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The weight of expectations from long-time fans of The Wheel of Time book series going into this season 1 finale episode can’t be overstated. I wouldn’t be surprised to find this episode the most polarizing of the season, depending on how much your metaphorical loins were girded for changes heading into it. Speaking for myself, I was a huge fan of the setup we got in episode 7, “The Dark Along The Ways,” the ending of which had Moiraine heading into the Blight with Rand alone, her Bond to Lan masked. This prepared me for not having the whole group journey to the Eye. Knowing that the unexpected departure of Barney Harris as Mat would necessitate rewrites also prepared me for differences. To be honest, I didn’t have a lot of specific expectations for how the plot of the season-ender would play out. I always felt certain aspects of the ending of The Eye of the World were confusingly written and wouldn’t play well on screen and this was an opportunity to streamline. As it turned out, I was a huge fan of the way one major change in particular played out, and confused by one or two others. But ultimately, the episode needed to provide a satisfying conflict between Light and Shadow, hit some key character moments, and leave us questioning and wanting more. On all of those points it delivered.
The cold open had us jumping back 3,000 years to the Age of Legends and the final confrontation between Lews Therin Telamon and Latra Posae Decume, notably portrayed by Alexander Karim and Katie Brayben in the Old Tongue. This is a scene that hinted at but does not explain the full context of this argument. Lews Therin has a plan to cage the Dark One that Latra Posae believes is too risky and arrogant and will not support. Lews Therin is undeterred by her refusal and as he tells his infant child, he means to do what he believes is right to protect them anyway. Following this scene, we know that Lews Therin led his strike with only 99 male Companions, because Latra Posae convinced all the female Aes Sedai to side with her. The Dark One’s counterstroke caused the corruption on the male half of the One Power, which led to the Breaking and why men can no longer channel without eventually succumbing to madness.
I believe most of the above can be gleaned from the scene itself and by other information we are given throughout the season, but I am curious to see what the reaction to this scene will be from non-readers. At this point in book history the devastating War of Power had been fought for at least the past 10 years and there was no evidence of that in this scene. Perhaps they are changing this history in order to better show the height of the Age of Legends. That was one aspect of the scene that I did really enjoy seeing, the costume and set choices and the vista outside the window which all perfectly convey a futuristic and timeless quality, and better establish the primary timeline as post-apocalyptic. But perhaps there was a missed opportunity to better convey the stakes and the tension in this conversation between Lews Therin and Latra Posae if they had retained the wartime element.
The biggest focus of the episode, rightly so, was Rand and Moiraine in the Blight and at the Eye of the World. Rafe Judkins spoke in an interview with Nerdist about the decision to put Nynaeve and Egwene at Tarwin’s Gap and Perrin and Loial recovering the Horn of Valere, instead of journeying with Rand. Ultimately I liked the decision to have core characters to focus on in each location and to allow for deeper development of Rand and Moiraine particularly with the tighter focus on them. The claustrophobic set choice for the Blight worked well for scenes between two, but if they had journeyed as a group, it likely would not have allowed for scenes such as the one between Lan and Nynaeve before she sends him off into the Blight hoping he will bring Rand back. That scene was everything book fans will have been hoping for, right down to some exact quotes from Lan many of us might have memorized. It’s the culmination of something the show has given us that the book could not, watching the development of Lan and Nynaeve falling in love. But as all season finales should do, it also leaves us wanting more.
As for Rand and Moiraine, we got to see some wonderfully subtle character moments from them, such as Rand finding the strength to tell Moiraine to stay behind when they reach the Eye and her disregarding his attempt to protect her. And the reversal of Rand asking for answers Moiraine will not give at the start, to her final question of him, “Where will you go?” And his reply, “Goodbye, Moiraine.” But the heart of it comes in each of their interactions with The Man at the Eye (Fares Fares). One of my favorite decisions in this adaptation thus far is to change Rand’s confrontation at the Eye to one of a psychological and moral struggle, not a battle with the One Power. It ties in perfectly with major themes from the books and ultimately Rand’s decision to leave the vision of the perfect life he dreams of because he recognizes that Egwene would choose differently is a beautiful one.
For Moiraine’s part, she is immediately left with few choices as she is cut off from channeling. The Man taunts her with her lack of knowledge of whether Rand will choose the Light or the Dark, and while she makes clear she is prepared to kill Rand if he does choose the Shadow, the uncertainty she faces brings the tension to a razor’s edge. As the episode goes on the scenes cutting back and forth from one subplot to another get shorter and shorter as the tension increases. Finally, Rand stands between The Man and Moiraine and while it may seem Rand has defeated The Man too easily, we can see a subtle hint of a smile on The Man’s face as the cuendillar seal beneath their feet cracks. Perhaps this has been his plan all along.
