve, the most powerful channeler to train at the White Tower in a thousand years, who has subconsciously developed a ‘block’ that prevents her from channeling except in moments of extreme anger, fear, and sorrow. Every Aes Sedai in the Tower craves the prestige that would come from being the one to break Nynaeve’s block and guide her to greatness, making all their efforts to help seem insincere, but the one who finally coaxes a reaction out of her during a particularly brutal session is also the one Nynaeve trusts the least; Liandrin Guirale (Kate Fleetwood) of the authoritarian Red Ajah, a woman who represents everything Nynaeve detests most about the Aes Sedai and their White Tower.

To say that Fleetwood is a standout from the first three episodes would be an understatement. She is utterly electrifying, and no one on The Wheel Of Time, with the exception of Fleetwood’s frequent scene-partner Zoë Robins, is more deserving of critical recognition for their work this season (and we will talk about Robins in my review of episode three), though all the cast are perhaps equally worthy and there are several others I’d single out for praise in the first episode alone, including Madden, who brims with charisma; Rutherford, who has settled comfortably into a middle-ground between learned stoicism and innate vulnerability after being emotionally paralyzed by the narrative for much of season one; and the delightful pairing of Meera Syal and Nila Aalia as exasperated eccentric Verin Mathwin and playful flirt Adeleas, Aes Sedai of the Brown Ajah who inject energy into Moiraine’s slow-paced storyline. Dónal Finn, who I will highlight in my review of episode two, quickly joins the likes of Robins, Fleetwood, and Pike with a performance I can only describe as enthralling.

With the younger members of the cast having each developed a strong, distinctive acting-style and synergizing effortlessly with each other and the veterans of stage and screen who surround them, the responsibility of carrying The Wheel Of Time can now be shared more evenly amongst them all, and I’m sure that after dedicating so much of her time in recent years to the character of Moiraine, there must be a part of Rosamund Pike that welcomes the opportunity to take a step back and proudly witness that transition occur. With that said, she is likely to continue serving as the series’ iconic mascot as long as her name alone can pull in new viewers, and it would be criminal in any case to neglect an actress of her caliber, or even expect her to be content with the relatively small and insignificant role her character plays in The Great Hunt and The Dragon Reborn, the second and third books in Robert Jordan’s monumental fourteen-volume series. Finding an appropriate balance going forward will surely be the hardest task facing showrunner Rafe Judkins, though to date, fleshing out Moiraine’s storyline with material derived from the prequel novel New Spring, including information about her early years that sadly never became relevant in the main series, has proven a satisfying workaround and opens new pathways that ultimately connect her back to Rand and other characters.

The very notion of changes to the order of events in the books is understandably nerve-wracking to some, and blasphemous to others, but while there are major changes, each and every one has been made with the essence of the characters in mind…and what’s more, even changes that could not have been avoided are executed in such a way that they could not feel more organic. For example, it’s Perrin, instead of Rand, who has the closest relationship with Ingtar Shinowa (Gregg Chilingirian, quietly exceptional in the role), and while on the surface it’s a change that could seem random, a product of circumstances more than anything else, a closer reading of Ingtar’s words to Perrin near the end of episode one as the two discuss Padan Fain (Johann Myers)’s motivations for joining the Dark reveals that it’s an exquisite adjustment made to service both their arcs in ways I can’t wait to explain after the season finale (no spoilers in the comments, please!). And remember, this beautiful scene wouldn’t exist were it not for Perrin being the one to awkwardly run into Fain in Fal Dara last season solely because someone had to fill Mat’s place.

Dónal Finn as Mat Cauthon in The Wheel Of Time, lying on a wooden bench in a dimly-lit room with his head leaning on the armrest, tears rolling down his cheeks as he stares at a flickering candle-flame in the foreground. He has brown curly hair and a beard. He is wearing an olive-green coat over a greenish-brown tattered shirt.
Mat Cauthon | cosmopolitan.com

And that brings me to an even better example, which is, of course, Mat’s entire storyline this season. While it was never planned or predicted that Barney Harris would leave The Wheel Of Time midway through filming season one, necessitating that his character be written off the show temporarily with a myriad of clumsy excuses, you wouldn’t guess it from the way it’s been gracefully handled in season two. I feel safe in stating that there’s nothing Mat does in the first three books that would have more perfectly illustrated to the audience exactly who he is and everything he struggles with than what Judkins came up with as a hasty backup plan for his character. To pull that off, as well as the recasting, in the middle of a pandemic, must have required a coalescence of imagination and ingenuity Hollywood can never hope to replicate with an AI.

