Hi! Amazon Prime’s TV series, based on the Robert Jordan novels 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.
The episode opens during the burial rites following the battle with Logain’s army, focusing in particular on Stepin, the Warder of the now deceased Aes Sedai Kerene.
One month later, the Aes Sedai camp, with a bound Logain in tow, comes within view of The White Tower. Lan tells Moiraine that Nynaeve is worried about Stepin in the aftermath of Kerene’s death. They also discuss whether the other four Two Rivers villagers might be in Tar Valon, with Moiraine concluding they will find them either way.
Mat and Rand reach sight of Tar Valon also. Mat’s edginess causes Rand concern but Mat blames his mood on traveling for a month without sleeping in a warm bed. Rand sees a mountain nearby and tells Mat that it looks familiar. Both boys climb to a high vantage point and look out at the island city of Tar Valon, in the midst of a large river. Once inside the city, they find an inn that Rand says Thom mentioned to them as a place to stay. Inside their room, Mat asks Rand to confirm again that he did not kill the Grinwell family. Rand assures him that he did not.
Moiraine and Lan hide Nynaeve inside the Warders’ quarters. Moiraine assures the Wisdom that her eyes and ears will know if and when the other Two Rivers villagers enter the city. Nynaeve suggests that she might look around herself but Moiraine warns her against underestimating the Aes Sedai in the Tower and how they might entangle her in Tower politics. Moiraine promises to bring Nynaeve to her friends after finding them.
The Tuatha’an camp gets within view of the White Tower when it is stopped by Whitecloaks. Child Valda recognizes Egwene and Perrin – having seen them previously with Moiraine’s party – and sizes them.
In the inn’s library, Rand meets an Ogier named Loial. After initial apprehension over Loial’s non-human appearance and large size, they talk. Rand learns that Loial believes he is an Aielman due to Rand’s red hair. Rand’s denial starts a conversation. As Rand begins to tell him about Egwene, they both notice uproar outside and see that the Aes Sedai are parading Logain through the streets. Rand ends their talk abruptly to go see the procession. He finds Mat at a balcony window looking down at the group as it passes. As Logain passes, he sees the two of them in the window above and begins to laugh maniacally. After he goes, the two boys make a deal to not allow one or the other of them to end up like that if one of them can channel.
In the White Tower, in a solemn ceremony, a weeping Stepin places Kerene Sedai’s ring in a fountain of molten lava. After, Lan and Moiraine grieve silently together.
The Whitecloaks strip Egwene naked and clinically wash her. When they are done, they place her in a white gown and tie her wrists to a chair where she sits before Valda. A moment later, a gagged and bound Perrin is brought into the tent as well. Valda admits that Egwene is not an Aes Sedai as he believed – because she has not attempted to channel and because she has lied. He says he would have cut off her hands by now if she had tried to channel. He nonetheless believes she is an initiate of the Tower who can channel. He threatens to cut her throat, and with a knife at her neck, Egwene tells him to do it. Valda says Egwene would have made a strong Aes Sedai and a wonderful ring for his collection. He then walks over to Perrin and begins torturing the boy by cutting into his back. As Perrin screams into his gag, Valda explains his belief that the One Power comes from the dark. He stops and then tells Egwene to either channel and die, or not to channel and to let Perrin die. He leaves to let them discuss.
Stepin visits Nynaeve to borrow tea that might assist him in sleeping. After he leaves, Nynaeve runs into Liandrin in the hallway outside. She encourages Nynaeve to explore the gardens and tells her how to reach them, noting that persimmons are in season.
Loial visits Rand and Mat’s rooms. He tells Rand that Ogier have access to the White Tower’s gardens and met there one of the women Rand spoke of. Nynaeve follows Loial inside the room. As Loial rumbles in the background, Rand and Nynaeve hug. She sees Mat lying on the bed. After greeting each other, she asks to see his tongue and Mat snaps at her. He then apologizes and she tells him to sleep. Rand then shares with Nynaeve that he believes Mat can channel and is becoming sick from it. After he expresses doubt about trusting the Aes Sedai, Nynaeve says that she will heal what she can, wait for Egwene and Perrin, and then sort out the rest. Rand expresses concern for Egwene, which causes Nynaeve to share a story about Egwene fighting off a severe sickness called Breakbone Fever, at the age of ten. The Wisdom concludes by saying Egwene is unbreakable.
In Valda’s tent, Perrin tells Egwene that he is the one who killed Laila and that he therefore deserves to die. As he cries, a wolf howls quietly in the distance. Valda returns to the tent and Egwene channels a ball of fire. She surreptitiously channels a separate small flame on the rope holding Perrin in place. As Valda approaches her to kill her, Perrin frees himself. The wolves howl wildly outside. As Valda turns his back on Egwene to stare at Perrin, whose eyes are golden in color, Egwene plunges a knife into his back. Egwene grabs Valda’s Aes Sedai rings and the two villagers run away as wolves attack the Whitecloaks in the camp.
