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In Defense of the Forsaken

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Hello, all! I've been lurking here for some time and think I'd like to finally get into the mix, so to speak.

 

Something I've noticed: there seems to be a fairly broad consensus that the Forsaken are not all they could have been. While I do agree, to an extent, I think the criticism goes further than is true. I would like to start a discussion about the Forsaken as a group, and lay out my defense of them; both in terms of storytelling, and for in-world reasons.

 

To begin, I think I should sum up what I see as the general consensus regarding the Chosen. In general, most seem to think that as villains, they are underwhelming. They have been lampooned as incompetent. They have been written off as ineffectual. Although this is, as I said, true to an extent, I think it overlooks some important facts.

 

Storytelling Limitations of the Forsaken

 

To begin, I'd like to lay out some reasons the Forsaken are as they are, from a story telling perspective. If we start from some basic truths about the series, these conclusions shouldn't be terribly controversial. First, we are reading a story largely about Rand- less so since probably book 3 or 4- but ultimately he is the main protagonist (the Luke, to Mat's Han if you will). Second, eventually Rand will win. Whether he lives or dies is still up in the air- but if he (and the Light) lose at the Last Battle, the story will not have delivered. Given that, as a group, the Chosen must lose.

 

If the Forsaken were, without exception, as fearful as their reputation would have Randlanders believe, it would get old fast if Rand always managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Some of the Forsaken then, from a story telling perspective, have to be entirely fallible. A diversity of capability among the leaders of the Shadow thus makes the story more believeable.

 

The In-World Rationale

 

From an in-world perspective, the faults of the Forsaken make perfect sense. The series is told almost entirely through the perspective of those from the 3rd Age, 3500 years removed from the War of Power. Stories of the Forsaken have been used since the Breaking to scare children, as we all know. In that span of time, the truth about how potent these 13 people were would be easily inflated. Knowledge of specific deeds fades, while the memory of the terror the Forsaken could instill remained and grew. This leads to the belief, in the 3rd Age, that the Forsaken are much more powerful than was ever the case. This belief was wrong. Indeed, Verin had the right of it when she remarked that as knowledgeable as they might have been, the Forsaken were driven by greed and thus entirely predictable.

 

More, not all the 13 are, or even could be, as powerful as possible. These are 13 flesh-and-blood people we're talking about; with different backgrounds, and different skills sets. For many of them, the changes from the Age of Legends to the current Age would be jarring. Many of their particular skills would not have translated particularly well. Moghedien, for instance, was a financial advisor (or some kind of investment banker, IIRC. During the War of Power, she buried herself in Lews Therin's command bureaucracy until the time was right to betray him. After her betrayal, she ran a network of spies for the Shadow. When she shows up in the current Age, although she can assume some control of various cells of Darkfriends, she is left with at best a hastily assembled intelligence capability. The same goes for the other non-military types. They went from administering a space-age level society, to trying to orchestrate events in a pre-industrial setting. The decline of communication, and transportation technology fundamentally change the nature of these jobs.

 

Many of the military commanders fare better; but not by much. Although by the end of the War of Power industry had declined to the point that horses and hand-held weapons were more widely utilized, we're still talking about generals used to motorized transport, and weapons of which we know very little (to my knowledge, how a shock lance actually worked is still a mystery). The changes in technology have an effect on the usefulness of tactics that would have been employed during the War of Power. I suspect, given that Age's technology, battles then were fought like those today- ie: not by having two large forces meet head on. More, the military commanders (Sammael, Demandred, and Bel'al mainly) are hindered by the apparent need for secrecy while they build a power base. Unlike the War of Power, which had the nearly century long Collapse to assemble power, the Forsaken in the new Age have little more than a year to build and consolidate power, all while remaining under the radar. No small feat.

 

On a larger scale, the Forsaken are also hampered by themselves. It is noted a number of times that they scheme against each other almost as much as against the Light. This leads to more caution than is useful, especially for the type of secret power consolidation going on. It is suggested that many of the Forsaken, even the ones nominally working together, don't even know where the others are operating out of. Working at cross-purposes, it should be no surprise that many fail to achieve their goals.

 

Indeed, not all of the Forsaken were abject failures. Semhirage, despite a serious lack of screen time (a criticism I whole heartedly agree with) was apparently pretty successful in throwing the Seanchan empire into chaos. Messaana was able to split the oldest and most powerful institution in the land. Demandred is still at large, and as the last remaining general the Shadow has, is probably coordinating trolloc strikes.

