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Andrew and Lee continue watching The Wheel of Time—and it’s getting real

Enlarge / We spend time getting to know some Aes Sedai in this episode, including Liandrin (Kate Fleetwood). (credit: Amazon Studios)

Andrew Cunningham and Lee Hutchinson have spent decades of their lives with Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson’s Wheel of Time books, and they’re bringing that knowledge to bear as they recap each episode of Amazon’s new WoT TV series. These recaps won’t cover every element of every episode, but they will contain major spoilers for the show and the book series. If you want to stay unspoiled and haven’t read the books, these recaps aren’t for you.

New episodes of The Wheel of Time will be posted to Amazon Prime subscribers every Friday.

Andrew: If I had to come up with a Friends-style episode title for this week’s Wheel of Time episode, it would be “The One With The Dragon Reborn Misdirects.”

I’m not sure how much screen time or effort I really want the show to devote to the Great Mystery Of Who The Dragon Reborn Is. Changing who it is would vault us out of “adaptation” territory and into the realm of fanfic, so at the end of the day, I don’t really think the series is going to change it on us. But I will say that, if I knew nothing at all about the book series going in, the show is at least making a reasonable case that any of our five Two Rivers-ians could be the Dragon. And at least so far, the show is managing to do that in a way that is consistent with what we know about each of these characters’ long arcs.

Lee: Oh yeah. I like the misdirection. We don’t have the luxury in the show of getting into each character’s head and knowing their internal landscape, so playing “Who’s the Dragon?!” is a good way of giving the audience something substantial to chew on beyond just dialogue and setting. Showrunner Rafe Judkins has said that the show is not changing who the Dragon is and that book fans will know immediately. But this gives folks who haven’t read the books a nice little mystery to ponder.

This episode gives us our first on-screen showing of what a male channeler’s madness looks and feels like, too. In the scenes where Logain is facing down the king of Ghealdan, we see that the weaves he channels are mixed together with blackness—the corruption of the Dark One. (The show also uses “corruption” over the book’s choice of “taint,” presumably to avoid all the memes that would come from having everyone saying “taint” all the time. Haha, taint.) Logain is beset by shadowy figures that seem to form themselves out the corruption, and they seductively whisper dark things to him, like, “Hey, you should totally kill that king guy.” It’s a neat effect, and I think it works great.

And I’m enjoying Logain’s… whatever the actor is doing. Sumptuousness? Weird presence? Whatever it is, Álvaro Morte is doing a great job of making Logain feel like the kind of bad guy who would definitely treat you to dinner plus a Bond villain monologue before murdering you.

Andrew: I am glad you mentioned the “taint” thing because if this adaptation keeps all the characters from talking and thinking about “the Dark One’s taint” all the time then I will be willing to forgive any and all other shortcomings.

The visual effect of the taint corruption on the One Power is probably my favorite visual effect in the series so far, strictly in terms of how economical and effective it is. You can still see the wisps of white, mixed in among the inky tendrils, but even before you see Logain’s madness manifest itself, it’s clear that something is wrong here.

That we’re meeting and talking to Logain at all is one of this episode’s two big departure points from the books—I believe we only spy him from a distance once in Eye of the World, and he doesn’t become a player in the story until a few books in.

We meet him because we’re inside an Aes Sedai encampment, which Moiraine, Lan, and Nynaeve have sought out so that Moiraine’s Trolloc-inflicted wound can be fully Healed. And the show uses this encampment to give us our first big dose of how Aes Sedai society is structured. We get a basic outline of the different Ajahs and their motivations, we hear about the Amyrlin Seat, we meet a few named characters from the books like Liandrin and Alanna. We physically move around a lot less in this episode, and the opportunity to take a breath makes the world-building and lore-dumping feel more organic and less forced.

I actually loved all the stuff with the Warders, since in the books you hear a lot about how they interact with each other but don’t actually get to see the kind of comradely backslapping that happens here.

Lee: Agreed, the Warder stuff was fun. This is a very different Lan from the one we see in the books—still stoic, but not flinty and unapproachable. He and Nynaeve manage to have an entire conversation about Lan’s fallen homeland of Malkier without either of them grunting or punching each other. I’m here for it—hell, I’m here for anything that makes Nynaeve less of the emotionally stunted bully desperately in need of therapy that she starts out as in the books.

