10 Things To Get You Excited For “The Wheel Of Time” Season Three


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?

Cover artwork of The Shadow Rising, book four in The Wheel Of Time series, by Darrel K. Sweet. A woman in a blue dress and a few men in brightly-colored coats stand around a fire in a landscape of strange stone pillars jutting into the sunset-streaked sky.
The Shadow Rising cover art by Darrel K. Sweet | dragonmount.com

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.

8: Faile

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: The Battle of Emond’s Field

Marcus Rutherford as Perrin Aybara in The Wheel Of Time season one, standing in the Two Rivers with wooden houses behind him and a mountain vista. He is wearing a leather apron over a green-blue shirt with the sleeves rolled up. He has short dark curly hair.
Perrin Aybara | winteriscoming.net

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

Shohreh Aghdashloo as Avasarala in The Expanse, striding through a snow-covered field wearing a fur-lined crimson cape with a hood over a jacket of the same color and mustard-yellow trousers. She has fur gloves, large earrings, and a silver belt.
Shohreh Aghdashloo in The Expanse | Twitter @PrimeVideo

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.

2: Tel’aran’rhiod

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.

1: Moghedien

Laia Costa as Moghedien in The Wheel Of Time, sitting in a chair before a fireplace in a dark room. She is wearing an oversized white dress-shirt, and wide black trousers. Her fingertips are blackened. She has short black hair in a bowl-cut with a topknot in the back.
Moghedien | Twitter @dailylaiacosta

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!

“The Wheel Of Time” Season 2, Episode 7 – Siuan Sanche Is More Than Moiraine’s Foil


This piece was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the series being covered here would not exist.

I do not regard myself as a Wheel Of Time book purist. The Amazon adaptation of Robert Jordan’s massive fourteen-volume epic fantasy series has made some pretty substantial changes from page to screen, some of them unintentional but unavoidable (like when a member of the main cast abruptly left halfway through filming season one and had to be written out of the remaining two episodes), some of them purposeful (like altering the rules of the magic-system so that channelers, most of them, can’t innately sense when someone of the same sex can channel), and I have generally been accepting of this because, with all due respect to Jordan, his books are deeply flawed even by the standards of the time they were written, and I don’t think The Wheel Of Time would resonate with general audiences if it were adapted word-for-word. So with very few exceptions, I have forgiven or made peace with every change I didn’t like, while acknowledging that the majority were necessary or justifiable. Maybe I wasn’t so keen on what the show did with Agelmar in season one, but it didn’t ruin my enjoyment. I grumbled about it, and moved on fairly quickly.

Sophie Okonedo as Siuan Sanche and Rosamund Pike as Moiraine Damodred, both wearing royal blue, kneeling on the floor supporting Hayley Mills as Gitara Moroso, an old woman in a blue dress with long white hair and white eyes, who has collapsed.
Siuan Sanche, Gitara Moroso, and Moiraine Damodred | arstechnica.com

But Agelmar was also a very minor character, in the grand scheme of things. Even killing him off in the Battle of Tarwin’s Gap will have only a small impact on future events. When it comes to major characters, I confess to being more protective – though until season two, episode seven, I never really felt that I had to be, because most of the major characters I liked were obviously favorites of the writers already. Showrunner Rafe Judkins seems to share my personal preference for reading about the magic-wielding, often morally ambiguous women who make up the Aes Sedai, and that translates into more screentime for characters like Moiraine Damodred (Rosamund Pike), Liandrin Guirale (Kate Fleetwood), and Alanna Mosvani (Priyanka Bose)…too much screentime, according to those who would rather see more of the Emond’s Field Five, but never enough, if you ask me and others who find the Aes Sedai as a whole more interesting.

So for The Wheel Of Time to fumble a character I assumed was another one of Judkins’ favorites is more than a little surprising. The fact that said character just so happens to be my favorite is frustrating, and makes this personal. So let’s talk about Siuan Sanche (Sophie Okonedo).

To be clear, I don’t think anyone on the writing team dislikes Siuan. But do they regard her as a fully three-dimensional person apart from Moiraine, her lover and the lead character on the show? That’s the question I’m having a hard time answering. Siuan has only appeared in three episodes across two seasons – likely due in part to Okonedo’s busy schedule – and although she doesn’t share every one of her scenes with Moiraine, the narrative has tied her to Pike’s character, bringing Siuan out only when she’s relevant to Moiraine. So much happened at the White Tower throughout this season – the training of the two most powerful Novices in recent history, the emergence of the Black Ajah, a kidnapping – and Siuan was absent for all of it. Where was she? What was she doing? We don’t know, and the show doesn’t seem to care.

When she finally reappears, she’s immediately framed as an antagonist, placing a shield on Rand al’Thor (Josha Stradowski) – which we know, through Moiraine, to be an incredibly violating and disturbing experience for the shielded individual – and implying, without outright stating, that she means to keep Rand shielded until the Last Battle, which the Aes Sedai will win by pitting him against the Dark One, gentling him afterwards to prevent another Breaking of the World. We simply haven’t spent enough time with Siuan in the show for this apparently spur-of-the-moment decision to come off as anything but unreasonable and unethical. If the framing and dialogue didn’t already make it clear that Siuan is in the wrong here, the episode cuts away from her monologue to a scene of Egwene al’Vere (Madeleine Madden) being weaponized by the Seanchan in the exact same way Siuan describes using Rand.

Mind you, this is the exact opposite of how Siuan approaches Rand in the books. Very early in The Great Hunt, the two meet in nearly identical circumstances, albeit at a different time, in a different place. An easily intimidated Rand believes Siuan is out to get him (because men can’t find it within themselves to trust women, even in fantasy), and Siuan doesn’t exactly assuage his fears, but the reader is privy to an earlier conversation between her and Moiraine where she reveals that they were to “bring him to Tar Valon, where we could hide him, keep him safe and guide him.” No mention of shielding him, caging him, or using him as a weapon; not so much as a hint. Now, that’s not to say Siuan wasn’t wary of Rand in the books, but she’s acutely aware that he can’t be controlled, mostly because he’s the subject of prophecies, and prophecies have a way of fulfilling themselves in this particular world, without exception. Hence why she ultimately decides to let Rand go off on his own, or at least to give him the illusion of free will in the matter. Of course, the show has diverged from the books in the past many times, but this time I simply can’t justify the deviation when it makes Siuan come across so poorly, especially to fans of the show.