Inside the White Tower, Liandrin finds Moiraine in the hallway outside her room. She asks where Nynaeve is and Moiraine says that she is no doubt resting after her long journey. They discuss which Ajah Nynaeve might join. Moiraine suggests that her healing indicates the Yellow Ajah while Liandrin thinks Nynaeve’s force of will, and belief in the rules, might guide her to the Red. Moiraine tells Liandrin that Nynaeve does not share the Red’s contempt for men and suggests she look for converts elsewhere.
Stepin burns incense in front of idols of the Forsaken. Lan says that not many people still make offerings to ward off the Forsaken and Stepin tells him that he is trying to keep away Ishamael, the Father of Lies. They discuss that the Forsaken sold their souls to The Dark One in exchange for eternal life. Stepin believes eternity is a long time and that they might return. Lan offers to stay with him until the morning.
Alanna is in Moiraine’s room eating a persimmon, discussing whether Stepin will accept her offer to become her third Warder. Alanna then tells Moiraine that the Amyrlin Seat is returning from Caemlyn and has summoned them to the Hall to account for Logain. Alanna also suggests that Siuan may view Moiraine as a rival, given that Moiraine is one of the few Sisters strong enough to challenge her for the Seat. Alanna also tells Moiraine that Liandrin’s strength is growing as well.
Lan and Stepin drink tea and discuss Stepin becoming Alanna’s Warder. Stepin is apprehensive about being with men and Lan jokes that they may not want him. Stepin asks Lan in turn about Nynaeve, suggesting that she has fallen for Lan, who says that would be a bad idea for her. In the morning, Lan wakes up alone, with both Stepin and a sword gone. He realizes the other man has drugged him with Nynaeve’s tea. Lan finds Stepin outside, dead, after the other Warder has apparently killed himself.
The episode ends as we see Warders and Aes Sedai gathered, all wearing white, for Stepin’s funeral. Lan lays hands on Stepin and cries out.
I had different reactions to this episode after each of the first three times I watched it. My initial reaction was simple enjoyment. On a second viewing, I noticed several things that bothered me as a book reader. Then, on my third viewing, I began to pick up on things that might resolve my book-reader gripes to a degree.
The most fun part of this episode, by far, is meeting Loial. The performance is spot-on and the costuming and make-up was very good, though not perfect. To me, at least, Loial is a top of the line practical effects character by a ten-years-ago standard. The biggest issue with his appearance, in my opinion, and this is a minor thing, is that his face does not appear to move – at all- in around around where the bridge of his nose meets his eyes. If the costuming team can figure out in the future how to make it appear that this part of his face is, well, a face, with muscle movement and all, I think it would be a major upgrade. That said, it’s not a bad job by any means and certainly not a major distraction.
I really enjoyed the Egwene and Perrin escape. Unfortunately, after Nynaeve’s speech, I was thinking of the theme song for Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt so that took me out of the moment a little bit. That’s just a me problem, though. I did not notice on my first viewing that sneaky Egwene set Perrin’s bonds on fire so I was wondering if TV Perrin can hulk out, but the second viewing cleared that up. It was strange though that the fireball she threw at Valda sort of… vanished. I do not know if or when the show is going to explain what is going on with Perrin and these wolves but I highly enjoy the build-up. My guess is that Valda lives through his injuries and that he probably holds a grudge.
I’m going to give an unpopular opinion. The funeral scene at the end does not land for me. I cannot go from Stepin acting like he hardly knows untalkative Lan in Episode 4 to Lan grieving like he lost his dearest friend in Episode 5. Where is it established that these two men are that close? Why is Lan the one staying with him in his room on the night before Stepin kills himself? The crying and grieving – though well acted – just feels unearned from a story-telling perspective.
This also leads me into another criticism of this episode. Is it just me or does the White Tower feel really small on the inside? Where are all the Aes Sedai? Shouldn’t there be hundreds of them in the Tower? This might be a case where COVID-19 played a role in the story decisions. There were perhaps no other Warders or Aes Sedai around because virus protocols made all of that difficult. Sometimes real life restrictions and limitations alter the story.
One thing I have noticed about the show to this point is that it might give us a “guest star shooting for an Emmy nomination” semi-regularly. If so then the fans will have to retire the logic of “_______ is too big a name to be a minor character” when we get casting announcements with bigger names. As long as this approach works within the story, I am fine with it. RIP Dana the Darkfriend and Stepin the Warder.
