The Wheel Of Time (Season 1, Ep 4): The Dragon Reborn

Hi! Amazon Prime’s new TV series, based on the books I am blogging about HERE, just debuted. I want to lay out my thoughts and reactions to the adaptation.

Warning: This post will contain spoilers through the current episode.

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PLOT SUMMARY:

The episode opens as a flashback in the nation of Ghealdan, as Logain’s forces siege the country. After Logain’s victory, despite hearing a male and female voice which each encourage him to commit violence, Logain heals the King of his injuries and tells the monarch that he means to bind the world, not break it. He then encourages the king to join his cause.

In the present, Moiraine is healed of her injury by Kerene Sedai. After performing the healing, the other Aes Sedai shares with Moiraine that Logain is exceedingly strong in the One Power and that he commands an army of thousands. The other two Aes Sedai in the camp who are strong enough to shield Logain from channeling the One Power are Alanna and Liandrin – and the shield must be maintained by at least two Sisters at all times. Moiraine learns that Logain was captured when the Aes Sedai crept into his camp and shielded him as he slept. They do not know whether Logain’s followers will attempt to free him from captivity, though Kerene says she has set wards which will give them some advanced warning if the army approaches. Liandrin wishes to immediately sever Logain permanently from the One Power, gentling, while the other Aes Sedai wish to take him to the White Tower to stand trial.

Egwene and Perrin travel with the Tuatha’an east toward Tar Valon despite Perrin having some misgivings about their new companions.

Thom, Mat, and Rand ride to a farm. Rand and Mat discuss whether they can trust Thom, or not, and Mat reminds Rand that Dana told them a Fade would be chasing them.

As Moiraine and Alanna take a turn shielding Logain, Alanna admits to Moiraine that Kerene has asked her to use their friendship to pry for information about Moiraine’s recent activity. Alanna confesses to Moiraine that she believes The Last Battle is near. She also shares a worry to Moiraine that gentling the Dragon Reborn may doom the world if he or she is supposed to help save the world rather than destroy it.

Liandrin approaches Nynaeve in the Aes Sedai camp. Nynaeve quizzes the Red Sister about Moiraine.

Thom, Mat, and Rand are ambushed by the farmers who own the land they are on. Rand talks them into putting their arrows down and allowing them instead to work for a place to sleep for the night.

Liandrin explains to Nynaeve that the Blue Ajah is little more than spies while the Red Ajah protects the world from people who would misuse the One Power – even other Aes Sedai. Lan asks if they mind if he joins them, an action that causes Liandrin to leave. As she goes Nynaeve tells Lan that she believes Liandrin is a snake. Lan tells Nynaeve that if her friends are not already at the White Tower when they arrive, they will obtain resources there to help find them.

As Perrin and Egwene travel with the Tuatha’an, they learn that their new companions are extreme pacifists who adhere to an ideology called The Way of the Leaf. As they talk, Ila asks Perrin if his life has been better or worse since picking up an axe for violence. His expression gives an answer of ‘no.’

Mat become ill, and vomits an unnatural blackness, after he and Rand muck the barn. Helga Grinwell, the youngest daughter of the farmer sees this as she was on her way to bring him bread. She also offers Mat her doll Birgitte, to give to his sisters when he gets home, and convinces Mat to take her as Birgitte wants to travel the world.

Thom and Rand discuss Mat’s illness. Thom shares the history of his nephew Owyn and tells Rand that Mat, like Owyn, appears to have a sickness derived from touching the One Power. We learn from Thom that when Owyn was gentled, he soon after killed himself. Thom explains that all people, men and women, react this way to being cut off from the One Power. They agree together to keep Mat away from Aes Sedai.

Nynaeve sits with the Warders that night and learns more about her companions, growing more fond of them as she does. However, she soon sees Alanna gather her two male Warders for bed and expresses surprise that the three of them have intimate relations as a group. She looks concerned as she subsequently sees Lan join Moiraine in her tent as well.

In Moiraine’s tent, Lan tells his Aes Sedai that Logain is ten years too old at least to be The Dragon. Moiraine seems to be questioning herself so Lan reminds her that between the dreams and trollocs, The Dark One is not after Logain. Moiraine suggests that perhaps The Dark One has as little idea who The Dragon is as they do. They quietly bemoan the fact they lost the Two Rivers villagers after a twenty years long search to find them.

