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Knots are untied as The Wheel of Time season two approaches its end

Screenshot of Egwene al'Vere wearing a'dam

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Andrew Cunningham and Lee Hutchinson have spent decades of their lives with Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson’s Wheel of Time books, and they previously brought that knowledge to bear as they recapped each first season episode of Amazon’s new WoT TV series. Now they’re doing it again for season two—along with insights, jokes, and the occasional wild theory. These recaps won’t cover every element of every episode, but they will contain major spoilers for the show and the book series. We’re going to do our best to not spoil major future events from the books, but there’s always the danger that something might slip out. If you want to stay completely unspoiled and haven’t read the books, these recaps aren’t for you.

New episodes of The Wheel of Time season two will be posted for Amazon Prime subscribers every Friday. This write-up covers episode seven, which was released on September 29.

Lee: We’re rounding the bend to the end of the season with episode seven of eight here, and there’s a lot of ground to cover before we get to that giant battle in the sky that nobody seems to be able to shut up about. (It’s not spoilers if all the characters on screen are talking about it!) This episode involved a lot of moving pieces around on the board—a big chunk of the scenes exist in order to get all of our characters in Falme for next week, including and especially whatever the hell is going on with Mat right now.

But before we get to any of that, we have to talk about the opening for at least just a moment. Last season, we got to see Rand’s birth on the slopes of Dragonmount as the Aiel War stumbled to a close, but now we’re given a peek into the other important event that happened at the same time: the Aes Sedai Gitara Moroso (Hayley Mills) and her “Foretelling.”

Foretelling is apparently a rare talent that does not show up in Aes Sedai very often, and Gitara Sedai was apparently one of the strongest at it—or at least one of the most accurate. Proving that prophecy often comes at the most inconvenient of times, we’re shown a flashback where a much younger Moiraine and Siuan enter Gitara’s rooms in the White Tower, and Gitara almost immediately collapses under the weight of her vision of the Dragon’s return to the world. The Aes Sedai seems to feel what Rand’s mother is feeling during her battle, and we’re led to believe that both Gitara Sedai and Rand’s mother expire at the same time.

We know from the books that this is the moment that kick-starts Moiraine’s and Siuan’s secret-squirrel club—the reason why they’re actively hunting the Dragon Reborn. The inconvenient bit, of course, is that no one else was there—no one else witnessed Gitara’s Foretelling. Would certainly have been nicer if she’d collapsed in the middle of the Hall of the Tower with more witnesses, but so goes history, I guess.

Prophecy comes at the most inconvenient times.
Enlarge / Prophecy comes at the most inconvenient times.

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Andrew: In the books and kind of, sort of in the show, Moiraine and Siuan take the relative privacy of the Foretelling as an opportunity to do things the way they want to do them, making sure that the Dragon Reborn wasn’t captured or stilled so that he’s available to save the world the way he’s supposed to. Show-Siuan doesn’t seem to be on board with that plan anymore as of this episode, just one of many liberties the show has taken. She views Moiraine’s independent meddling as a failure and is now determined to do things by the book, though Moiraine has other ideas.

If there’s one thing that is kind of bugging me about this episode it’s that we have a lot of characters just asking for or accepting help or counsel from various Forsaken, especially Lanfear. You definitely do get little snippets of this kind of thing in the books, as different Forsaken plotted against each other, but both Lanfear and Ishamael have an awful lot of our protagonists directly under their control and/or in their debt, and I’m beginning to wonder why they aren’t killing more heroes when they get the chance.

Lee: Yeah—I suppose it’s a side-effect of having the Forsaken be such major characters on-screen, rather than doing most of their movement in the shadows. And they’re just so damn likable—Fares Fares as Ishamael feels downright fatherly at times, and so far all Natasha O’Keeffe’s Lanfear has done is wear revealing outfits, have crazy sex with Rand, kill an old guy, and blow up the Foregate. She’s not exactly flaying children alive or defenestrating widows or anything.

