Carai an Caldazar! Carai an Ellisande! —
Season 2 is past the halfway point, and the showrunners are stomping on the gas.
Andrew Cunningham & Lee Hutchinson
– Sep 15, 2023 6:45 pm UTC
Enlarge / Perrin Aybara, doing his wolfbrother thing.
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 WoT 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 season two will be posted for Amazon Prime subscribers every Friday. This write-up covers episode five, which was released on September 15.
Lee: Whew, ok, that was a lot! A lot of things happened in this episode!
We open on the Seanchan doing what they do—making imperious statements and talking about conquering things. And, hey, for anyone wondering when the Horn of Valere was actually going to turn up on screen, here it is, hand-delivered by Padan Fain (with the requisite bit of whistling). I liked the scene, I like the Seanchan in the show, and I thought it was a solid opening. It was also kind of fun to see Shienaran Lord Ingtar (Gregg Chilingirian) in eyeshadow and da’covale robes, which are nowhere near as sheer on-screen as they are in the books.
The invaders from across the sea have their own look, their own accents, and their own theme music (which as near as I can tell includes a choir singing “DA-MA-NE!” over and over again). They’re not just creepy and formidable—they’re almost alien, which I suppose is the intention. How are they working for you so far?
Andrew: Yes, I feel like this episode jumped us from the early-middle of book two to somewhere close to the endgame of book two (and Perrin’s storyline is a weird melding of book one and book three stuff). It’s moving quickly, which it has to do because of episode number limitations we have mentioned a bunch of times already. It’s a bit manic, and I’m not sure how followable it is for non-book readers, but it is what it is!
The Seanchan are more or less successfully fulfilling their Book Role, which is to be weird, obviously alien invaders who immediately threaten, like, half of our main characters by capturing and enslaving women who can channel. One thing that is a lot different in the show, though, is that it’s much clearer much earlier that the Forsaken are pulling some of their strings. The books would show you someone was a Darkfriend by sneaking in a one-line reference in some kind of short epilogue POV section. In the show, these people show up and you just kind of see the show’s main villain chilling with them on a palanquin.
Again, how scannable is this for non-book readers who don’t necessarily know that the Seanchan are their own unique society and that they aren’t always working with the Forsaken? I don’t know! But it’s just another thing the show is doing to give the story’s villains more depth (and maybe, hopefully, to cut down on some of the constant double-crossing and who-can-we-trust intrigue that bogs down the middle books).
Lee: Before we leave the intro, I wanted to toss in a tiny little two-image side-by-side gallery of the location used by the show for the Seanchan meeting. If you’re an avid fantasy viewer, this won’t be the first time you’ve seen that particular castle—it’s shown up before in a certain other show that also talks about dragons:
Here is the place where the Seanchan meeting happened in the opening scene of episode five…
…and here’s the same location, except now we’re somehow in Astapor. (In the real world, this castle is in Essaouira, Morocco).
Given that both Game of Thrones and Wheel of Time shot in Morocco, some location reuse was probably inevitable, but this one is particularly on the nose. Still, whether it was intended to be overtly obvious or not, I dig it. It definitely works, and also, now we know that Falme looks like Morocco!
OK, so—you’re absolutely right that the show has drop-kicked the plot way ahead with the way events are landing. There are several specific things I want to talk about, and the first one is the Forsaken. We’re given more of a window into who and what they are in this episode—along with the understanding that alliances between different members of the Forsaken are somewhat, shall we say, ephemeral. But the thing that jumped out most was the mention by Lanfear about the rest of the Forsaken—and how many there may or may not be.
Specifically, she mentions Moghedien, Graendal, and “the boys,” and paints them all as incompetent. I can’t remember if season one gave us the details on exactly how many of the Forsaken there are, but the show might have just told us that there are only six or seven—obviously less than the 13 named in the books. And if that is indeed what’s happening, I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing, given how much of the series is taken up by Rand chasing after and collecting all the different Forsaken like Pokemon.
Andrew: Listen, there are only so many big, old empty castles sitting around for fantasy shows to film in! Maybe the showrunners saw something on HGTV about how changing the banners and tapestries on your Moroccan keep can make it seem like an entirely new place.
Lots of the 13 Forsaken were already sort of interchangeable as plot drivers and existed mostly to be melted by Rand and his pals in end-of-book battles. And the way the show is removing, combining, and repurposing characters definitely makes it seem like it could be planning to cut some of the other less-interchangeable figures out. (For example, is there a story need for Asmodean in the show universe? Maybe not, based on some of the changes!) We’ve already seen the show jettison the idea that the Forsaken need to be totally reincarnated as all-new people by the Dark One; in general the idea seems to be to have fewer villains who are better-drawn, and that’s probably smart.
Speaking of “book concepts that take about 15 hours to fully explain,” I do like how this episode introduces us to the dream world of Tel’aran’rhiod by way of Lanfear, who is waiting for a fleeing Rand and Moiraine to fall asleep so she can track them down and Get Them. This dreamy stuff is a major element of the books, important to the story arcs of several major characters. I’m not sure how the show is going to employ it, but it seems like it’s not getting cut.