Egwene dances with the Tuatha’an and asks Aram about “the song.” He tells her that his people have a belief a song existed before the Breaking of the World, which if found, could return harmony to the world. He scoffs at tis belief, but Egwene looks around at his joyous, dancing, peaceful people, and then asks if they founds the song without knowing it.

Perrin is helping with blacksmithing work. Ila finds him and tells him that he honors them. They discuss the Tuatha’an’s pacifism at greater length as she shares the story of her daughter’s murder. She explains that she wants the world to be better when her daughter’s soul is reborn.

Aram intuits that someone holds Egwene’s heart. He asks if she has lost him and she says no. He then tells her that the Tuatha’an leave the camps when they are twenty to see the world they were born into. He tells her that while most return, not all do.

In the barn as they lie down to sleep, Rand tells Mat that no matter what happens, he is here for him. Rand then dreams of Perrin hammering Laila’s body, Mat with a bloody hand, and Egwene. As she calls to Rand, the main with fire behind his eyes yanks her head violently backward. Rand wakes gasping before he and Thom see that Mat is gone. They go to the farmer’s house, find the family inside murdered, with Mat standing in the middle of the room holding an unbloodied dagger. Mat then points the Shadar Logoth dagger at a shadow and a Fade appears from that shadow. Thom tells the boys to run as he fights the Fade. Mat sees little Helga Grinwell dead outside as he and Rand ride away.

Liandrin speaks with Kerene about gentling Logain before the trial and is rebuffed. Outside, Nynaeve finds Lan praying. He tells her about his country, Malkier, which no longer exists. She adds a prayer in the Old Tongue. She says it is the last prayer her parents said to her before her village was attacked and her parents killed. She admits that she does not know the prayer’s meaning but Lan then translates it for her as the last words King Aemon of Manetheren spoke to his wife Queen Eldrene before the battle they knew they would lose.

“We shall go into the land so our children can always hold us and they will never be alone.”

As Nnaeve is obviously now more fond of Lan, Kerene Sedai’s wards create a sound alerting the camp that Logain’s army has arrived. Alanna repels a hail of arrows with the One Power as Logain breaks through the Aes Sedai shield preventing him form channeling. His effort knocks out both Kerene and Liandrin. Kerene’s Warder senses what has happened and sends others to Logain’s cage to help them. A battle in the camp ensues between the army and most of the remaining Aes Sedai. Moiraine finds Logain after he has freed himself, warning him that the others will be there soon, thus she says that they do not not have much time to talk. When she asks why she should believe he is The Dragon Reborn, he explains that he hears whispers of the thousand previous lives he has led when he channels. He also tells her that they are teaching him to do better this time. Moiraine tells him that the whispers he hears are madness and she says that for as strong as he is, he is like a candle beside the raging sun that will be The Dragon Reborn. Abruptly Liandrin and Kerene are awake and they join Moiraine in an attempt to shield Logain. Kerene is thrown back and killed but the other two shield him.

Outside, Alanna tells a group of Warders to go to the cave. She says that she and her warders will hold back the army. When the Warders join the Aes Sedai in the cave, Kerene’s Warder charges at Logain with his two axes out. Logain breaks free from his shield a moment before the Warder reaches him and then he hurls the warder and broken pieces of his axes outward. Everyone in the room is injured by this with Lan cut deeply through his neck. Nynaeve then enters the cave and sees Lan. Shouting in frustration and fury, with her hands on his throat, the room explodes in light as she heals everyone in the room simultaneously

Logain stares at her in astonishment as the Aes Sedai get to their feet and not only shield him but also gentle him, cutting him off from the One Power permanently.

REACTION:

This was the best episode of the series so far. The story slowed enough for us to see some strong character moments for everyone in the main cast. Early in the series, we should expect to see characters with confusion and conflicting motivations and now the show is delivering on that. This will set up more impactful moments later when those characters have to make hard and more permanent choices. We also ended on a get-up-from-your-chair moment with Nynaeve demonstrating her previously undiscussed strength in The One Power.