 

Finally, it should be considered that Moridin set some up for failure. Recall his game of sha'rah in the prologue to The Path of Daggers. It is a game of strategy and tactics, were tactical losses may be incurred for strategic gain. As Nae'blis, Moridin is the one moving the pieces around the board (despite some Forsaken thinking they really are in control). It would be entirely within his character to sacrifice certain Chosen for larger goals. In fact, without Moridin's intervention, Sammael likely would have bested Rand.

 

So, that was longer than I initially thought it would be. It should be noted that I agree with criticism of certain individual Chosen. Some were, indeed, quite pathetic. Others were largely anonymous faces for Rand (or his allies) to kill as part of the story. Others still were of middling success- realizing some, but not ultimate success. However, as a group, they were never omnipotent.

 

I welcome responses, and discussion about any particular Chosen and their efficacy, or lack there of. If you've read this far, thanks for reading!

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Well presented argument! I've always found the criticism of Semirhage and Mesaana a bit perplexing myself. If Egwene had not been captured (and if she hadn't copped on to the Aiel way just in time) I suspect Mesaana's plan to destroy the White Tower may well have been successful. Imagine the chaos it could have caused if the siege had stretched out, possibly leading to sisters and warders fighting in the streets. With the way things stand, the world would not have trusted the Aes Sedai ever again.

 

Semirhage dumped Seanchan into chaos, almost succeeded in having Min killed by Rand himself, and nearly turned Rand completely insane. The fact that it was only "nearly" is, in my opinion, no reason to diminish her accomplishments.

 

I appreciated Sammael quite a bit. His reluctance to go up against Rand head on was smart. And, as you said, if Moridin hadn't interfered, who knows how their fight maay have turned out.

 

Asmodean - I enjoyed his interactions with Rand in the Aiel Waste and after, but as far as Forsaken epicness is concerned he didn't bring much to the table.

 

Rahvin may have been more successful if his ego and lust for pretty things hadn't been so overwhelming, but overall he was a disappointment.

 

Graendel - started out interesting, turned into a puddle of water. Meh.

 

Moghedien, Belal, Balthamel, all those others whose names I can't be bothered about - all rather large failures. The reincarnated Forsaken didn't do very well either.

 

The only Forsaken I'm truly undecided about is Lanfear/Cyndane. She was supposed to be super-duper scary, and epically devious, but it really wasn't shown well. I'm hoping that she gets a moment of redemption (whether she remains evil or turns to the Light doesn't really matter) in AMoL that will leave everyone in awe.

Edited by Ashlyn

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Some did pretty good.

Demandred seems to be a multitasker and will bring the hammer down hard in the next book.

Semirhage had a perfect position and by killing the Empress she made sure hundreds of thousands Seachan will die.

Asmodean with his Couladin was pure win. This only action can have repercussions for centuries to come.

-hundreds of thousands dead already by the Shaido+Brotherless attacks(had repercussions for several books).

-the Shaido WO captured by Seachan may lead to the complete destruction of the Aiel and a Seachan Super Empire(again, a lot of fighting/killing).

Mesanna wanted to retreat when she saw the AS were putting a fight(smart thing to do), and only extreme amounts of luck on the AS part(Perrin happened to chose WT to play with the Dreamspike, Gawyn entered Egwene's rooms against orders) allowed her to be captured.

 

 

Of course, they can't make up for the stupid deaths required by the plot. Killed by a hippie tree, overdose of saidin, eaten by fog. Ahhh, poor guys.

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Asmodean with his Couladin was pure win. This only action can have repercussions for centuries to come.

-hundreds of thousands dead already by the Shaido+Brotherless attacks(had repercussions for several books).

-the Shaido WO captured by Seachan may lead to the complete destruction of the Aiel and a Seachan Super Empire(again, a lot of fighting/killing).

 

 

 

Indeed, but that was never really his intention; he only wanted to distract Rand while he went to pick of the Chodean Kal iirc.

 

 

Also, the Forsaken remind me a little of the Aes Sedai. Stories and legends grant them an almost demigodly status, but we get to learn that they're only human after all.

 

But still, the Forsaken have been a disappointment for me. Rand was basically a sitting duck until tDR at least.

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With Rahvin, Rand was actually on the verge of defeat, if Nynaeve didn't interfere.

 

As far as I'm concerned Aginor and Bathamel were the "incompetent" ones. They were already there and could have been done with it, but rather they "played with their food" and perished for it.

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As for playing with their food, here's a quote from Terry Pratchett (I think it's from 'Men at Arms', or possibly 'Guards, Guards':

 

"If you have to look along the shaft of an arrow from the wrong end, if a man has you entirely at his mercy, then hope like hell that man is an evil man. Because the evil like power... they will talk, they will gloat. So hope like hell your captor is an evil man. A good man will kill you with hardly a word.”

