Wheel of Time Episode 1

Moraine’s Introduction

The first scene of the show introduces us to Moraine and her quest to find the Dragon. I’m fine with the show skipping Lew’s Therin’s prologue. Amazon offers a bonus animation in the bonus materials that gives a brief overview of Lew’s Therin’s final act of madness and introduces us to the Breaking of the World. I’m sure this will come up in the show itself later on.

What I like about this scene is the fact that we are introduced to Moraine and her quest right off the bat. I also appreciate her clothing. It’s much more practical than even the divided riding skirts that Jordan frequently mentioned. She’s got a full outfit with shirt and breeches underneath a blue robe, along with plenty of supplies for traveling, including her angreal. I’m also quite curious about the ring. I think most of us imagined Aes Sedai rings as a band with the snake wrapping itself around the finger and biting its tail, but from the trailers and promotional images we saw that the rings were much larger and more complex. What I don’t recall seeing from the promotional materials is the stone set inside it. Moraine’s is blue for the blue Ajah, and the other sisters all have stones matching their Ajahs. I wonder if the stone replaces the shawl as the representation of ascending to Aes Sedai? Will Accepted receive the ring without a stone? Honestly, I like this idea better than shawls, which seem so flimsy and out of date–something an old lady might wear.

What I don’t like about this scene is how fast it dives in with only a very spare monologue. Personally, I might have gone with either her recalling Gitara Moroso’s final Foretelling when the Dragon was born, or a whole flashback to young Moraine and Siuan witnessing this event, then jumping to the present where we see Moraine and Lan continuing the search. Either way, the speed at which the monologue begins drops the viewer in way too fast in to a rather subdued scene that makes a weak hook.

The fact that the show has opted to put the Dragon’s gender in this life into question has been contentious, and I am personally on the fence about it. The One Power is a magic system that relies on the gender binary–women can handle one half of the source and men the other. This implies that the souls of the world are gendered, which seems to be supported by the Forsaken Balthamel being reincarnated into a woman’s body as Aran’gar, yet still using saidin, the male half of the source. However, as our modern interpretation of gender is evolving, I can understand why the show would want to shy away from a black and white of a gender binary. Still, if it depends on the gender of the body rather than the soul, this lowers the stakes of the entire concept of the Dragon Reborn. The Dragon is supposed to straddle the line of savior and destroyer, and a female Aes Sedai, no matter how powerful, is less of a threat than a man fated to go mad because of the tainted male half of the source.

Male Channeler

The next scene introduces Liandrin and the Red Ajah hunting down a male channeler. I expected Logain to be our first introduction to a male channeler, but this small scene does a fair job of introducing us to the issue of men using the one power. First, we see a young man and older man running from the sisters, and after Liandrin brings down rocks to block their escape, we discover that it is only the young man and the old man is only a hallucination on his behalf. We also see Moraine and Lan watching from afar and checking this young man off the list as a potential Dragon–assuming that if he were the Dragon, he would be Ta’veren and not be so easily captured, is my thought. I do wonder if Liandrin and her sisters gentled him on the spot or shielded him and hauled him back to Tar Valon for that? This also makes me curious of how they will incorporate Lews Therin in the future. Will he be a full on hallucination or only a voice in Rand’s head? For a visual medium, it might be more effective if he is the former.

Also, Liandrin looks like the bitch she is. Kate Fleetwood’s facial expressions really deliver the haughtiness and severity of this character. They didn’t give her the full head of braids that Taraboners are supposed to wear, but this is probably for the best. There are images of her in upcoming episodes with a ponytail in braids. It probably wouldn’t sit well with viewers to have a white woman in full box braids, and it doesn’t make sense for her to have a protective hairstyle that isn’t for her hair type.

When confronting the male channeler, she says that men corrupt the One Power when they touch it. While it could be that this is just Liandrin’s Red Ajah misandry, it more likely posits that the corruption is tied to the gender of the body doing the channeling rather than having gendered souls.

I don’t particularly like the “rumors of four Ta’veren in the Two Rivers” as Moraine’s impetus for searching there. For one, we don’t get a good introduction to what a Ta’veren is, and for two, who would have been able to identify such a trait in four people who have so far been just average country folks? I don’t mind Egwene being counted as Ta’veren, though. Her character arc is impressive enough to warrant it.

