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 in a flashback to Siuan Sanche’s childhood in Tear, as she and her father fish the local river and she begins learning to channel on her own by using her abilities to untangle fishing nets. After returning home from a day on the river to find their home burned down, Siuan’s father sends her alone by boat to study and train in Tar Valon, telling her that she can come home when it is safe in Tear for women who can channel.
In the present, Moiraine, Alanna, and Liandrin are called before Siuan Sanche, the Amyrlin Seat, concerning the capture and gentling of the false Dragon. Logain is brought before Siuan in chains and condemned to life under observation despite his pleas for execution. Liandrin is sentenced to future punishment for failing to bring him back to Tar Valon, ungentled, for trial. Moiraine is promised punishment, to be announced the following day, for refusing to tell the Amylin what she has been doing in her travels.
Sometime later, Lan finds Moiraine in her apartment and informs her that he has located both Rand and Mat. Moiraine visits them and heals Mat of his attachment to the Shadar Logoth dagger. Rand thanks her and explains that he and Mat thought his behavior was related to madness from channeling. Rand also asks if this means Mat is not The Dragon Reborn. Moiraine tells him that she does not know and that Mat resisted the corruption of the dagger far more strongly than should have been possible.
Sometime later, Lan finds Moiraine in her apartment and informs her that he has located both Rand and Mat. Moiraine visits them and heals Mat of his attachment to the Shadar Logoth dagger. Rand thanks her and explains that he and Mat thought his behavior was related to madness from channeling. Rand also asks if this means Mat is not The Dragon Reborn. Moiraine tells him that she does not know and that Mat resisted the corruption of the dagger far more strongly than should have been possible. Nynaeve arrives just after this is over and Moiraine chastises her for keeping Mat’s condition from her, telling her that her that her pride almost cost Mat his life.
Maigan Sedai, a Blue Sister like Moiraine, meets with Moiraine regarding recent events in the world and in the White Tower. She points out that a Green and a Blue speaking on behalf of a Red in the Hall, as Alanna and Moiraine did for Liandrin regarding Logain, is unprecedented. She tells Moiraine that ships are disappearing off of the West Coast, that Aiel have been spotted on this side of the Spine, that trollocs invaded the Two Rivers, and that an Aes Sedai sank the Taren Ferry. Moiraine compliments her improved informant network. Maigan tells Moiraine that she will intervene with Siuan on her behalf and that she plans to keep Moiraine in the White Tower, permanently, going forward, so that she herself can go west to track the disappearances of the ships.
Later, Moiraine and a Yellow Sister find Egwene and Perrin in an inn. The Yellow heals Perrin of his injuries. Egwene tells Moiraine about Perrin’s eyes, the wolf attack on the Whitecloak camp, and that she took back the Aes Sedai rings Valda has been claiming as trophies. Moiraine warns Egwene sharply to tell no one about the wolves.
That night, alone in her room, Moiraine uses the One Power to secretly visit Siuan in her room. We learn that they are secret lovers. Moiraine tells Siuan that she has foudn the Dragon but that she does not know which of the villagers from the Two Rivers it is. She also tells Siuan that the punishment she gives tomorrow must be exile because Maigan plans to give orders for Moiraine to stay in the Tower permanently. Siuan shares with Moiraine that she has had dreams, nightly, of the Dark One at the Eye of the World. Siuan tells Moiraine that he is weak and that they can destroy him if they go to him now while he is weak. They decide to take all of the Two Rivers villagers to the Eye of the World despite Moiraine’s belief that those villagers who are not the Dragon will likely die.
The following day, on her way to meet Loial, Moiraine is confronted by Liandrin who shares that she knows about Mat, Rand, Egwene, and Perrin. Moiraine warns her that if she mentions this again that she will mention to Liandrin’s Red Sisters that Liandrin meets with a man in the North Harbor. Moiraine says that they both know what will happen to him if her Sisters learn about him. When Moiraine meets with Loial, she tells him that the Wheel has presented them with a crisis and also perhaps a way to surmount the crisis, adding that she needs Loial’s help.
Later, Moiraine reunites Egwene and Nynaeve and then takes them to meet the Amyrlin Seat who has requested an audience with them both. In Siuan’s office, she tells Nynaeve that she knows her to be the most powerful channeler to come to the White Tower in on thousand years. Siuan then thanks Egwene for returning the Great Serpent rings of her fallen Sisters. Nynaeve asks her what he wants and she tells them that the Last Battle is coming and that the fate of everyone rests on their shoulders.
