Things are coming to an end for Rand and his friends this week on “The Eye of the World” the season finale of The Wheel of Time. Or are they?
(These reviews might contain some minor spoilers for the Wheel of Time book series. Please note that the comment section may also contain spoilers for those unfamiliar with the book series.) [Please note that comments will be temporarily closed over the holiday break, but will be open for discussion on Monday, January 3rd.]
“The Eye of the World” begins with a flashback 3,000 years ago. Lews Therin Telamon (Alexander Karim), the Dragon Reborn, is having an argument with Latra Posae Decume (Katie Brayben), the Tamyrlin Seat. Lews Therin wants her to help him cage the Dark One so as to prevent his influence from ever touching the world again. Latra Posae refuses to aid him. She reminds him of their friendship and that he is not invincible, then leaves. Lews Therin tells his infant child that he will make the world safe for them, looking out the window at a technologically advanced world.
Moiraine and Rand make their way through the Blight. Rand finds a rotting body, and the corrupted remains of the seven towers of Malkier. Moiraine warns him not to touch anything, and explains how the Blight keeps creeping closer to Fal Dara. They rest, then Rand wakes from a dream that the Dark One knows where they are. Suddenly Ishamael, the figure with fiery eyes, kills Moiraine. He transforms his visage into an ordinary man’s. Convinced that he’s still dreaming, Rand stabs himself through with his sword and this time he actually wakes up. He asks what Moiraine’s plan is, and she shows him a sa’angreal, an item imbued with the power of thousands of male channelers. She tells Rand that it will increase his power one hundred fold.
In Fal Dara, Nynaeve tells Lan that she knows how to track Moiraine, and that she can show Lan how to follow her. They share a moment of grief over the fact that they can’t be together. Egwene, Nynaeve, Perrin, and Loial go to speak to Min, but she can’t tell them what they want to know about Rand. Suddenly, she begins to see visions of men dying, of Nynaeve suffering and falling to her knees. In the Blight, Moiraine and Rand see an army headed towards the city.
Amalisa urges Agelmar to stay in the city, but he is determined to take the entire army to defend Tarwin’s Gap. He tells her that the city will fall no matter what they do, that this is Tarmon Gai’don, the Last Battle. Amalisa insists that she will not let their city fall.
Moiraine and Rand reach the bottom of the Eye of the World, where Rand finds a symbol on the floor that he recognizes. He remembers fighting the Dark One, who looked like a man, and kneels to touch the symbol. Suddenly, he is home in the Two Rivers, where Egwene plays with a baby outside their house. In the real world he appears unconscious. Ishamael appears before Moiraine—she channels, but he turns the Power back on her and renders her unable to touch the True Source.
Amalisa, wearing her father’s armor, masses the women of Fal Dara to defend the city. She calls for any woman who can channel to help her. On Agelmar’s orders, Lord Yakota (Amar Chadha-Patel) and Uno (Guy Roberts), begin digging through the floor below Agelmar’s throne. Agelmar’s forces engage the Trolloc army as Amalisa, two other women, and Egwene and Nynaeve watch. Meanwhile Loial advises Perrin about options other than violence.
In his mindscape, the image of Egwene and the baby freezes and Ishamael appears to Rand. He claims that he can show Rand how to remake the world into anything he wants it to be. Outside, Moiraine pulls a knife and declares herself ready to kill Rand rather than allow him to choose the Dark.
The Trolloc army attacks the Gap and Agelmar’s men defend it. Agelmar is pierced through by a spear and dies. Padan Fain gives a password at a side door and is let in, followed by two Fades who murder the women on guard. Perrin and Loial go to help Yakota and Uno, and together they unearth the Horn of Valere, an ancient artifact which can call the Pattern’s greatest heroes to fight in the Last Battle. Perrin sees Padan Fain passing in the hallway and follows him.
Trollocs pour through Tarwin’s Gap. Amalisa links with the other women, and is stunned by the amount of Power she can draw. She uses it to wipe out all the Trollocs.
In Rand’s mind, Ishamael instructs him on how to make this life with Egwene and the baby real. Rand begins to channel. In the real world Moiraine notices him channeling into the sa’angreal in his pocket. Rand tells Ishamael that the Egwene in the vision isn’t the woman he loves. In both the vision and real world, he stands and channels through the sa’angreal, obliterating Ishamael. The floor beneath Rand cracks, and he tells Moiraine “I did it.”
