This week on The Wheel of Time, Verin investigates, Moiraine faces a difficult decision, and the Seanchan seek new prisoners. We also learn more about wolfbrothers, Aiel, and what motivates a Darkfriend in “Damane.”
Suroth and Alwhin approach the seat of High Lord Turak (Daniel Francis), who is angry that Suroth jeopardized their mission to unite the world under their Empress by attacking a random fishing village. He orders Suroth’s long fingernails cut off and bars her from the court until she is presentable again. Ishamael offers Turak the Horn of Valere, which Padan Fain presents to him.
Lanfear channels to heal herself using a completely black power. Rand and Moiraine find a farm where Moiraine commandeers two horses and slaughters the others so Lanfear doesn’t have a mount with which to follow them. Lanfear encounters a passerby and kills him for his mount.
Elyas tells Perrin that the humans are not his pack, nor are the humans in the Two Rivers. When Perrin shows aggression in response, the wolves arrive to protect Elyas. Perrin leaves to find Loial and the Shienarans, but Hopper follows him.
Moiraine tricks Lanfear by sending the horses ahead with their owner while she and Rand double back. Moiraine tells Rand that he didn’t defeat the Dark One, but actually set Ishamael free. The Forsaken were trapped by the Dragon in his past life, and if they are all released, there is no hope of winning the last battle.
Perrin goes into town to search for Uno’s body where he finds a woman (Ayoola Smart) in a cage. Another man (Jay Duffy) warns Perrin off before giving the woman some water. He tells Perrin that Whitecloaks drove the Seanchan out. Later, Perrin overhears a confrontation between Valda and the other man, whose name is Dain Bornhald.
Lanfear discovers Moiraine’s deception and is impressed with her ruthlessness in using an innocent as bait.
Verin arrives in Tar Valon and is greeted by two other Brown sisters, Nyomi (Rachel Denning) and Yasicca (Katie Leung). She asks about gossip from the Tower and about the two powerful new novices.
Liandrin admits to Nynaeve that she is capable of breaking the Three Oaths, and Nynaeve realizes that Liandrin is taking them through the Ways to deliver them to Ishamael.
Suroth confronts Ishamael. She reminds him that he needs her ships and forces, and he reminds her that he knows why she swore her oaths to the Dark. She backs down, and Ishamael tells her that Tarmon Gai’don will be fought in Falme, and that the Dragon will soon join them.
Perrin frees the Aiel woman, whose name is Aviendha. They are discovered by a group of Whitecloaks, but Aviendha fights them all off, with help from Perrin. Perrin stops her from killing Dain. Dain sees Perrin’s eyes.
Moiraine warns Rand that he can’t fall asleep, because Lanfear is a master of Tel’aran’rhiod, the World of Dreams. They meet Moiraine’s nephew, Barthanes (Will Tudor) who tries to smooth relations between his aunt and mother.
Verin goes to see Sheriam, who is confused to learn that Nynaeve, Egwene, and Elayne aren’t in the White Tower. She finds that they have been signed out, in order to go on a visit to Elayne’s home. They leave, and Yasicca sneaks in to look at the book.
Later, Yasicca tells Verin there was a tremor in Sheriam’s handwriting. Verin wonders if the handwriting might be off because Compulsion was used on Sheriam. Such a weave would be against the Three Oaths, which means that the Black Ajah really exists.
Liandrin delivers Nynaeve, Elayne, and Egwene to Suroth. The two quarrel, and as she departs Liandrin secretly channels and dissolves the girls’ bonds. They flee, but Egwene is captured.
Aviendha compliments Perrin’s fighting ability, and tells him that she left the Aiel lands in search of the Car’a’carn, the Aiel chief of chiefs. Now, however, she is bound by her debt to Perrin. He tells her they are going to Falme.
Nynaeve and Elayne realize that they are in Falme, and Nynaeve immediately wants to find Perrin and Loial. Elayne urges caution, but the two are noticed by a man who attacks them and knocks them unconscious.
Verin meets Liandrin in the halls and asks where she’s been. When Verin tells Liandrin that Egwene, Nynaeve, and Elayne are traveling to Caemlyn, Liandrin reports hearing that a royal envoy was recently attacked. She urges Verin to come with her to report this information to the Keeper.
Moiraine admits to Anvaere that she may have put everyone in the city in danger. She admits that she has to protect Rand and doesn’t know how. Anvaere asks if Moiraine can know beyond any doubt that Rand does need her protection.
Lanfear appears in Ishamael’s dreams. Ishamael tells Lanfear that he is the only one the Dark One speaks to because he is the only one who actually believes in the Dark, who believes that the only way to stop all the suffering is to stop the Wheel. He is gathering Rand’s friends in order to break him.
Ishamael’s is summoned to Turak, who is curious about Ishamael’s sudden appearance in Suroth’s court. Ishamael denies being responsible for recognizing the omens that prompted the Seanchan to begin their campaign.
Nynaeve and Elayne wake to discover that their attacker was actually a Warder to Ryma (Nyokabi Gethaiga), a Yellow Sister, who warns them that the Seanchan are searching for them.