Because Siuan has conspired with Moiraine in the past, some have speculated that the two had a plan going into the meeting with Rand – and have pointed to Siuan’s sidestepping language as proof that she didn’t ever actually intend to keep Rand caged, but guided him to that conclusion so he’d be more willing to trust Moiraine, who comes off very rational and heroic, pointing out the glaring flaws in Siuan’s proposal and pleading with her to let him go. Call me cynical, but I don’t buy it. The plan would have to be so complex that laying it out for the audience later on would only be confusing. And unless the plan fell apart somewhere along the way (requiring even more explanation), Siuan wouldn’t have gone alone to the Waygate to stop Moiraine from leaving with Rand; she certainly wouldn’t have exploited the oath that Moiraine swore to her in season one to make her close the Waygate against her will, when there were no other Aes Sedai around and Rand didn’t even know such an oath existed. No knowing looks pass between her and Moiraine, and Moiraine doesn’t say anything to Lan (Daniel Henney) when they’re alone in the next episode that hints at a conspiracy. The evidence doesn’t add up.

Rather, we’re left with the impression that Siuan is just that confident in her absolute power that she would openly declare Rand the Dragon, bring him back to the Tower, and expect him not to be gentled upon arrival…and if we saw for ourselves the authority she commands over the Aes Sedai, maybe we could believe it, but we’ve seen the opposite. Her right-hand woman, Leane Sharif (Jennifer Cheon Garcia), was openly threatened by Liandrin in episode four. Three Novices were kidnapped by the Black Ajah under everyone’s noses, and several Aes Sedai, including a Sitter of the Blue Ajah, were captured or killed by the Seanchan. The show’s version of Siuan talks a big talk but has no tangible control, and this is again in contrast to the books, where at least for a time she is shown to be a strong and capable leader.

With this in mind, even the costuming department’s decision to dress her up in the most ostentatious version of the Amyrlin Seat’s traditional regalia with an askew headdress of golden baubles, and a heavy, floor-length fur-coat that gives off strong “Denethor from the Lord Of The Rings trilogy” vibes, feels deliberate. Siuan has always been a character who abstains from flaunting her power and wealth. “Even the nearly ten years since she had been raised to the Seat had not made her comfortable with too much luxury,” it is noted in The Dragon Reborn, where Jordan describes in great detail the spartan furnishings of her chambers in the White Tower. Now, Siuan isn’t above intimidating people if it comes down to it, but these heavy furs and layers of gilding just make her seem smaller, more vulnerable, weighed down by the trappings of her position.

Rosamund Pike as Moiraine Damodred in The Wheel Of Time, wearing a dark blue gown over a high-collared knitted white blouse. She has her hands over her chest, where a glowing knot  of white light is hovering. From the foreground, a tentacle of black and orange light with a barb at the end is approaching her. She has a nervous expression on her face.
Moiraine Damodred | dragonmount.com

In short, my feelings on the matter boil down to this: if Okonedo could only appear briefly in season two, bringing her character in at the very end to oppose the by-now beloved protagonists of the series was an unwise and potentially damaging use of her limited screentime. Siuan is already being demonized by the fandom for “betraying” Moiraine and Rand. Granted, it doesn’t take much for a fandom to abruptly turn on Black characters, Black women especially, and anything Siuan does or says will inevitably be blown out of proportion, but the writers still made the choice to pit her – a Black woman with very little screentime and interiority – against a white woman with the lion’s share of both. And they show their favoritism towards the latter in this episode, going so far as to have Moiraine’s sister Anvaere (Lindsay Duncan) deliver an uncharacteristically tearful monologue in her behalf.

Never mind that Moiraine, throughout this season, has been acting recklessly self-sacrificial, and Siuan has every right to be frustrated with her, even angry. Obviously, being shielded wasn’t Moiraine’s fault, and sure, she wants to believe it won’t slow her down, but it does, and she knows better than anyone how imperative it is that they stay one step ahead of the Dark One. But instead of admitting that and making arrangements for Siuan to take on some of the responsibilities of protecting Rand, she hid the truth, insisting to herself that she could do everything on her own, even without the Power at her fingertips. And that’s fine, all very much in-character for Moiraine. The writers really get her.

But it’s another example of how, when Moiraine makes a mistake or does something downright heinous, the writers go out of their way to show us her reasoning and reassure us of who she is and what she stands for; we don’t ever get the same insight into Siuan’s thought process, and it’s a disservice to one of the strongest and most influential characters in the world of The Wheel Of Time. The Amyrlin Seat deserves to be more than a foil to Moiraine or a beat in her emotional journey, and that’s the real issue here. Not that Siuan made an error, or that she’s morally gray, which are fine and acceptable qualities in a character.

As I’m sure you can guess from the length of my rant, the mishandling of Siuan in this episode brought down my rating considerably, though there are – perhaps shockingly – things I liked, too. Okonedo and Pike are excellent, and their depiction of a love that endured for decades breaking down over the course of a single day is heartwrenching to witness, however you feel about the circumstances. Seeing their characters young and idealistic in flashback, just prior to the event that rocked their world, sheds a little more light on their distinct but complementary philosophies. We learn, too, from this glimpse into the past that there was a time when Moiraine and Siuan did not feel the need to conceal their romantic relationship (it was really cute to see them running through the halls of the Tower, hand-in-hand), and can surmise that the layers they’ve had to put between them to protect their mission have contributed to their growing distrust of the other’s true agenda.