One small gripe for the transitional landscape scene after this; we see a valley with tall, narrow structures that are clearly overgrown buildings. While it does show that there was once a more advanced civilization, I can’t believe that all those structures would survive the upheaval of the breaking and 3500 years of erosion. Maybe one cuendillar structure, but not a whole ass city. In the books, we have mentions of mostly buried statues, and a few mysterious large artifacts like the bridge of Whitebridge.

Egwene’s Initiation

This is a wholly original interpretation of Egwene’s ascent to womanhood, and I’m all for it. It gives us a taste of the culture, the importance of women in the Two Rivers, and and analogy that will help us later as Egwene learns to channel. It makes a useful link to the surrender necessary for women to channel saidar, rather than using the rosebud analogy in the book. Though, I did appreciate Nynaeve’s interpretation of that in the book by imagining a thornbush rather than a rose.

One thing I’m noticing is that characters are not given a proper introduction by name in the dialogue. Nynaeve introduces us to Egwene by name, but someone new to the series won’t know who she is until later in the show. I always watch with captions, so they often identify a speaker, plus there is Amazon’s x-ray feature that will show you actors and characters in a scene. Still, it seems a little disorienting if you don’t use either of those features.

Tam and Rand coming to town

So father and son are coming down a mountain road. We learn that they trade wool and brandy from their farm, so we know that Rand is a sheepherder right off the bat. We know his mother is dead and he’s been raised by a single father, his relationship with Egwene, and plenty of little tidbits to establish his upbringing. I have to say that this scene almost perfectly matched the image of them on the road that I had in my head when I first read it in the books (though maybe not as windy of a road). A little disappointed that Rand didn’t see a fade, but being startled by the nearby wolves is good foreshadowing. I have to wonder if they are moving closer to town only because of the trollocs, or if they are feeling Perrin’s emerging power?

Also, I’m digging Michael McElhatton’s kindly Tam Al’Thor in contrast to his portrayal as brutal Roose Bolton. He went from worst dad to best dad.

Emond’s Field

The set for the village is beautiful and cozy. Everyone is gathered at the Winespring Inn and the three boys are finally together. The show aged everyone up a few years, since they were in their late teens in the book. The reasoning for this makes sense–if you have teenage characters as your main characters, you might drift too close to YA territory when you’re trying to reach an adult audience, and then there are issues with presenting minors in sexual situations (even if the actors themselves are adults). I believe Egwene was about 16 in the books while the boys were about 18? It seems that now they’re aging Egwene up an additional two years so she will have been born around the right time as the Dragon.

Thom doesn’t appear in Emond’s Field as he did in the books, but considering run-time and the burden of introducing so many characters, it makes sense to push back his introduction. Now, the appearance of the gleeman was part of the building excitement for the boys in the book, but they were also younger then. Now, the three boys have more mature concerns–Perrin has his wife, Rand is anxious over his future with Egwene, and Mat is scraping by for his family. The sort of excitement they had for a gleeman and peddler just isn’t appropriate for the more mature mood the series is taking now, even if there was an extended run time. Thom’s influences in Emond’s Field are not as necessary for the story, especially since it was Moraine who told the villagers the history of Manetheren. Thom becomes much more important later on when travelling with Rand and Mat.

We get a few jabs in at the Congars and Coplins, which a book reader will appreciate. Daise Congar is in this scene in the credits, though she isn’t identified by name by any of the characters. There’s a fair bit of good development in this Inn scene so that we understand our characters’ roles in the community and relationships.

Lan and Moraine’s arrival is a bit over-dramatic, but ok.

In the books, Moraine and Lan appear under aliases and they investigate Emond’s Field without anyone knowing she is an Aes Sedai until Winternight. For the format of the episode, it makes sense to drop this part and just have them reveal themselves outright. It’s been made clear in all the interviews that Moraine and Lan are not meant to be seen as romantic partners (I suspect they might drop the relationship between her and Thom and just outright make her a lesbian), but the shared bath felt kind of weird. However, it does display the depth of their intimacy through the bond. The next morning Moraine asks if Lan sensed shadowspawn since he hadn’t slept well. Maybe this is meant as a bait-and-switch for viewers unfamiliar with the books, starting with implying a deeply intimate relationship that could be romantic, and then revealing that that intimacy doesn’t need to rely on sex and romance but they can be close friends united through a magical bond that allows them to feel each other on a near telepathic level. This also works in throwing off Nynaeve as she develops her attraction to Lan. When the show was in production, I saw a tweet or tumblr post that said something along the lines of, “please let Lan and Moraine be as weird as two people only married for tax benefits can be.” And I think that’s what we get.

