Power and how it is used is often one of the core elements in storytelling. From shows like Game of Thrones to Doctor Who to The Wheel of Time, fantasy and science fiction often wrestle with the idea of power, those who wield it, why they wield it, and what purposes they use it for. In “The Flame of Tar Valon”, the sixth episode of Amazon’s The Wheel of Time series, the focus is placed entirely on the Amyrlin Seat, the ruler of the Aes Sedai, and how she exerts power over the sisters under her charge.
Spoilers ahead, so don’t read if you haven’t watched the episode.
The beginning of the episode takes us back in time to introduce Siuan Sanche, a fisherman’s daughter in the remote village of Tear. We see the loving relationship between Siuan and her father, including his acceptance of her ability to channel. We also see the family’s home burned, most likely because of Siuan’s abilities. Watching her father send her off to the White Tower, you get the sense that Siuan and her father never see each other again.
The costuming for the trial scene is magnificent, particularly for the now-adult Siuan Sanche as the Amyrlin Seat. There is a great deal of pomp and pageantry, which fits given the build-up we’ve heard over the past few episodes. The trial begins with the gentled Loghain Ablar being brought in. Despite losing his connection to the One Power, Loghain is still spitting venom, no doubt attempting to provoke the Amyrlin Seat into killing him. He does make a valid point, though: the Aes Sedai are losing their grip on power. We’ve seen over the course of the series that there is a great deal of resentment toward the Aes Sedai. This is more of a background detail until we get into the meat of the series, which will be the lead up to the Last Battle against the Dark One.
Siuan quickly shows a shrewdness in how she handles situations when she orders that Loghain not be executed. Instead, he is sentenced to be kept alive and studied, as an example of what happens to False Dragons and men who try to channel. When she begins to address Liandrin, Alanna, and Moiraine, we see they use the honorific of Mother (which makes the Aes Sedai under the Amyrlin Seat her Daughters). Much like real world parent/child relationships, those under the Amyrlin Seat chafe against the “restraints” placed by the authority figure. It also becomes plainly obvious that there are deep fractures in the Aes Sedai, with Liandrin serving as one of the louder voices that seek to undermine Siuan. I loved every second of watching Sophie Okonedo in this episode as Siuan Sanche. She brought gravitas and humanity to the role in equal measure.
I have to give Kate Fleetwood a great deal of credit: I’m beginning to despise Liandrin and that’s entirely due to Fleetwood’s performance. It’s difficult to perform a character that has few redeeming qualities but Kate Fleetwood handles the role well. There are times we can see something just underneath the naked ambition and misandry she displays but for all her grandstanding during the trial, Liandrin portrays herself as something less than a radical but more than a reformer. I’m intrigued to see where the character goes from here. Siuan publicly admonishes Moiraine for keeping the secret of why she has been out in the world. To her credit, Moiraine keeps her true intentions to herself, which makes the reveal much later all the more interesting (but we’ll get to that in a moment).
Moiraine visits the remaining characters from Two Rivers, starting with Rand and Mat. With great difficulty, Moiraine is able to withdraw whatever dark entity began possessing Mat after he picked up the dagger from Shadar Logoth. The scene immediately after between Nynaeve and Moiraine is an important one for Nynaeve. As much as I like Nynaeve, the fact remains that her pride and unwillingness to accept assistance from the Aes Sedai nearly cost Mat his life. That obstinacy is going to be Nynaeve’s downfall at some point. Another odd moment for Moiraine is when she visits Egwene and Perrin later. She fails to mention to Egwene that Rand and Mat are also in the city, feigning ignorance to their current whereabouts. For me, this means that while Moiraine is capable of caring for the people in her charge, I think she still sees them as a means to an end rather than as individuals with their own concerns.
When we see Siuan and Moiraine later outside the White Tower, we find that the pair are in a deeply intimate relationship. This reveal means that the events shown during the trial were merely theater. Siuan is well-aware of what Moiraine has been up to, since both of them were there when the prophecy for the Dragon being reborn was made. The public face of their rivalry is just to keep up appearances, which has its own pitfalls. Were it to become common knowledge that Moiraine and Siuan love each other and are in a clandestine relationship, the Amyrlin Seat would quickly find her grip on power loosen enough for someone else (like Liandrin) to take control of the Aes Sedai.
Which leads to the conversation the two of them have about the Dragon Reborn. The showrunners are doing one of two things at this point. On the one hand, they are laying the groundwork for a major deviation from the source material (where it is was known the Dragon Reborn would be a man). On the other hand, this could be misdirection from the showrunners to sow seeds of doubt in the minds of the audience, particularly the fans of the book that are watching the show. My thinking is that it leans more toward the latter than the former. The identity of the Dragon Reborn should be revealed in the following episode.
One side note: Loial is recruited to join the group by Moiraine, which I love, largely because I am digging the character since his first appearance.
The sentencing scenes are filled to the brim with raw emotions. Our first moment is between Moiraine and Liandrin, the latter of which is gleefully gloating over the prospective fate of her rival. It was so satisfying to see Moiraine reveal she knows a secret about Liandrin (there’s a man she sees on the side that her Red Ajah sisters don’t know about). Seeing Liandrin get put in her place after so much blustering the last two episodes was quite delightful. When Siuan goes through with the exile decree Moiraine suggested during their night together, it’s heartbreaking to watch, with Sophie Okonedo and Rosamund Pike portraying so much in their eyes as Moiraine is magically compelled to obey the Amyrlin Seat’s decree.
Which brings us to the final moments of the episode. The party that left Two Rivers at the end of the second episode are finally reunited, with Moiraine leading them to a Way. The idea of a focused spot where time and space can be manipulated is not a new concept but the effect of it here was handled well. During Moiraine and Siuan’s night together, Siuan mentions that she has been dreaming of the Eye of the World, the place where the Dark One was imprisoned. Moiraine felt it was too risky to take the Dragon hopefuls to that place, believing it would result in the deaths of the other four that aren’t the Dragon. But by the end of the episode, that is exactly what Moiraine does, creating a Way road that connects to the Eye of the World. The harsh, darkened landscape that is revealed is disturbing to the say the least.
But the closing moment will be defined by the reluctance of Mat to enter the gateway with his friends. Throughout the season, Mat has shown the greatest issue with their supposed purpose. As Moiraine pointed out when she healed him, Mat’s resilience to the corruption of the dagger was extraordinary but it wouldn’t have taken such a strong hold over him if there wasn’t already something within Mat to latch on to. So, in the moment we have everyone back together again, the group is fractured yet again. Where this takes the story moving forward is anyone’s guess at this point.
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