Trust, or the lack thereof, is a major factor in everything that unfolds in this episode – even Moiraine’s long-awaited power-up is a result of her explicitly placing her trust in Rand to cut the knot shielding her from the True Source (in a scene that unfortunately can’t help but feel somewhat anticlimactic and cheap, after the several episodes spent following Moiraine through the long, arduous process of getting back on her feet after losing the One Power, analyzing all her trauma responses in depth). Siuan and Moiraine can trace many of their current problems back to Lan’s misinterpretation of Moiraine’s unwavering trust in his loyalty leading to her pushing him away for his own safety as her having lost all trust, which directly resulted in him sharing the true identity of the Dragon Reborn with Alanna and her Warders, and trusting Siuan to rescue Moiraine from herself. Lan’s actions, in turn, caused Moiraine to actually start distrusting both him and Siuan. Meanwhile, sweet innocent himbo Rand trusts the Forsaken Lanfear (Natasha O’Keeffe).

Lanfear’s intervention on Rand and Moiraine’s behalf is the final nail in the coffin, as far as Siuan is concerned, and you know I’m on her side here. Sure, the Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills and all that, but if the Dragon is colluding with the Forsaken and Moiraine is allowing it to happen, they have to be stopped before they inevitably walk straight into a trap. Anyway, Siuan goes to the Waygate to do just that, sees Moiraine channeling, and incorrectly assumes that Moiraine was lying to her all along about being shielded – and is therefore a Darkfriend. Hence why she resorts to using the Oath to prove that Moiraine is still on the side of the Light. As much as I personally dislike this plotline for its one-sided focus on Moiraine’s perspective, it does one thing right in that it brings back something seemingly insignificant from the first season – the Oath Moiraine swore to “honor and obey Siuan Sanche” – and gives it unexpected relevance in the story going forward, encouraging us to go back and revisit that original scene with the benefit of hindsight. The Wheel Of Time‘s foreshadowing is, as always, exceptionally clever.

And speaking of foreshadowing, I have to mention the scenes with Mat Cauthon (Dónal Finn) that are chock-full of hints and teases for future events. Whisked off to Falme by Lanfear, Mat finds himself an honored guest of the Forsaken and receives the dubious gift of insight into his past lives, courtesy of a hallucinogenic tea. He catches glimpses of himself killing and being killed many times over, and his alcoholic mother Natti (Juliet Howland) reappears for the second time this season to instill in him the fear that he’s just like her and his absent father, an inherently bad person with a soul that’s been bound to the Dark through countless Turnings of the Wheel. This isn’t entirely true, but still, you might wanna make a note of what Mat sees in his visions. Additionally, this scene gives us subtle confirmation that Mat is – as many of us have long-suspected – queer, as he flirts with Ishamael (Fares Fares), who is himself deeply queer-coded and has attempted to seduce all three ta’veren boys while completely ignoring the girls.

As for Perrin Aybara (Marcus Rutherford), he’s been a much larger presence throughout the second season but in this episode he takes a backseat, mostly watching on in utter confusion as his traveling companion, the Aiel spear-maiden Aviendha (Ayoola Smart), reunites with two warriors from her homeland and willingly submits to being beaten into a pulp by the both of them, which she casually explains to Perrin later was a fulfilment of her unpaid debt or “toh” to the Aiel warrior who died trying to save Aviendha’s life in the battle where she was taken captive. Ji’e’toh, the Aiel system of honor and obligation, never made much sense to me in the books, and it still doesn’t, but I’m weirdly happy that it’s not being simplified or downplayed for the show. Like Aes Sedai corporal punishment and everything to do with the Seanchan, it goes to show that none of the cultures and institutions that inhabit this world are without their own problematic aspects.

Overhead image of a circular room with a large stone throne in the foreground, on which a woman - Sophie Okonedo as Siuan Sanche - is seated, wearing a gold headdress. Josha Stradowski as Rand al'Thor stands in the middle of the room. He is wearing a dark blue jacket, and has a sword strapped on his back.
Rand before the Amyrlin Seat | nerdist.com

And that goes for characters as well, but it’s been weeks and I’m still having trouble accepting this version of Siuan Sanche that, while brilliantly portrayed by the incomparable Sophie Okonedo, is the complete inverse of Siuan as originally written. It surprises me just how strongly I feel about this. I’ve always thought myself more impartial because I had (and have) my fair share of complaints about the books, but I suppose everyone has that one character that they feel extremely protective over, and mine is apparently Siuan. If, in season three, Siuan’s role is expanded and she is no longer made out to be an antagonist or reduced to Moiraine’s love interest, it’s entirely possible I will revisit this divisive episode with newfound appreciation someday. But not today.

Episode Rating: 7/10

High Camp Meets High Fantasy In “The Wheel Of Time” Season 2, Episode 5


This piece was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the series being covered here would not exist.

I’m not sure how Robert Jordan would feel about me describing his books as campy. But that’s beside the point. His books are campy, and delightfully so. The Eye Of The World, the first book in what would grow to become a fourteen-volume series spanning decades, was published in 1990, and hailed as a radical return to the classic formula that initially made high fantasy successful after a decade of the genre being dominated by weird, esoteric science-fantasy and grim, hypermasculine sword-and-sorcery, but far from being just another tired take on the hero’s quest, The Wheel Of Time is distinctly fun, right down to the iconic, endearingly garish cover of the first book that depicts Moiraine Damodred (Rosamund Pike) as a seemingly three-foot tall woman with a beehive updo sitting sidesaddle on a white pony, riding alongside a hulking samurai. It’s a colorful blend of the poetry and profundity of Tolkien and Le Guin’s seminal works, the vividly pulpy imagery of Brothers Hildebrandt artwork from the 70’s, and the wild romanticism of McCaffrey’s Dragonriders books, rolled up into the strongest, trippiest joint you can possibly imagine.