Outstanding actors working from an excellent script could convince the audience that any four walls are a palace or a prison, but The Wheel Of Time is an epic fantasy greater in scale than almost any other, and that wasn’t always evident from the first season, which could only afford to visit three or four primary locations across eight episodes, with about the same number of outfits for each main character, or fewer. But an evidently sizable expansion to the series’ budget has allowed the production designers, costume designers, hairstylists, makeup artists, and propmakers in every field and art-form to go absolutely wild this season, filling every nook and cranny of this world with detailing pulled straight from the books. The White Tower, so obviously a single soundstage decorated slightly differently for various scenes in the first season, now feels like an entire ecosystem nestled in the beating heart of Tar Valon, itself much larger and more vibrant this season. The women of the Aes Sedai not only dress like actual people instead of being restricted to the color of their respective Ajah, they also dress fabulously, in patterned silks, laces, velvets, and furs, bedecked in precious stones and metals – everything I was missing from their introduction in season one, essentially. If costume designer Sharon Gilham alone walks away with an Emmy for her work this season, it will not be enough but nor will it be undeserved.

On a similar note, the CGI has improved substantially between seasons and the ‘weaves’ constructed by channelers from glinting threads of the One Power are far more intricate now, containing colors besides cloudy white, including vivid shades of gold, silver, and amber. These threads wind differently for each woman (and man), some as vague and ethereal as ribbons swirling in a breeze, some as sharply defined and precise as the razor-edged cord of a garrote. Nynaeve, because of her block, tends to channel messily when she channels at all, and her weaves are loose, ragged. Liandrin has a dexterity with the Power we have yet to see matched by any channeler save the Forsaken Ishamael (Fares Fares), her weaves forming long, thrashing whips. And Egwene…well, Egwene has been teaching herself to channel without the use of her hands, and we finally see her do so in episode three, though her weaves of sinuous flame are easily extinguished by Liandrin. It’ll be quite interesting to see how Moiraine uses the Power, assuming she’s unshielded by Rand or Siuan this season (I have no doubt in my mind she’s shielded, not stilled, as she seems to believe).

Even with an increased budget, however, I would never say that The Wheel Of Time relies at any point on its CGI, and in fact the continued use of practical effects wherever possible is perhaps one of the series’ most exciting and endearing qualities from a filmmaking perspective. In the first episode’s climactic action sequence, Moiraine is ambushed on the road by three Fades, the most vaguely humanoid of Shadowspawn. Bereft of the abilities she would ordinarily use to fight back, she hides for a moment to weigh her options, draws a knife, and begins stalking her unseen enemies through patches of shadow on the ground. The resulting battle is shot and choreographed to seem totally, brutally grounded, something I think is largely attributable to the fact that you can feel the presence of every actor and stunt performer in the scene, the weight and impact of every sword-thrust, kick, and hit. The Fades feel like a real threat because they are real, making their unnerving speed and strength more incredible, and their weaknesses more believable.

The season’s primary antagonists, Ishamael and Padan Fain, are relegated to small roles in the suspense-driven first episode, which allows our anticipation to grow with each passing moment that we know and the characters know that they’re just off-camera, observing quietly. Fain is one of the book series’ most terrifying villains, his deeds in service to the Dark downright stomach-turning, and I feel that was captured in the early scene where Perrin and the Shienarans come across the wreckage of a Tuatha’an caravan and the bodies of several Darkfriends killed by Fain for no other reason than to whittle down his competition. Perrin’s wolf-senses allow him to relive the carnage as it happened (interestingly, the girl that he sees escaping the massacre, whose fate is still unknown, is the very same girl who befriended Ishamael in the cold-open), further deepening his distaste for violence, his discomfort in his own body, and his distrust of Elyas Machera (Gary Beadle), the golden-eyed “sniffer” who shares his abilities. While it would have been nice to see Elyas in the first season, holding off his introduction meant effectively isolating Perrin, giving him more legitimate reasons to build barriers between himself and the wolves that we’ll see him topple gradually, reluctantly, over the course of this season.

If there is any cause for concern to be found in the first episode, it is the absence of Sophie Okonedo, who appears to have only filmed an episode or two as Siuan Sanche, the Amyrlin Seat of the Aes Sedai, greatly reducing both the amount of time we can expect her to share with Egwene and Nynaeve this season (if any), and her potential future involvement in storylines at the White Tower that…revolved around Siuan in the books. With the character of Elaida yet to be introduced, however, it seems those storylines may not be established at all until season three, which I think is a terrible mistake. Then again, if Mat’s character arc could be resuscitated and restored to full health in the span of a few minutes with Dónal Finn, I have faith that Sophie Okonedo and whichever extremely talented actress is cast as Elaida can convince me of their decades-long rivalry in no time at all.

Madeleine Madden as Egwene al'Vere in The Wheel Of Time season two, standing before a table in a dimly-lit kitchen, wearing a gray apron over a long-sleeved white gown.
Egwene al’Vere | polygon.com

In short, the first episode of season two finally elevates the series a step above season one – and above most of the competition – in every way. The Wheel Of Time is even more epic and more thrilling in this Turning, its cast even stronger, its worldbuilding even richer. There is no comparing the two seasons, really, because the difference is night and day, and I say that as someone who enjoyed most of the first season and still rewatches my favorite episodes, three, five, and six, frequently. Season one was good, at times great, and offered fleeting glimpses of what The Wheel Of Time could be. Season two is phenomenal television that finally lives up to what was promised, and doesn’t waste a second of screentime in doing so.

