After six episodes of conjecture and supposition, the identity of the Dragon Reborn is revealed, setting the stage for the finale of Amazon’s The Wheel of Time. In an episode that felt disjointed at times, the big reveal at the end was worth the trek through an episode that felt weighed down by pointless melodrama. With that said, there were some interesting moments throughout the episode, which I will get to below.
Spoilers ahead, obviously, so don’t read if you haven’t watched “The Dark Along the Ways”.
First, let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way. The sudden departure of Barney Harris from the series left the showrunner and writers in a quandary, since Mat Cauthon is a key part of the story. The role of Mat has already been recast for Season Two but that meant the final two episodes of the season were most likely restructured to remove plot elements that involved Mat as the group makes their way to the Eye of the World to confront the Dark One. So far, Amazon and the show’s production company have been mum about the reasons for Barney’s departure.
The writers did the best they could to milk the drama of Mat choosing to stay behind in Tar Valon during the episode but this was easily the worst part of the episode for me. The in-fighting that develops felt forced, despite the young actors playing the Two Rivers group doing their best with the material at hand. The awkwardness regarding Perrin and Rand both fighting over Egwene’s affection felt hollow to me, largely because I don’t really see Perrin as being romantically interested in Egwene to that degree. Perrin might be crushing on Egwene a bit but that’s not the same thing as being fully in love with someone. The whole group argument in the middle of the episode felt like it was added purely for the sake of creating melodrama, which I’m never a fan of.
With that being said, the sequence in the Ways was quite chilling. An in-between place that sits just outside of reality, the Ways were depicted as constructed but still alien, which was an interesting and satisfying design choice. The Machin Shin, the Black Wind, was handled about as well as a concept like that could be handled, with the voices in the wind utilizing all of the actors speaking their worst fears to themselves as the wind scoured the landscape. Unfortunately, due to the short length of the season, we haven’t gotten enough time with Perrin, Egwene, or Rand to really give them more than a cursory single issue to focus on (Rand’s fear of Egwene leaving him, Perrin’s guilt over the death of his wife, and Egwene’s fear that she is not a potential Aes Sedai). It’s suitably terrifying but also gives Nynaeve a chance to show off her power at channeling again, protecting everyone long enough for Moiraine to open a door to Fal Dara.
The trip through the Ways also allows the writers to reveal another juicy morsel of foreshadowing: the Trollocs are in the Way roads, which should be impossible since they cannot channel the One Power. This means that someone or a group of people are enabling the forces of the Dark One access to portals that can transport them long distances without being detected. This is something that I have a feeling will be explored more in-depth in season two since we are near the end of the first season. However, it does indicate that the troubles of this world are only going to become exponentially larger as the story continues.
The key moments for me are the cold open, with the Maiden of the Spear Tigraine Mantear slaughtering soldiers on a plateau being overlooked by Dragonmount and what that sequence sets up later in the episode. The fight sequence of Tigraine kicking ass (while going in to labor) was beautifully shot and is by far my favorite cold open for the show thus far. Magdalena Sittova handled herself well in the scenes, showing the vulnerability of a woman in the throes of childbirth but still focused enough to soundly defeat several armored men attempting to kill her. It is only revealed later on that this is Rand’s mother and that Tam al’Thor was the soldier at the beginning who laid down his sword to help the injured Aiel warrior give birth to her son.
We see a rapid sequence of images with Rand coming to grips with the fact that he is the Dragon Reborn. The series of flashbacks reveal that Rand has subconsciously channeled before. When he escaped Dana at Breen’s Spring, he channeled power to break down the door. When the Trolloc attacks the group during their trek on the Ways, it was thought that Egwene channeled power to defend the group but now we see that it was Rand who channeled in a moment of desperation. The character of Win, a bartender in Fal Dara who can see images of peoples’ futures in the Pattern, fills in the remaining blanks. Win’s first vision was of Tam al’Thor, wandering through Tar Valon with a red-haired baby in his arms, a child who was impossibly tied to the Pattern of the Wheel of Time. The reveal is handled exceptionally well and I have to give credit to Josha Stradowski for portraying the weight of this revelation in what I would say is his best performance so far in the series.
Which leads us to the ending of the episode: Moiraine and Rand leave the others behind in Fal Dara to enter the Blight and reach the Eye of the World. It makes sense at this point that Rand and Moiraine would do this, since both of them understand that anyone else who goes on the journey most likely will not make it back. There’s a pragmatism and a pinch of fatalism in their decision, with a slapdash of high-minded stupidity (which most protagonists in stories tend to display). The board is set for the finale as we venture further into the heart of this world’s darkness. Whether Rand or Moiraine make it out again is a different matter but the trajectory of the series won’t be the same after the finale.
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