(Left to right) a Seanchan soldier; Fares Fares as Ishamael; Karima McAdams as High Lady Suroth; Jessica Boone as Alwhin; and a second Seanchan soldier. Ishamael is wearing a black leather vest over a long-sleeved white shirt with dark trousers. He has dark hair slicked back, and a dark beard flecked with gray. Suroth is wearing a rust-red scale-patterned coat with a long train bunched up around her feet, over an orange vest and teal-blue gown. She is bald apart from a strip of dark hair down the center of her scalp. Alwhin is wearing a bronze-colored scale-patterned jacket and a long rust-red gown. She has dark brown hair neatly arranged in geometric buns on the side of her head, and her face is partially covered by a mask. They are all standing under a teal-blue and rust-red canopy in a lavishly furnished room with hanging lamps.
Ishamael and High Lady Suroth | press.amazonstudios.com

Of course, grabbing a little bit of everything encompassed by the fantasy genre means that, inevitably, a few unsavory or downright icky ingredients make it into the mix. Every book in the series is as dense as the day is long, and the lore only gets more incomprehensible the deeper you go. The rules of Jordan’s gendered magic-system are extremely dated, and he writes women like he heard about them once from fragments of an ancient, poorly-translated myth. The queer representation, even if progressive for the time, is still abysmal. It’s a difficult book series to recommend for all these reasons. But if you happen to enjoy camp, there are the fabulously-dressed, morally-ambiguous middle-aged sorceresses to consider. The eccentric and overtly queer-coded villains who throw masquerade-balls and tea-parties in their spare time, fierce young women put through the ringer both emotionally and physically, and numerous hunks with romance novel-ready hairstyles, many of them stoic and brooding and deeply repressed, are a nice treat, too.

And of course, there’s the kink and eroticism, can’t forget all the kink and eroticism.

While Amazon’s adaptation of The Wheel Of Time may not be skewing close to the plot of the books in its second season, the series has never been more faithful to the essence of the source material than it is right now, simply by being unapologetically fun, bold, and at times a little bizarre. I mean, we were straying into surreal territory already with the Trial of the Arches, but I think Lanfear (Natasha O’Keeffe) donning a BDSM-inspired all-black leather outfit to seduce submissive farm-boy Rand al’Thor (Josha Stradowski) in the World of Dreams might be what finally convinces the average viewer that this is not another Lord Of The Rings or Game Of Thrones, and it’s not trying to be, either. The Wheel Of Time was made for the girls and the gays. Unintentionally? Perhaps that’s what Jordan would say, but there’s no way showrunner Rafe Judkins – a gay man himself – doesn’t know what he’s doing.

Episode five is high camp from start to finish, opening on the masked High Lady Suroth (Karima McAdams) having her foot-long lacquered fingernails clipped with a sword to symbolize her fall from grace, and closing on O’Keeffe’s Lanfear debuting her dominatrix look. Every minute in between is practically dripping with the homoerotic subtext that Jordan injected into so much of his writing; somehow most palpable when Lanfear and Ishamael (Fares Fares) are onscreen together, going over their plans. While they circle each other with a hungriness in their eyes, both wearing oversized, open-collared nightshirts and sipping wine from enormous goblets, there’s one thing on both their minds, and it’s Rand al’Thor (an underrated hilarious aspect of The Wheel Of Time is the fact that Rand is Just Some Guy™ in this Age, but all these three-thousand year old entities with enormous power remember him as someone completely different, and much more impressive). The Forsaken take turns toying with each other’s emotions – and demonstrating their prowess in the World of Dreams – by conjuring lifelike images of the sheepherder lying in Ishamael’s bed, while they loom over him. Ishamael even snuggles up to him and caresses his face at one point. I legitimately believe things would have escalated further if Ishamael hadn’t been woken out of his pleasant dream by something in the real world that was no doubt far less interesting to him.

Mind you, this isn’t the first time Ishamael has shared an intensely erotic scene with one of the ta’veren boys – I have not forgotten how he force-fed Perrin Aybara (Marcus Rutherford) in episode three while making uncomfortably prolonged eye-contact with him – nor is it the last, but this is the first time in the show I think it’s unequivocally clear that Ishamael’s obsession with them has an undercurrent of sexual attraction. There’s certainly a debate to be had over whether The Wheel Of Time has enough heroic queer male characters in its cast to get away with portraying the main antagonist as a gay man, but anyone who’s watched any Disney animated movies can tell you that it’s the campy, queer-coded villains who make the strongest impression, and there’s no denying that Ishamael has been a highlight of the second season, his jovial nihilism unexpectedly endearing.

The fact that he looks and dresses like the grizzled, older, sexually adventurous wealthy businessman on the cover of a very filthy Wattpad fanfic is another point in his favor – and I don’t just mean because he’s very attractive for those who are into that sort of thing. The trope of a queer male villain besotted with a straight male protagonist is quite common. It’s rare, however, to see a queer male villain portrayed with such raw sex appeal, and that changes the whole dynamic. There is nothing loathsome or pitiable about Ishamael, nothing ineffective about his preferred tactic of seduction. He is potent, affecting everyone who comes into his orbit and leaving them shaken even if they manage to pull away. Take Perrin, for example. If he wasn’t bisexual before meeting Ishamael, he is now.

Put a pin in that, we’ll get back to it later. I’d be remiss for not first praising the scene-stealing performance of Natasha O’Keeffe as Lanfear, a juggernaut in black leather thigh-highs. She was holding back on us in the role of Lanfear’s alias, flighty, free-spirited Selene, diminishing herself and her presence to match what Rand wanted from her, but as Lanfear she effortlessly dominates the screen, a dismissive flick of her wrist the most motion required to pop a man’s skull like soap-bubbles or stitch a woman’s mouth shut with intricate needlework. She seems to take joy in doling out these and other sadistic punishments for the minor offence of existing in her vicinity, but no pride. She does not swagger or brag to intimidate those she does not see as her equals. Everything humans have built and accomplished in the last three-thousand years since the Breaking is of little interest to her, or provokes a mild disappointment. But then, even the other Forsaken who survived the Breaking, powerful as they are, earn her derision – “Moghedien’s insane, Graendal’s a vain idiot, and the boys couldn’t execute a plan even if they were under Compulsion”. Rand has her respect, because of what he is, while Ishamael has her partial attention because he stands in her way.

