The Wheel Of Time (Season 1, Ep 7): The Dark Along The Ways

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.

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PLOT SUMMARY:

The episode opens in the middle of a snowy battle at the foot of a mountain, as a pregnant Aiel woman gives birth while fighting with, and winning against, several soldiers. When she must at last relent her fighting to give birth, a soldier approaches her and points a sword at her chest.

Inside of The Ways, the villagers from The Two Rivers yell for Mat and then for Moiraine to re-open the gate so that he can join them. Loial tells them that using the One Power, inside of the Ways, will draw Machin Shin to them, and cause all of their deaths. After a debate among the villagers about what they should do, Nynaeve tells them that when this is all over they will find Mat. Moiraine quietly tells Lan that they cannot afford to let Mat near the Dark One in any case because the inherent darkness within him all but guarantees he would turn to the Dark One.

After traveling some distance to a Guiding, they discover that it has been defaced. The group camps there while Loial works out which direction is the correct path. Moiraine tells them that it is a day’s journey until they reach the next Waygate. Lan mentions quietly to her that something is following them. When they wake from camping, Egwene hears someone whistling just before a lone trolloc attacks their group. Egwene, without thinking, attacks it with the One Power, but in so doing she draws the attention of Machin Shin. They quickly change plans to visit Fal Dara, instead of The Eye of the World, because the Fal Dara Waygate is closer. Moiraine warns the group not to listen to what Machin Shin – The Black Wind – will say so them as it approaches.

The group runs quickly as The Black Wind draws near, and they finally reach the Waygate at Fal Dara. It whispers to everyone a different message. To Moiraine, it says that she will murder all of these children and call it heroism. To Egwene, it calls her an imposter and a fraud. Machin Shin tells Rand that Egwene will never love him as much as he loves her and that she will leave him again. It tells Perrin that he wanted Laila dead and out of the way because he loves another woman more than his wife. It finally tells Nynaeve that she cannot protect her friends and that she will watch them die. Nynaeve responds to this by channeling at the Wind, giving the group time to escape through the Waygate as Moiraine opens it. Lan is last to go through the Waygate and he carries Nynaeve out with him as he goes.

The group arrives at the Fortress City of Fal Dara, the last bastion against The Blight. Moiraine tells them that The Eye lies a day’s walk beyond the city but that rest for the night is close at hand before they go. Inside the city, Lan is greeted as though he is returning home. Lord Agelmar, defensively, tells Moiraine that Fal Dara needs no Aes Sedai assistance or advice regarding its defenses. She tells him to his surprise that he needs to wall up the Fal Dara Waygate.

We cut to a man walking by himself out of the Fal Daran Waygate.

Moiraine speaks quietly with Lady Amalisa, the sister of Lord Agelmar, and tells her that she wishes to speak with a Seer named Min. She also asks Lady Amalisa to send a message to the White Tower requesting that the Red Ajah apprehend Mat Cauthon.

As the group crosses the city to meet with Min, Perrin spots Padan Fain, though none of the others believe it could be him. Once they reach the bar where Min works, Moiraine quietly gets her to explain what she sees in the group. She tells Moiraine that Perrin has yellow eyes and blood running down his chin, that Rand is rocking a baby, and that she sees a White Flame and a ring of gold around the two girls. Min continues, saying that they are all four linked. Min concludes by telling Moiraine that the Amyrlin Seat is going to be her downfall.

Later, Moiraine meets with the villagers and when they ask who the bartender was, she explains that Min sees glimpses of the future and that she had hoped she could tell her which of them is the Dragon. Moiriane then tells them that whichever of them goes to The Eye of the World and is not the Dragon will die there. Nynaeve tells her that she doubts Moiraine can make any of them go against their will and that they will decide on their own. Moiraine tells her that they will leave at dawn.

The group debates what they should do. Egwene says that they should go and scoffs at the idea that Mat might be the Dragon. Rand chides Egwene’s attitude toward Mat, which in turn causes Perrin to argue on Egwene’s behalf. Nynaeve calls out Perrin and Rand for fighting over Egwene, which creates in Rand the realization that Perrin has always liked Egwene without him noticing before. The fallout of this revelation sends the group in differing directions.