While I loved the Moiraine and Rand threads in this episode from start to finish, the other threads were more mixed for me. Perrin had a lovely moment with Egwene at the beginning of the episode, offering her unconditional friendship, which I felt was a perfect cap to the threads left hanging off the blowup up between the Two Rivers characters in episode 7. But he did languish a bit in the middle of the episode. Loial got a chance to say the right thing at the right time to Perrin, telling him if he wants to help but doesn’t know how, simply to ask. This leads them to help Uno and his small group of Shienarans recover the Horn of Valere. Unfortunately, Perrin’s hesitation to pick up an axe may have cost some of those men their lives when Padan Fain and two Fades attack and steal the Horn. Fortunately, Rafe Judkins confirmed to Comic Book Resources that we did not see the end of Loial son of Arent son of Halan. I wouldn’t want to see the fan riot if they had killed our beloved Ogier in this way.
Fain’s monologue to Perrin, before he escapes with the Horn (and the Shadar Logoth dagger!) was a fantastic way to finish the main action of the episode. He confirms his own status as a Darkfriend and that the Shadowspawn were not sent to kill the five of them, but to bring them to the Dark One. He believes at least one of them will turn to the Dark, which is said ominously over the only sight of Mat in the episode, a shot of him walking through Tar Valon, looking rougher again and hinting at where things may pick up for him in season 2. It is these words from Fain which finally convince Perrin to pick up that axe and that is a momentous moment for him given the journey he has been on this season.
The battle at Tarwin’s Gap had some cool moments, though the combat scenes seem to have suffered slightly due to the reality of Covid-19 restrictions, preventing the use of stunt performers as Trollocs. Instead, CGI was used for the Shadowspawn in these scenes and as a result there was less ability to do shots of close combat, such as we saw in episode 1. The loss of Agelmar was effectively set up by the scene earlier in the episode between him and Lady Amalisa. But it was Amalisa’s role in the battle that packed the most punch. Seeing her ready the women of the city in her father’s armor, and then the beautifully shot scenes of her leading a circle of women and channeling an immense amount of power to destroy the wave of Shadowspawn that broke through the fortress was awesome. We get to really see how dangerous and seductive than much of the Power can be, as she burns out not only herself but two of the other women linked to her.
That brings me to the one aspect of this episode I really can’t get behind. Nynaeve and Egwene as part of this circle can feel themselves starting to burn out as well. Nynaeve says a touching goodbye to Egwene as she takes the Power running through Egwene into herself and then it appears Nynaeve is burned out and/or killed as well. Egwene certainly seems to think so, but yet she channels and her weaves Heal Nynaeve. In hindsight it is absolutely clear that Nynaeve never was burned out or dead, only injured, and this much Egwene has managed to Heal. However, the scene was certainly presented in a way to make the audience think Nynaeve was dead or at least burned out and these things Egwene should not be able to Heal. I simply don’t think the fakeout was necessary and it may have cheapened the moment as well, particularly in an episode where we have some other apparent deaths (Loial and Uno) which will turn out not to be fatal.
In contrast, I can appreciate the decision made to leave what exactly has happened to Moiraine uncertain. As she tells Lan when he finds her, she can no longer channel. From what we saw The Man do to her and from what we have seen previously of both shielding and severing with Logain, it looks most likely to me that Moiraine has been shielded and the weave was tied off so that its effects continue even though The Man is no longer there to maintain the shield. It is also possible, however, that she has actually been stilled. Either way, there is real heartbreak in the moment when she tells Lan she cannot unmask the Bond and they can no longer feel what the other one feels, on top of Moiraine’s own terrifying loss. I can understand why the show may want to leave this vague for the moment as a hook for next season. Whatever has happened to her will almost certainly inform her plot going forward, and it will be fascinating to see what Moiraine will do when she does not have access to this ability.
Finally, we get the ominous epilogue which introduces us to the Seanchan fleet and a somehow even more horrifying than expected glimpse of the damane and sul’dam as they approach the Western shore. Another effective hook for next season. “The Eye of the World” was an episode that made some bold choices in the writing by Rafe Judkins, most of which paid off or we can expect to pay off in next season. The production faced some real challenges in this episode, from the pandemic restrictions to the sudden loss of a core cast member (Barney Harris) necessitating rewrites. Those challenges for director Ciaran Donnelly showed more in this episode than it did the previous one, which I found nearly perfect, but the scope of what he was trying to accomplish in this one was also greater.
As hard as it is to finish a season and be left with burning questions that will not be answered for many months, I am glad to be in that position, wondering. Where will Rand go now that he has set off alone, wanting the others to believe him dead? I expect Perrin will be on the hunt for the Horn of Valere but who will join him? How will Mat be woven back into the story? What will Nynaeve and Egwene face in the White Tower? How will Moiraine fare without being able to channel? How will the loss of the Bond and Lan’s feelings for Nynaeve affect his relationship with Moiraine? The beauty of this adaptation so far is that even book readers don’t know exactly. Mystery and speculation have always been and will continue to be major draws that keep fans hooked on the series. I can’t wait to see what this team can do as they get deeper into the book material. Bring on season 2!