Rand and Egwene

Rand and Egwene were the most likely to marry, but the show has made a change from the books in asserting that the Wisdom of the village is not supposed to marry. I don’t particularly care for this departure. I can see that it is an easy way to keep them from being too committed and complicating the future. In the books, they were too young to marry still, so when they grew apart, it was easy. No need to divorce. However, Nynaeve’s only reason for not being married in the books was simply for the fact that she was young and committed to a role normally given to older women in the community (plus, her attitude). Other wisdoms were mostly more mature women, likely post-menopausal grandmothers. Egwene of course was training to be her apprentice, but it would have been decades before she would take over, giving her time to be a wife and mother before she was needed to devote herself to being a healer.

I would have just preferred a different reason to hold them back from getting married, but I’m not sure what it could be.

Matrim Cauthon

Mat’s motivation has changed a lot from the books, where he was simply mischievous. Now we see that his family is struggling and he’s simply trying to hold it together. Abell Cauthon is philandering and Natti has become an alcoholic. I’m a little sad to see the Cauthons reduced to this, but it makes characterizing Mat much easier. I do however love the position it puts him in in regards to his younger sisters. He’s much more devoted to them than in the books and it builds a stronger relationship. I hope that Bode will eventually end up being scooped up as a Novice in the show so that Mat’s relationship with Tuon will be strained once he knows his sisters can channel.

Mat is also luckless at this point–he tries to dice and loses and is looking for any way to scrounge up some coin to help his sisters enjoy Bel Tine. We do see his knack for heroics, despite his protests, when he later runs into the fray to protect his sisters. A lot of readers say that Mat isn’t really likeable in the beginning. He was always a prankster and trouble maker, but was often quite whiny and reluctant to participate early in the quest (discounting the Shadar Logoth dagger’s influence). While some of his pragmatism is intact, his concerns for his sisters make his reluctance more tangible.

Barney Harris’s performance is endearing and charming. Unfortunately, since he’s been recast for season two, we’ll have to get to know Mat all over again. There still isn’t any news on why Harris left, but after seeing some interviews with him, it seems like he doesn’t have the same affection for his character that Josha Stradowski has for Rand or Marcus Rutherford has for Perrin. Perhaps it’s for the best and Donal Finn will be more invested.

Perrin Aybara

The biggest change with Perrin is of course his marriage. Since all the main characters are a little older, it’s only likely that at least one of them would be married. If not Rand and Egwene, then Perrin would be the most likely choice. Mat’s character and circumstances don’t make him a likely candidate for the first to wed among the three. It won’t stop him from remarriage to Faile later on either if she dies. Perrin’s wife is a new character, Laila, and they have taken over the Luhans’ forge as the town blacksmiths. We hear nothing about the Luhans, the notes on the show only say that Perrin has taken over.

There is controversy over Laila’s inclusion and many fans were dreading the rumor of Perrin’s marriage and killing his wife being true. We didn’t want the trope of a fridged wife being a character motivation, yet here we are. Sanderson himself opposed the move, instead suggesting that Perrin accidentally kill Master Luhan. Having Perrin kill a loved one on accident lets the audience see him afraid of his own strength and brood with a clear reason. The book could afford to be more subtle, but live-action needs visual cues.

But, there are new theories rising up over this scene with Laila’s death. It happens in the heat of a fight with Trollocs that have entered the forge. The couple fights them off and while Perrin is slaughtering the last one on the floor, Laila moves in with an axe over her head. On instinct, Perrin swings at the movement and fatally wounds her. But if the fight is as good as over, so why is Laila approaching him with a raised weapon? Considering that she stayed in the forge instead of celebrating with the rest of the village and was in a pensive mood the night before and next morning, something seems off. Could Laila have been a Dark Friend all along, who was encouraged to get close to the potential Dragons, ended up marrying Perrin, and then being ordered to kill him during the trolloc raid?

Moraine and Nynaeve

When Moraine speaks with Nynaeve in the cave, I think this scene gives us a clue for what she’s searching for. In the books, Moraine knew that Nynaeve could channel, and believed that Egwene was on the cusp of channeling with her inborn spark. I assume she can sense this now, and can tell that Nynaeve is quite powerful, if untrained. Since we’re working on the assumption that the Dragon can be of any gender, she sees that Nynaeve’s immense potential makes her a possible Dragon. Her line of questioning includes bringing up knowledge that Nynaeve was orphaned and adopted into the Two Rivers, though the notes on the show follow the book’s details of her parents being locals rather than foreigners. However, her confirmation of her age makes her too old to fit the profile for Moraine.

