I am thankful this Thanksgiving season to have a high quality, high production value TV adaptation of my favorite fantasy series of all time.
SPOILERS abound below. Mostly for the first four episodes of the show, but there will be a few book spoilers sprinkled in as well.
My posts will start with a recap then give a reaction. The episode cuts multiple times back and forth among the three groups, but I will (mostly) keep them together for the purposes of my recap.
Logain is waging war in Ghealdan and hearing voices. Notwithstanding the voices, Logain heals the king rather than kill him, winning him over to his side. This is our first time seeing male channeling on screen. The male version of the One Power (saidin) is depicted much like the female version (saidar), only dark where saidar was light.
Nynaeve, Moiraine, and Lan
The first scene after the intro fast forwards back to the main show timeline. Nynaeve, Lan, and Moiraine are in the Aes Sedai camp. An Aes Sedai heals Moiraine, but it leaves a scar. The Aes Sedai work in pairs to shield Logain, rather than in groups of six as in the books.
Perrin and Egwene
Perrin and Egwene are still with the Traveling People, who are helpfully traveling toward Tar Valon. Perrin doesn’t trust them, but when the drum circle starts, even he has fun. He and Egwene learn of the Way of the Leaf, the Traveling People’s philosophy of pacifism. Violence harms the doer of violence, no matter what.
Rand, Mat, and Thom
Back with Rand and Mat, Rand is almost as suspicious as Mat (specifically, of Thom). It did not escape Mat’s attention that the Darkfriend mentioned five potential Dragons. The fifth, presumably, is Nynaeve (another possibility is Logain—the episode cuts directly to a shot of him after Mat’s comment). Moiraine ruled her out, but Ba’alzamon and the Darkfriend don’t know that. At the same time, Mat doesn’t know that Nynaeve is still alive.
A farmer catches the Mat and Rand loitering with Thom outside his fields. He threatens them with a bow, but Rand talks him down. The farmer’s wife set them to mucking out the stables, but once again Rand seems to be doing all the work. Matt’s madness is made explicit by the brief appearance of black matter on his skin and vomit much like the creeping, deadly darkness in Shadar Logoth was represented (more subtly, his horse is scared of him and he reaches for the Dagger when confronted by the farmer). Mat is still normal enough to bond with the farmer’s little girl, though.
Meanwhile, Thom tells Rand about Owyn. Thom gives show viewers the clearest explanation yet of the Dark One’s Taint. He also, for the first time, tells us about gentling. It prevents a man from ever using the One Power again, but it is also a death sentence. Thom thinks Mat can channel (mistaking the effect of the Dagger as saidin-induced madness) and wants to keep Mat him away from the Aes Sedai. He also makes gleemen sound like an undercover sect of male channeler sympathizers (“We call ourselves gleemen because a silly name makes us less frightening. Nothing is more dangerous than a man who knows the past”).
Rand wakes from being haunted by Ba’alzamon to find Mat missing. He and Thom burst into the farmhouse. At first it looks like Mat killed the family, but then a Fade appears. Thom fights it while Rand and Mat run off.
Nynaeve, Moiraine, and Lan
Moiraine and Alanna have a very informative talk about Ajahs and False Dragons. Lots of exposition in this episode. Alanna doesn’t know everything Moiraine knows, but she still recognizes that the end of the Age is near.
Nynaeve is as brusque with Liandrin as with anyone else. Liandrin tries to give her a recruiting pitch before Lan interrupts. Countering Liandrin’s offer, he tells her “you are welcome around our fire, if you don’t push me into it.” His slightly brusque approach plays better with Nynaeve than Liandrin’s exclusionary approach (“all women are welcome in the Red’s tent”).
The Warders bust balls around the campfire and drop exposition about the Warder bond. Moiraine and Lan are taking losing the four villagers hard.
There is an extraordinarily touching scene between Lan and Nynaeve. The show is doing good here.
Logain’s army interrupts the idyll by arriving in an attempt to free him. At the same time, Logain breaks the shield Liandrin and Kerene hold on him. He was biding his time all along (they should have stuck with six sisters). While the Aes Sedai and Warders fight the remains of Logain’s army, Moiraine questions Logain. She must not be happy about his answers, because she jumps in with Kerene and Liandrin to shield him again as soon as they recover. Logain is still too strong, though, and he kills Kerene. They briefly gain control of him, but Kerene’s Warder pulls a Starlord when he arrives. Logain’s counterattack badly wounds Moiraine, Liandrin, and especially Lan. Nynaeve, though, screams in rage over Lan and heals everyone in the room. The gathered Aes Sedai link under Liandrin and gentle Logain.
Saidin may be dark because it is the counterpart to saidar, or it may be dark due to the Taint. There is some white mixed in with the black, suggesting the latter, but visual distinction among the two makes sense both as a worldbuilding matter and as a practical matter given the demands of TV adaptation.
Logain’s charisma and potential as a leader will be relevant way down the road.