Lanfear is iconic, and we love to watch her on a rampage, but she would not be half as interesting if she were simply evil for the sake of being evil. While the Dark One wants to break the Wheel of Time to restore the universe to its natural state of chaos, and Ishamael believes that breaking the Wheel will end the cycle of violence and suffering, Lanfear – unsurprisingly – could not care less what happens to the world, as long as she and Rand walk away from the Last Battle hand-in-hand. She loved the last Dragon before Rand, Lews Therin Telamon, and when he left her for his eventual wife, she turned to the Dark to get him back. With all that said, I do hope the show eventually delves a bit more into who Lanfear was before the Breaking, including her work as a quantum physicist and her involvement in releasing the Dark One, because there’s more to her, too, than her relationship with that scummy dude.

The Wheel Of Time has taken an empathetic approach to many of its villains (with the notable and appropriate exception of the imperialist Seanchan); Liandrin Guirale (Kate Fleetwood) is among the most three-dimensional characters in the series, which is incredible given that Robert Jordan wrote her to be the exact opposite, a mustache-twirling minor antagonist whose schemes were repeatedly foiled by her own unamusing incompetence. Fleetwood’s Liandrin, apart from being complex and compelling, is also extremely capable. She sidesteps every trap laid for her, and does what she can, with the limited power at her disposal, to walk a fine line through the gray area between Light and Dark. She turns Nynaeve al’Meara (Zoe Robins) and Egwene al’Vere (Madeleine Madden) over to the Seanchan as prisoners, as expected of her, but frees her beloved Nynaeve just before exiting through the Waygate and stranding them there with High Lady Suroth – who is incompetent and only succeeds at collecting Egwene, letting Nynaeve and Elayne Trakand (Ceara Coveney) slip through her (now significantly shorter) fingernails.

Katie Leung as Yassica and Meera Syal as Verin Mathwin in The Wheel Of Time, seated next to each other on a couch, staring down at a piece of parchment. Yassica has short dark hair pulled into a low bun, and wears a brown sweater over a white blouse and a long brown dress. Verin has short gray hair, and wears a light brown gown over a white blouse. She is peering through a golden monocle on a chain around her neck.
Yassica and Verin Mathwin | press.amazonstudios.com

Back at the White Tower, the sudden disappearance of three very powerful Novices does not go unnoticed, but someone – Liandrin or another Darkfriend amongst the Aes Sedai – has already contrived a cover-story; that the girls received permission to attend Elayne’s brother Gawyn’s nameday ceremony in Caemlyn. Furthermore, the same someone used a forbidden weave of Compulsion (essentially mind-control) on the kindly Mistress of Novices, Sheriam Bayanar (Rima Te Wiata), to make her write the blatant lie into her log, breaking the Three Oaths…unless, of course, Sheriam is a Darkfriend herself? In a short amount of time, the show does a fairly good job of making the viewer feel suddenly unsure of who to trust, just as the books did when the so-called “Black Ajah” made up of Darkfriends first came to light.

I’m a little sad that Egwene and Nynaeve couldn’t participate in the investigation of the Black Ajah, as they did in the books, but I would gladly watch an entire spin-off series focused on Verin Mathwin (Meera Syal) and her fellow sisters of the Brown Ajah playing at being detectives in their stead, taking on a different Darkfriend each week. If the lovably quirky Brown Yassica seems familiar, by the way, that’s probably because she’s played by Katie Leung, best known as Cho Chang in the Harry Potter series and as the voice of Caitlyn in Arcane: League Of Legends (though as Yassica, Dundee-born Leung speaks with the strong Scottish accent she’s spoken in the past about wanting to use more frequently).

Another recognizable face in episode five is that of Will Tudor (Olyvar in Game Of Thrones, and Sebastian in Shadowhunters), who joins the ensemble cast of The Wheel Of Time as Moiraine’s foppish nephew, Barthanes Damodred, soon to be the King of Cairhien through marriage to Queen Galldrian. Moiraine’s interactions with her family continue to be surprisingly meaningful, probably ranking among her best scenes in the series despite having the least basis in the source material, though the very subtle references or allusions being made to the ruination of House Damodred during the Aiel War by Moiraine’s uncle will likely fly over most viewers’ heads, as I don’t feel the show has done enough to connect those dots. With the Aiel being introduced properly in this episode, you’d think this would be the perfect moment to expand on their lore.

But that’s why I’m here, to provide you with answers to all your questions. In short, the Aiel are a society of primarily red-haired warriors who come from the Waste beyond the Spine of the World, and follow a complex system of honor and indebtment called ji’e’toh. They are divided into several clans and subdivided into dozens of individual “septs” – Aviendha (Ayoola Smart), whom Perrin first meets as a prisoner of the Whitecloaks in this episode, is of the Nine Valleys Sept of the Taardad Aiel, for instance. She and many other Maidens of the Spear were sent west across the Spine in search of their prophesied Car’a’carn, or “Chief of Chiefs” (no bonus points for guessing who that might be). Aviendha is one of the most important characters in The Wheel Of Time going forward, and bringing her into the story at this early stage makes sense from a writing perspective, though I’m of two minds on how the writers actually went about it – lifting Aviendha out of her subplot with Egwene, Nynaeve, and Elayne and transplanting her in Perrin’s subplot, replacing Gaul as the Aiel he rescues from a cage, incurring much toh.

The change is logical in the short-term – Aviendha is by far the more relevant of the two characters, and needed a momentous opening scene – but in the long-run, it’s hard to believe that Perrin and Aviendha will have many more opportunities to interact, while her, Nynaeve, Egwene, and Elayne (colloquially referred to as the “Wondergirls”) form enduring connections in the books and share many of their greatest moments in future storylines between them. Losing Gaul also means changes to Perrin’s arc, though they might not be quite as consequential if Gaul is introduced early next season, before Perrin’s The Shadow Rising arc kicks off. And while I don’t necessarily expect anyone to take me seriously on this, it also means Perrin is missing the source of all the homoerotic tension in his storyline. Thankfully, Dain Bornhald (Jay Duffy) steps in to fill that role quite effectively.

Dain is one of these characters that got tiring to read about in the books after a while because his relationship to Perrin was just so tenuous and one-dimensional, but Dain in the show is a different story. Him and Perrin have chemistry, however you want to interpret it. Maybe they’re just totally platonic bros who share drinks by candlelight and give each other cute nicknames and bond over their trauma. I’m not sure I buy it, with the way Dain was checking Perrin out, but it’s possible. Either way, having them interact before the season finale – and the event that shapes both their futures – was a smart choice.

