The Wheel of Time is one of the biggest fantasy blockbusters of all time, and I have read and loved the fantasy novels for decades. I was beyond thrilled to see that an adaptation was coming to Prime TV, and now that it’s here, it’s time to offer weekly reviews! Be sure to also check out my theology site for my look at the show and books from a Christian perspective.
The Flame of Tar Valon
I have a lot to think about after watching this episode.
First, Siuan Sanche’s background origin story was beautifully done. Having Berden get humanized so early on was a wonderful way to do it, and I admit as he sent Siuan off I had tears welling in my eyes. I also appreciate having representation of people with disabilities that aren’t automatically evil, which happens far too often in pop culture (see, for example, the countless examples of motivations for “evil scientist” type villains being driven by trying to “fix” disabilities). Overall, this scene was one of the strongest in the show so far.
I also was a huge fan of how they handled the Siuan/Moiraine perceived rivalry and then turning it into being love. The two are hinted at as pillow friends, if I recall correctly, in the books, and this just makes it much more explicit.
Moiraine and Loial’s brief interactions were also highlights of the episode. I loved how Moiraine approached Loial and sort of skipped ahead of all of his objections in their conversations. Truly, the casting in the show across the board is excellent, and there are several highlights of dialogue throughout already.
The continued hints at layers upon layers of intrigue in the Tower are necessary and certainly well done, especially in light of what readers of the books know is going on. I also think that the many set pieces we’ve seen are beautiful. I loved the Amyrlin Seat, and on reflection I enjoyed how they showed the shawl of the Amyrlin as well. It’s much more subtle than I expected, but from what I understand, it’s a nod to the many fan depictions that have shown it with similar themes.
One downside is that the series continues to clip along at a frenetic pace, which is the main thing that has taken me out of the show so far. The Wheel of Time books are very clearly not oriented towards being quick reads or fast-paced action-fests. Due to the format of the show–only 8 episodes this season!–the creators are cramming each episode so full of events that it starts to feel like whiplash at times. Even when characters do try to slow things down, we move so quickly past the events that it seems we don’t get to reflect on the events. For example, Moiraine’s exile goes from her discussion with Siuan ahead of time to a meeting of the Aes Sedai to Siuan saying she’s banished and then immediately pulling out the Oath Rod (!!!) to make Moraine swear to abide by the ruling and then leaving. I was surprised to see there was no pause anywhere in this chain of events.
Full Book SPOILERS section and theorizing
Speaking of the Oath Rod–I was taken aback to see them decide to use it that way. The problem with a major piece like the Oath Rod is that if you use it too frequently, it becomes a prop more than an epic artifact. Indeed, one of the insidious things about the Broken Tower in the books is when the White Tower tries to use the Oath Rod to force people to swear fealty to the Amyrlin Seat. Weirdly, the scene in this episode skirts right along that border to the point that it felt kind of “yucky” as a fan of the books.
On the flip side, I can see the decision-making process for the showrunners, because featuring the Oath Rod prominently early on allows them to make a big deal about other revelations related to it later, such as the Black Ajah and others. Thus, I’m kind of torn on that scene.
I appreciated how they depicted the drawing of the darkness from the dagger out of Mat. While we viewers could see the weaves, Rand makes it clear all he could see was a bit of the darkness, which gives viewers the hint that others can’t see the weaving other than its effects.
Overall, I was a fan of this episode, apart from the caveats I mentioned. The series continues to offer a strong epic fantasy look at the Wheel of Time world, and the flavors it has from the book series make it feel much more unique than some of the other epic fantasy series out there. I am eagerly anticipating the rest of the season.
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