Just before her sentencing, Moiraine arranges with Lan to have everyone meet her later. Before the Hall of the Tower, Siuan sentences her to exile and Moiraine takes a binding oath, using the One Power, to enforce her exile. She leaves the Tower, and the city, and ride out to the countryside where Loial, Lan, and the five villagers from the Two Rivers all meet her, many of the villagers being reunited for the first time since their split in Shadar Logoth. They are all gathered in front of a large structure that Loial tells them is an entrance to The Ways – a path out of time and space where one step there might cover one hundred miles in the real world. Moiraine explains that it is the fastest road to the Eye of the World, where the Dark One’s prison is located, and where one of the villagers will finish the job they started in their previous life. She warns that if they do not go, and stop the Dark One now while he is weak, that vast armies of trollocs will wash across the land and that the entire world will be destroyed. Moiraine uses the One Power to enter the Ways and as the gate closes behind them, they see that Mat has not followed them inside.
After my first viewing of this episode, other than the introduction of young Siuan, I was underwhelmed. However, subsequent viewings have improved my perception. In any case though, this episode felt like a step back from the last few episodes.
My biggest complaint with “The Flame of Tar Valon” is how quickly everything happens. After some build up with the dagger in the last few episodes, the issue is resolved briefly and easily by Moiraine. Egwene and Perrin find their way into the city and into an inn off-camera. Moiraine gathers those two back into the fold in what feels like about ninety seconds of air time. Lan is almost a complete non-factor in this episode. Moiraine makes some type of plan with Loial, completely off-screen, other than their initial meeting. It’s not that I am a big fan of exposition, but the episode ends with the party – sans Mat – entering some foreboding and unexplained place but the lack of insight about The Ways steals some of the tension that the cinematography and score imply that I should be feeling.
Where did the show focus its energy? Moiraine. This is the episode where the series pulls back the curtain on our female Gandalf character and lets her be the star of this show. We see that she is human, insecure, loving, rule-breaking, fierce when necessary, and that she is willing to make significant personal sacrifices to complete her mission. If there was a doubt before as to whether she is a “good” character, or not, this episode puts those doubts to rest. Rosamund Pike is awesome in this episode playing all of the various aspects of this character to perfection.
A big part of the episode’s Moiraine reveal is introducing the audience to Siuan Sanche – the Amyrlin Seat – and Moiraine’s secret lover and ally. My favorite scene in this episode is the cold open flashback of Siuan as a child with her father. The heartbreak of her leaving him colors all of her follow-up moments in the episode. You can feel the echo of that moment of leaving her father, both when she tells Nynaeve that the Wheel does not care what you want when it calls you to something, and also when she is forced to exile Moiraine for the sake of their mission with the Dragon.
One other standout moment in this episode, for me, was Logain’s scene in front of the Amyrlin. His initial bravado and the subsequent desperate pleas for execution were powerful because they both seemed authentic and honest. The Wheel of Time is really lucky to have cast an actor as good as Álvaro Morte for this role.
This episode addressed one of my complaints from the previous episode, namely that the White Tower seemed remarkably empty of Aes Sedai. We are not learning names and faces just yet, but this installment lets us see twenty-one Aes Sedai – three from each of the seven Ajahs – in the background of Moiraine’s two meetings in front of the Amyrlin. We meet Maigan, another Blue, and learn that she outranks Moiraine within their Ajah. This new information does create some potential continuity issues, though. Alanna tells Moiraine outright in the previous episode that Liandrin and Moiraine herself might be able to challenge Siuan for the Seat. In hindsight, that statement from Alanna seems either to be wrong, or like it requires a LOT of political explanation that we do not have.
One moment in the show that I am certain we will revisit is Liandrin’s meetings with a man in the North Harbor. Is that a forbidden love interest? Or is she meeting a Darkfriend? Padan “Where’s Waldo” Fain is in Tar Valon, he has kept tabs on the Two Rivers villagers, and he is extremely shady. Perhaps he is Liandrin’s source of information.
What I Liked Best:
I loved the cold open scene in this episode and in particular I enjoyed the musical score (“Humble Beginnings” by Lorne Balfe.) I loved seeing what I think was The Stone of Tear in the background of Siuan’s scenes with her father. While I have generally enjoyed the soundtrack to the series, the music here really jumped out at me as special and it heightened the emotional impact of this important character introduction. The child actress playing young Siuan (Keira Chansa) was really good, too. It’s hard not to love Siuan Sanche after meeting her as a child.
What I Liked Least:
As mentioned, I did not enjoy the rapid pace of events and resolutions in this episode. The rush left me feeling cheated of some storyline payoffs (Mat and the dagger in particular.) The character development for Moiraine and Siuan was good but this felt very much like it should have been two episodes rather than one.
I also thought Moiraine calling Siuan “clever as a pike” in the Hall of the Tower, while swearing on the Oath Rod, may have been too familiar under the circumstances.