The Whitecloaks, of which Dain is a part, are extremely important in the finale, and I would have liked more setup for their storyline, but the episode was already juggling a large number of subplots and one more thing on top of the pile might well have been too many. We don’t even see Dónal Finn’s Mat, and still there’s a lot going on. Two scenes that definitely needed more room to breathe were the capture of Egwene by the Seanchan and the reunion between Moiraine and Rand – the former could have used an extra few minutes of action, the latter even just a few additional lines of dialogue. Of course, with more and longer episodes per season, this wouldn’t be a problem, but The Wheel Of Time is just one of many large-scale streaming series’ being undermined by time constraints for which there is no good reason. We’re past the middle-point of the season now. The people who are still watching are probably more likely to be put off by a lack screentime rather than by an overabundance of it. Amazon really needs to give its best fantasy show everything it’s earned with this incredible second season, including ten episodes (though I wouldn’t be opposed to twelve), each at least an hour and ten minutes long, and a larger budget so that the VFX isn’t spread thin and we can visit more locations.

Jay Duffy as Dain Bornhald sitting across from Marcus Rutherford as Perrin Aybara (whose back is turned to the camera) at a table outdoors, every inch of which seems to be covered with low candles providing a slightly romantic atmosphere. Dain is wearing a brown mantle over his clothes, and black leather gloves. He has short blonde hair swept to one side and a beard.
Perrin Aybara and Dain Bornhald | press.amazonstudios.com

What the writers, directors, cast, and showrunner have done with this episode is elevate The Wheel Of Time once again to a point you don’t think can possibly be surpassed – only to top themselves again the week after. Episode four was the exception, not the rule, and although with the season now completed I can say for certain that the seventh and eighth episodes don’t quite surpass the highest highs of episodes three, five, and six, my favorites, the difference is largely a matter of which characters I believe were underutilized or misrepresented as a book reader, and not really a reflection on the show’s quality. The Wheel Of Time is an excellent adaptation, the best kind in fact: one that takes risks by making bold, purposeful changes to the source material while honoring the themes and tone of the books. Nailing the blend of unserious, delightfully irreverent campiness and drama played completely straight was probably the trickiest part, but they got it. I walked away from episode five craving more of the Forsaken, their sexually charged interactions with just about everybody, and that unmistakable queerness that is woven into the very fabric of this fantasy world.

I can’t speak for all of us in the fandom, but I know that’s what I’ve been looking for from this adaptation. The Wheel Of Time has always been high camp. It’s just finally embracing it.

Episode Rating: 9/10

“The Wheel Of Time” Season 2, Episode 4 – An Underwhelming Mystery Unravels


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.

Amazon’s The Wheel Of Time has one bad habit it needs to break. You may recall that the first season was structured around the premise that one of its five main characters was unwittingly walking around with the power to save the world or break it – a high-stakes mystery with the potential to be extremely engaging. In Robert Jordan’s fourteen-volume series of books by the same title, it’s fairly obvious from the first chapter of The Eye Of The World which of these five is the so-called “Dragon Reborn”, because we go on to spend roughly 75% of the book in his head, and there are only two other contenders, but the Chosen One story has been told a million times and more, so for the show, screentime was divided (somewhat) fairly between five potential Dragons to encourage the intriguing idea that it could be any one of them. All good changes, honestly.

Josha Stradowski as Rand al'Thor and Natasha O'Keefe as Lanfear in The Wheel Of Time, standing outside at night. Rand is channeling golden threads of the One Power that wind around his arms, while Lanfear hovers over his right shoulder, her face partially obscured by her long jet-black hair.
Lanfear and Rand | polygon.com

But an engaging mystery is one that allows for some degree of…well, engagement. And that can’t happen when all of the relevant information is being withheld. Obviously, some deception and misdirection is to be taken for granted, but when the general audience has access to none of the clues that the characters do, they become passive observers instead of active participants. Throughout The Wheel Of Time‘s first season, this is pretty much exactly what happened. Fans new to the series weren’t given the chance or the means to figure out the answer on their own without resorting to the books, while fans of the books waited impatiently for the reveal, inevitably underwhelming given the smaller amount of screentime allotted to him in the show, that Rand al’Thor (Josha Stradowski) was the Dragon. Then again, perhaps it was obvious after Barney Harris left the show that the only other white man in the main cast would turn out to be the protagonist (they are all of them ta’veren, to be fair, but I don’t expect the average person to know what the heck that means, yet).

Anyway, while The Wheel Of Time‘s quality has improved massively from the first season to the second as a result of the writers learning from their early missteps, this is one area where they need to do better, because in a much stronger second season it’s all the more jarring when the show falls back, even briefly, into old habits – and mercifully, the time spent delaying the reveal that Natasha O’Keefe’s character “Selene” is the alias of the Forsaken Lanfear is relatively brief, though that arguably only makes it harder to justify when every second counts; a philosophy we’ve seen reflected in the decision to drop the series’ beautiful animated intro for an extra minute and a half of screentime per episode.

Once again, fans of the show were given little to none of the information they would need to solve the mystery. Once again, book readers didn’t gain much from the experience except frustration at watching others struggle to speculate and theorize. And once again, the mystery was ultimately detrimental to the characters entangled in it. Most egregiously, this was not a mystery that needed to exist in the first place.

For comparison, while Lanfear does not make her identity known to Rand in The Great Hunt, it is at the very least abundantly obvious that the woman she claims to be, a Cairhienin noblewoman named Selene, does not exist, and there are enough clues pointing to her being Lanfear that, long before it’s officially revealed at the end of the book, the observant reader will have started to suspect a connection. Around the same time Rand first encounters her, conveniently trapped with him in a mirror-world that can only be accessed by channeling at a Portal-stone, Egwene al’Vere (Madeleine Madden) dreams of a woman standing over Rand – “her face was in shadow, but her eyes seemed to shine like the moon, and Egwene had known she was evil”. And although she can’t place a name to the woman, we can, because the name Lanfear is mentioned early in the book; much earlier than in the show, where it’s not until the opening of episode four that viewers will hear the name amidst other words in the Old Tongue recited by Ishamael (Fares Fares) as he shatters the ancient seal containing Lanfear.