Episode Rating: 9/10

The Wheel Of Time Turns Again In Season Two Trailer

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the series being covered here wouldn’t exist.

The Wheel of Time turns, and ages come and pass, leaving memory that becomes legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past, a trailer dropped. The trailer was not the beginning; there are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.

Official poster for The Wheel Of Time season two. In the center stands Moiraine, wearing a dark blue vest over a white blouse with a long blue dress. She holds a short knife. Her brown hair is unbound. To the right of her are Rand, with a shaven head, coiled in orange threads of the One Power; Perrin, wearing a dark green woven leather vest over a red shirt; and Mat, wearing a dirty olive-green coat with unkempt curly hair. To the left of her are Lan, reaching over his shoulder for the sword strapped to his back; Nynaeve, wearing white and staring defiantly at the camera; and Egwene, wearing white, with blue threads of the One Power winding around her. They are all superimposed against a large gold disc on a blue background.
The Wheel Of Time | escapistmagazine.com

And what a beginning. The first official trailer for The Wheel Of Time season two doesn’t pull any punches. With how long it’s been since the first season aired on Prime Video (and how much fantasy television has come out since then, including HBO’s House Of The Dragon, Prime’s The Rings Of Power, and two seasons of Netflix’s The Witcher), the aim of this marketing campaign is to be as big, bold, and distinct as possible, practically slamming the viewer with epic visuals, dynamic action, thrilling drama, and iconic moments lifted straight from the pages of The Great Hunt and The Dragon Reborn, the second and third books in Robert Jordan’s best-selling series of high fantasy novels, supplemented in the show with enough new material to keep even veterans of the source material on the edge of their seats.

Of course, it would be significantly easier to promote the series with assistance from The Wheel Of Time‘s showrunner and actors, but that can’t happen until the AMPTP agrees to pay writers and actors what they’re worth. Until then, SAG-AFTRA and the WGA are both on strike, and The Wheel Of Time is just one of many upcoming releases that will have to rely heavily on its existing fanbase for the foreseeable future (all the more reason for fans to stay informed and stay wary, because Prime Video and other AMPTP member studios could very well approach you with offers to advertise struck work for them, and accepting such a deal at this time would be crossing a picket line). As long as you’re not being paid by a studio to do any of the following, then by all means, go ahead and make fan-art, fan-edits, fan-fiction, fan-covers of Wheel Of Time‘s music, and cosplays.

Cosplaying certain characters might be tricky for the average fan, though, with how ornate and elaborate the costumes have become in season two. I am on record as having been critical of costume designer Isis Mussenden’s work in the first season: I did not think the glory and gracefulness of the Aes Sedai was ever reflected in their brightly-colored but otherwise dully unostentatious clothing; Ishamael’s suit was shabby and poorly-tailored, hardly fit for a man posing as the Dark One himself; and the Seanchan to me looked like they had just walked off the set of a 1980s B-movie. Sharon Gilham (Jamestown, The Nun) replaced Mussenden as costume designer on seasons two and three – which started filming earlier this year in Prague – and although Mussenden’s designs are still the basis for some of what we see in season two, it is Gilham who has raised the bar for The Wheel Of Time, and for the fantasy genre in general, with the extraordinary wardrobe of high camp regalia she’s assembled for the Seanchan nobility and the Aes Sedai.

(left to right) Alwhin, High Lady Suroth, and Ishamael, all riding in a palanquin with ornate metal railings and a canopy. Alwhin wears a rust-colored gown with frilly teal sleeves, and a mask of woven brass covering her face. Suroth, seated on a throne, wears heavier rust-colored robes with frilly teal sleeves, and golden epaulets, with a large tusked golden mask covering all of her face but her mouth. The first two fingernails on both her hands are extremely long and bladed. Ishamael, leaning on the railing, wears a gray shirt with a modern collar and high-waisted black trousers.
(left to right) Alwhin, High Lady Suroth, and Ishamael | polygon.com

A few of my favorite costume details include the breastplate of woven bone forming a many-pronged pair of jaws around High Lord Turak’s head, the tusked golden latticework mask and crescent-moon headdress worn by High Lady Suroth, the frighteningly long bladed fingernails that mark them both as members of the Blood, and their pleated scale-patterned gowns in shades of teal and rust and vivid orange. Liandrin Guirale looks phenomenal in a red dress similar to one she wore throughout the first season, but darker, with a patterned leather harness. Siuan Sanche, the Amyrlin Seat, dons a new gilded shawl, a coat made of small gold discs, and a crown that I’m almost positive was made entirely from the kinds of beautiful debris you can pick up off the floor of an arts-and-crafts store: a smorgasbord of fabric flowers, metallic leaves, gold lace, and silver baubles that look magnificent when stitched together and placed on Sophie Okonedo’s brow. But of course, it’s Moiraine Damodred who makes the strongest impression, wearing a beautiful shirt of tight-knit white fabric under a blue silk robe with a bejeweled diadem in her hair, now hanging in loose ringlets after the fashion of Cairhien.