Thoughts Specifically For the Book Readers:
(Scroll down to the “Conclusion” heading if you don’t want to be spoiled re: Jordan’s books. I’m going to discuss spoilers for the entire series below – if you don’t want to be book spoiled then jump to the conclusions heading.)
Anecdotally, this episode felt like an off ramp episode for a lot of the people who are extreme book purists. As a book purist myself, though not an extreme one, I will tackle some of the complaints and attempt to talk some of you Bookcloaks (Children of the Books?) back from the ledge.
I’ll start with the biggest book purist complaint by exonerating the TV team. Mat did not travel with the rest of the group through The Ways. That’s a big change. However, Barney Harris left the show after episode six, when the COVID-19 pandemic started, and I think that the writers had to write him out of the last two episodes for that reason – and not because they wanted to deviate from the books. The Wheel Weaves as the Wheel Wills.
Personally, I think this change presents the writing team an opportunity to fix a major flaw of the books. “TV Mat” is now alone in Tar Valon with, among others, Padan Fain. “Book Mat” squares off with Fain at the end of A Memory of Light despite Fain being much more of an antagonist to Perrin throughout the series than to Mat. That never quite felt right to me. I’m not sure what Jordan’s original intention there was. In any case, the show can now carve out the beginning of a long-term Mat vs. Fain feud and set up a more satisfying conclusion to their story than the one provided by the books.
Would “Book Mat” ever abandon his friends? Well, yes, sometimes. In The Fires of Heaven he tries repeatedly to ditch Rand during a battle but the Pattern simply will not let him. Instead, Mat ends up starting The Band of the Red Hand because he keeps finding himself in the thick of a battle. Nevertheless, though, Mat intended to leave his friends to fend for themselves while in harm’s way. Book Mat also wanted nothing to do with Rand after finding out that he can channel. I’m not going to lose sleep over the adaption having to deal with this unforeseeable change because it’s not as though they are having to write Rand out of these episodes. Rand ditching everyone would have been out of character and story-wrecking. This change is salvageable.
One of the other big complaints I have seen is the change to Waygates. I think it is too early to judge what we saw here. Moiraine needs Loial for some reason to travel through the Ways, so the Ogier connection continues to exist in some fashion at least. There are ripple effects to needing a channeler to open them, though. Needing the One Power to open a Waygate means that some random guy cannot enter the Ways through his padlocked basement in Caemlyn anymore. It means that Aes Sedai – or channelers at least – have to be helping trollocs travel through them. It means that Fain will need Aes Sedai help if he is to follow the gang through the Ways as he did in the books. Long story short though is that we probably need to see Episode 7 before we can adjudicate this change because we do not know all of the specifics, yet.
Did Moiraine and Siuan have a romantic relationship in the books? Yes. They were “pillow friends” and Jordan unequivocally stated in interviews that this term includes a physical relationship. In the books, the physical part of the Moiraine-Siuan relationship ends when they are much younger. Is it a significant change to present them in the series as a present-day romantic pairing? I don’t think so. Bringing that relationship into the present provides a more powerful context for a TV audience than a dialogue sidebar about their past would be. Nothing that happened in this episode precludes either Moiraine or Siuan from their book relationships later in the series.
Is TV Siuan a Dreamer? All that we know is that TV Siuan is making a decision on the basis of her dreams. That does not mean that she is a Dreamer. It is just as likely, in my opinion, that Ishamael has been messing with her mind and dreams for weeks or months. On that front, is the Eye of the World *really* the TV version of where The Dark One’s prison is located? We do not know. It is possible that everyone is being misled. Assuming that TV Ishamael was only partially bound, it makes sense that he would sew distrust in Aes Sedai knowledge of the past.
The TV series has decided to make everyone much less certain about the veracity of prophecies and what they think they know about the world and its metaphysics more generally. Considering that the world was literally broken after some of these prophecies were composed, that someone like Ishamael may have been working to undermine what everyone thinks that they know, and that human language changed necessitating translations, then that doubt makes some sense. We might find that the characters learn to trust in three thousand year old prophecies – or at least some versions of them – over time within the series. We are not starting in the same place as the books but we could finish in the same place.
Did Moiraine “Travel” for her hook up with Siuan? Did she meet up with Siuan in The World of Dreams? I think Moiraine used a ter’angreal to meet with Siuan in a place adjacent to the World of Dreams (something like the places Novices visit during their testing to be Accepted.) It makes sense to me that in another turning of the Wheel that something like this might exist in The White Tower.
I thought that this episode does some good things, but much like the pilot episode, it would have benefited from an additional half hour or more of run time. That said, The Flame of Tar Valon is a powerful introduction for Siuan Sanche and an enjoyable character showcase for Moiraine. The episode leaves the audience on a cliffhanger that promises a lot of action and tension in our next installment.