This episode’s main arc is an introduction to Logain. Who is he? He is a man who is – according to the Aes Sedai shielding him – astonishingly strong in the One Power. He is also a charismatic messianic persona, conquering nations and then convincing conquered kings to join him after. Logain’s message through his claim of being The Dragon Reborn is one of peace, salvation, and binding the world together rather than promoting war, bloodshed, and another Breaking. He is not without hypocrisy, though, as he leads an army that commits a lot of violence in Logain’s name. I enjoyed the interpretation of Logain by Álvaro Morte. His version of Logain really demonstrates the tragedy of men who can channel and the madness that follows. He is clearly someone who hopes to do good things for the world. Of course, when one is listening to disembodied voices, perhaps good intentions are not enough.

Intriguingly, too, he explains to Moiraine that the voices teach him. Considering he has no one to teach him how to use the One Power, and he is demonstrably capable at using it… perhaps the voices actually do somehow teach him some things.

For most of the episode, Moiraine after being healed of her injury, appears to be going through a personal crisis, worried about losing her villager youths and simultaneously worried that she might also be wrong in her quest. Lan reminding her that Logain is the wrong age and that The Dark One is not after him personally, does not fully convince her. Only at the end when confronting Logain does she seem sure of herself again.

Lan and Nynaeve grow much closer in this episode. The one hour long episode allows that to happen in a measured and believable way. Zoë Robins’s Nynaeve is just brilliant. We see a slow transition from fury and mistrust of Lan in the previous episode to warmness and something on the edge of insecurity and humility in this one as he interprets a prayer in The Old Tongue for her. Lan in turn continues to show her honest respect. Lan’s throwaway line about Nynaeve being welcome by their fire as long as she does not throw anyone in gets a laugh from her. Nynaeve seems to be getting her footing in the new world she is traveling through, with Aes Sedai, and then a battle. She intentionally observes most of the camp, sitting with the warders and having a long conversation with Liandrin. The prospect of losing Lan, the one person she seems to be relying on most, pushes her into an astonishing, albeit unintentional, demonstration of her vast abilities in The One Power at the episode’s end.

I really loved Egwene and Perrin’s story in this episode in the Tuatha’an camp. Perrin has a moving conversation with Ila about their non-violence philosophy. What she says seems to both resonate with his desire to live in peace and conflict with his recent experiences as being unrealistic. Marcus Rutherford (Perrin) is able to effectively communicate a lot of mixed emotions in this episode without saying much. Egwene’s separate conversation with Aram regarding “the Song” his people allegedly seek was also very well done. As he is making fun of the whole notion of the song, she looks around at everyone, singing, dancing, and living joyfully, and asks him if his people have not found it already without knowing it. The question clearly hits him like a ton of bricks as he looks around his home with completely new eyes. Aram is going through his own internal arc, unsure of whether he wants to remain with his people, and her words pushs him back toward a positive view of home.

The scene at the Grinwell farm accomplishes a lot with Mat, Rand, and Thom. Mat is literally sick – enough so that Thom and Rand are having a worried private conversation about him. We see that it’s not a natural sickness as he vomits. We also see that he is fighting whatever is happening to him. His moment with little Helga Grinwell was really heart-warming and a reminder of who Mat is at his core. He is someone who cares for the people who need him and it is weighing on him that his sisters are at home without him. It’s heart-breaking to see Mat’s expression when he subsequently finds Helga lying dead outside her home.

We also learn a lot about men who can channel generally. Thom believes Mat has male channeling sickness. He tells a story of his nephew Owyn who gruesomely killed himself after being gentled. That knowledge adds to the impact of what happens with Logain later and it also convinces Rand that he needs to keep Mat away from Aes Sedai.

We also know that Mat is able to see an otherwise invisible Fade now. He points at it with the dagger from Shadar Logoth when Thom and Rand cannot see it. That revelation is not… nothing.

We learn a little bit about Aes Sedai more generally n this episode, too. The Aes Sedai in Green Ajah have multiple warders and at least in Alanna’s case with her Warders, the relationship is sexual. Kerene and her warder make fun of Moiraine and Lan over their secretive nature. The Red Ajah seem to be “The One Power Police” of the White Tower. The Red we meet, Liandrin, seems to be right on the edge of being a corrupt cop. Nynaeve calls her a snake.