Perrin returns to discover the Fades slaying Yakota and the others, while Padan Fain sticks a knife in Loial. Nynaeve tells Amalisa to stop channeling now that the Trollocs are all dead, but Amalisa refuses, unwilling to let go of the Power. The other two women fall, and Nynaeve starts absorbing the Power that is coursing through Egwene to protect her. Amalisa collapses, dead, as Nynaeve falls atop Egwene.
Padan Fain slides the dagger from Shadar Logoth into his belt and explains to Perrin that the presence of five ta’veren drew him—and the attention of his Dark Lord—to the Two Rivers just as it drew Moiraine. He claims that the Dark is necessary for balance, and we see Mat in Tar Valon as Fain suggests that some, or maybe all, of them will turn to the Dark. Perrin picks up an axe, but he finds himself unable to use it to stop Fain from leaving with the box containing the Horn.
Rand tells Moiraine to make everyone believe that he died at the Eye of the World. Lan finds Moiraine sitting on the symbol, looking at the crack in it. She lets him infer that Rand is dead, and then admits that the Dark One took her ability to touch the Source. Egwene, weeping over Nynaeve, manages to channel and Heal Nynaeve. Moiraine shows Lan the broken floor, and explains that it is made of cuendillar, a substance that cannot be broken or scratched even with the One Power. The fact that it has been cracked is proof that everything is not over, and that this confrontation is not the Last Battle.
A child digs in the sand on the western shores. A huge fleet of ships appears on the horizon, and pairs of women in collars and gags channel a tidal wave that towers over the beach.
If you’re new to The Wheel of Time, you may be wondering where I got the name Ishamael from. The show has been very secretive about this character—as of my writing this review, they haven’t even revealed the name of the actor. The Dark One is a being of many names, as are his servants. Ishamael is one of those names.
This episode was kind of up and down for me. There are moments that I find basically perfect, and others where I feel like the show really dropped the ball on the story and themes it was trying to achieve. The real problem, of course, is time—this is basically two episodes of action and character development smashed into one, plus it has to wrap up the season at least a little. If they’d had a few more episodes I think it might have solved a lot of the messy issues, especially around Perrin’s arc and Amelisa’s ultimate fate. Hopefully subsequent seasons will get ten or twelve episodes and be able to allow the material more room to breathe.
That being said, the flashback in the opener is really wonderful, and manages to give us a fair amount of background as well as a glimpse into the man who was the Dragon before Rand. Lews Therin hopes to lock the Dark One away so that his influence can never touch the world again, while Latra Posae warns of the danger of exposing the source of the One Power to the Dark One, of giving him the ability to corrupt it. We learn that they are friends, and that their disagreement has created a division between the male and the female Aes Sedai. This is how the male half of the One Power was corrupted, as Moiraine has alluded to in earlier episodes.
We also get to hear the Old Tongue spoken by native speakers. Book fans may have caught a familiar word in Latra Posae’s dialog: The subtitles read “If he touches and corrupts it, your power will be out of control,” but one of the words she says is “saidin.” In the novels, saidin is the name of the male half of the One Power while saidar is the name for the female half, and this seems to confirm that the show is following the same structure.
But perhaps the best part of the flashback is how it foreshadows so much of Rand’s experiences when he confronts the Dark One at the Eye of the World. Lews Therin wants to change a fundamental aspect of his world in order to make it better for his child, while Rand is tempted to use his Power to alter reality in order to have the child, and the relationship with Egwene, that he longs for. Latra Posae hopes that Lews Therin will make the choice she deems correct and not the one that (spoiler alert, Lews) will doom the world, but cannot stop him. Later, Moiraine wonders if she can trust Rand to prevail over temptation or if she should kill him. Latra Posae tells Lews Therin that the fate of the world has not been decided in their conversation, but will be decided when he faces the Dark One.
(A bit of trivia: In the novels, the third name, or middle name, was something that people during the Age of Legends earned as a mark of honor and distinction. In the narration the former Dragon is always referred to as Lews Therin, which is why I am referring to both of them by first and middle names, even though they call each other simply Lews and Latra in their conversation.)