Suroth brings Egwene to Turak and he has her collared.
Moiraine tells Rand that he must go to sleep. She explains that Lanfear could have hurt him before now but didn’t, and that Lanfear and Rand’s previous incarnations were in love. Lanfear became a Darkfriend after he broke her heart and married someone else. Moiraine urges Rand to pretend to be in love with Lanfear, and Rand agrees to try.
In the dream, Rand finds himself in the desert, bound to a wheel, with Lanfear watching him.
There was so much I liked, and so much I didn’t, in this episode (and it’s longer than average, too) that I almost don’t know where to start. But I guess I’ll start with what I loved, because it’s fun to be excited about The Wheel of Time!
I have always thought that Verin was one of the most interesting characters in the books, and Meera Syal is perfectly cast to bring her to life. I’m especially impressed because the books take a long time to build the mystique of Verin—who she is, what she’s up to, and what she’s really up to—which of course an eight-episode-a-season television show doesn’t have time to do. But what the show has managed to do is give us all the essential bits of what draws you into her character in just a few scenes, and to build up from her introduction every time we see her. In the first episode we get to know her quiet competence mixed with grandmotherly charm, to see how stable and self assured she is. She is a wise, safe presence… until the confrontation with Moiraine in which Verin reveals how much she has guessed about Moiraine’s mission. When she tells Moiraine that they will just have to trust each other, the viewer feels that Verin is very aware of how much her fate, and others, rests in Moiraine’s hands. She doesn’t know everything, but she is smart enough to have the vague picture of things.
And then there’s her scene with Liandrin, which ups the Verin stakes again. I have to say, this is my favorite scene of the episode, and I could happily watch Syal and Fleetwood do the entire show by themselves. I was entranced by the way they both put so much meaning, and double-meaning, into every line. The way Verin cannily pointed out that the white asparagus only grows in Jurene, which handily proves that Liandrin was where she claimed to be, and the way Liandrin was clearly secure that Verin had suspicions but nothing she could prove—the whole thing was absolute gold. And although this is so far their only scene together, it was clear from the acting that this is not the first time these women, both smart, both clearly hiding something, have done this dance.
I was also excited to see the introduction of more Brown Sisters, and to see how Verin was working with Yassica as an ally and confidante. The Brown Ajah, to my mind, is one of the most interesting in the book series, and I often felt that they (with the exception of Verin) were underused. I think someone in the writer’s room agrees with me. And I’m always happy to see Katie Leung show up in anything.
I’ve been waiting since the start of the season to see where Moiraine’s thematic journey goes next, and I’m really excited with what we’ve seen this episode. Lan’s conversation with Alanna about the mysterious event that changed Moiraine, as well as her choice to send him away from her, shows us how isolated Moiraine feels, how isolated she has always been by her quest to find and protect the Dragon Reborn. In every choice she makes, in every line she delivers, we feel her determination but also that isolation. But now, for the first time in this season, and really for the first time since she and Rand left for the Eye of the World, Moiraine has a moment of connection with someone else, and although it is still about her quest, it is also about her. About the fact that she feels she carries the fate of the world on her shoulders, and hers alone. And yet, in the conversation with Anvaere, she is able to let her sister in on a little bit of that pressure, to take advice from someone else. I was struck by how kind and supportive Anvaere was in this scene, and while her advice was also given in hope of protecting herself and her son, it was very clear she also truly wanted to care for Moiraine.
Moiraine has been shutting people out all this time because she has felt it was the only way to achieve her goals, but in this moment of letting people in she found not only emotional support for herself but also a possible solution to her dilemma, one that offers a greater chance of success and fewer casualties than anything she has considered thus far. It is an important moment for her as a character, and also an important thematic moment for the series. Most of our main characters have been separated from each other this season, by distance, by secrets, by personal pain that leaves them struggling to connect. But Ishamael has told Lanfear that he is bringing all of Rand’s friends together to draw him to Falme, and the fate of everyone may rest in their ability to all connect to and support each other in the confrontation that this season seems to be building towards.
Isolation and mistrust are big themes in The Wheel of Time novels, and the show has done a good job of showing us how each character feels isolated in their own way, some because they have no one else, others because something in their lives prevents them from connecting with the people they love, others because the carry heavy secrets. But it is very clear in the show how much our heroes need the people they love in order to survive, and is building nicely upon that theme in this season.
Speaking of connections, the introduction of Aviendha was perfect, and another example of how connecting with and supporting someone else can improve one’s own odds of survival. After rejecting Elyas and the wolves (except for Hopper, the Light’s perfect boy), Perrin is on his own again when he finds himself in the midst of Whitecloaks, including Valda, who is certain to recognize him. Perrin frees Aviendha out of kindness and compassion for another human being, and is lucky he did, because he is unlikely to have escaped the Children of the Light on his own.