Edited by FarShainMael

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Some of the "forsaken" really werent military commanders either. Most of them were scientists or doctors or musicians etc.

 

Given that Asmodean was a musician in the AoL - his plan to get his hands on the keys to the Chodean Kal was pure gold, as was his scheming with Couladin and the Shaido.

 

Infact - he probably would've pulled it off but Lanfear gave Rand too much hints about what Asmodean was up to - IIRC!

Edited by Dewairah

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The criticism of Rahvin seems wrong too.

 

I mean, if not for Nynaeve and Moghedien intervening, it's likely he'd have killed Rand. He moved a battle with Rand from a disadvantageous situation to one where he pretty much cntrolled the fabric of the world.

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I'd say the biggest problems are that many of their greatest successes are off screen or tangential to the main storyline, and that however well they're doing they always fail once they come up against a main character. For example, Semirhage: she kill the entire Seanchan imperial family and throws an empire into chaos. But this is Seanchan - a place with very little direct impact on the plot. The Seanchan who have invaded the Westlands are important. The ones left behind? Not so much. And she gets captured once she goes up against Rand. Then she goes against him again and dies.

 

Rahvin was handled very well, as was Asmo, but they both fell prey to this as well. Rahvin wrecks Andor, but Andor's slide into chaos under one of the Chosen is not a main focus. Then he goes up against Rand and dies. Asmo causes some inconvenience with his distraction - then he goes up against Rand and is captured. Now, Rand walked away from a fight with the Seanchan with the impression that he'd lost - it would have been nice to have the equivalent happen with the Chosen. If Rand's campaign against Sammael had seen Rand and his army take to the field and be defeated, for example, before he comes up with the plan he finally uses. Mesaana split the WT - but as soon as she was up against a main character she lost. It's the same problem. If every main character v Chosen fight ends with the Chosen losing, it does take away some of the suspense. When RJ talked about the Light needing a knockout blow to win, it doesn't seem immediately obvious that this is true. If the Chosen had been more effective villains, then we might know that Rand and co. will pull things together somehow, but not know what the cost will be, or think it will be a hard task. As it is, it doesn't seem like it will be a massive problem. All things considered, the Chosen would have done much better if they had had a strategy focused on creating as many minor inconveniences for Rand as possible, preferably at a great distance. Build up a power base? No, just wreck the economy, introduce a lot of red tape and kill some minor functionaries. "Lord Dragon, we know you mean to march on Illian, but the men haven't received their wages, the cooks are on strike, the palace privies desperately need cleaning, Mistress Harfor has mysteriously disappeared, we can't replace her until you fill out form 22B/476C removing her from her position, and..." Rand would never get anything done.

 

As a group the really needed some direct victories over the main characters to solidify them as a threat. As it is, their victories are indirect, their confrontations with the mains being losses pretty much right across the board. It's true that not all of them are soldiers, I'm not expecting them all to battle Rand to a standstill. But come on, give us something. Sammael defeating an army Rand commands. Demandred having Rand at his mercy, but being forced to retreat before Rand's reinforcements arrive. That sort of thing. Essentially, have a fight that the good guys lose. They only have to win the war, remember, not every battle along the way. Even a few victories would go some way to dispelling their aura of hapless villainy, the impression they give of only being able to beat people who don't matter.

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You all have put down some excellent points. The only one nobody has mentioned so far is there over all commands hampered them.

 

Ishy and then the DO ordered Rand not be killed out right, as they were trying to turn him or make him insane. Their plans all make sense with the orders of creating chaos. It is hard to seem threatening when you are not allowed to kill your opponent.

 

That does not excuse the fact they never killed Perrin or Mat, wonder girls, etc. Not for a lack of trying in some cases, in fact Mat was killed for a few seconds. I think it would have helped the story if at least 1 or 2 characters had been soundly defeated by the Forsaken, not reversed by balefire.

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The Forsaken really creeped me out until around book 5. I remember being completely terrified by Ishy in book 1, Lanfear in book 2, Rahvin and Sammael in book 3 and Asmo (yes, I know) in book 4. Then they became kind of part of the landscape and just another annoyance.

 

I think some of the main reasons why they were scary at the beginning were:

1) The whole legend effect that others have pointed out, and the fact that we are seeing them through the main characters' POV, who believe those legends and consider them almost as dangerous as the DO

2) The "we know who they are but the main characters don't" effect. Like when we know Lanfear is evil, but nobody else realizes who she is and we are so scared of what she's going to do and want to scream at the characters to RUN, FAST!