What I Liked Best:
As mentioned my favorite moment in the episode is Egwene and Perrin’s escape. Both of our young villagers level-up in power. This scene is built on some character development for both of them, too. Perrin finally confesses what happened to Laila and Egwene is strong for him both literally and figuratively in his vulnerable state.
My other favorite thing was the introduction of the Forsaken. The ancient Babylonian-looking idols just hit all of the right notes for me. There are some Immortal bad guys out there who were trapped by the last Dragon when he fought The Dark One. If they are Immortal, as Stepin tells us, well, eternity is a long time.
What I Liked Least:
As mentioned, the funeral scene at the end just does not land for me. Even assuming that Lan is acting out a ceremonial grieving, on behalf of everyone, I just do not think his connection to Stepin was established well enough to justify the moment.
Thoughts Specifically For the Book Readers:
(Scroll down to the “Conclusion” heading if you don’t want to be spoiled re: Jordan’s books The Eye of The World and The Great Hunt.)
Let’s start by talking about the episode title. It’s a reference to Chapter 7 of The Great Hunt. One of the big moments of this chapter is the introrduction – via Dark Prophecy – of the Forsaken Lanfear.
“Daughter of the Night, she walks again. The ancient war, she yet fights. Her new lover she seeks, who shall serve her and die, yet serve still. Who shall stand against her coming? The Shining Walls shall kneel. Blood feeds blood. Blood calls blood. Blood is, and blood was, and blood shall ever be.”
Leading into this episode, and knowing the episode title, I hoped that we might be introduced to Lanfear.
We did not see Lanfear – at least not in silver and white. After my first watch, I assumed our entire introduction to the Forsaken might be limited to the scene where we see Stepin’s idols. The problem I had then was with the episode title. It is obscure and was chosen for a reason. Why? Fain appears again a couple of times in the background [turn on closed captions and he shows up when said captions tell us whistling occurs] but Fain does not dictate the plot directly. The linkage between Fain and the episode title is not there. If Slayer – also mentioned in the Dark Prophecy – appeared, I missed the evidence. If Lanfear appeared then, she is disguised as someone else (one of her favorite tactics in the books.)
Does anyone appear on screen talking about power or glory – Lanfear’s favorite topics? Actually… yes. When Alanna is on Moiraine’s bed, she tells our favorite Aes Sedai that she could challenge the Amyrlin for the Seat. That’s a flimsy reed, I will admit, for believing Alanna was Lanfear in disguise. It is a weird way to talk abut the Siuan’s title, though, if the show follows the books as to the Aes Sedai power structure. It also displays some remarkable ignorance regarding which Aes Sedai are truly the potential rivals for Siuan – at least if the books are still guiding things. What if Moiraine gently kicks Alanna out of her room because she is freaked out by Alanna’s ignorance and is trying to make sense of it? Also in the scene, Alanna is eating a persimmon. That should ring a bell because Liandrin mentioned persimmons earlier in the episode. It just so happened that Liandrin’s guidance about the gardens and persimmons led Nynaeve to Loial and then to Rand. WHAT A COINCIDENCE!
FURTHER…. when we see Liandrin later, with Moiraine, she acts as though she does not know where Nynaeve has been hidden by Moiraine. How is that possible if Liandrin found Nynaeve in the hallway of the Warder’s Quarters? Of course, she might be trying to hide what she knows. But what if the real Liandrin legitimately does not know where Nynaeve is? What if Lanfear operated in disguise in this episode? Wouldn’t it be a very Lanfearian thing to do to lead Nynaeve to Rand and Mat for some reason of her own?
I did some googling and it appears a few other people picked up on this, too. I do not think we can say for certain that Lanfear is free of her prison with The Dark One but I also do not think we can rule it out. She was one if the first to escape in the books, too. We’ll have to keep an eye on it going forward.
Did anyone else notice that Stepin refers to Ishamael as The Father of Lies instead of The Betrayer of Hope? Maybe the show is going for Ishamael/Dark One confusion, as the books did, but without trying to teach everyone the name Ba’alzamon.
Last bit on the Forsaken… I did not count thirteen idols. Does that mean the show is cutting down their numbers or that Stepin’s mom did not have the whole set? Graendal is hard to miss, at least.
One thing I was annoyed by in this episode was how active and brazen the Whitecloaks are within view of the Tower. The TV series appears to be elevating the Children of the Light to a higher threat level than the books. Speaking of threat level, does Child Valda have a ter’angreal? How does he know when a woman can channel?Why did Egwene’s fireball dissipate when it touched him? Or is he just a psychopath who would torture anyone he is suspicious of and maybe a little too confident of his wrists tying trick?
For me, this episode was good but not great and the primary issue was that the emotions of the end scene did not land for me. They did not feel earned. That said, the book fan in me loved this episode because it introduced a well characterized Loial and some interesting book theory fodder to keep an eye on going forward.