Moiraine meets alone with Lan and asks if the villagers will come willingly. He tells her that they will. She expresses a belief that she has taken everything from him but Lan argues that she has given him both something to live for and something to die for. As he leaves Moiraine alone with her thoughts, and to say goodbyes in Fal Dara, she tells him that she likes the Wisdom.

Lan walks through Fal Dara and joins a Malkieri man named Zahir, and his family, for dinner. He notices that Nynaeve follows him through the town at a distance to watch as he goes and then invites her to join them for dinner. After dinner, Nynaeve follows Lan back to his room and they sleep together.

Rand is shooting practice arrows at a target when Egwene comes to find him, telling him that she waited in her room for over an hour for him to come apologize. He tells her that he is sorry and that he knows there is nothing between her and Perrin. She tells him she is angry that Rand believed, even for a second, that she did not care about Mat. Egwene also tells Rand that Moiraine is wrong and that they are all comin back from The Eye of the World. Rand tells Egwene that no matter what happens, she needs to go to the White Tower because the One Power will not let her ignore it. He then offers to go with her and become her Warder. Egwene then tells Rand that if he is the Dragon, she will always stand by him no matter what happens.

In the middle of the night, before leaving Lan’s room, Nynaeve asks him why Zahir called him Dai Shan. He explains that it is a title given to the future kings of Malkier, and that Zahir was one of his father’s armsmen, who helped to smuggle Lan out of Malkier, as a baby, before it fell to the Blight. After talking, Lan tells her to stay.

Lying in bed with Egwene, Rand thinks back about the night of the attack on The Two Rivers. As Rand carried his father into the village, we see in a flashback that Tam had a fever dream and confessed inadvertently to Rand that Rand is not his biological son – that Tam found him born to an Aiel woman at the foot of a mountain during a battle. Rand also thinks back on how he broke through an iron door to get away from Dana the Darkfriend. He thinks about how he has seen the mountain outside of Tar Valon before. He thinks about channeling the One Power in the Ways and that Machin Shin whispered to him that he has always known he is the Dragon.

Rand goes alone to visit Min in her bar. She tells him that her first vision, as a kid, was of a man in armor carrying Rand’s heron marked blade.

We cut to the scene that opened the episode, with the pregnant Aiel woman about to give birth. The man with the sword pointed at her takes his helmet off and reveals himself to be Tam, Rand’s father. Tam stays with her as she gives birth and then takes the baby as his own because the Aiel woman died while giving birth.

Min tells Rand that in her vision, the man raised the baby in a wooden house, surrounded by sheep, in a sleepy village surrounded by two rivers. Rand asks Min what she sees now when she looks at him and she replies that she sees rainbows, carnivals, and three beautiful women. He asks if she sees the Eye and she says that she wishes she did not because Rand seems like a decent person. He asks her if he makes it back and Min does not answer, leaving Rand to conclude he does not.

The following morning, Egwene checks Nynaeve’s room and learns the Wisdom did not sleep in her own room. Nynaeve and Perrin soon arrive and they ask where Rand is.

We see that in the middle of the night, Rand knocked on Moiraine’s door and confessed to her that he is the Dragon.

Lan arrives to Nynaeve’s room and tells the three villagers gathered there that Moiraine masked her bond and that she has left the city. Egwene realizes she left with Rand.

We see Moiraine and Rand entering The Blight as the episode ends.

REACTION:

The high points of this episode were quite high. The cold open of “The Blood Snow” was awesome. In fact, that scene might be my favorite scene in the show thus far. I enjoyed -for the most part – the depiction of The Ways, and in particular Nynaeve’s fight against Machin Shin. I enjoyed the introduction to Min and the way her visions were depicted visually for the television audience. I enjoyed meeting some Malkieri in Fal Dara, the revelation that Lan is a king without a country, and I liked the scene of Nynaeve joining Lan for dinner.