A nice little touch I missed on my first watch—the doll the little girl tries to give Mat is named Birgitte.
Rand and Egwene are already starting to grow apart. Egwene denies to Aram that any man holds her heart, and you can see it written in his facet that Rand is considering avoiding Tar Valon for Mat’s sake.
Lan’s characterization is a bit off. He doesn’t have easy camaraderie with anyone, except perhaps Moiraine and later Rand. And even other Warders hold him in a certain awe.
The show doesn’t do much to highlight it, but Liandrin obviously knew that Nynaeve can channel, hence the recruiting pitch. This fits with the book worldbuilding, in which a woman who can channel can recognize the ability in a woman born with the spark, like Nynaeve and Egwene, as opposed to a woman who just has the ability to learn.
Nynaeve’s clothes in this episode and the last one are intentionally frumpy (good, stout Two Rivers wool), highlighting the contrast between her and the elegant, powerful Aes Sedai. The show is playing up the class conflict, which was never what really drove Nynaeve. She will soon learn that Aes Sedai will take a woman with the spark, no matter how mean her circumstances. But she will always be discriminated against as a Wilder.
Gentling is shown in a very visual way that works very well, I think. And the episode previously set up two related bits: gentling is a latent death sentence and Tower law requires men be brought to the Tower for trial before being gentled. Although the latter is always presented as an order of the Amyrlin Seat, not as settled law. The episode also sets up that Aes Sedai have been gentling men on the spot, the rules be damned.
I briefly thought Liandrin planned to arrange for an escape attempt so she could use it as an excuse to gentle Logain. Instead, there is a bona fide escape attempt she uses as an excuse to gentle Logain.
Moiraine may be playing for time, but I think instead she dismisses Logain as a potential Dragon once he shows signs of Madness. But book readers know that the Dragon Reborn will not be immune to the Madness. And she is wrong about his power relative to the Dragon. Logain is immensely powerful, close to as powerful as a male channeler can be, if not at the maximum level. This is in keeping with the books, where Moiraine badly underestimates Logain’s power.
The Way of the Leaf talk does much to flesh out Perrin’s basic inner turmoil. At the end of the day, though, Perrin knows there are some things you can’t run away from. Another exchange, after Perrin fixes a wagon wheel for the Tinkers, sets up Perrin’s basic inner conflict:
“You honor us.” “Anyone can do it.” “You find peace in the work. That’s the honor.”
Perrin’s inner conflict isn’t just peace versus war. It isn’t peace at all. He knows that isn’t viable. It is work—creation—versus war—destruction.
In fleshing out the Tinkers’ pacifism, the show explicitly links it to reincarnation (a basic bit of worldbuilding that, at least for “normal” people, is never emphasized in the books). Tinkers work and sacrifice for a future that may only come when everyone they know is dead because it would still mean a better world for the people they know and love when they are reborn. This may water down the nobility of Tinker philosophy, but it is efficient in show terms.
The show continues to invest in the mystery of just who is the Dragon Reborn, probably to its benefit. Although the episode gives us red herrings even by its own terms. Thom thinks Mat can channel, but even newbies know that there is another reason for Mat’s behavior—the taint from the Dagger. The use of the creeping blackness signals it pretty clearly, I think, where otherwise it would be very easy to miss. The taint from the Dagger looks like saidin-induced madness.
Nynaeve’s moment healing everyone in the room is a great one. It is impressive on its own. It also demonstrates Nynaeve’s great power for the first time in a way true to the books—she is first and foremost interested in using the One Power to heal and she can only use it when she is angry. It is an impressive display. Logain even reacts by describing Nynaeve the way he described Rand in the books. It suggests she might be the Dragon Reborn, a possibility raised again early in the episode, but careful show watchers will remember Moiraine established she is too old to be the Dragon Reborn in the first episode.
Thom’s characterization is interesting here. The show is much more upfront about his motivation for helping Mat and Rand. I am guessing this is his Whitebridge, though (a place oft-mentioned in the show but that surely will not appear on screen).
This was a good episode, rich in little details that greatly expanded my draft on rewatch. It was the first episode that felt like it was really given room to breathe. Which raises the question whether that is a good thing. I think earlier events would have benefited from a little more time and attention. Instead time is devoted here, to events that didn’t happen in the book and exposition that arguably doesn’t need to happen yet. Worldbuilding should be dealt out carefully. Jordan is rarely credited for his slow introduction of what winds up being truly immense worldbuilding, making the series more accessible. The show may be concerned with looking too much like Lord of the Rings (a common criticism I share of the first book) and trying to counter it with earlier introduction of unique worldbuilding. Too much exposition in a single episode can be a problem too, but the episode balances it out with plenty of action, including both our most extensive display of the One Power in battle yet (including a One Power-on-One Power fight) and our first demonstration of a Fade in action.
The Fade is impressive, quick enough to catch throwing daggers. I still eagerly await our first glimpse at its eyeless gaze. I hope we see a lot more Fades this season.