Your comment about the Aes Sedai camp showing a bit of how Aes Sedai society works is dead on, and one of the most interesting bits is watching the Green sister in charge of the camp, Kerene (Clare Perkins) keeping Red sister Liandrin (Kate Fleetwood) firmly in check. Book readers know that among the Aes Sedai, women who are stronger with the One Power are kind of automatically in authority over those with lesser power, and Kerene (who Moiraine says has turned back entire armies with her channeling) is firmly in command. For a while, at least.

We also see a bit about why False Dragons are so feared—and what happens to them. A major job of the Red Ajah is to hunt down False Dragons and “gentle” them (that is, permanently sever them from the One Power, so that they can never again channel). False Dragons that have great strength in the One Power tend to raise armies of followers and wreak massive destruction—as Logain has done with Ghealdan. The Reds have snagged him up in a cage, and they’re transporting him to the White Tower to be tried.

Andrew: You have to do a lot of setup in a very short period of time to get from “Nynaeve would slit Lan’s throat” to “Lan’s throat being slit would make her so upset that she could channel” in two episodes, but I think they get there? Maybe I am giving them too much credit because I already have Lan and Nynaeve’s full relationship stored in my head, but it works.

I did also like the battle sequence we get here, which is pretty good at replicating what fighting with the One Power looks like in my head. Stopping a cloud of arrows in midair and then turning them around and killing your enemies with them? Badass. And appreciably different from anything you’d see in Game of Thrones.

Last little thing about the Aes Sedai camp I want to flag before we talk about the rest of the episode, but I am trying to get a read on Liandrin. Book readers will remember her as a relatively minor recurring villain. But by drawing so much attention to her so early on, I wonder if the show is planning on merging her character’s and Elaida’s? I guess we’ll see if and when Rand and Mat make it to Caemlyn.

Lee: Merging Liandrin and Elaida would certainly simplify a few things, given their roles, though if the show keeps certain aspects of Liandrin’s story the same, it would also create some interesting wrinkles—particularly because of how eager she is to get Logain gentled. Is her reason simply her inbuilt Red Ajah conviction to leash all male channelers, or something deeper?
Andrew: It might just be the Red Ajah leanings—based on the cold open for the series, I guessed that she was Elaida. If you’re going to pick one Red Ajah character from the books, she’s at the top of the list. My radar might be jammed by my residual surprise at seeing Liandrin so far from where she’s “supposed” to be. And this is probably going to keep happening!

Lee: The battle with the One Power was done well, as was the linking effect when the women all join together to defeat Logain. And poor Stepin—once Kerene is killed, he goes a bit mad himself, which we learn is a consequence of the Aes Sedai/Warder bond being broken. We’ll get some more depth on that in an upcoming episode, but it’s being played up here for a reason.

And I do have one more thing I want to bring up, because I want to know your take. We know that women cannot see men channeling—the Aes Sedai in this episode make a point of saying it, as they maintain the shield that prevents Logain from touching the One Power while captive. But after Nynaeve has her breakthrough moment and heals the room, Logain seems to have seen it happen—after the lights fades, he says that Nynaeve was “like a raging sun.”

What does this mean, man? Did Nynaeve’s healing weaves generate a flash of visible nonpower light? Or did he see something?

Andrew: Well, now I can only imagine how the scene might have played if Logain couldn’t see anything. Just a lady coming in and yelling, her giant braid flying straight up in the air of its own volition.

Going to file this under “more info needed.” Male channelers in the books do get a sort of tingly feeling when women are channeling nearby, as I recall. The show could be playing that up. Or it could be a side effect of his madness. Or maybe the show has totally changed how the magic system works in ways we don’t know about yet! The series hasn’t precluded any of those possibilities.

But dang if this scene didn’t work for me. Show-Nynaeve is still toward the top of my Amazon’s The Wheel of Time Character Power-Rankings chart. But what is everyone else up to? We’re getting pretty deep into the “split the party” chunk of EotW at this point.

Lee: It super worked. I was there for it.

But yes—how are our other characters doing? Rand and Mat and Thom have a moment at what the press notes say is the Grinwell family farm (but I don’t believe they’re named on-screen), and we get some great scenes out of it. We’re watching some misdirection play out with this band of characters, since Thom is convinced Mat’s ailments stem from being able to channel—young men come down with fever-like symptoms after first touching the One Power, and Thom’s seen it happen before to a relative.