Lee: I did a little happy-clap when Moiraine name-dropped Tel’aran’rhiod—it winds up being such a big part of the books for so many of the characters, even if some of the Tel’aran’rhiod plots are a little abstruse. Or a lot abstruse. (What the hell was even up with that Slayer guy, anyway, and why did his dumb plot drag out over like six books?)
And among all the Forsaken, Lanfear was supposed to be the most skilled within the World of Dreams (something that some of the other Forsaken take issue with, if I remember right). She shows off a bit of that skill in her cheeky meeting with Ishamael, and we see perhaps a bit more when she zaps Rand into her own little desert BDSM fantasy at the very end. Remember, Rand: there is no safe-word in the World of Dreams.
Enlarge / “Pineapple! Uh, banana! Orange! Peach! ….you’re not letting me out of this, are you?”
We’ll no doubt be spending a lot of time there, given how central Tel’aran’rhiod is to—well, to several characters (no spoilers from us about that yet—that’ll likely be a season three or four thing), and it’s great to know that it’s not being cut. I have some hope that Asmodean also makes it, though as you say, he may not be necessary. We shall hopefully know more soon!
Changing tack slightly, there are two things I wanted to bring up about Randlandian politics again, and I promise not to spend too much time here. First, interestingly, we learn a bit more about Cairhien—it does in fact have a queen, named Galldrian, and Moiraine’s nephew Barthanes Damodred is marrying her. This plus Moiraine’s decision to delay draws a pretty straight line for Rand to get involved in the shuffle for the Cairhienin throne. Book readers might be scratching their heads at this particular set of choices, given that in the books Galldrian was a king who is dead before the series starts and Barthanes is—well, Barthanes is and does some spoiler-y things. I am hoping that they keep his most spoiler-y aspects intact.
Andrew: Barthanes is definitely a book character, but Moiraine’s sister is an invention, so who knows where any of these characters end up relative to their bookish counterparts. I feel like it’s book five or six before Rand really gets down into the depths of inter-Randlandian politicking, but the show does love to do things out of order!
There were at least a couple of extended sequences in season one that were just Moiraine and one or more characters on horseback, listening attentively while Moiraine delivered some worldbuilding info-dump. If you wanted to do a totally faithful rendering of every single little kingdom in Randland, you’d probably need a bunch more scenes like that. “OK, so this one is Cairhien, and they love politics, and 20 years ago their king cut down a tree…” and on and on.
Attentive viewers will recognize little hints here and there in the dialogue that imply that at least some of this history remains intact—as it needs to, so that other Important Plot Things can happen later. But this show already has the Seanchan to set up, and the Aiel to set up (more on that in a minute), and probably a few other societies and subcultures besides. I think the subtle-ish difference between groups of minor nobles in Andor, Cairhien, Tear, and elsewhere are all just going to get flattened for expediency’s sake. That will mostly be to the show’s benefit, though here we are missing out on a kind of fun book sequence where a bunch of Cairhienin nobles assume Rand is a noble because they see him wearing a nice coat, he accidentally ignores them, and they work themselves up into a lather about him because only a very important noble would dare to ignore them.
Lee: “And that man who cut down that tree? He was my uncle!” … have we learned that in the show yet? My recollection is that you’re supposed to sort of gradually come to that realization in the books as you learn Moiraine’s last name and connect the dots to Laman’s last name, but I am genuinely not remembering if we’ve heard the details of the start of the Aiel War yet in the show. (It’s not a spoiler! It’s his last name! Don’t @ me!)
Enlarge / This is what happens, Laman.
All right, Aiel time, because in an episode filled with important stuff, Perrin meeting Aviendha is one of the most important. We’re re-using the whole “Aiel in a cage” bit that we only obliquely got to in season one, and we’re mixing together a few different book bits, but the encounter came off satisfying to me. Aviendha dons a black veil and invites Perrin dancing—something she obviously excels at, being a Maiden of the Spear. Without revealing yet to show-watchers why she’s important (you’ll all find out soon enough!), it’s nice to have one of the last of our main characters slotting into place.
Though I’d feel better if Thom Merrilin would show back up. His single appearance in season one was absolutely arresting. Perhaps we’ll find him somewhere in Cairhien with Rand.
Andrew: Or maybe Thom is dead, because everyone keeps asking about him! Or maybe he’ll bump into Mat, wherever Mat is, because Mat and Min aren’t in this episode at all. We’re about due for an episode centered on him, given that he’s been a near-nonentity since late last season.
I believe the “Perrin frees an Aiel from a cage and befriends them” thing is pulled back from The Dragon Reborn, the third book in the series, and the first where Rand really fades into the background so that we can get closer to some other POV characters (show-Perrin also briefly meets Dain Bornhald, another Whitecloak character who will become more important later). In the book, the Aiel that Perrin frees is a totally different person. But what’s similar is that this encounter opens us up to learn more about Aiel society—they live in a desert, they’re good at fighting, and they maintain a Klingon-esque understanding of honor and obligation (ji’e’toh, another of Robert Jordan’s many heavily apostrophe’d creations) that we get a small glimpse of here.