What I Liked Best:

Nynaeve healing everyone in the cave, all at once, was unexpectedly emotional. It worked emotionally because of how great Zoë Robins’s performance was leading up to that moment. This was an episode where Nynaeve lets her guard down, a little, we get to know her, a little, she seems to be warming up to Lan, a little, and then and that wild demonstration of power as the episode ends turns what we think we know on its head and forces a re-evaluation. As cliff-hangers go, this was a great one.

What I Liked Least:

I have several “book fan” complaints. It’s difficult to take myself out of my book-reader shoes and just watch this show for what it is. However, since I cannot describe those complaints without referring to the books as explanation, I think that speaks well of the adaptation to this point.

Thoughts Specifically For the Book Readers:

(Scroll down to the “Conclusion” heading if you don’t want to be spoiled re: Jordan’s first book in this saga, The Eye of The World.)

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First, I will say that I do not care at all that this Logain subplot deviates from the source material. I am glad we are spending time with Logain sooner and for longer than in the books. The books end up an ensemble situation whereas they begin almost exclusively from Rand’s point of view. That change needed to be made for TV. Thanks to this episode’s deviation from the books, we know more about Aes Sedai generally, than in the same spot in the books, we understand more about male channeling, and Nynaeve and Lan have their relationship developed on-screen. Those changes make sense and while the moments were new, they *felt* like The Wheel of Time.

I really liked the Birgitte Silverbow easter egg. If the doll protects Helga at night, the real Birgitte will eventually be a friend to some during their dreams.

Now that we have that out of the way, let me talk about my gripes.

  • For as epic as the “raging sun” moment was…Logain shields his eyes from Nynaeve’s weaves at the end of the episode. He shouldn’t be able to see what she is doing. He should just feel goosebumps on his arms. This is a significant story-telling change that could have a LOT of long term implications. I will give the writers time to keep and earn my trust but it will bother me if they forget that this happened later.
  • Logain’s madness includes being spoken to (among others) by a woman. We do not know whether this is an actual past life speaking to him or whether it is madness alone. I am not necessarily opposed to changing the soul / gender relationship as explained in the books but I am also not sure that it is a necessary change. I’ll be patient here. I want to know what the writers are up to and why. I understand that at least some of the explanation is a desire to keep the viewers more in the dark regarding who The Dragon Reborn is. But if they are making a change like that, it complicates a lot of the existing mythology quite a bit. Is Birgitte Silverbow sometimes born a man? Is Artur Hawkwing sometimes a woman? If so, then why are they imagined as one gender or the other within in the mythology? How would they appear if the Horn of Valere is blown? How will they appear in The World of Dreams?
  • I’m going to address at length another major book-reader complaint I have seen about the show. I have read a LOT of griping that the show is “anti-man.” Is there any evidence of that?

    * The Village Council in The Two Rivers was not present and The Women’s Circle was elevated. In the books the governing of villages in the Two Rivers is a balance between Village Council and Women’s Circle.
    * Tam and Bran had far more limited roles than they did in the same place within the books. Abell Cauthon was character assassinated (a decision I have defended) and Master Luhhan was not really present.
    * The show created a wife for Perrin who did not exist in the books, and then made the decision for Perrin to murder her by accident on Winternight.
    * The show turned Mat from a lovable prankster into a lovable thief.
    * The Lan-as-mentor scenes did not happen on screen. He did not teach any of the boys about using their weapons.
    * Lan decides to take the party into Shadar Logoth, in the show, instead of Moiraine.
    * The Thom-as-mentor storyline was made as bare-bones as possible for the show. He shows up later in the story, teaches them nothing, doesn’t develop their trust yet, and then he is gone. The emotional impact of his fight with the Fade is dramatically lessened as a result.
    * Elyas Machera, Wolf Brother mentor for Perrin, is gone.
    * Raen takes a backseat to Ila with the Tuataha’an. Instead of him having any heart-to-hearts with Perrin, that duty falls to Ila on the show. (Ila spends time with Egwene in the books whereas TV Egwene kind of inadvertently mentors Aram about his own people.)