Andrew: Even though we savvy book readers (and possible some savvy show watchers who have noticed the camera linger on the knife a few times now) know that Mat is actually in the throes of KNIFE MADNESS.

Artist’s rendering. (credit: Amazon Studios/Paramount Pictures/Andrew Cunningham)

Lee: Along with Black Oil Like in the X-Files Coming Out of Your Mouth Disease, apparently—though that’s probably a symptom of the KNIFE MADNESS, courtesy of Shadar Logoth.

But there were two things I specifically wanted to comment on—the first was that I was so pleased that Rand gives some encouragement to Mat while they’re lying down to sleep, with his short “Hey, I’m here if you want to talk” speech. Aging these characters up a little lets them demonstrate a bit more emotional maturity than their 15-ish-year-old counterparts in the book, and it’s nice to see Rand showing some genuine empathy and kindness. On the whole, Show-Rand seems to be a much less flaky guy than Book-Rand.

And, the last thing—we meet Birgitte Silverbow!

Sort of.

Andrew: Yeah that was a moment of unexpected tenderness. In the books you don’t actually get to see a lot of moments of the three boys being actual friends, given how quickly and completely their entire lives change, and it’s one thing the show has been able to shore up with a few economical scenes.

The show does seem to be eliding over one of the more fun sequences in the book, though—Rand and Mat on the run, using some Thom-taught party tricks to entertain villagers at inns and earn their way across the countryside. Thom is probably the major EotW character who has been cut back the most in this adaptation, give or take a Padan Fain, which is too bad because what we do get of him I enjoy a lot.

Lee: Oh, Fain’s around—you gotta listen for that subtle whistling. On rewatch, I think I spied him in a couple of places. But yeah, he’s nowhere near as front-and-center as I’d expected.
Andrew: Later on in the series, Rand goes back to things like Thom’s flute to try and maintain some kind of connection to these more carefree (in retrospect! Only in retrospect) days. Given that we’re inside Rand’s head less, maybe the show will find other ways to do that. But I did find myself missing those scenes more than a lot of the others that have been snipped so far.

Lee: Still, I’m liking the little Rand-Mat-Thom sidestory—even if the Grinwells do meet an untimely end and Birgitte gets left behind. (Though I hope that’s not all we see of her—maybe the Wheel will spin her out again?)

And that leaves… Tinker-Town with Egwene and Perrin. I have to admit that this is not my favorite chunk of the books—though it plays here about as well as it possibly can. We learn a bit about the Way of the Leaf and all things Tuatha’an. Young Aram (Daryl McCormack) is bright and bubbly, while his grandmother Ila (Maria Doyle Kennedy) conveys a feeling of weary determination at the heavy burden the Tinkers’ brand of pacifism lays on one’s shoulders. I think the actors here are doing a great job with a not-superinteresting bit of story—and one that, given how much else has been cut, I’m surprised didn’t also end up on the editing-room floor. Then again, we know some of these characters have more of a role to play than what we’re seeing here. (Trying to keep things reasonably future spoiler-free for non-book readers!)

Andrew: You get to the important thing, which is Perrin Has Deep Misgivings About Violence, In Part Because He Is Afraid Of How Good He Is At Violence. It hits a bit differently in the show because he KILLED HIS WIFE AND THEN LEFT TOWN, rather than simply using the axe to deal with direct threats to his person and friends. But it’s there. I’m impressed by the costume and wagon design for the Tinkers, which are nearly pitch-perfect recreations of what is described the books. But these scenes follow the book pretty closely, and there’s not a ton to say about them.

Maybe it was the 8% ABV sugar cookie flavored beer I was sipping while I watched it! But this episode worked for me in ways that the first three didn’t always. I do think it benefits from slowing down, though I’m sure everyone will be on the run again soon enough. But I’m impressed by how well the show is (by and large, so far) capturing the essence of each character without being overly constrained by the exact scenes and story beats in the book. It does have to move fast, and it seems like Egwene and Nynaeve’s mastery of channeling (among our characters’ many other skills) is going to get developed way more quickly than it does in the books. But I did get a distinct “OK, when is the next one?” feeling as the credits rolled.

Lee: Definitely—feels like we’re in the groove now. Which is good, since the end of this episode marks the halfway point for the season. Four down, four to go—and we’ll be here after each one. Because death is lighter than a feather, but WoT reviewing duty is heavier than a mountain. Or something!

(credit: WoT Wiki)

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