A lot of people died in this episode, though several deaths weren’t permanent. Moiraine was only killed in Rand’s dream, while Nynaeve was somehow brought back to life, or possibly pulled back from the brink of death, by Egwene after being burned through by too much of the One Power. Loial, Yakota, and Uno also appear to be dead, though I wonder if there might not be a few more miraculous recoveries—Moiraine won’t be able to help, but Egwene and Nynaeve certainly should be able to—in the beginning of season two. We’ve barely gotten to know anything about Loial or his people, after all, so it would be a little surprising if he were to be written off the show so quickly.
After how amazing Lady Amalisa was throughout this and the last episode, I’m really disappointed with how her arc ended. In some ways, the disagreement between her and her brother mirrors the conflict between Latra Posae and Lews Therin. Agelmar’s pride stopped him from heeding her warnings and calling for Aes Sedai aid, which it turns out they desperately needed. Both he and his sister paid for that pride with their lives, though Amalisa still managed to save her city despite Agelmar’s belief that they were all doomed. Amalisa’s continuing faith and strength is so wonderful, but I don’t think her ultimate fate was very clear for viewers, especially those who are new to the series and can’t fill in any gaps with book knowledge. (I bet Agelmar would have liked to fill in Tarwin’s Gap, eh? EH?)
We know from Moiraine’s comments in episode seven that Amalisa studied “for many years” at the White Tower but wasn’t strong enough in the One Power to become an Aes Sedai. She clearly learned a lot, however, including how to link with other women and combine their channeling ability with her own. It was incredibly impressive to watch her, flanked by only Nynaeve, Egwene, and two others, achieve such an impressive display of channeling and take out the whole army single-handedly. But the show doesn’t make it clear why she couldn’t, or wouldn’t, stop drawing the One Power even after the army was destroyed, even after she started killing the women she was linked with. It may be that Nynaeve and Egwene will have a conversation about it later with Moiraine and the mechanics of the One Power, why one might desire drawing so much and what happens when one’s personal threshold is reached. The juxtaposition with Amalisa and Rand’s channeling also feels poignant, and illustrates the fact that there are a variety of choices and pitfalls available to a channeler. Unfortunately, it doesn’t effectively illustrate what the show is trying to tell us about the One Power. If anything, it mostly reminded me of Cate Blanchett’s hubris in Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull (yikes), and it brought Amalisa’s character arc to a rather disappointing conclusion. Every moment she’s on screen is so powerful, so poignant, and then this sloppy ending feels like it steals something from the emotional journey we have been on.
Moiraine being cut off from the One Power is a more effective plot moment. We have some understanding of what that is like through seeing the fallout of the gentling of Logain. We also know what it is like for a Warder to lose his Aes Sedai, and while Lan doesn’t have to bury Moiraine, the loss of the Bond is still poignant and painful for both of them. Lan cannot support Moiraine through her suffering now, and we know that channelers who are cut off in this way usually try to kill themselves. Season one is leaving Moiraine in a very intense and frightening place, even more so because this wasn’t the Last Battle after all. She must have known that she couldn’t have stopped Rand from leaving the Eye, but I am quite sure she is already planning a way to track him down again, even without her Power. And what will Rand do when he learns that his job isn’t over, that, oncoming madness or no, he will be called upon to continue being the Dragon, to continue the fight he believed that he had finished?
The moment between Nynaeve and Egwene wasn’t very effective either. Watching Nynaeve sacrifice herself for Egwene was moving, and a lovely callback to their first scene together. I liked the way the show consistently refocuses on the important friendship between them. But it doesn’t make a lot of sense that being burned from the inside out by the One Power would be so easily undone. It makes the moment seem trivial, suggests that drawing too much Power isn’t really that big a deal after all. Also, it suggests that death can be Healed (by Egwene? The moment was rushed and rather unclear) with the One Power which is not true in the books, and creates a strange precedent for the ways in which channelers can safely alter the world around them.
Juxtapose this with Rand’s testing at the Eye of the World. The parallel between Lews Therin and Rand is really great, but more than that, it’s a very personal moment where Rand is tested by his own inner demons and desires. He has struggled in secret with the dawning realization that he might be the Dragon Reborn, but he’s never hidden his anger and pain over losing Egwene and the life he’d always dreamed he would have. Now he is presented with the opportunity to have everything, if only he is willing to remake the world as he sees fit. Rand doesn’t reject the opportunity for any loftily moral reason, nor does he understand that the cost of such a choice would be the Dark One breaking free. Instead, he chooses the Light because his love for Egwene—however whiny or childish he may be about it at times—is genuine. He loves her for who she is, who she really is, and he would rather she continue to be that person even if that means she won’t choose him.