    I think you can look at each bullet point above, defend each decision individually, and yet also see a pattern of decisions regarding male characters when looking at it from a macro-perspective. The choices might be intentional and thought-out or they might be a blindspot for the writing team. Either way, the series has not yet had an opportunity to develop trust with its audience and trust is a two-way street. Book readers need to give them time to do earn trust and four episodes is probably not enough time. The show must also actually earn that trust – it is not a requirement for book readers to hand it over. All that we have right now is a pattern of adaptation choices regarding male characters but we are not far enough along yet to see if the pattern holds up all season, let alone whether we can ascribe any kind of animus from writers for the male characters.

    Let’s assume that all of the above bullet points are intentional choices to help audiences visualize a more female-directed world. Setting aside the debate over how much the world of The Wheel of Time actually is female-directed in the books, almost all of the “anti-man” changes are correctable to be more book canon aligned. Once the desired feel for the series is established for the TV audience, we can return to The Two Rivers for scenes that feature Tam, Bran, Master Luhhan, and the men of The Village Council. We can meet Elyas later. We will meet Thom again. Lan will see the boys again, too. If that is how it plays out, then very little has actually changed.

    If the choices to deemphasize the male characters are longer term, then the success of the show will be up to the writers finding a way to make those major changes pay off. However, at that point, it will be hard to blame some book readers for hostility to the adaptation.

    My advice with this issue is to give it time.

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CONCLUSION:

This episode was my favorite of the series to date. The character development really starts to move forward nicely here, the world continues to expand but at not too rapid a pace, and the big ending moment was outstanding – and very reminiscent at least in how it made me feel to similar big moments in the novels.

If the first three episodes were enough to keep the book readers watching, I think this episode is the one that will hopefully get non-readers invested n the story as well.

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4 thoughts on “The Wheel Of Time (Season 1, Ep 4): The Dragon Reborn

  1. I think this is definitely the best episode so far. The show is really starting to find its footing.

    One thing that kind of bugs me is that the show blows past a bunch of book stuff only to finally give the show a chance to breath when it introduces new stuff. New stuff is a pretty key indicator. It is much easier to adapt existing material than create your own. I remain concerned that Rafe will get cocky. Rafe is not Robert Jordan. But I walked away from this episode impressed with the new material, even if I would have preferred to see other things (Elyas and the ravens!).

    I wonder if they were a little too aggressive with the worldbuilding in this episode for non-book readers. They avoid being too talky about it, but there is still a limit to how much new info viewers can process (especially casual viewers).

    I have gone back and forth over it, and it has been the topic of ample discussion, but here is what I think about Nynaeve/Logain: The shield(?) and the healing were not the only expressions of the One Power from Nynaeve. Note that her braids float too. She doesn’t know what she is doing, and she is pumping the One Power flowing through her out in a variety of ways, including literal light. (On the other hand, this scene breaks what I think was a book rule about Healing requiring physically touching the person to be healed.)

    1. Yeah. I am picking up a pattern on which specific things the show is blowing past… I hope there is a purpose to the decision-making that pays off well at some point down the line. I’ve enjoyed the show so much, and so much of the show seems to be well thought out, that I am going to give the writers the benefit of the doubt.

      I thought the world-building was extensive but I never felt like it was too much. Anecdotally this seems to be the most well-liked episode of the series by just about everyone. I suspect (and hope) that the non-readers won’t notice all of the world-building on the first viewing but will pick up on a lot on a later viewing. In a way the experience of watching is like the experience of reading the books and I definitely missed a LOT of world-building on my first read of the series.

      As for Nynaeve I hope the explanation is that she created literal light… that would be a good explanation. Whatever the explanation, though, I want it spoken out loud in the dialogue at some point. Otherwise the fact he saw her weaves will be a problem later (since that inability for men to see them is pretty crucial to several important moments in the story and in the world building generally.)

      I had not thought about the need to touch someone to heal them. I’ll have to think through that but it makes sense to me that the show could change that rule. You can certainly do a lot of other things with the One Power from a distance.

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