Which I think is kind of doing the supposedly legendary status of the Forsaken no favors. Near the end of the episode, when Lanfear walks into the courtyard with Moiraine and Siuan and friends, no one freaks out at an actual living non-bound member of the Forsaken strolling into the courtyard—Moiraine is just like, “Oh damn, it’s Lanfear.” My impression is that Lanfear walking up into your meeting, even if you’re a supposedly all-powerful Aes Sedai, would be like actual-for-real Jason Voorhees unexpectedly shambling through the door to your house. The correct reaction is some kind of mix of “Oh my God wait Jason is real?!” and Scooby Doo-style cartoon panic-running in multiple directions simultaneously. Possibly with some pants-wetting tossed into the mix for good measure.

I also kind of want to talk about whatever the hell it is that Ishy was doing with Mat. I was kind of left feeling clueless by the scene with the tea, but my wife has kind of a theory.

Andrew: Yes, people are very much not acting like these people are monsters so brutal that their names have endured for millennia, or even like they’re people who aren’t to be trusted. They seem to think they can work with the Forsaken now and figure the rest out later. I suspect they’ll be unpleasantly surprised by whatever happens next.

The Mat storyline continues to flail about a bit. The show has to do a lot to make interior character development happen in ways that are visible onscreen, and to translate things that a character thinks and feels into things that the character can show. Mat is probably the character it’s hardest to do this with, because his “superpower” doesn’t involve slinging fireballs or communicating with wolves.

So are we just taking a weird roundabout path to Book-Mat, who has the memories of 1,000 years’ worth of wars and battles in his head, or is the show still off doing its own thing? It’s hard to tell based on the brief, trippy sequence that Ishamael treats Mat to this week, though if I had to guess I’d think that what Ishamael tells him about “seeing the people who you used to be” means we’re working in that direction.


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Lee: I was a little let down by Ishy’s promise that he was brewing up some tea to let Mat see past lives—I thought the same thing as you, that we might be about to give Mat the shove he needs to start doing the things he does in the book, but instead of actual past lives, we just got more weird stuff with Mat’s (show-only) abusive mother and his (show-only) issues with his (show-only) abusive father. I’m genuinely not sure where it’s supposed to be going, other than to just abuse Mat some more on screen and get him to the point where he’s even more in thrall to the Forsaken.

My wife’s quick-n-dirty theory is that the tea was just a sleeping brew, and that the sequence was actually Ishamael screwing with Mat in the World of Dreams. I’d class that as a definite “maybe”—the thing that keeps me from fully agreeing with it is I just don’t see what the scene is for, whether it’s Magic Spirit Journey Tea or just plain sleeping tea and the Magic Spirit Journey is in Tel’Aran’Rhiod.

Okay, I’ve got like… paragraphs to drop in here about Moiraine, but only if you’re ready to turn to her, and to the resolution of one of this season’s biggest mysteries.

Andrew: Oh yeah, lots to say. Some more book-vs-show, internal-vs-external stuff going on here; in the books, channelers can definitely, 100% for sure, tell the difference between being shielded (temporary) and being stilled (permanent, with an asterisk). Being shielded is a bit like having a thick layer of bulletproof glass in your brain between you and the One Power, but you still have your sense of it, you can still see other channelers at work, and there are even little mental acrobatics you can do to bust through a shield if you’re strong enough, or if the shield is “tied off” and left unattended.

In the show, it turns out that there’s no difference! Being shielded feels more like being stilled, in that you feel totally cut off from the One Power. We can’t have learned this fact any earlier than we do, I suppose, because it would take what little tension there was out of the season-long “what’s going on with Moiraine” mystery.

Lee: Exactly so. We learn that Moiraine was shielded this entire time, with the shield weaves tied off into knots and left to sit. But your point about the further-changed nature of shielding feels like it’s part of the larger set of changes that have been made to how the One Power works with men and women in the show.

It’s been kind of a mystery why Moiraine herself hasn’t done some more extensive troubleshooting to find the extent of her issue. When a certain set of characters (to remain nameless, to spare non-book readers) eventually figures out how to remove the Aes Sedai Three Oaths in a future book, one of the VERY FIRST things those temporarily-oathless characters do is start lying and giggling—because, let’s face it, being able to say “THE SKY IS GREEN!” for the first time in years is probably pretty exhilarating. Why wouldn’t Moiraine have simply started busting out with the lies, if for nothing else than to test whether or not she’s TRULY stilled?