It’s only about an hour later that the name is repeated, this time with some context, when the Warder Ihvon (Emmanuel Imani) – oddly – becomes the first character in the show to read aloud the so-called Dark Prophecy that has been in al’Lan Mandragoran (Daniel Henney)’s possession since episode two, intercut with shots of Selene tying Rand to a bed and of Lanfear rising, drenched in blood, from the cave-floor where Ishamael found her, Ishamael’s voice in the background gradually superseding Ihvon’s to finish the verse. The whole scene is terrifically entertaining, but the reveal itself lacks weight. We’re told that Lanfear is Forsaken, which at this point in the season still has only a vague meaning for those who haven’t read the books (or my post on the subject). We don’t know anything about who or what she is, specifically, and we don’t have any sense of her potential power. Up to this point, we’ve known her as a fun-loving free spirit, and not much else.

Now, to be fair, I’m sure many folks assumed Selene was a Darkfriend like the last innkeeper who tried to seduce Rand (remember Dana?), so there may have been a bit of connecting-the-dots going on already, but O’Keefe plays her innocence almost too well in response to Rand’s tearful confession that he can channel at the end of episode four, to the point where it’s unclear exactly what her character is trying to accomplish, even in retrospect. She acts shocked and scared, pushes Rand away, and then starts reeling him back in when he actually tries to leave. I’ve watched this scene enough times now that I feel like I should understand what she wanted from Rand here, and I can only guess that she was steering him towards making a declaration of love for her – which she does get out of him eventually, albeit in a roundabout way.

Unfortunately, whatever emotional impact this moment could have had on Rand is short-lived, as Lanfear is seemingly killed just a few minutes later by Moiraine Damodred (Rosamund Pike), who is able to get close enough to the Forsaken to stab her and cut her throat before she has a chance to react – unexpected perk of being shielded or stilled; she’s practically invisible to other channelers now. It strains plausibility slightly that one of the Forsaken, especially one as dexterous with the Power as Lanfear, would not instinctively counterattack at the exact instant that Moiraine’s blade pierced her skin, but I can’t be mad about it, not when it’s just such a powerful moment for Moiraine, who hasn’t had many this season. To add insult to literal injury, she actually tosses the Forsaken headfirst onto the hardwood floor with a sickening thud. Marking a major deviation from the books, however, Moiraine clarifies to Rand as they run for their lives that killing a Forsaken with mortal weapons would be impossible, which at least heightens the stakes exponentially.

I would have liked to see whatever it was that led Moiraine to the conclusion that Selene was Lanfear (though I wouldn’t entirely put it past her to stab a woman based on nothing more than a hunch). She spends some time in the Foregate of Cairhien, asking after Rand, but I can’t help but feel the writers missed an opportunity for her to investigate the innkeeper with him. However, Lanfear was smart to disguise herself as someone so lowly no one would even think to question where she came from (if a Cairhienin noblewoman had been traipsing around the Foregate with a commoner, that would surely have received attention), and understandably, Moiraine’s focus was on locating Rand, to the exclusion of all else, even her own sister.

Rosamund Pike as Moiraine Damodred in The Wheel Of Time, sitting in a room with gold-and-black paneled walls. She has a saucer resting on her lap, and is lifting a black tea-cup to her lips. She is wearing a wide-sleeved dark blue robe cinched at the waist with a wide blue-and-gold cloth belt over a long-sleeved white knitted blouse. A single blue gemstone sits on a slender golden diadem above her brow. The Great Serpent ring on her left hand sports a larger, darker, polished blue gemstone.
Moiraine Damodred | press.amazonstudios.com

Much to Moiraine’s obvious discomfort, it’s her sister, Anvaere Damodred (Lindsay Duncan), to whom she ultimately has to turn for information about Rand’s whereabouts, when her own eyes-and-ears network produces few results. Pike has mentioned in interviews that The Wheel Of Time‘s guest-stars are always given some of the juiciest material to work with, and no lies were told. Duncan’s performance is, of course, powerful, but it helps that she’s working from a script that favors her character. The episode opens on Anvaere as she prepares to face another exhausting day as head of the fractured Damodred household, piling her snow-white hair under a wig and applying makeup before receiving visitors, the first of whom on this particular day is Moiraine, whom we learn has not come home to Cairhien in roughly twenty years, ever since her hunt for the Dragon Reborn began. The stiff reunion between long-estranged sisters is cut short by Moiraine declaring she has business in the city that takes priority over having a cup of tea – a remark that Anvaere files away for later, when she forces Moiraine to sit and share tea with her before telling her where Rand has gone.

Their iciness is presented in stark contrast to the warmth and acceptance that Lan finds when he returns to the abode of Alanna Mosvani (Priyanka Bose), the sensual Aes Sedai of the Green Ajah to whom his care was entrusted by Moiraine. The parallels don’t end there. Alanna’s homestead on the grasslands of Arafel is compact, with narrow rooms and hallways, built from humble sun-bleached stone around a central courtyard, whereas Moiraine’s childhood home in the center of urban Cairhien is massive, its labyrinth of rooms each richly furnished, with tiled floors and paneled walls. Most significantly, Alanna’s home is crowded with members of her extended family who manage all the housework and cooking between them, while Moiraine’s is practically empty but for her and Anvaere, a butler, and the servants in the kitchen.

We don’t get to see many examples of Aes Sedai having family-lives outside the White Tower in Jordan’s books, so in theory I should have loved these scenes with Alanna, but I found Lan’s subplot to be a drag on the episode. He’s never been my favorite character, on account of being the silent, stoic, noble type that I generally find uninteresting, but I tolerated him throughout the first season because I enjoyed his dynamic with Nynaeve al’Meara (Zoë Robins), and how they were able to chip away at each other’s facades. This season, that relationship has been put on the back-burner. While Lan is used as a motivating factor for Nynaeve (and we saw during the Trial of the Arches that she would abandon the Aes Sedai for him), Lan has not mentioned her even once, and it’s getting on my nerves. That and the fact that the lessons he’s been learning from Alanna’s Warders about honesty and emotional vulnerability are lessons he started learning in season one as a result of Stepin’s death, making much of this feel redundant.