I could ramble on about the costumes and hairstyling for far longer than anyone would care to listen, so let me pivot real quick to locations, of which there are several. A time-jump of a few months means that very little time, if any, will be spent in the keep of Fal Dara where the first season ended, and it may be that the second season opens with Rand al’Thor already hiding out in the Foregate of Cairhien, with Moiraine and al’Lan Mandragoran hot on his heels, while the hunt for the Horn of Valere is already well underway, whisking Perrin Aybara and Loial off to the eastern boundaries of the known world, and Egwene al’Vere and Nynaeve al’Meara have begun their training at the White Tower, where Mat Cauthon is already a prisoner of the Red Ajah (there are some shots in the trailer that indicate Nynaeve may arrive at the Tower slightly later than Egwene, but unless she first spends time traveling with Moiraine and Lan, I can’t imagine why that would be, or why it would even make sense for an adaptation that’s trying to streamline the narrative as much as possible).

As much as I love Rand and Perrin and Moiraine, the few chapters of The Great Hunt that deal with Egwene and Nynaeve’s White Tower training have always been my favorites, and rereading the book recently (for the first time in years) reaffirmed that for me. Whenever the book jumped to Rand’s perspective or Perrin’s, I found myself impatiently yearning to be back at the Tower, exploring its nooks and crannies, learning about the One Power, or the differences between ter’angreal and sa’angreal, or the seven different Ajahs that make up the Aes Sedai. I love a story of political intrigue with magic involved, and that’s really what the White Tower arc boils down to – hundreds of morally dubious sorceresses scheming against each other. And the show being more of an ensemble piece than the early books means we can hopefully spend more time there, with the characters that make this world so unique.

Nynaeve al'Meara, wearing a white dress with a wide leather belt, standing framed between the stone pillars of a silver archway standing on a dais in the center of a round stone chamber underneath the White Tower. Candles burn in sconces on the far wall. Behind Nynaeve are Sheriam Bayanar, Leane Sharif, and Liandrin Guirale.
Nynaeve al’Meara | Twitter @TheWheelOfTime

The scene I’m looking forward to the most, that I hope is expanded on, is Nynaeve’s Accepted test. Novices at the White Tower typically study for several years, sometimes even decades, before they are deemed strong enough to take the test (and some never make it that far, or turn down the opportunity when it is offered) but those who survive earn the title of “Accepted” as well as a Great Serpent ring, and are put on the path to becoming Aes Sedai. Nynaeve’s power is so great that, in the books at least, she is rushed into her Accepted test before having any time to train as a Novice, and with only a vague understanding of what the test entails. The test takes place in the White Tower’s basement, where three silver arches stand on a dais, forming a massive ter’angreal that transports the user to alternate dimensions in which they must face literal manifestations of their worst fears and deepest desires. We see Nynaeve stumble out of the ter’angreal covered in blood, a reference to what Sheriam Bayanar only warns could happen in the book, that “some have come out bearing the actual wounds of hurts taken inside”.

At one point in the trailer we also see Egwene, still wearing the white uniform of a Novice, standing alone in the doorway to the testing room, channeling threads of the One Power as if she intends to unlock the ter’angreal. There’s a chance this is part of Nynaeve’s test (perhaps, instead of confronting the Forsaken Aginor as she does in the book, she must fight and kill a version of her friend, hence the blood on her hands?), but I think Egwene might just be reckless enough to try and take the test by herself, without guidance, after months of washing dishes and scrubbing floors as a Novice without learning anything she can use to help her friends who are in danger. Obviously she doesn’t succeed (because she’s still wearing Novice robes in later scenes), so maybe she gets lost in Tel’aran’rhiod, the World of Dreams, and has to rely on the sleepweaver ter’angreal given to her by Verin to escape? Just a theory, but it’d be a neat introduction to some concepts that will become extremely relevant in the next season.

There are a few other interesting shots of Egwene throughout the trailer, where you can see her wearing a gray tunic and golden collar, with bloodshot eyes and blood on her face, but I can’t say too much about what I think is happening there without spoiling one of The Great Hunt‘s most shocking twists, so I’ll just leave you with that piece of information to mull over instead. For similar reasons, I must refrain from sharing my theories as to what Liandrin is doing, hurrying through the streets of Tar Valon at night in a cloak and hood, or my many thoughts on the beautiful dark-haired woman hovering over Rand’s shoulder as he channels the One Power. If you know, you know.

