Moiraine's on the hunt. (credit: Amazon Studios)
Andrew Cunningham and Lee Hutchinson have spent decades of their lives with Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson's
Wheel of Time
books, and they previously brought that knowledge to bear as they
recapped each first season episode
of Amazon's new
TV series. Now they're doing it again for season two—along with insights, jokes, and the occasional wild theory. These recaps won't cover every element of every episode, but they will contain major spoilers for the show and the book series. We're going to do our best to not spoil major future events from the books, but there's always the danger that something might slip out.
If you want to stay completely unspoiled and haven't read the books, these recaps aren't for you
New episodes of
The Wheel of Time
will be posted for
subscribers every Friday. This write-up covers episode four, which was released on September 7.
: Before we talk about the specifics of episode 4, I want to ask something I meant to ask last week, which is: Are there people, book readers or otherwise, in your life who are watching and enjoying this show? Because I will say I know a surprising number of people who gave it a try and liked it. And the person I know who is
in the tank for it is a fellow book reader.
I am trying to separate whether the show is "different" (which it unquestionably is) from whether it's objectively fun/enjoyable (which it seems to be for more people than I was expecting).
: I have a limited sample size and this is obviously anecdotal, but everyone I know in real life who's watching it is at least enjoying it. My token non-book reader friend who is encountering these characters for the first time is in love with the world and what she's being shown of it so far, and things like Thom Merrilin not showing back up yet or Min's aunts being horrible instead of kind like in the book really don't even register to her (and how could they?).
The IRL book readers I've talked to have all brought up the substantial-and-growing deviations the show is making from the books, but I don't know anyone who's
about it. I know this is difficult ground to tread, and everyone's going to have very strong feelings here, but at least for me, I believe that you're taking the right tack. I think we can call it objectively fun and enjoyable—at least as much as anything can be said to objectively contain those qualities. I'm rolling with the idea that this is a different turning of the Wheel.
Speaking of fun and enjoyable: crazily enough, even though things just started, at the close of this episode we are at the halfway point of the eight-episode season. I definitely want to get to those specifics you mentioned, but I feel like it's worth bringing up again just how much that episode count must be contributing to the narrative re-swizzling. Do you think there's any chance that future seasons will be, ya know, an episode or two longer?
: I don't know firsthand how the business end of this works, but from what I do know I think it's just cheaper for Amazon to say "let's do eight episodes" and then make them all run long than it would be to say "let's do 10 or 13 or 26 episodes." (For reference, every
Game of Thrones
season up through the 6th had 10 episodes). I'm positive everyone involved with making the show would like to be able to give things more room to breathe, but it does at least keep every episode moving at a steady clip. A "faithful" adaptation would also have
something like 2,800 named characters
in it, and I'm pretty sure no TV production wants to foot that bill.
But, just to put a point on this, so far I don't think "different" means "bad," and this can be different without erasing the existence of the books. I'm honestly pretty into the show at this point, and one of the things I like most is teasing apart the differences and thinking about why the show has made the changes it has.
All of this brings us around to the episode proper, because of all the plotlines the show is currently juggling, only the Egwene/Nynaeve/Elayne plot is really proceeding more or less the way it does in the books. With this episode I can kind of see the show pointing everyone toward the
of Book Two but the paths they're taking to get there have been wildly divergent.
: Indeed—though even that plot is heavily touched by changes, mostly around Red sister Liandrin (Kate Fleetwood). I can't say I'm mad at all about her character getting a son to take care of, or of the other changes they've given her. Most of all, though, I feel like they really are going to do away with the book character of Elaida, a sitter for the Red Ajah. Without elaborating too much about Elaida's role in the story—show watchers won't care and book readers already know—it seems like Elaida and Liandrin are being rolled up into a composite character, and Liandrin will follow a path that includes…well, the thing that Elaida eventually does.
And wait—I had one more overall big thing I wanted to bring up. It's a very Jordan-esque thing. I want, just for a moment, to talk about the politics of Randland.
(For non-book readers, the continent on which
The Wheel of Time
takes place is never really given a specific name. We know a bit about Shara, the mysterious lands to the east past the Aiel Waste; and we know a bit about Seanchan, the name of the continent to the west where the current set of insect-helmed invaders are coming from; but we never really learn if the densely-populated mess of city-states and countries where the majority of WoT happens has its own name. Book readers over the years came to simply refer to the home continent as "Randland," and I'm going to follow that convention.)