That’s real love, and it’s special and it’s moving and it’s a message that the books try at, but sometimes fall rather short of.
There are other great moments of this kind of love in the episode as well, like the exchange between Perrin and Egwene, when they both bond over their love for Rand and reaffirm their own relationship. And then of course there’s Lan and Nynaeve’s moment on the balcony, which lifts some of Lan’s dialogue directly from the novels, to great effect.
Loial and Perrin also share an important thematic moment. The show is doing some wonderful things with the concept of the Way of the Leaf and how fighting the Dark and supporting the Light doesn’t have to mean literal violence. The advice that if you want to help and don’t know how, all you have to do is ask is perhaps the most resonant for our world of anything that anyone has said or learned in the series.
Once again I must praise the costume designs in The Wheel of Time. The details in the armor worn by Amalisa and by Agelmar are exquisite, and quite evocative of their family and history. The clothing in the flashback tells a story as well, with Lews Therin in black and Latra Posae in white, mirroring the symbol that Rand later finds on the floor of the Eye. (A sharp eye can also catch a Dragon embroidered in gold on Lews Therin’s jacket.) The clothing worn by Ishamael is an interesting echo of both their looks, done in the same fashion with the long tunic beneath a structured jacket. But Ishamael wears black over white, perhaps to evoke both sides of the One Power, or perhaps to evoke the taint we see when men channel, some white tendrils turning to swirling black.
Ultimately, there are a lot of questions in The Wheel of Time as to whether men and women can trust each other, and we have seen in “The Eye of the World” that this struggle existed, or perhaps even began with, the division of the Ancient Aes Sedai during Lews Therin’s time. Lews Therin and Latra Posae both believe that the other is responsible for creating that division, but whether the female Aes Sedai would have made the difference in Lews Therin’s plan or whether life would have been better if both sides had refrained from attempting to lock the Dark One away forever, the fact that humanity is worse off because of the division is clear.
In choosing Egwene’s side, in understanding and upholding her faith and desires, over his own, perhaps Rand has made the first step in healing that division.
Interestingly, Rand’s mindscape test is actually drawn from a test that Egwene undergoes in the novels. As part of becoming an Aes Sedai student, she undergoes a trial that includes experiencing sort of dream reality in which she is married to Rand and has a baby girl named Joiya. But while Egwene does feel some grief in giving up that life, her dedication to becoming an Aes Sedai is never in question in the books any more than it is in the show, and her choice to turn away from it is neither unexpected nor very difficult. By giving the experience to Rand instead, the show makes a more poignant choice, one that’s more in keeping with the characterization of Rand and Egwene, and less stereotypically gendered as well.
Interesting Facts and Easter Eggs:
Lews Therin addresses Latra Posae as “Tamyrlin Seat, Watcher of the Flame.” In the Prologue to the first novel, The Eye of the World, the Ring of Tamyrlin was worn by the Leader of the Aes Sedai. It is mentioned that Lews Therin once “wore the Ring of Tamyrlin” and “sat in the High Seat.” The show is suggesting here that the title of Amyrlin was once actually Tamyrlin—this is also suggested as a possibility in the reference book for the series, The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time.
In the novels, Uno is known for his cursing, so much so that when he is occasionally asked not to curse by Aes Sedai or others he respects, he becomes tongue tied. You can catch him in this episode uttering such beauties as “bloody,” “Light-blasted” and “goat-pissing.”
Ishamael likes parallels, too: He puts the cut on Egwene’s neck right where Moiraine makes the cut on Rand’s.
When Nynaeve tells Lan how to track Moiraine, she specifically phrases it as Moiraine having “a tell.” I do not understand what this means. Tracking is not poker, Nynaeve.
Favorite Quote: “I will hate the man you choose because he’s not me, and I will love him if he makes you smile. You are as beautiful as the sunrise. You are as fierce as a warrior. You are a lioness, Wisdom.”
Runner Up: “This is just an imperfect, overwhelmed woman trying to remind her old friend that he’s not invincible.”
Sylas K Barrett’s read of The Wheel of Time novels can also be found here on Tor.com. Check him out on Facebook or Tweet at him @ThatSyGuy.