The Dragon Reborn returns to where the world was broken and nothing is the same after that. In the first season finale of Amazon’s The Wheel of Time, everything goes to hell by the end of the episode, leaving us as viewers wondering where the story is going after this. The willingness of the characters to sacrifice themselves for the greater good is tested and temptations are laid out for all of the characters to sway them away from the Light.
Spoilers ahead, obviously, so don’t read if you haven’t watched the episode.
Episode Eight, titled “The Eye of the World” picks up where the previous episode ended, with Rand al’Thor and Moiraine entering the Blight to reach the Eye of the World and stop the Dark One from escaping its prison. The remaining characters: Perrin, Egwene, Nynaeve, and Lan are left in Fal Dara as a large force of Trollocs and Fades descends upon the city to destroy it. The episode’s pacing felt off at points, particularly during the build-up at the beginning of the episode. I can’t quite put a finger on why things felt off to me but some moments felt exceedingly hollow.
After going through the last seven episodes, I have to say that I’m not a fan of the character of Perrin, which is no fault of Marcus Rutherford who portrays the character. Oscillating between being quiet and reserved to one step away from histrionics does not make for a compelling character and I leave that firmly at the feet of the writers of the show. The same could be said of Nynaeve (portrayed by Zoë Robins), who I’ve mentioned in the past is written to be far more stubborn than would be acceptable for a character in these circumstances. Again, this isn’t a criticism of Robins’ performance, which is excellent when the writers give her scenes with emotional punch but the remainder of the time, she just comes off as bullheaded and obdurate for the sake of being so.
The battle sequence for the Siege of Fal Dara looked good in some parts but also felt weaker in others, particularly toward the end as night fell on the setting. I have the same complaint here that I did during the Siege of Winterfell in the final season of Game of Thrones. I understand why the production department decided to cast that part of the battle at night, mainly as a cost-cutting measure to save money on CGI but it makes the whole thing an exercise in futility when you can’t clearly see what is happening. The battle did come at nearly the cost of Nynaeve, due to the channeling attempt of Lady Amalisa (the sister of Lord Agelmar that rules over Fal Dara) nearly killing her. I genuinely liked both Amalisa and Agelmar (portrayed by Sandra Yi Sencindiver and Thomas Chaanhing, respectively) but in these types of stories, they were the most expendable characters given the circumstances.
We also see the reintroduction of Padan Fain (portrayed by Johann Myers), who first appeared in the initial episode and then reappeared later on in Tar Valon once Mat and Ran arrived. Fain is a Darkfriend, a servant of the Dark One, and we’ve caught glimpses of him for the last couple of episodes, particularly after the party made their way through the Ways to Fal Dara. Here, we see Padan Fain flanked by two Fades (the largely faceless monstrosities that lead the Trollocs into battle) as he slaughters a retinue of Fal Daran warriors to reach his ultimate prize: the Horn of Valere. Through this action, we can see that the attack on Fal Dara was not truly meant to succeed, only provide a distraction large enough for the forces of the city to be committed to stopping the army while Padan Fain made off with an artifact that is capable of calling the greatest heroes of the world to fight in the Last Battle. I’m intrigued to see more of Padan Fain in the upcoming seasons, largely because Johann plays him with such a detached air of whimsical darkness that I find the character fascinating. We also get a morsel of information from Fain during his conversation with Perrin: the five people Moiraine took from Two Rivers are Ta’veren, individuals woven into the Pattern of the world by the Wheel to enact great changes. As Fain states, one or two are generally born in a generation but for five to be born and raised in the same place is something the Dark One and his minions found incredibly enticing.
The main point of the episode, though, was Rand and Moiraine descending into the Eye of the World and confronting the Dark One. Of course, it wasn’t the Dark One they encountered. Instead, it was the scarred figure that had been haunting the dreams of the companions. This creature is not the Dark One but rather the primary servant of the Dark One, Ishamael. The show does not do anything to really differentiate the two and this is mainly something the book fans would recognize. If there is a champion of Light in the Dragon Reborn, then there is a champion of the Shadow, which is Ishamael. He’s first mentioned by name by Dana, the Darkfriend who attempted to subdue Mat and Rand in Breen’s Spring and as we see, his connection to the One Power is far above anyone else we’ve seen in the series so far.
Ishamael weaves a fantasy for Rand (as well as cutting Moiraine off from the Power), showing how Rand could remake the world in his own image. The tried-and-true trope here is the simple life of a farmer, back in Two Rivers, with Egwene and young daughter by his side. It’s a comforting fantasy, one that Rand finds almost irresistible. The moment that changes his perspective is the fantasy version of Egwene, when he recognizes that while he may want this idyllic life, it is not what Egwene would want. I found that moment heartwarming in large part because it is Rand fully acknowledging Egwene’s agency and desires rather than supplanting them with his own.
The final moments of Rand’s journey to this point feel like a victory but as we discover from Moiraine once Lan catches up with her is that this is only the first of many battles to come. We see what she means in the last few minutes of the episode on the Far Western Shore of the continent as an armada of strange ships approach. We see a host of gagged women in strange adornments begin to channel the One Power and cause a tsunami to engulf the shoreline, killing a small child who had been collecting seashells. The story of The Wheel of Time is not over. From the looks of things, it’s just getting started.
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