Josha Stradowski as Rand al'Thor in The Wheel Of Time, wearing dark clothes, kneeling on the floor of a small bedroom in an inn, staring up with wide, horror-stricken eyes as orange threads of the One Power burst from his hands and curl upwards around him towards the ceiling.
Rand al’Thor | nerdist.com

But as I mentioned, there’s some material in the trailer that’s not derived from the books at all. Moiraine and Siuan, the latter notably wearing blue (rather than Amyrlin gold), steal a kiss in a scene likely set prior to the birth of the Dragon Reborn, inspired by events covered in the Wheel Of Time prequel novel, New Spring. In the present day, Rand meets Siuan, not in Fal Dara where the two cross paths in the early chapters of The Great Hunt, but in what appears to be the Sun Palace of Cairhien; and in this version of events, Siuan has apparently brought the False Dragon Logain, still a prisoner of the Aes Sedai, to meet Rand and mentor him. Moiraine, shielded by Ishamael at the Eye of the World last season, sits miserably in a bath, unable to do so much as heat the water to her preferred temperature with the One Power (a poignant callback to an instantly iconic scene from The Wheel Of Time‘s first episode). And most controversially, Aviendha seems to take the place of Gaul, but I can’t even be mad about it because she looks so good dancing the spears.

While we’re on the subject, the fight choreography is another area where The Wheel Of Time has indisputably leveled up since the first season, and it’s a good thing too, because the finale did not (and arguably could not, due to COVID-19 restrictions in place at the time) deliver the brutal battle of epic proportions that was teased all season; and various smaller-scale action sequences earlier in the season, like the skirmish between the Aes Sedai and Logain’s rebels in episode four, while passable, never stood out for being particularly suspenseful, intense, or even clever on a conceptual level. With the introduction of the Seanchan and their army of brainwashed channelers called damane, weapons to be wielded in battle by handlers called sul’dam, that is unlikely to ever again be an issue for the show. The quick glimpses we’ve caught of both damane and sul’dam are equal parts horrific and fascinating.

Even with the Seanchan in the game, however, The Wheel Of Time‘s primary antagonist is still Ishamael, the mysterious man whose name is practically synonymous with that of the Dark One. His handsome face no longer hidden behind a CGI silken mask, actor Fares Fares seems to be making the most of this opportunity to be both delectably evil and suave as he hosts social gatherings for Darkfriends and Forsaken – a rogues gallery of ancient villains with colorful personalities, whittled down in the show from thirteen to just eight of the most significant. Ishamael is their leader, but second behind him in all the horror-stories that survived the Breaking of the World is Lanfear, Daughter of the Night, and it’s probably her bloody naked body we see rising stiffly from the floor of a cave in the trailer. Few things would give me greater joy out of this adaptation than a genuinely nightmare-inducing depiction of Lanfear, who has been mischaracterized as a cartoonish “crazy ex-girlfriend” archetype for so long that I think Jordan at some point started writing her like that, and fans have all but forgotten she’s responsible for drilling a hole in the fabric of reality and releasing the Dark One in the first place.

Fares Fares as Ishamael in The Wheel Of Time, standing in the center of a dark cave, wearing a tailored black suit with a distinctly modern cut, arms by his side, head back, eyes closed and lips slightly parted as glowing green threads of the One Power weave around him, forming widening, interlocking rings.
Ishamael | Twitter @TheWheelOfTime

I have high hopes for this season to be better than the first and better than the book(s) it’s based on by a substantial margin, which is exactly what I predicted when I wrote that the season finale was only as messy as it was so that season two wouldn’t have to be. After momentarily steering off-course in the wake of Barney Harris’ departure and the COVID-19 pandemic, The Wheel Of Time is back on-track to be mentioned in the same breath as House Of The Dragon and The Witcher season three as some of the best fantasy television on the air (The Rings Of Power deserves to be up there too for its visuals, score, and excellent performances, but that series’ writing needs refinement in its own highly-anticipated second season). Hopefully they can keep that momentum going and get the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth seasons that we’ll need to finish this epic story, because this? This is just a beginning.

Trailer Rating: 9/10

Who Are The Forsaken? The Wheel Of Time’s Villains, Explained.


With the second season of Amazon’s criminally-underrated fantasy epic The Wheel Of Time aiming for a release date later this year (ambiguous, yes, but at least we’re looking at an interval of no more than two years between seasons), and a full-length trailer expected almost any day now, I feel like a lot of returning casual fans will want to refresh their memory of what happened in the admittedly confusing first season finale and what it means for the show’s future, as outlined in Robert Jordan’s daunting fourteen-book series. So get ready, because starting today, I’ll be bombarding you all with details from the finale you might have missed and analysis of certain plot-beats and character moments, which will hopefully give you plenty of reasons to get hyped for the The Wheel Of Time‘s second turning. And I couldn’t think of a better place to kick off this series than with a deep-dive into the Forsaken, characters I can’t wait to see onscreen at long last.

