In this entry of A Memory of Light, the Last Battle is here.
Chapter 37: The Last Battle
I’m really not sure how to respond to this chapter. I was considering splitting it up into chapter-sized chunks, and then I thought about just responding to every single POV, but eventually, so much was happening, I just gave up. I’ll try to encapsulate how I felt about the Last Battle, but with such a gargantuan chapter, it’s difficult any which way. But let me just say I was freaking exhausted by the end of this. From mild enthusiasm towards the beginning, my connection to this final apocalyptic conflict increased throughout the chapter. And when everything went to hell towards the end, I was on the edge of my seat. At one point, I just didn’t know what was coming next. I just knew I liked it. A lot. Stepping back, I can see the flaws in The Last Battle, but it definitely was exhilarating.
Sure, it started a little slow. There was a lot of action, but like plenty of the fighting in this book, it became a little bland after a while. I was definitely caught up in the atmosphere of much-awaited Tarmon Gai’don, but Sanderson doesn’t necessarily have Jordan’s skill at depicting thrilling battles. Jordan could be confusing too, but there was a definite sense of scale to his battles. You felt like you were right in the action, whereas with Sanderson, it’s a little too separated, and I have difficulties seeing it all play out in my head. Not to say I didn’t enjoy the battles, they just started out too mundane. I think this chapter, and the whole book, could’ve served with shortening. Because this chapter was daunting. The sheer girth of it made it difficult to get through at times until Sanderson really ramped up the intensity. The battles didn’t exactly become clearer, but they certainly grew more exciting in the second half, and there was shocking twist after shocking twist. Still, I would’ve preferred a little more clarity and immersion to the battles of the Last Battle, although this is a problem for the whole book, and Sanderson does better in this chapter than earlier in the book, where the battles kinda blended together.
So how about what actually happened? I’m not sure how to approach this, to be honest, it was just all so much. Perhaps I should start with Egwene, despite her scene being towards the end. Because DAMN. It’s eerie, when I went into this book, I attempted to predict who’d die in Tarmon Gai’don. I seriously hoped Sanderson/Jordan would’ve used the apocalypse to finally eliminate some characters and end the safety net present throughout the series. Not that I want to see these beloved characters die, but one of Jordan’s primary faults was that he was too attached to his creations. With such a huge cast, people NEEDED to die, and there just wasn’t enough. So I was expecting casualties this time around, and before the Last Battle, I was somewhat disappointed by how safe Sanderson was playing it. And then this chapter happened. And Egwene was one of a handful of names I arbitrarily predicted was going to die before reading the book. There was no logic to the choice, but for some reason, I felt if a major character were to die, it’d be Egwene. But I didn’t really expect Sanderson to kill somebody of her caliber. Siuan, Gawyn, Gareth? Sure. Those are major characters, but not so huge that it hurts really hard. But Egwene? I was astounded. And this happened after a slew of deaths and pseudo-deaths, so I just didn’t know what to expect. Some people stop reading for a while when confronted with a shocking death like this, but it had the opposite effect on me. While I was still absorbing Egwene’s death, I couldn’t resist finishing this chapter. I HAD to see who else died.
I didn’t expect Egwene to kill Taim. I thought Androl or Logain would’ve been more fitting to take the bastard out at last, but I suppose a character as strong and prominent as Taim needed to face off against a higher-caliber hero like Egwene. And damn was that fight epic. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the reverse-balefire. It seems a tad deus ex machina to me, but aside from that, Egwene’s death was…intense, just in how it was written. And for the loss itself… I’m still getting over it. Some have been pretty outspoken in their dislike of Egwene. I never really disliked her, although she was rather annoying at times. Elayne and early Nynaeve tended to irritate me a little more. So I definitely wasn’t apathetic to Egwene’s death. But I also don’t think Egwene’s death was an inappropriate end to her lengthy, exhilarating character arc. Would I have loved for her to emerge from the Last Battle and rule the White Tower into an era of peace? Of course. But an incredible sacrifice on the battlefield isn’t a bad way for her to go, and I don’t think it makes her prior accomplishments meaningless. I mean, without Egwene, the White Tower would probably still be divided right now, and Tarmon Gai’don would be hopeless.
And Egwene wasn’t the only major death… There was already a significant turn when Gawyn was mortally wounded by Demandred. I thought he was going to make it at first, but when Galad found him on the battlefield…when Egwene reacted with such sorrow and then courageously found acceptance…when Galad rode off to avenge his brother against Demandred. That was something. I’ve obviously never been a huge fan of Gawyn, especially in the Sanderson books, and yet his death shook me as much as some of the others. He was a fool, to run away from Egwene and challenge a goddamn Forsaken, but because he used those rings, he probably wouldn’t have lasted long anyway. Still, his death accomplished little and put Egwene at incredible risk.