When Moiraine is visiting her sister Anvaere Damodred (Lindsay Duncan), we learn from the dialogue that Anvaere's son is marrying "the Queen"—which made me pause. In the books, Cairhien has no queen—Cairhien is currently bereft of a ruler. And the last ruler Cairhien
have was a king, still smarting from the fallout around Cairhien's starring role in the Aiel War. So who is Moiraine's sister's kid marrying? Are we talking about the Queen of
: That's a great question and I don't think we can say based just on that interaction. Moiraine's sister and her position in society are things the show invented wholesale (possibly to put a face on Cairhienin nobility? In the books they are usually depicted as a gaggle of back-stabbing ladder-climbing try-hards) so it's totally within the realm of possibility that there's some invented Queen of Cairhien out there somewhere too. More information needed at this time.
Honestly, the thing I expect the show to lose the
of is the plodding, overstuffed political intrigue that grinds the series to a halt in its middle books. If we never, ever, ever get a hint of a story about the Andoran accession process, I won't shed a tear.
Speaking of moving, this episode isn't quite as meaty as the first three plot-wise because a whole lot of it is about characters either moving around the map or learning new information that will propel them forward; Min and Mat set off from Tar Valon, Perrin learns more about his whole Wolf Deal from Elyas in the woods, Nynaeve recuperates after her ordeal during her Accepted test and seemingly bonds with Liandrin (who is being given extra shading and pathos in this adaptation but is simultaneously clearly in league with Bad People), and Egwene/Nynaeve/Elayne are set to leave the White Tower in pursuit of their Two Rivers friends.
We'll get to Rand/Selene and Moiraine and Lan soon, because there's a lot to unpack there. But of these plots the most book-divergent and interesting one to me is Min trying to get rid of her future-vision, and being set up by Liandrin to come face-to-face with Ishamael, our Big Bad. It's not something that book-Min ever tried to do, and it has the potential to complicate all kinds of relationships later on. Anything else that stood out to you?
: I adore Hopper. Best boy in the books, best boy in the show. Perrin's adaptation to his ever-increasingly-lupine circumstances were one of my favorite bits early on in the books, and it's hard not to dig the idea of throwing off the shackles of society and living in the woods with your wolf bros, running around and hunting and stuff. It definitely beats going to meetings.
Mat and Min were excellent in their brief bit of screen time in this episode, but yes—that scene existed to give us Min confronting Ishamael. We get to watch her dawning horror as she realizes that she hadn't fully understood the shape of the deal she was signing up for—yes, she wants to get rid of her visions, but nobody said anything about bargaining with the strongest and most dreaded member of the Forsaken.
Still, I get the impression she's going to continue along the path Ishamael wants her on, and that she'll bring Mat to Cairhien. Considering Ishy reached
directly into her dreams
and met with her that way, it's not like running would do any good.
All right, we've danced around it long enough. Let's tackle one of the big ones: Moiraine and Lan. I honestly cannot tell what the show wants us to think about their connection at this point. I think Moiraine is shielded, not severed, but I don't know if we're supposed to believe that Lan's bond has been severed, or if it's still there but masked. I know how the books go, of course, but we're way off script with how this is being presented and that knowledge may not apply. The dialog between Alanna's blonde warder Maksim (Taylor Napier) and Lan is annoyingly ambiguous. What do
think is actually going on?
: Yeah, I wanted to talk about this because it's pretty ambiguous and weird. For non-book readers (or people for whom it has been a while), the Aes Sedai-Warder bond gives everyone involved a heightened awareness of each other, usually described as a little rubber band ball of emotions that lives in the back of your head. You can sense where the person you're bonded to is, roughly how far away they are, and how they're feeling. For Warders, it seems to buff their strength and stealth stats. Bonds can be passed from one Aes Sedai to another. They can be "masked," so that the person you're bonded to still has a vague sense of you but can't tell how you're feeling. They can also be broken, but the only way this happens in the books (as I recall) is when the Aes Sedai or the Warder dies. All of this is more or less common knowledge for anyone with a bond.
The show has muddied this. Whether Moiraine has been temporarily shielded from the One Power or cut off from it entirely isn't clear, but she just dismisses Lan with a curt "our bond is broken" early in the season and they go their separate ways (for Moiraine's part, this scene had big
Harry and the Hendersons
energy). But then Alanna's Warder describes "masking" like it's a secret thing that not everyone knows how to do, and that Moiraine might just be doing
instead of cutting Lan out of her life entirely? I honestly am not even sure I'm explaining it properly. I think the point is "maybe Moiraine didn't get rid of Lan forever after all!" but it's hard to say, it's very hand-wavy.
I hesitate to criticize the show too much on this front because for the first three books especially, Moiraine and Lan are mostly inseparable enigmas, whose POVs we enter infrequently-if-ever and whose reasoning and motivation are rarely explained. But that's boring TV. The show's first season, especially, was
centered on Moiraine instead of Rand
, so the show felt the need to introduce some emotional arcs and complications in their relationship. At least, I think that's what's going on. Of all the stuff the show is doing, this manufactured conflict between Moiraine and Lan is the change I like the least.