Fares Fares as Ishamael in The Wheel Of Time, wearing a loose black jacket over a white tunic. He has short dark hair, slicked-back, and a beard. His head is cocked to one side, and he is smirking, disregarding the razor-sharp blades of white light encircling him.
“The Dark One” | pajiba.com

The Forsaken, in Robert Jordan’s books, were the thirteen most powerful channelers (magic-users) who joined the Dark One during the Age of Legends, several-thousand years before the events of The Wheel Of Time, receiving the gift of immortality in exchange for helping the Dark One escape from the place outside time and space where he had been imprisoned since the moment of creation. They were ultimately unsuccessful, and as punishment for their treason, they were instead imprisoned alongside the Dark One by Lews Therin Telamon, a male channeler later known merely as “The Dragon”, when he went to the Eye of the World and sealed up the small rift in the fabric of reality that the Dark One had been using to issue orders to his followers. It’s hard to imagine what that was like, being trapped in the cold dark void outside the universe for thousands of years, unable to die, but it certainly didn’t help any of the Forsaken get to a better place mentally and emotionally.

The inevitable weakening of the seals on the Dark One’s prison near the end of the Third Age allows the Forsaken to begin escaping back into the world, just in time to pose a serious threat to Rand al’Thor, a male channeler who discovers that he is the reincarnation of Lews Therin Telamon, the last Dragon, and that he is destined to either save the world, by strengthening the ancient seals, or destroy it, by freeing the Dark One. That’s where The Wheel Of Time, in both the books and the show, begins – although for the first seven episodes of the show, the identity of the Dragon Reborn is a mystery and Rand is just one of several qualified candidates, including his friends Egwene al’Vere, Nynaeve al’Meara, Perrin Aybara, and Mat Cauthon. The Dark One is equally uncertain who is the Dragon, and thus dispatches the greatest of the Forsaken, their leader Ishamael, to begin stalking each of them in their nightmares.

(Before we continue, I feel like I should reiterate that this post contains one major spoiler from the ending of The Dragon Reborn, the third book in The Wheel Of Time, which is also a spoiler for the opening of season two, but only very minor spoilers from the rest of books two and three, so if you’re just starting the books after finishing the first season or if you plan to, turn back now and be warned that certain things will happen earlier in the show than in the books, which may impact your enjoyment of the books).

Ishamael, affectionately referred to as “Ishy” by the fandom, is the mysterious man with flaming eyes played by Swedish-Lebanese actor Fares Fares who appears prominently in both Rand and Perrin’s dreams and is immediately misidentified as the Dark One. He reappears after Rand confirms to himself that he is the Dragon, and has a conversation with him, or rather with the soul of Lews Therin Telamon, where he gleefully mocks Lews for taking the form of a weakling shepherd, but again Rand is oblivious to a whole bunch of clues and thinks he’s talking directly to the Dark One. At the Eye of the World, he faces Ishamael a third time, and this time Ishamael uses Rand’s ignorance to his advantage, deliberately posing as the Dark One and letting Rand obliterate his physical body with the One Power, all while standing on a prominent seal embedded in the floor that Rand unintentionally shatters as he’s attacking the man he thinks is the Dark One.

Not just any seal. One of the seven seals, long thought to be unbreakable, that the last Dragon sacrificed his sanity to install so that the Dark One could never escape again. And Rand just broke it (he can’t help it, he’s a himbo). One could argue that none of this was clearly conveyed in the actual episode, but my counterargument – and the reason I’m telling you all of this – is twofold: firstly, the episode ends with Moiraine and Lan investigating the broken seal and discovering that it’s made of cuendillar, a supposedly unbreakable substance, which a shaken Moiraine cites as evidence that the battle with the Dark One isn’t over, far from it, and secondly, enough time has passed since the finale that the folks over at Amazon don’t seem to care if people know that the man Rand fought wasn’t the Dark One, because the teaser trailer for season two outright confirms that he’s the Dark One’s “strongest lieutenant”, not the Dark One himself, and that Rand’s actions set the Forsaken free. I think it’s safe to assume that all of this is going to come out early in the season premiere anyway, before Moiraine and Lan presumably set out to find Rand and inform him of what happened.

Three votive statues, prominently displayed in The Wheel Of Time's first season, carved from brown stone, standing on a mantel-piece surrounded by burning candles. The statue on the far left depicts a tall man holding a guitar. The middlemost statue depicts a short man with vague, angular features. The statue on the far right depicts a woman with long hair, a large bosom, and wide hips.
(left to right) Votive statues of – presumably – Asmodean, Demandred, and Graendal | reddit.com

But will they reach him before one of the Forsaken does? I won’t spoil anything the show hasn’t deliberately chosen to spoil already, so you’ll just have to watch and find out, but I can tell you a little about each of the Forsaken. In the books, there are thirteen – Aginor, Asmodean, Balthamel, Be’lal, Demandred, Graendal, Ishamael, Lanfear, Mesaana, Moghedien, Rahvin, Sammael, and Semirhage – but the show has seemingly whittled that number down to a more manageable eight, at least going by the number of sinister votive statuettes that the Warder Stepin uses to ward off the Forsaken in episode five. The figures represented by these statues are not immediately distinguishable in all cases, but the general consensus among fans is that the eight Forsaken we’ll meet in the series are Asmodean, Demandred, Graendal, Ishamael, Lanfear, Moghedien, Sammael, and Semirhage.