And then Siuan and Gareth. That was so…SUDDEN. Completely unexpected. And this is where I have to step back and criticize Sanderson for a little. Starting with Siuan and Gawyn, and then continuing into Egwene’s charge against Taim, and Galad’s clash with Demandred, and Elayne’s ambush, and finally Lan’s last stand, I was thrilled and horrified like I haven’t been in this series for some time. But Sanderson doesn’t have George R.R. Martin’s skill in making his deaths purposeful in addition to visceral. I think Siuan was killed too off-handedly. I was definitely looking for casualties, but it was almost blink-or-you’ll-miss-it, and I think a major character (one I quite liked) like Siuan deserved more. Especially since I question the necessity of rehashing a viewing that was already seemingly fulfilled in TGS. If Sanderson intended to kill off Siuan and Gareth through that viewing, why did he have them seemingly fulfill it in TGS?
Anyway, Elayne’s ambush… That was also unexpected. I was waiting for Daved Hanlon to turn up. But when the Last Battle came around, I assumed Sanderson just forgot about him, as I didn’t think Hanlon could play a huge role in the Last Battle. How wrong was I. I still wish we knew what happened to Hanlon’s other Darkfriend companions, but his appearance was a welcome surprise. And then there’s what happened next. Birgitte decapitated. Just like that. It almost seems too quick. Is this really the end of Birgitte? And Elayne… Shit, when it was announced that Elayne died, right after Egwene, I was ready to believe it. Everything was a rush at that point. And then I realized Hanlon had a decoy in place to fool the commanders into believing Elayne was dead when she wasn’t. Still, I was damn worried for her. I didn’t expect that kind of competency and savagery from a simple Darkfriend like Hanlon!
By the time Lan challenged Demandred, I was more than exhausted. Demandred’s role in the Last Battle was pretty exhilarating in general. Eventually, his rants about Lews Therin grew repetitive, but when he first showed up, he was one formidable force. As the only Forsaken really involved in the Last Battle, he made a definite presence, blowing up hundreds of soldiers at a time, unchallenged. To see Gawyn, Galad, and then Logain attempt to kill him and fall not to his channeling skills but simply his abilities as a swordsman was also daunting. After Gawyn, I was willing to believe Galad had died, which was why it surprised me he was only injured, although I guess he needed a happy ending with Berelain. But I was seriously concerned for Logain. It seemed Demandred was a one-man killing machine and Logain didn’t stand a chance. By the way, getting into Logain’s head in this chapter was…revealing. It’s been apparent since the beginning that he was a rather unscrupulous figure, to say the least, but his bitterness and ambition in his POVs was surprising, if somewhat understandable. Anyway, I was relieved when he actually emerged from his encounter with Demandred relatively unscathed.
And then Lan. His last ride was epic indeed. It’s rather fitting Demandred fell not to a channeler but in a swordfight due to his own arrogance. Demandred could’ve balefired Lan out of existence, or had his entire army obliterate him, but he chose to fight, and it killed him. Thus exits one of the more memorable villains of the Shadow, right alongside Taim (although Taim didn’t do all that much in the Last Battle, aside from engage in some interesting interplay with Demandred). But Lan! Is he dead? Seriously? At this point, agan, I didn’t know what to expect. A series renowned for the survival rate of its heroes was turning into a legitimate bloodbath, and all sense of security I had in the beginning of the Last Battle vanished.
What else is there to say about this gargantuan chapter? I enjoyed Mat running the battlefield, and his isolation was definitely apparent. He could trust literally nobody for risk of the Shadow manipulating them. He had to strategize entirely by himself, and had to keep changing up the battleplan because of the obvious infiltration of Shadow. But I do wish Mat played a greater role on the battlefield itself, just like in the Battle of Cairhien. The attack on the Seanchan camp shook things up, and not just because Siuan died so suddenly. It brought Mat and the Seanchan closer to the battle, rather than having them safe and isolated from the action. But the argument that followed… At first, it seemed Tuon’s departure was calculated and that she intended to return, but now I’m not so certain. Is Tuon really abandoning the battle that decides the fate of all existence? Can she doing anything else to make me hate her and the Seanchan anymore?
Oh, and what about Rand’s actual battle with the Dark One? I’m conflicted on this one. I wasn’t expecting the ultimate confrontation to be so…philosophical. Outside of some briefly-mentioned assaults by the Dark One on Rand’s soul or whatever, most of it was kind of conversational. On the other hand, I’m not sure what I expected. This isn’t Dragon Ball Z. The emphasis isn’t on huge explosions and all that. And the Perrin-Slayer battle has cinematic going for it in spades. If this were a movie, I definitely would’ve hoped for a more action-packed battle with the Dark One, but for what it is, I think it kinda works. I would’ve hoped for more actual fighting, and Sanderson could’ve written the different visions a little better, but I appreciate it for what it is. Now for the conclusion.
So much more happened in this colossal, eventful chapter, but I just can’t cover it all. I’ll just give my final word on Tarmon Gai’don. Although, to be honest, the battle’s not exactly over yet. But for the chapter itself, I enjoyed it. I wasn’t entirely certain when I started it. I still feel Sanderson could’ve shortened it, and lessened the emphasis on more mundane ‘battle porn,’ as I’ve seen it named. But even if this chapter was a tad too long, it was thrilling all the same. The second half was nonstop excitement and terror, and heightened my opinion on the entire book. Sanderson could’ve handled some of the deaths better, but they packed a punch. So yeah, I liked the Last Battle.