3) The fact that the main characters are really not up to the challenge of facing them at first. It's only when they start becoming more powerful and knowledgeable (and demonstrate that they are actually quite capable of fighting off the Forsaken, like Nynaeve with Moghedien) that they start being a little less dangerous.

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This isn't a defense of the forsaken, wherein you establish they really are the big bad legendary evil doods and there's just evidence we're not considering, but an apology for them, wherein you argue that it's ok that they're not as satisfyingly villianous as they need to be to be considered dangerous to the main characters. Nitpick aside, I've got to agree with Mr Ares on this one. This crop of Forsaken would have been better off red-taping the good guys to death. And that would have been as much fun as watching the lines at the DMV.

 

The big problem I've got is with Ishmael. In the times we get points of view on his actions, or his own pov, he's not evil enough and he's not very smart. He's apparently been unsealed since the very beginning, though that may have been off and on, but hardly laid any groundwork to make maximum use of the Forsaken when they came out. How much more effective would the Shadowspawn armies be if they'd had Aginor working on improving Trollocs or recreating the facilities needed to fully mature jumara? And it would have provided palpable upgrade in the threat level if halfway through the series you get super-Trollocs and whatever man-eating horror worms are supposed to turn into that's worse than what they already are marauding through the place. Instead, he gets his butt handed to him over his gloating and then spends the rest of his time alive giggling, staring off into space, trying and failing to kill Rand, and then dying at the cleansing. A serious waste of talent there, and it's mostly Ishmael's fault for not securing the necessary research equipment for him and instead going to taunt a madman. Even dumb Forsaken like Balthamel, who was a flipping historian during the AoL, gets completely underused. He spends his time as a hot chick giving backrubs and headaches to an 18 year old girl. If anything, Ishy seems tired and resigned. He has no real passion for the success of the Dark One, despite being the only one who truly knows what that means and having convinced himself of its inevitability. And he's the leader and has been since book 1. When the leader doesn't show much enthusiasm for his side, it's hard to take that side seriously as a major threat. If anything, the threat from the Dark Side seems to come from complete wildcards like that super-fade or Fain or Slayer, or on the chance that one of the more twisted Forsaken will just ignore orders and act. And that threat seems to be directed more strongly at other Darksiders rather than at the Light side.

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Some of the "forsaken" really werent military commanders either. Most of them were scientists or doctors or musicians etc.

 

Given that Asmodean was a musician in the AoL - his plan to get his hands on the keys to the Chodean Kal was pure gold, as was his scheming with Couladin and the Shaido.

 

Infact - he probably would've pulled it off but Lanfear gave Rand too much hints about what Asmodean was up to - IIRC!

Also, had he used the short hop/long hop traveling trick to go to Rhuidean instead of skimming, he would have been fine. Wait, why the hell did he skim??

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The major thing I find odd about the Forsaken is their lack of using the channelers of the present time to help them in their causes. True, they think little of the Aes Sedai of the Third Age but surely that would suggest it would be easier to use them rather than not using them at all. It doesn't make much sense for them not to have used Compulsion in combination with the the 13 Myrddraal and 13 Channelers from the beginning. Ishamael himself had enough ties with the Black Ajah that he could have had most of the Tower as unwilling servants of the Dark One by the time Rand made it to the Stone of Tear. If he didn't completely succeed it could have at least resulted in a devastating blow to the strength of the Tower.

 

Semirhage torturing and killing Aes Sedai rather than using her skills to eventually force them to the Shadow as she suggests she did in the Age of Legends to even the greatest and purest Aes Sedai of that time really bothers me. Graendal having hundreds of servants because of her command of Compulsion but none of them being able to channel a lick is another confusing situation. I understand it can be more difficult to use Compulsion effectively on a person who can channel or with one that has a strong will but she could have found some that would be more susceptible or just used such strong enough weaves that their individuality was wiped away as she does with most of her servants.

 

I know there are difficulties with the idea of Forsaken using the channelers of the Third Age as allies. I could hypothesize that the Forsaken thought so little of the present channelers they ignored the idea that they would be useful but if they thought the Aes Sedai were nothing it should have been easy for them to have take advantage of them and use them. They are also mostly described as cowards so they probably were afraid that they would be overwhelmed somehow but if they had the courage to try and take over kingdoms it doesn't seem like much of a stretch to try and get a few Aes Sedai under their control. One could argue their lack of trust and tendency to rely only on themselves kept them from using the channelers of the Third Age but trust really wouldn't have been an issue if they were forcibly turned to the Dark One or a strong form of Compulsion or Binding was used.