And that’s fine by me. Sure, a handful of folks will miss Mesaana, and there’s some stuff she and Rahvin do in the books that I suppose will have to be done by other Forsaken in the show, but we still have plenty to go around, any one of them a hundred times more compelling than all of the remaining Forsaken combined. Aginor and Balthamel were some of the first Forsaken introduced in book one, The Eye Of The World, yet even their powers combined weren’t enough to prevent the former being taken down by an untrained teenager, and the latter by a tree. And as for Be’lal…well, I’m wracking my brain, but I have to be honest, I don’t remember if he spoke once in fourteen books. There’s nothing we gain from having them all around, and the advantage to dropping them is that the Forsaken in the show won’t be competing with a bunch of corny villain-of-the-week types for more screen-time and more significance to the story.

First and foremost among the Forsaken stands Ishamael, the Betrayer of Hope, who is considered the strongest characters in the series behind Lews Therin Telamon. During the Age of Legends, his name was Elan Morin Tedronai and he was a revered member of the Aes Sedai (back when the organization accepted both male and female channelers), but his studies into the workings of the Wheel of Time led him to the horrific conclusion that in every Turning of the Wheel, the Dark One would attempt to break free from his prison and do battle with the soul of Lews Therin Telamon, the so-called Dragon. Tedronai became convinced that the Dark One’s eventual victory was assured, as he would need to succeed only once to break the Wheel of Time, rip up the Pattern, and end the cycle of rebirth that allowed the Dragon to challenge him over and over throughout history. Deeming it safer to be on the Dark One’s side when this day came, Tedronai betrayed the Aes Sedai and became the Dark One’s strategist and representative on earth, leading to later generations conflating the name of Ishamael with that of the Dark One himself. Though he was sealed up alongside the other Forsaken, Ishamael was able to escape much earlier than the others, allowing him to set the stage for the Dark One’s return by orchestrating the Trolloc Wars and the War of the Hundred Years.

Lanfear, the Daughter of the Night, is believed to be the strongest female channeler in The Wheel Of Time alongside Semirhage, but in the books she is outranked by all of the male Forsaken for no good reason except that in Robert Jordan’s gendered magic system, even the weakest male channeler starts out stronger in the One Power than a strong female channeler, and the cap on his abilities is much higher than for a woman. Women are supposed to be more “dexterous” with the One Power, which theoretically evens the playing-field, but in Lanfear’s case it just makes so much more sense thematically if she’s second to Ishamael, both in strength and in the Dark One’s eyes, because being second to Lews Therin Telamon (and second to Ilyena in Lews Therin’s heart) was what originally drove her to the Shadow. In fact, it was in an effort to outdo Lews Therin that she accidentally drilled the hole in the Dark One’s prison through which he was able to influence the world (and behind which she was later sealed). The bitter irony of her story is that she’s extremely powerful and intelligent in her own right, but there’s always just one person standing between her and first place whom she can’t help but become fixated on tearing down. Fittingly, she’ll also be the second Forsaken introduced in The Wheel Of Time‘s second season.

Demandred, the One who Twists the Blade, is a somewhat enigmatic character who deliberately avoids the spotlight until very late in the book series, making it difficult to say where he ranks among the Forsaken. Of the eight suspected to appear in the show, I have him in third place behind Ishamael and Lanfear because he was said to be one of the strongest male channelers alive during the Age of Legends, and was often mentioned in the same breath as Lews Therin Telamon, although the two were rivals from the moment that both men fell in love with an Aes Sedai named Ilyena. When she chose Lews Therin, Demandred (or Barid Bel Medar, as he was then named) channeled his jealous rage into his research. He is credited with the rediscovery of sword-fighting and military strategy, art-forms which had been lost to the people of that blissful Age, but he fancied himself a real general because of this, and believed that when war broke out between the Dark One and the Aes Sedai, he would be chosen to command the forces of the Light – only for Lews Therin, the Dragon, to steal the coveted position and the honors it entailed. Demandred joined the Shadow soon after, becoming the Dark One’s greatest military leader.

Lews Therin Telamon and Latra Posae Decume, from The Wheel Of Time, standing in a sleek, futuristic, yet comfortable room with brown stone arches, flooded by sunlight from high windows. Lews Therin wears a black military uniform, with leather boots. Latra Posae, facing away, wears a shapeless white garment, and has her brown hair pulled into a severe bun.
Lews Therin Telamon and Latra Posae Decume | winteriscoming.net

In fourth place I have to put Semirhage, the Promise of Pain, because again, while the books state that the female Forsaken are weaker than all of the male Forsaken, I personally refuse to accept that as canon and you can’t make me – and in any case, Semirhage is said to be so dexterous with the One Power that she’s probably equivalent in strength to Lanfear, who I placed second behind Ishamael. Once a renowned Healer named Nemene Damendar Boann, she single-handedly rid the world of all illnesses and ailments during the Age of Legends, but found herself increasingly bored as her work decreased and she she realized she could accomplish nothing further through the One Power unless she began inventing new diseases and injuries. Torture became her one passion in life, and when the Aes Sedai tried to sever her from the One Power, the Dark One offered her a place at his side where she could do whatever she wanted with those unlucky souls who fell into her hands. Her unspeakable cruelty to prisoners-of-war earned her a reputation for being the most terrifying of all the Forsaken.