There are two answers that I can think of. The first is the more in-universe one: few Aes Sedai have ever bothered studying the effects of being stilled. Stilling is simply too viscerally horrifying to confront, even for the knowledge-minded Browns. Stilled women tend to leave the White Tower so as not to be surrounded by reminders of their past and are thought to quickly die (as Lan makes evident when he asks Moiraine if she thought about ending her own life in the past few months). There are simply no records of what happens, other than that the women who DO survive the process tend to do so by thoroughly occupying themselves with important tasks that take the place of the One Power in their lives. Moiraine might simply have not known that stilling unbinds the Oaths, and having lived her life by them for decades, kept up the habits of living by them purely because she doesn’t know any other way to be.

(Though, I guess the REAL answer is even more obvious: “Son, the reason the good cowboys don’t just shoot the bad cowboys’ horses is that if they did, there’d be no movie.”)

The False Dragon Logain Ablar still has a role to play.
Enlarge / The False Dragon Logain Ablar still has a role to play.
Andrew: There are all kinds of little nuances to the way the One Power and Aes Sedai work, doled out in bits and pieces over like seven books, that the show wades right into and needs to resolve pretty early by even introducing the concepts of stilling and shielding at this point in the story.

This show has no time to waste, and several of our heroes (particularly Mat, also Perrin a little) have been mostly sidelined all season so that this whole Moiraine/House Damodred arc could play out, and maybe it pays dividends, but we’re headed toward a climactic confrontation in an entirely different location for our next episode. The stilling subplot is entirely an invention of the show’s. The conflict it introduces between Moiraine/Lan and Moiraine/Siuan is an invention of the show’s. Unlike most of the changes and additions the show has made, I’m still not exactly sure what the point of it was.

Compare that to another change from the end of last season—Rand faking his death and going off on his own into the wilderness, to protect his friends from who and what he is. It’s another big change from the books! But it’s certainly in character, and in that isolated state he’s more susceptible to Lanfear’s overtures. I get why they did it that way. The Moiraine thing isn’t as easy for me to read. This show definitely doesn’t have a “there wouldn’t be any movie if X contrivance didn’t exist” problem! There is plenty of story to get through without introducing extra obstacles.

Lee: Agreed—and there are even more of those contrivances popping up around how the One Power seems to function, especially around stilling and gentling and shielding. As you correctly point out, being shielded in the show does indeed seem to do more or less what being stilled does in the books—for women, at least. Male channelers, on the other hand, seem to have gotten some upgrades. Logain—gentled and definitely not-screwing-around cut off from the Source by Liandrin—apparently retains the ability to both judge another man’s strength with the One Power, and also to actually see weaves. The books make it very clear that being stilled or gentled is a permanent and total thing that transforms the channeler into a normal human with no more than normal human abilities, so this is a major swerve.

And why did they do it? So that Logain can teach Rand a few things, which has happened, and also so that Logain can do exactly what he did and tell someone that he sees Moiraine surrounded by weaves. That particular Chekov’s gun has now been fired.

Why couldn’t Rand see the weaves around Moiraine earlier? Horses, movie, etc, I suppose. It’s not how I would have done it, at least.

But! On the positive side of things, we actually get a scene that I think every single reader has been waiting for—Lan gives Rand a crash course on how to appear confident before the Amyrlin, and Rand then takes that knowledge and makes a good showing in front of Siuan.

Siuan Sanche arrives in Falme. You can tell she's the Amyrlin because she's got the biggest hat.
Enlarge / Siuan Sanche arrives in Falme. You can tell she’s the Amyrlin because she’s got the biggest hat.

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Andrew: On the Rand front, he does clearly have to concentrate to be able to see the weaves on Moiraine at all. I’m willing to chalk it up to some combination of Forsaken ingenuity and Rand being a total channeling noob. Book-Rand is still in pretty serious denial about his channeling ability at this point, where show-Rand has been more accepting of it. But either way, he still doesn’t know much.

So far the show has been way less into gender essentialism than the books are, but we get a hint of it from Lan here: a man accepts his fate and faces it on his feet. And he does face down the Amyrlin, and if Siuan is impressed by his assuredness, she is not impressed by how little he knows and by how weak his nascent channeling abilities are. In this sequence, the show makes some tweaks that quickly and smartly plant seeds of Rand’s all-consuming savior complex and his strong distrust of the White Tower and most Aes Sedai.