The low points of this episode were really low for me. I did not like the depiction of Machin Shin. Rather than something befitting the name “The Black Wind” we got a wind that whispers about your personal anxieties. It is not explained how or why the entity could end your life or remove your soul. I also thought the episode misfired in that scene with respect to their escape. We are given the impression that The Eye is another day of traveling via The Ways but once the Black Wind showed up, they exited early via the Waygate at Fal Dara in only a few minutes. Okay. That implies that in the real world, The Eye of the World is a LONG distance from Fal Dara. However, once the parties get to Fal Dara, we learn The Eye is a day’s journey in the real world, too, just as it had been in The Ways. Basedon what we know about The Ways, that does not make sense. And if it was true, why was the plan not to exit at Fal Dara all along?

I did not like the adaptation of Lord Agelmar for reasons I will share in the “Book Readers” section below. Let’s just say he is a continuation of a pattern of adaptation choices that serves no obvious benefit to the larger story.

I am not a fan of the love triangle that isn’t a love triangle, between Rand, Perrin, and Egwene. It is clear that neither Rand nor Egwene take Perrin’s interest in Egwene very seriously. The primary thing accomplished by bringing Perrin’s feelings into the open is that it sabotage’s Perrin’s character to an even greater degree than has already been achieved. That might be fine if he is supposed to be a character with ill-defined morality but he is clearly not supposed to be that.

Min’s visions, despite looking cool, were kind of anti-climactic. I assume that she sees future plot points in the TV show – just as her book counter-part saw the same. But if you’re gong to have a vision of Perrin, she couldn’t do better than “yellow eyes”? We already know that.

The Nynaeve and Lan hook-up felt like fan service – which is not something that should happen or be possible in Season 1. I want to be invested in their journey and their journey is just happening too quickly and too easily at this point to create that feeling of investment.

The big revelation that Rand is the Dragon just did not land with me. The reason it did not land is because I don’t know “TV Rand” yet. I just found out that he has been dealing with some things since the pilot… in secret. Maybe he has more or less known that he is the Dragon… in secret… since the pilot. However, the very fact that his struggles have been in secret means that I’m not invested in those struggles. From my position, as a viewer of television, it comes across like Machin Shin was the big final clue Rand needed and that’s not at all satisfying.

In hindsight, I think the series would have been better off letting the audience know right away that Rand is The Dragon, and letting us go on that journey of denial and acceptance with him, while also building out the stories for the rest of the ensemble from the more sparse book material.

What I Liked Best:

I loved the fight choreography in the scene preceding Rand’s birth. I loved our introduction to the Aiel being depicted in that way because it tells us a LOT about them without any dialogue.

What I Liked Least:

As much as I want to make a snarky comment about the relationship melodrama among the villagers, my actual answer is the big reveal of Rand as “The Dragon.” I did not get to feel any catharsis about him finally giving in to his destiny. I did not feel shocked or surprised. I didn’t get to experience a sudden realization moment for Rand, either. It all just felt kind of clunky to me. I think this moment really suffered from the extent to which episodes 5 and 6 removed focus from the ensemble of villagers – Rand in particular.

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.)

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I’ll start with a quote from Benjamin Franklin:

“Critics are our friends. They show us our faults.”

I’m going to do some complaining here and it’s not because I do not love the story or because I want the show to fail. If you’ve read my prior reviews then you should know that my feelings are quite the opposite of hostility.

Perrin + Egwene

Did “Book Perrin” love Egwene? Yes.

Book Perrin loved Egwene and not as a sister. This statement above implies Perrin might have been interested in her romantically but for Rand. Book Perrin also seems to feel some jealousy when Egwene and Aram’s flirtation is on-going.

In the books, Perrin also mentions to Rand that Egwene had a flirtation with a boy named Aram in an effort to help Rand balance the scales against Egwene when she becomes upset with him over the girls showing him interest on his journey.

Book Perrin never acted on his feelings for Egwene and was always Rand’s friend first. In fact, he was Rand’s most loyal friend. He accepts Rand quickly when he learns Rand can channel and plays a big role in bringing Mat around, too. Perrin hangs around when everyone else from Emond’s Field leaves Rand, between Books 2 and 3. He leads an army to rescue Rand at the end of Book 6 (“We come.”) He is Rand’s closest friend in his two darkest moments in the books much later (Dragonmount epiphany and in Shayol Ghul.)