Aviendha is immediately charming in her deadly way, and I am in serious danger of shipping her and Perrin the same way I am currently shipping Mat and Min. My ships are going to wreck the entire storyline.
Enlarge / Aviendha says, “I have toes.”
Lee: I was also disappointed with the lack of Mat this time, and my wife gave some advice that apparently will apply to the show as well as it does to the books: “Become familiar with the particular feeling of disappointment where you want and expect more Mat but instead get more interminable scenes of Elayne playing travel guide, telling you what city she’s in and what their major exports are—for you will be feeling this feeling a lot.”
Which, speaking of—Elayne got a chance to basically do just that when she and Nynaeve ended up in Falme, after escaping from Liandrin and the Seanchan. I thought the Liandrin bits here were great, and I continue to love that they’re actually allowing her character to be something other than just, like, vaguely misandrist and evil. Now she’s got angst, and everybody knows that angst is the emotional equivalent of MSG—it makes everything more interesting.
Andrew: Liandrin goes fully mask-off in this episode, though her motivations are still just unclear enough to leave the audience room to question what she’s up to. She’s taken The Girls away from the White Tower and delivered them to a Darkfriend Seanchan contingent via The Ways (to recap: a creepy fast-travel mechanism our heroes used toward the end of last season), but just as she’s leaving she unties Nynaeve’s hands to create a little chaos. Verin seems to be on Liandrin’s trail back at the White Tower, but Liandrin does have some white asparagus on her that just so happens to grow in one part of the world at exactly this time of the year, establishing a perfect alibi (I love this, I have never encountered produce-season-as-alibi in fiction before).
Nynaeve and Elayne manage to escape, but Egwene is captured by the Seanchan and stuck in one of their channeler-controlling collars (an a’dam, there’s that apostrophe again). In the books these are described as a one-piece collar-and-leash combo, highlighting how dehumanizing it is. You still get the collar in the show, but once it’s on, it morphs into a little breastplate thing that a chain is then attached to. I guess to make it more visually obvious when someone is wearing an a’dam? Though I know you wanted to talk more about the aesthetics of the show’s damane (what the Seanchan call channelers they have collared, and where the episode’s title comes from).
Lee: Just a bit, yeah—I was thinking that the actual a’dam was the pacifier thing that all the damane seem to have jammed into their mouths, but as you say, we’re shown that there’s an actual collar involved, just as in the books. I get the morphing-into-breastplate bit, too—it’s just flat-out easier to see on TV than a collar might be. Seems like a logical adjustment to the medium.
The linked nature of the sul’dam (“leash holder” in the Old Tongue) and their damane is neatly demonstrated with the simultaneous call/response thing they do when channeling. My recollection is that the things utilize kind of a twisted version of the Aes Sedai/Warder bond to—well, to do all kinds of things, as poor Egwene is about to find out.
And, then, to finish up with our wayward White Tower trainees for the week, Nynaeve and Elayne escape into the city of Falme, seeking sanctuary in a place where there’s not much to be had. And are they safe with the Aes Sedai and Warder who snatch them up? Ishy had a very peculiar response when Lanfear asked him about “the girls”—he notes that he has “just collected” them, and that “one craves power and the other fears it.”
Mentioning two instead of three—or one—is odd. Does that mean that he’s just collected Nynaeve and Elayne in Falme and that the Aes Sedai sitting on them is Black Ajah? Or am I misinterpreting?
Andrew: Going off of what Verin was asking when she showed up at the White Tower—she wanted to see Egwene and Nynaeve, no mention of Elayne—it may be that no one has really registered that Elayne has been hanging out with our Two Rivers friends. Ishamael also just seems to be focused on the Two Rivers crew that he thinks he can use to manipulate Rand (Egwene would be the one eager to get stronger and prove herself, and Nynaeve the one who fears her own power). That is a subtle change from the books, where Elayne is lumped in with Egwene and Nynaeve pretty early on because they’re all more powerful than most modern-day Aes Sedai have been. But I guess the vain, status-obsessed Forsaken wouldn’t immediately assume that a princess and an innkeeper’s daughter would become fast friends.
To close: still sort of frustrated by what an eight-episode season does to pacing, but still digging the show a lot. Aviendha is great. I know or suspect a lot of what is going on based on my book knowledge, but the show has changed enough to keep me guessing. Bring on the next one!
Lee: Indeed! And that does it for this week. The episode titles for the next few weeks shed some light on where we’re probably going to end up, but you can look those up for yourselves because they are spoiler-y titles if you know what the words signify. And, of course, there’s the huge ending of The Great Hunt to look forward to—going by the characters’ dialogue, it’s sounding like we will indeed end the season in a spectacular fashion—just keep your eyes on the sky.
Courage to strengthen, fire to blind, spoilers to dazzle, iron to bind. We’ll catch you all next week!