Some of it is also attributable to Maksim (Taylor Napier) and Ihvon, Alanna’s Warders, being two of the dullest characters on The Wheel Of Time, with an exorbitant amount of screentime each. I suppose I should be thankful that two explicitly queer male characters, our only two with the possible exception of Ishamael, are being given a bit more screentime, but neither actor, Napier least of the two, comes across as well-equipped for dramatic scenes. They’re now so inextricable from Alanna that I want to see less of her as a result, which is a shame, because Bose herself is everything an Aes Sedai ought to be – self-assured, powerful, enigmatic, with an innate and devastating elegance.

Another Aes Sedai coming to serve this season is Jennifer Cheon Garcia’s Leane Sharif, the Keeper of the Chronicles, who has maybe two minutes of screentime, tops, and still stands out due to her statuesque posture and impeccable taste in fashion. Her unconventional high-collared top, palest gold with dark blue peacock-feather embroidery, coupled with a flowy floor-length dark blue dress, is a combination that will live rent-free in my mind for a long time. She also has an extensive arc throughout the books, and I hope that The Wheel Of Time was foreshadowing that with some of the…ominous dialogue between her and Liandrin Guirale (Kate Fleetwood). I’d love to see Leane become the fan-favorite supporting character for viewers that she is for book-readers, though it might take time: her name has yet to be used on the show, so most people probably just know her as the tall, stylish Aes Sedai.

I have high hopes, given how well other minor characters from the books have fared on the show. Liandrin being not merely a likeable character but a fascinating one was unthinkable to me before the season aired. The books never developed her. She was a Darkfriend, a fairly petty and incompetent one at that, and nothing she did in The Wheel Of Time‘s first season gave me any reason to believe that had changed. But Fleetwood and the writers have shaped her into one of the series’ most compelling antiheroes. Yes, she’s still a Darkfriend, as we learn in this episode when she breaks the Three Oaths and takes Nynaeve, Egwene, and Elayne Trakand (Ceara Coveney) captive. But the betrayal cuts so deeply because Fleetwood had us all starting to trust her, against our better judgment. Even Nynaeve had come to respect her, begrudgingly. Liandrin knew that, exploited it, but every word she spoke to Nynaeve was laced with bitter sincerity, delivered with an unmistakable tinge in her voice of regret and crushing shame that she knows she won’t do anything to prevent herself from making unforgivable decisions when the time comes.

In episode four, Liandrin and Nynaeve share a particularly powerful scene in the testing-room beside the three Arches, where in the previous episode Nynaeve lived a whole life alongside Lan and lost him, her friends, and her daughter. Liandrin’s advice for coping with the pain is to “find a piece of this world that belongs to you, and you hold on to it…and then, when it’s finally gone, you find another”, but of course, she still can’t let go of the first thing in her life that ever belonged to her; her son, now an old man whose death she has delayed as long as humanly possible, even turning to the Dark in the desperate hope that one of the Forsaken could heal him. She never really intended to find another piece to hold on to, until Nynaeve entered her life and accidentally became her treasured student. And when Nynaeve asks her point-blank what she’s found to replace her son, Liandrin switches the subject, reminded in that moment that her orders are to bring Nynaeve to Falme and deliver her to Ishamael.

Liandrin tells Nynaeve that Perrin Aybara (Marcus Rutherford) was captured by the Seanchan on the western coast – which is technically true, although she leaves out, or more likely wasn’t told, that Perrin already escaped from the Seanchan with Elyas Machera (Gary Beadle) and is now wandering around in the woods, trusting the older, more experienced Wolfbrother to guide him to Falme. I’m biased, because early-book Perrin was one of my favorite characters from The Wheel Of Time (early-book Perrin, before he became insufferable to read about), but his one scene with Elyas and the wolf-pack is my favorite of the entire episode, and its chief redeeming factor. Something about seeing him smile for what feels like the first time, as he tentatively starts to accept who he is, resonates with me as strongly now as it did in the books, though it took him much longer in the books to work through the initial fear that he would devolve into something less than human.

Priyanka Bose as Alanna Mosvani in The Wheel Of Time, standing in her outdoor kitchen and smiling as she leans over a large pot.
Alanna Mosvani | press.amazonstudios.com

There’s a lot of queer subtext in Perrin’s storyline (in retrospect, I think that was always a large part of why it spoke to me), and the only thing that could conceivably make me happier with the show’s adaptation is if The Wheel Of Time leans into that. Perrin’s borderline canonical boyfriend Gaul needs to get here fast, because the show already has me shipping Perrin with Dain Bornhald to fill the void in my heart, and that’s simply unacceptable. I mean, it’s not like I haven’t toyed with the idea of shipping them before, given Dain’s vaguely homoerotic obsession with Perrin in the books, and I can’t deny they’re both very attractive in the show, and I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to them helping each other work through their internalized homophobia-adjacent traumas, but…it’s still Dain Bornhald. Anyway, that’s a subject best left for my review of episode five.

To conclude: episode four, Daughter Of The Night, just barely earns its title, building slowly to an underwhelming reveal and restraining Natasha O’Keefe until the last few seconds before the credits roll, when Lanfear’s eyes snap open, filled with swirling black specks of the True Power called saa, to indicate (again though, only to book-readers) that she’s exerting all her strength to hold her soul in her body and recover from the wounds Moiraine inflicted. Only then does the episode live up to what was promised with that title. Were those few seconds worth the time I feel was largely wasted getting to that point? In a season consisting of just eight episodes, some not quite an hour long, frankly, the answer is no. Thankfully, episode five hits the ground running and delivers on the Lanfear front. And if the last two episodes can stick the landing, I’ll barely recall this bump in the road when all is said and done.

Episode Rating: 7.9/10