: Oh God.
Harry and the Hendersons
. Buried childhood trauma unlocked, damn.
Definitely agree on the changed Moiraine/Lan dynamic. It also bugged me a bit that Lan seemed so flummoxed about Moiraine not thinking of him as an equal. Book-Lan seems to be very much cognizant of his role in their relationship, and I feel like Book-Lan's kingship and diverted destiny is brought up a lot more on the page than it has been on the screen (take a shot every time the phrase "Diademed Battle-Lord of the Malkieri" floats out of Jordan's word processor and assaults your eyes and you'll die of alcohol poisoning), and that even the older, darker, wiser, and prouder Lan of the books has made peace with the idea that he will never be more than a tool for Moiraine. (A favorite tool, and one not to be ill-used, but a tool nonetheless.)
The show is dangling the plot thread of "Where will Lan end up?!" in front of us—will he be bonded to Alanna as her third, or will Nynaeve end up snagging him? This same question plays out in the books in a very different place and in a very different way—though if you kind of squint, I think the fog shrouding the path that the showrunners are laying for us is beginning to clear a bit. And, like in the books, it's possible the resolution is tied in with Selene.
So, let's talk about the Daughter of the Night, shall we?
: I do like how the show is handling the release of the Forsaken—in the book, it's a vague "the seals on the Dark One's prison are weakening, and the Forsaken just kind of slip out." In the show, Rand and Moiraine accidentally free Ishamael by breaking a seal, and now Ishamael is himself breaking open
seals to free the others. This episode opens with a pretty rad example.
But yes it turns out that the beautiful and wise stranger who Rand has been staying with in his pseudo-exile is none other than Lanfear, probably the second-most powerful of the Forsaken. She's something of a frenemy to Rand, because he's the reincarnation of Lews Therin Telamon, the original Dragon, and she thinks she can both win his love again and tempt him over to the dark side. The circumstances of their being together are different (so far the show has been reluctant to wade into the whole World of Dreams thing), but her characterization and role in Rand's story are pretty spot-on. Gotta say, though, I think Rand should have been more skeptical of a woman who was immediately cool with him channeling, a Super Forbidden Thing that no one is supposed to do. Come on, Rand!
: "The hottest woman I have ever seen in my life is inexplicably interested in me, doesn't seem to mind it when I tell her I'm having violent intrusive thoughts, and her response to me channeling and blowing up a Fade with the One Power was to tie me up to the bed and get freaky-deaky. Clearly nothing unusual is going on and I am simply a lucky, attractive fellow!"
I get it, though. Rand is supposed to be, what, 20-ish here? (I know we've gone over this before and the show has aged everyone up over the books, but I can't recall by how much.) He's just a kid. Kids make poor decisions. Kids dealing with traumatic stress and
literally having the corrupting influence of the Dark One flow through you when you channel
can perhaps be forgiven for latching on to someone showing them affection.
Still, Moiraine showed up and kicked the anthill nicely, by planting a sword directly in Lanfear's torso and then slitting her throat. Which you think would do the job, but apparently not, since Lanfear is clearly still alive after. And there was something else, too—something I didn't notice on my first watch, because the screeners have a pretty low bitrate, but I caught the second time around. Something about Lanfear's eyes. Something…
. Did you catch it?
: See, book readers?? There are plenty of little touches here for you to notice!
Making the Forsaken unkillable Terminators (apparently) is another economical change that I dig; Forsaken can be reincarnated in the books, but usually in a different body (because the Dark One likes to mess around with people). This way you don't have to cast more people and you don't need to worry about your audience forgetting who any given character is supposed to be.
I hope that next week's episode clears up a bit of the ambiguity around the Moiraine-Lan relationship, I hope it becomes clearer why Moiraine's sister exists, and I hope we see more of Logain, who is still hanging out in a robe in the convalescent home like some kind of half-mad Big Lebowski.
Otherwise I'm still pretty much on board with the story here, though like you said I'm a bit worried about the amount of story they need to jam into the next four episodes. Season one's ending definitely felt too chaotic and too rushed, hopefully the pacing of this year's finale ends up feeling more even.
: The false Dragon abides, my friend. The false Dragon abides. And I don't know about you, but I take comfort in that. It's good knowin' he's in there. Waiting. Because it's like the old Russian playwright said: "One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn't going to go off. It's wrong to make promises you don't mean to keep
I find myself hoping that we get back to Falme and see the Seanchan some more—they play a significant role in the rest of the story, and I'm looking forward to learning more about how the show presents the characters. Episode 4 was the last in our current chunk of screeners, though, so at least until Amazon gives us some more, we're just as much in the dark about what's next as the rest of y'all.
That wraps it for now, folks. Life is a dream from which we all must wake, but we wish you a peaceful slumber until next week!