 

Another thing is with the number of Dreadlords and Chosen during the War of Power (way more than thirteen) it seems they would have been used to having some subordinate channelers helping them out and would have at least wanted to use some of the stronger Aes Sedai to use for their own ends. I guess it just bothers me because I don't consider myself that diabolical but if I were one of them as soon as I was free I would have started collecting Aes Sedai as forced bodyguards and I am a man so I could have 26 linked to me at once if I wanted (13 Aes Sedai can link but with a man another 13 can also join the circle). What force under the Light could have defeated even Asmodean with 26 Aes Sedai forced to protect him one way or another at all times? True if linked he probably wouldn't be as effective at using saidar but with that much strength plus using saidar and saidin together accuracy and precision wouldn't be that necessary especially earlier on before Rand becomes trained in using the One Power. I would have used as many forces as necessary to maintain my trust in their devotion like a binding rod, Compulsion, the forcibly turning them ceremony or anything else that came to mind (perhaps other ter'angreal or Semirhage's method of torture).

 

The female Forsaken not using this method actually bothers me more than the male ones. With twelve other women forcibly under their control a female Forsaken would be close to unstoppable and one of them like Graendal could have pretty much walked into Tar Valon and done it with little trouble (inverting her weaves, hiding her ability to channel using compulsion and so on).

 

Maybe I am being a bit rough on the Forsaken here (I just realized how much I have written) but I can't believe it wouldn't have entered any of their minds to take a few channelers (darkfriends or not, forcibly turned or not) to use as constant bodyguards and helpers by at least the third or fourth book.

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The big problem I've got is with Ishmael. In the times we get points of view on his actions, or his own pov, he's not evil enough and he's not very smart. He's apparently been unsealed since the very beginning, though that may have been off and on, but hardly laid any groundwork to make maximum use of the Forsaken when they came out. How much more effective would the Shadowspawn armies be if they'd had Aginor working on improving Trollocs or recreating the facilities needed to fully mature jumara? And it would have provided palpable upgrade in the threat level if halfway through the series you get super-Trollocs and whatever man-eating horror worms are supposed to turn into that's worse than what they already are marauding through the place. Instead, he gets his butt handed to him over his gloating and then spends the rest of his time alive giggling, staring off into space, trying and failing to kill Rand, and then dying at the cleansing. A serious waste of talent there, and it's mostly Ishmael's fault for not securing the necessary research equipment for him and instead going to taunt a madman.

 

Sorry you are nitpicking. Ishamael also tried to recruit Lews Therin after healing him. thats far far more important in the grand scheme of things than worrying about research equipment. You also under estimate the loss of human resources. Probably the scientists who had the knowledge to make the tools that made the tools that Aginor used to make trollocs were channelers and they also ended up mad during the breaking. Seeking them out would have been tough and useless. the whole word was full of chaos at that time and remember the organisation of the aes sedai had been totally decimated. I think Ishamael was doing more important stuff while he was free. we know that shadow armies were still operating at that time under the leadership of other dreadlords and that Ishamael was sighted every now and then for 30-40 years after the sealing. I can totally imagine that he was trying to reign in the dreadlords who had turned on one another etc and lead the fight against the light. He is easily the most impressive and successful of the forsaken. His actions over the years have kept the human lands fragmented and stopped them from reaching the tech levels of the AOL. How can you say hes not evil or smart? he tops in both of them. :smile:

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Also, had he used the short hop/long hop traveling trick to go to Rhuidean instead of skimming, he would have been fine. Wait, why the hell did he skim??

Maybe because he didn't know his startpoint well enough to open a gateway? But that that would also imply he knew his endpoint, because that's what skimming requires. Had he been to Rhuidean before?

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Also, had he used the short hop/long hop traveling trick to go to Rhuidean instead of skimming, he would have been fine. Wait, why the hell did he skim??

 

He had a revelation that the plot required Rand to be able to follow him to Rhuidean.

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good thread bloodyfishguts but don't agrre with this statement

 

 

Whether he lives or dies is still up in the air- but if he (and the Light) lose at the Last Battle, the story will not have delivered. Given that, as a group, the Chosen must lose.

 

 

Don't see how if the DO wins the story hasn't delivered, maybe it won't have delivered for u urself but for me it would make the series even better.

Edited by Darren heron-Mark Clayden

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He had a revelation that the plot required Rand to be able to follow him to Rhuidean.

 

That too :p

 

But I think I remember there was some kind of explanation at the time. I don't have the books with me to check, unfortunately . . .

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