Siuan decides Rand needs to be caged in the White Tower after all, but at this point Moiraine’s Dragon Reborn Circle of Trust has extended to Alanna and Verin and their Warders, who all conspire to help Rand escape with Moiraine and Lan. He’s got to go to Falme, because the prophecies say it’s where the Dragon will be introduced to the world. (My book memory of this is that the sky-battle just kind of happens and people find prophecies that fit the facts later; usually when characters try to fulfill or not fulfill a specific prophecy in the books they end up doing a whole bunch of other things by accident.)

This city also happens to be the one that Perrin and Aviendha have headed toward, the one where Mat has been whisked to, and the one where Egwene and Nynaeve and Elayne have all been for a few episodes now.

The Horn of Valere—remember that thing? It's still in its box with High Lord Turak.
Enlarge / The Horn of Valere—remember that thing? It’s still in its box with High Lord Turak.

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Lee: Yes—and let’s cut over to Nynaeve and Elayne, doing their thing. They still have the a’dam snatched by Ryma (formerly of the Yellow Ajah, and now wearing a collar herself), and after some discussion with Loial, they ambush a lone sul’dam in an alleyway and snap the thing around her neck.

It’s a big moment in the show, since it’s the first real indication that the Seanchan are actually vulnerable in any meaningful way—their weapons can be used against them! But we lack the extra context—so far, at least—that the books are able to provide when the event happens. After all, an a’dam only works as a leash on a woman who can channel. So why does it work on a sul’dam?

Needless to say, there are potential implications for, oh, the entirety of Seanchan society—implications we’ll likely learn more about next week during the finale. (And if not, look to season three!)

The last bit I’d love to talk about is Perrin and Aviendha, who are also converging on Falme with fan-favorites Bain and Chiad in tow. I was a little confused about the geography—for a minute, it looked like the scene was starting off in the Aiel Waste (as evidenced by the Vince Gilligan-esque yellow color grading), but apparently there’s a desert surrounding Toman Head and Falme?

Andrew: Yeah, it’s kind of visible on some of the color maps of Randland, if you squint, though, yeah, if we spend much time in the Aiel Waste next season the show is going to want to save its good desert-y filming locations for that.

We get a little more Aiel world-building in this episode, further explaining elements of the ji’e’toh honor system to Perrin (who is mostly here as a spectator this week, sorry Perrin). You can incur toh (obligation) for all kinds of reasons, and it can be fulfilled in all kinds of ways, too. In the book it usually just meant doing weird chores, though in the show Aviendha’s friends just end up beating the tar out of her until they feel better. Physical punishment is sometimes used in the books (Jordan loved spankings), but I don’t recall a scene where anyone is just whaled on until they can’t stand up.

There’s not much else to say about the scene because there’s not much to it; Aviendha explains ji’e’toh to Perrin as they walk through an aggressively day-for-night-filmed desert, and they arrive at Falme in time for our grand reunion/confrontation.

Lee: And, with a final scene of Egwene calmly informing her sul’dam that Egwene is definitely going to kill her at some point, we finish this week’s recap. The board is set, the pieces are moving, and we come to it at last—the battle in the sky where the Dragon is going to proclaim himself. I mean, I assume we come to it. We haven’t seen the last episode yet, but you’d need to go back in time and get yourself an actual-for-real telegraph to telegraph the finale any harder.

There are a few things unsettled, though—what about that Horn of Valere? The thing that all those hunters have been getting branded for in earlier episodes? And—and lots of other things I can’t really articulate because of potential spoilers!

"You're a funny sul'dam, Renna—I like you. That's why I'm going to kill you last."
Enlarge / “You’re a funny sul’dam, Renna—I like you. That’s why I’m going to kill you last.”

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Andrew: What’s the deal with Mat? Will we see Min again? Will Loial get a chance to be in the show for longer than 90 seconds per episode? And what traps will the Forsaken spring on our heroes? The Wheel of Time turns—and we will re-turn next week after we’ve seen how the season wraps up.

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