Nynaeve reveals a deep-seated dislike of the Aes Sedai based on her mentor’s experience as well. This claims that Doral Barran went to the White Tower as a young woman, but dismissed because of her social status. In the books, the Tower never discriminates against potential Novices no matter their station. Its likely that Doral had the spark, so if she had gone, the Aes Sedai would have absolutely given her the opportunity to train. It’s also wholly possible she could have been turned out for infractions (that Two Rivers stubbornness could have ruffled some feathers), or for refusing to take the Accepted test twice. The show could have just as easily made this issue about Doral being kicked out as a Novice for one reason or another and resenting the Tower for it, which would then be passed down to Nynaeve. There is no need to make the Aes Sedai elitist in their Novice selection process. The elitism comes naturally once they become Aes Sedai. After all, Siuan Sanche was just a fisherman’s daughter when she came to the Tower and now she’s the Amyrlin Seat.

Winternight

First of all, the slaughtered sheep forming the tear drop shape that Lan finds in the forest. It’s foreboding but only book readers will understand the shape–but it’s still not accurate the angle it’s presented to the viewer at is that of the Flame of Tar Valon, not the Dragon’s Fang, and it’s made of white (albeit bloody) sheep while the Dragon’s Fang should be black. It echoes the part of Winternight in the books where Rand finds his sheep slaughtered by trollocs, but I’m not sure how effective this little scene is for non-readers, let alone readers. Maybe the White Flame/Dragon’s Fang shapes will be better explained later.

Tam and Rand return home to light the lantern and discuss Rand’s late mother. This scene gives the opportunity to discuss the world’s concept of reincarnation and how prevalent it is. One thing about the Wheel of Time, despite the scope of the world and variety of cultures, there is really only one religion. There are no churches, not much organization aside from certain groups and local rituals, but a deeply ingrained concept of Light vs. Dark and a trust in the Pattern and Wheel that spans the world.

The attack on Emond’s Field during the celebration is very well done. Moraine and Lan have set up a sense of foreboding in the viewer, but you almost get swept away in the party with Egwene’s glee, up until the first strike. Then, it’s chaos. The battle begins as a slaughter until Moraine and Lan make a stand.

The visual aspect of channeling has been dividing fans since the first teaser releases. The book always described weaves as invisible to everyone except other channelers (of the same gender) but again, this is a change that should be expected when shifting to visual media. The audience needs to see something. This also gives us a more visually stunning concept of the Warder-Aes Sedai bond as Lan moves in-between and with the flows around Moraine. Did they really have to level Emond’s Field though?

Padan Fain’s allegiance is made perfectly clear during the battle as he shelters during the attack and looks on with a toothsome grin. I love Johann Myers for this role because of that grin alone. His arrival in the village seemed innocent enough, maybe a little ethically challenged when he bartered with Mat over the stolen bracelet, but we know for sure he’s a bad guy here. The Darkfriend concept hasn’t really been introduced but viewers will definitely make that connection as the story progresses.

One thing I was the most disappointed in as the episode comes to an end is the rushed departure cutting everything of value that happened with Rand and Tam during Winternight. We do at least get the heron-marked blade and see that Tam is a little more worldly than expected. I can reluctantly forgive the cutting of Tam’s fevered mutterings as Rand drags him to Emond’s Field. Since the first season is leaving the question of who the Dragon is up in the air, that would give too much away and it can be worked in later. What I at least wish we did get was a farewell between father and son and Tam giving Rand the sword. When the characters suddenly ride out of town, I had to actively search for the sword with Rand.

Oh, and I was never worried about Nynaeve getting dragged off by a Trolloc. She did end up chasing down the group after they left in the book, and this gives her a better reason to stay behind if she’s physically carried off. I do wonder if the fact that she was carried off by the hair and not killed immediately means that the Fade targeted her for capture as potential Dragon, or if the Trolloc was just a dumbass (ie; the Pattern protecting her).

The final scene was absolutely too rushed. Moraine suddenly tells Rand, Mat, Perrin, and Egwene that they are potentially the chosen one, the Trollocs are after them, and that they have to leave. No real arguments, no goodbyes, just rush them out the door. After Rafe Judkin’s AMA on Reddit, it’s come out that Amazon is really to blame for the rush, as they wanted more action to keep viewers engaged, but this came at the expense of development of the story. Ideally, the first episode would have been maybe two hours to fit more important details in, but this is all they were given to work with.

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