The strident pleas of book hipsters and show apologists notwithstanding, after five episodes we have a sense of what we are getting from Amazon’s adaptation of a landmark work of epic fantasy. A high production value work that mostly looks gorgeous but retains occasional discordant notes. An adaptation that feels like the Wheel of Time and invests heavily in foreshadowing things that sometimes will not happen until far down the road, but that sometimes makes curious and unnecessary decisions to cut book material and maybe doesn’t really understand core themes of Jordan’s work. A show growing more confident in its storytelling but is more confident in original material than adapted material. I am pleasantly surprised by how much I have been enjoying the show, but I walked in with low expectations (and I do still have my gripes and concerns).
SPOILERS abound below. Mostly for the first five episodes of the show, but there will be book spoilers sprinkled in as well.
My posts will start with a recap then give a reaction. The fellowship is still (almost entirely) split, but I will keep my recap in show order this time.
The episode opens with an Aes Sedai funeral for the dead from the attack by Logain’s army and Logain’s escape attempt. One month later, they spot the White Tower. Logain no longer has or needs his fancy cage. Lan and Moiraine reference the other four, but they aren’t particularly worried.
Rand and Mat walk down a busy trail. Mat reacts badly to a boy running up behind him. Both are heavily hooded and otherwise alone, a month without a warm bed. Rand spots the oddly familiar Dragonmount. They have made it to Tar Valon (pronounced with no emphasis on the last word) and we get our first glorious shot of the city.
Rand knows of an innkeeper who is an old friend of Thom’s. They are headed to the White Tower, but they need to clean up first. A night at this inn is more expensive than a month at the Winespring Inn back home (how they can afford that is not explained). Mat is worried about what happened at the farm. Rand knows it was the Face; Mat doesn’t.
Lan and Moiraine squirrel Nynaeve away in the Warders’ quarters. The safest place for her now that people know she can channel (and powerfully at that). Tower politics are now a threat to her. Nynaeve remains Nynaeve. Defiant and stubborn.
Perrin and Egwene time with the Tinkers has been good for Egwene. Or maybe it is the sight of the White Tower that put a skip in her step. She thinks they have made it, but there is a hiccup when the Tinkers are stopped by Eamon Valda and other Whitecloaks. Valda spots Perrin and Egwene. He wants them. The Tinkers form a human chain to protect them, but Valda responds with immediate physical violence. While Aram runs off with Perrin and Egwene, the Tinkers stand strong. The Whitecloaks attack (with fists), and Perrin and Egwene are quickly captured.
Rand meets Loial in the inn library. Lioal thinks Rand is Aiel (leading to a humorous back and forth). A Jain Farstrider reference notwithstanding, this scene is . . . not great. And not just because the Ogier depiction is unconvincing.
Rand is distracted by the arrival of Logain. Steppin leads with Kerene’s horse. Her boots are in its stirrups, and the people of Tar Valon know what that means, reacting with horror and anger. They also don’t like Logain, who is back in a fancy cage and flanked by two unnecessary Aes Sedai guards. He sees Rand and Mat and laughs maniacally. Mat is already worried about being able to channel. He doesn’t want to wind up like Logain. He is no Aes Sedai meat.
Steppin is being dressed by the other Warders in white, which the show quickly establishes as the color of mourning. Lan wants Steppin to become Warder to another Aes Sedai. Steppin isn’t having it. He tosses Kerene’s ring into a cauldron to melt. Lan is visibly affected when he returns to Moiraine.
Egwene is stripped and cleaned, roughly, by Whitecloaks. Both Egwene and Perrin are tied up in front of Valda. Note, also, that Perrin killed no Whitecloaks in their capture. Valda knows Egwene is no Aes Sedai, but he knows or suspects she can touch the One Power. Egwene is from Two Rivers, though, and will not be pushed around. Valda instead takes a knife to Perrin, whose eyes show gold in reaction. Valda gives Egwene an option: channel, and he kills her and release Perrin; not channel, and he kills Perrin and releases her.
Steppin visits Nynaeve, very drunk, in search of an herb that will help him sleep. Liandrin also finds her. Literally everyone can find Nynaeve, because Loial does too. He brings her to Rand and Mat, but Mat is in a bad way (physically and mentally). Rand discloses his (and Thom’s) suspicions about Mat. Nynaeve tells a story about Egwene and breakbone fever. I thought at first it was a story about how Nynaeve can channel, but it’s actually a story about how tough Egwene is.