Sammael, the Destroyer of Hope, is vying for the fifth spot with Rahvin, an almost identical character with a similar role in the story – ultimately, I believe the two will be merged, and if I had to pick a name for this composite character, I’d go with Sammael. He was an exceptional athlete named Tel Janin Aellinsar in the Age of Legends, and a close friend of Lews Therin Telamon. But at some point during the war between the Dark One and the Aes Sedai, Aellinsar randomly grew jealous of Lews Therin’s military prowess and joined the Shadow. Hot take, maybe, but the show can only improve upon the books when it comes to fleshing out each of the Forsaken’s individual motivations, because we’ve already got two characters whose defining personality trait is jealousy, specifically of Lews Therin Telamon, and I don’t think we need a third – for Sammael I’m thinking we make him the character who turns to the Shadow out of repressed, unreciprocated love for Lews Therin, because the Forsaken are too fundamentally queer-coded of an organization for there to not be any queer Forsaken in the show (since problematic bisexual Balthamel is probably getting cut). Just imagine the angst when Sammael is instructed to exploit his friendship with the Dragon and betray humanity.

Sixth place goes to Graendal, the Vessel of Pleasure, who has a nauseating talent for reducing people to willing, worshipful slaves with the use of a complicated Compulsion weave. The other Forsaken regard her with disdain, because she deliberately gives them reason to believe she wastes her time collecting attractive prisoners to fill the ranks of her personal harem and forcing them to engage in…activities…while she watches on dispassionately, but the truth is that she’s the most competent multi-tasker of any of them, using the Compelled to carry out her dirty work in every corner of the continent. She is also, ironically, something of a willing slave herself, and takes great pride from shepherding her fellow Forsaken when they get out of line and start double-crossing each other and the Dark One. During the Age of Legends, she was a celebrity psychologist named Kamarile Maradim Nindar, who advocated for a lifestyle of restraint, without luxury or adornment. But as the Age careened to a close, she abandoned her principles and indulged in the pleasures she’d denied herself up to that point, including everything the Shadow had to offer.

Asmodean, whose name means merely Musician, is that and little else, as far as the Forsaken and the Dark One are concerned. During the Age of Legends, he was an acclaimed singer and songwriter named Joar Addam Nessosin who was also fairly strong with the One Power, but nonetheless he struggled with such a severe case of imposter syndrome that he turned to the Shadow solely for the opportunity to burn the entire music industry to the ground and arise from its ashes as the world’s only bard for all eternity. He blinded other songwriters whose work he envied, cut out the tongues of every talented singer he could find, and for whatever reason severed his own Aes Sedai mother from the One Power before throwing her to the Dark One’s Shadowspawn and watching them tear her to pieces. Still, because he never dedicated himself to training with the Power, he ranks seventh among the Forsaken.

Moghedien, the Spider, trails far behind the other Forsaken in terms of strength, and she knows better than anyone how easy it would be for her enemies to crush her, like her namesake, if they ever caught her in the waking world, on the field of battle. But that hasn’t happened yet, because Moghedien never puts herself in harm’s way and falls for no traps. She scurries silently through the World of Dreams, targeting an opponent’s weaknesses and withdrawing into the shadows too swiftly for their groggy counterattacks to land, re-emerging only when it’s safe. The other Forsaken regard her as a coward, but Moghedien, who once operated the Dark One’s intelligence network behind enemy front lines as an investment advisor named Lillen Moiral, bears their contemptuous remarks with patience. She knows her way works. And she certainly knows better than to risk a confrontation with any of them.

Three votive statues displayed prominently in The Wheel Of Time's first season, carved from brown stone, standing on a mantel-piece. The statue on the far left depicts a woman with a square headdress, whose dress has a web-like pattern. The middlemost statue depicts a woman with long hair and a collar of rings. The statue on the far right depicts a short, stout man with a beard and an angry expression.
(left to right) Votive statues of – presumably – Moghedien, Semirhage, and Sammael | reddit.com

Assuming these are, in fact, the eight Forsaken represented in The Wheel Of Time‘s first season as small, harmless statuettes, there are at least three who will probably appear in season two. Ishamael is a guarantee, as we’ve already seen him in the teaser. Lanfear is a guarantee, as she’s a major character in the early books. And Moghedien, I think, ought to be introduced or teased near the end of this season. As for the other Forsaken…well, you’ll just have to wait and find out when and where they’re introduced. But please, feel free to share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!