What are the consequences of the change to their friendship dynamic? TV Perrin is further undermined as a “good” character. Not only is his friendship with Rand injured, the infamous “fridge” moment from the pilot – a choice I have defended – is made worse because we are now forced to consider that Machin Shin was correct about his motivations when killing Laila.

I don’t really enjoy a lot of the complaining I have read about this show but if someone out there is a huge fan of Book Perrin… I get the indignation.

Rand and Perrin are going to have to earn their friendship in the series. Maybe that will be satisfying. Maybe Perrin will get a redemption of some kind where Laila is concerned, too. But do any of these changes address a flaw in the underlying story or make the underlying TV story that they want to tell better? Consider me skeptical.

The Ways:

One of the big complaints from last week’s episode concerned the need to channel to enter the Ways. I believe that has been resolved. Padan Fain traveled through the Ways in Episode 7 by using what appears to be a leaf shaped ter’angreal. If the TV series is built on a premise wherein the ancient Aes Sedai gifted Ogier with ter’angreal that allowed them to grow and use The Ways, then The Ways on TV will not differ much from the books at all in a cosmological or historical sense.

Unfortunately though, this little picture below was not included in the episode. Amazon included it in a batch of Episode stills concurrent with the episode’s release. I am not really sure how it makes sense to tell the book readers what is going on but to not include it in the episode – unless the story never plans to address how Fain’s use of The Ways is happening.

Lan and Nynaeve

I don’t think anything important really changes here. They’re going to break up soon and then get back together much later. It will be less interesting this way. I suppose the writers may have thought they needed these two to get al the way together to sustain the shippers for the multiple seasons of them being apart. I get it even if I don’t like it.

Lord Agelmar

The Wheel of Time takes yet another positive male book character and either minimizes him or corrupts him. The Book Agelmar is noble, wise, and respectful of Aes Sedai. The TV character has a Napoleon complex, is uncourteous to Moiraine and his sister, and we are given the impression that his character is likely placing Fal Dara in jeopardy.

Let’s look at the list of positive male characters who have either been corrupted or minimized by the TV series:

Perrin
Mat
Rand (the least character development among the main cast)
Abell
Tam (we spent almost no time with him in The Two Rivers)
Bran (the mayor and The Village Council are more or less absent)
Master Luhhan
Thom (we meet him late and he’s gone before he bonds with either Mat or Rand)
Elyas
Raen (his book role with the Tinkers is taken by Ila his wife on the show)
Bayle Domon
Basel Gill
Almen Bunt
Lord Agelmar

That’s thorough and if it’s not intentional, then it indicates a major blindspot on the part of the writing team. Assuming it is intentional, what point does this serve? It’s a MAJOR departure from the source material and it is infuriating a lot of the book readers who are fans of these male characters.

Wheel of Time TV Fan: “Why do so many of the book readers hate the show?”
Wheel of Time Book Fan:

The show is bringing a lot of its issues with book readers upon itself. I have no doubt that some who are giving the TV writers the benefit of the doubt concerning this growing list will eventually stop doing so.

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CONCLUSION:

I felt like this episode was an improvement over Episodes 5 and 6, inasmuch as we returned to some character development for the main cast after what felt like a long absence. The cold open scene might be my favorite moment of the show to date. The journey through the Ways was mostly well done. I am happy to have finally met Min on screen. But a lot of the rest of this episode was poorly executed. Beyond that, there are some adaptation trends, regarding the male characters not named Lan, that I am growing very impatient with.

Overall, my feelings on the series are still very positive but I have not been won over yet by story-decisions despite beautiful cinematography and spot-on casting. I approach Episode 8 hoping that the show sticks the landing and ends the season on a positive note.

2 thoughts on “The Wheel Of Time (Season 1, Ep 7): The Dark Along The Ways

  1. I basically agree with your assessment of episode 7. My only point of departure is that I did think the reveal of the Dragon’s identity was effective. But it could have been better if they had taken more time with all five of the villagers instead of, again, taking the easy way out.

    I think we can safely say that the show is seriously undercutting its male characters at this point. The gender dynamics of the books are oft-criticized but make up a core thematic element. You can’t excise that without a cost.

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