Back at the Whitecloak camp, Perrin thinks it should be him who dies. Because he killed Laila. Egwene is confused and unmoved, because Laila wasn’t properly established as a character. Valda returns and begins cutting on Perrin again. Wolves howl in the distance. Egwene tries to channel. It isn’t very effective. Valda mocks her, but she quickly realizes the utility of a small flame. She aims her next effort at Perrin’s bonds. While Perrin has him intimidated, Egwene stabs Valda. They exit the tent to find wolves ravaging the Whitecloak camp.
Moiraine and Liandrin both know that Nynaeve is destined for the Yellow. Liandrin is encouraged that Nynaeve believes the world would be better if everybody obeyed the rules. Nynaeve’s rules. Moiraine recognizes that Nynaeve does not share the Reds’ contempt for men.
Lan and Steppin exposit on the Forsaken. Separately, Alanna both warns Moiraine that she has powerful enemies and encourages her to challenge Suian Sanche, the Amyrlin Seat. Suian Sanche is “out for blood” after the Logain debacle. Steppin pries with Lan about the Wisdom. Lan wakes the next morning, hungover and apparently haven been drugged using the goat’s tongue Steppin got from Nynaeve, to find a sword missing from his collection. Steppin has killed himself.
Sometimes it seems like artists just can’t win when it comes to traveling in fantasy stories. Spend too much time depicting traveling and people complain it is boring. Spend too little time and people complaint it is unrealistic. The Wheel of Time takes the simplest possible approach and tells us outright that a month as passed.
The stone passed by all three parties on their way to Tar Valon looks a lot like a Portal Stone. A tiny bit of foreshadowing and a nice Easter egg, but I don’t expect this particular Portal Stone to be plot-relevant.
Perrin wants to eat raw meat with the dogs. Foreshadowing!
I love the way that the Tinkers form a human chain to protect Perrin and Egwene. Jordan may have dabbled in pacifism (not in ‘Nam of course), but he doesn’t see it as a viable philosophy. That doesn’t stop him from always representing the Tinkers as enormously brave in their beliefs. That is on good display in this scene.
Loial looks, to be perfectly honest, awful. Like the Trollocs in episode one, both too human and too inhuman. I did like this sequence a bit more on rewatch.
Egwene can’t be Jain Farstrider for one simple reason—Jain is still alive.
Having Mat watch Logain along with Rand helps the show to keep playing coy. The show is doing so successfully. Maybe a little too successfully. I prefer a well-crafted twist over an entirely surprising one.
Sylas from Tor.com highlighted how in episode 4 the Warders take on traditionally feminine roles. This is even more on display here.
We continue to get a lot of post-book one worldbuilding, like the option of a Warder moving to another Aes Sedai after his original Aes Sedai dies.
The show is very good at making the Whitecloaks creepy.
Valda addresses the Aes Sedai and their hands issue, but it isn’t an entirely convincing explanation.
“I promise you the pain will never go away.” “Thank you.”
My love of Nynaeve is no secret. Mostly this is because of how seriously she takes her original mission to protect the four younger Two Rivers villagers. The show elided that in reintroducing Nynaeve in episode 3, but her commitment to them is plainly evident in her conversation with Rand.
“In the morning, the fever had broken. Not her. Egwene is many things. But above all else, she’s unbreakable.”
You know Valda is evil because of the vest.
Moiraine and Alanna discuss releasing the Warder bond. FORESHADOWING.
Alanna references Moiraine’s secrets. She leaves and Moiraine immediately opens the door on cabinet with a portrait behind the door. Is it Suian?
Steppin essentially commits seppeku. It is not by accident, I think, that the show both imitates an Eastern practice and that Steppin chooses a very painful way to kill himself.
Bookending the episode with funerals is very effective and emotional. The Aes Sedai and Warder funeral traditions are mostly a show invention, but they work and remain broadly true to books. I do still hope we get a book-faithful depiction of Shienaran funeral rites.
I am glad the show is not going the route of Game of Thrones and inserting sex and nudity to serve the pervy 13-year-old boy tranche of the audience. But I am a little surprised that there has been virtually no nudity through five episodes (the books don’t feature explicit sex but have lots of nudity). Egwene is stripped naked by the Whitecloaks, but the show is careful in limiting the skin it shows.
The Mat/Rand and Egwene/Perrin storylines work just fine on their own, but Lan, Moiraine, and Nynaeve’s limited interest in what they are up to does not.
Perrin’s arc remains the biggest problem with the show. Laila’s death means very little to us as viewers because almost nothing had been done to make us care about her and about Perrin. Perrin still remains too fuzzy as a character. Him killing the Whitecloaks in the books was much more effective. The show is treating death too casually. Jordan, a Vietnam veteran, knew better. On the other hand, I appreciate the bonding between Egwene and Perrin, which was always such a great part of their storyline in the first book.