That fight scene was such a disappointment, though. After the absolute perfection that was the fight on Dragonmount in season one, I had big expectations as we saw another Aiel Maiden prepare to engage a bunch of armed soldiers. But the battle was not filmed well at all, and except for a few shots on specific moves, we didn’t really get to see much about the fight or how it flowed, or what her skill level really was. That being said, I’m already in love with her in every other respect, and I really like her chemistry with Perrin. In the books, the Aiel that Perrin sets free is a different character, and I think the show was very clever in giving this initial meeting to Aviendha. It’s another example of a moment where it was necessary to streamline the story which also ended up improving, in some ways, the introduction of an important character. Aviendha will later become very important to another friend or two of Perrin’s, and this initial connection between Aviendha and Perrin will be very interesting to see in that light, I think.
Lanfear and Suroth are still a bit t0o one-dimensional as characters for me to latch onto, although the performances from O’Keeffe and McAdams are good. Ishamael’s conversation with Suroth about the reason she joined the Dark also hinted at more character development to come, and I really enjoyed the contrast between her and Liandrin when they confronted each other over the prisoner exchange. It’s a strange feeling to be rooting for Liandrin, after despising her (very different) character in the book, but here I am. I either want her to kick Suroth’s behind or to team up with her to take out Ishamael—can’t decide which. Although I’m leaning towards the former because of the whole collaring and enslaving thing.
I do however find that this season of The Wheel of Time is overall less cohesive than season one was. Although I am finding a lot of interesting thematic through lines, the individual scenes in each episode don’t flow together well, something that I felt especially this week in episode five. It feels like we’re just jumping randomly from scene to scene, and while most scenes are interesting, each time we jump I feel like I lose my immersion in what is happening and have to start over. I think the episodes would be more enjoyable, and easier to follow, if we spent longer amounts of time with each storyline instead of having them all broken up. Even if that meant we didn’t see a main character for an episode or two.
I can understand why the showrunners might be worried that they’d lose audience members if they didn’t give us every main character every week (and I expect they made the exception in Mat’s case because of the recasting), but I think that more time spent on one storyline without jumping would allow them to do more, not less, with every character, and would make the world feel more immersive and real. Many modern shows suffer from this problem of assuming a short audience attention span, which is somewhat fair because it is a trend in society right now, but what we need is for art to push back against the trend, not capitulate to it.
Also, season 2 is very difficult to follow for anyone who doesn’t already know the series. Season two continues to drop important worldbuilding information in odd ways, or not at all, and in particular I think the Forsaken have been very badly explained for viewers. Understanding Rand’s reaction to learning that his girlfriend is really Lanfear, understanding the pull that Ishamael has over the other Darkfriends, understanding what exactly the stakes are in a fight between the Light and the Dark—this is all necessary to the viewers’ investment in the fight. Myrddraal and Trollocs are easy to understand upon first glance, but the Forsaken are not. Similarly, no one I’ve spoken to who is new to the series understands what the Horn of Valere is or why it matters, or knows how to interpret the idea of what the taint on saidin might be doing to Rand.
I feel like season one struck a much better balance between what needs to be clearly explained and what can be inferred by the viewers, and that the progression of scenes was much smoother. My worry going forward is that new fans will be left behind by the narrative, too frustrated to want to invest their attention in further seasons.
Still, there is much to love in season two, and in episode five specifically, and I remain hopeful that The Wheel of Time can get back on track in the next few episodes. In the meantime, please enjoy a few:
Fun facts and Easter Eggs!
- In the books, Yasicca Cellaech is an ancient scholar of the Brown Ajah. She doesn’t appear in the series itself, but is at one point quoted by Egwene.
- SFF fans will no doubt be seeing some similarities between Aviendha’s culture, the Aiel, and the Fremen of Dune. Much of Jordan’s work was inspired by, and paid homage to, Dune. However, I do not recall any of the Aiel using the phrase “my water is yours” to speak of a life debt. They refer to this as a “blood-debt” and the phrase “my/our water is yours” is used instead to indicate hospitality or courtesy.
- The title of episode five, “Damane” is the name used for the channelers who the Seanchan enslave. It is a word in the Old Tongue (which we hear spoken by Ishamael and Lanfear in their scene together) meaning “leashed one.” Suroth also refer to the Aes Sedai and all other “uncollared” channelers as marath’damane, “one/those who must be leashed.,” and to the women who control the damane as sul’dam, “leash holder.”
- The man Lanfear kills to get his horse tells her that the road leads to Tar Valon. She replies “Of course it does.” This moment harkens back to a saying in the books which was also referenced by Rand in season one; “All roads lead to Tar Valon.”
- Viewers may have recognized Dain’s last name as belonging to another character. Geofram Bornhald was the leader of the Whitecloaks encountered by Moiraine and the rest shortly after they fled the Two Rivers. In “Damane” Valda warns Dain that his family name won’t protect him forever. Like his father, Dain appears moderate in his views in comparison to Valda and the other Whitecloaks.
- Favorite Quote: “Desperation opens the mind to more interesting choices.”
Sylas K Barrett is curious to see how the Seanchan will be handled by the show, and how their part in events might be streamlined. There appear to be some clues to this in the way Turak talks about their mission in the Westlands.