The wheel of time
Photo: Jan Thijs / Amazon Prime Video
That’s not always the case – no piece of Hollywood visual shorthand is truly universal – but in general, a close-up of a character’s mouth while enthusiastically eating is shorthand for evil. It is a way of communicating the acquisition or hedonism of a character. (Sometimes it’s just an old fatphobia.) In the case of Eamon Valda (Abdul Solis), the “questioner” Whitecloak giving this episode of The wheel of time its open cold, it is meant to show its indifference to human suffering.
As he delves into what is, for all intents and purposes, the Billions / Estate / Hannibal forbidden delicacy ortolan, a woman dies in front of him. Her hand was cut off and she is slowly being burned at the stake. His crime? Belonging to Aes Sedai, the powerful order of magical women whose representative Moiraine leads our heroes into the unknown. Obviously, they have dangerous rivals in the welfare arena; The collection of stolen rings from Aes Sedai that Eamon wears on his belt indicates that he has taken this damned route several times before.
Solis’ spooky and cheerful portrayal of this Whitecloaks captain appropriately presents Wheelthe second episode of. Much more than his predecessor, he is interested in the question of what it really means to be one of the “good guys”. In the war against darkness that the Aes Sedai and the Whitecloaks consider themselves to be waging, are the “good guys” still a thing?
Egwene, Rand, Mat and Perrin, our fugitive quartet from the village of Two Rivers, have plenty of reasons to ask this exact question. Steps away from a small army of Trollocs and their lamprey-mouthed “melted” captain, they enlist a ferryman to help them cross a river, as the Trollocs can’t swim and fear water. But as she bribes him and promises more money when they are safe on the other side, Moiraine neglects to mention the evil after them until the smuggler has already realized that his family is blocked at the mercy of the Trollocs. Once on the opposite bank, Moiraine runs the tank in a whirlpool; the ferryman jumps into the water in a desperate attempt to save his son and himself succumbs to the whirlpool.
Once the danger has passed, Moiraine is quick to point out to Egwene that the oaths taken by the Aes Sedai – they’re a bit like Asimov’s laws of robotics – prevent him from killing anyone except for immediately defend himself, his “guardian” Lan, or another Aes Sedai. If the ferryman died in the whirlwind she created, it means he put himself in danger and paid the price, not that she killed him. A little more guardianship in Aes Sedai’s manners seems to put Egwene at ease, but to the rest of us it looks a lot like Moiraine looking to break out of his guilt over the ferryman’s death, let alone. from his family.
Things only get worse from there. Rand is deeply irritated by Egwene’s decision to become a celibate Wisdom; even if this avenue now seems closed to him, his desire to listen to Moiraine is a bridge too far away for him. She repeatedly blows up her ex-girlfriend.
His reward? A dream in which he throws up a dead bat, a dream apparently shared by the rest of the group, who all wake up in a campsite littered with the corpses of flying rodents. Also present in dreams is a dark man with flaming embers for his eyes. Probably nothing to worry about!
Moiraine and the crew manage to make their way safely past Eamon Valda and a squad of White Mantles, staying as close to the truth as possible without revealing their true identity and true purpose. But we find out that Moiraine and Perrin are hiding the wounds of the battle with the Trollocs. In Moiraine’s case, coupled with his repeated use of the “One Power”, the injury is quite severe. We learn that she is also unable to heal herself. As for Perrin, he commune with a pack of wolves, one of which licks his open wound before trotting. It is not clear whether this is helpful or not.
After a short story by Aes Sedai, in which Moiraine explains that their village was once part of a large kingdom that stood alone against the forces of darkness during the Trolloc Wars, the group ended up escaping through a crack in a huge shield wall in a town where even Trollocs and Fades are afraid to walk: Shadar Logoth, which translates to “waiting for the shadows.”
Indeed, it is. It turns out that Shadar Logoth is the town that refused to come to the aid of Mountain Home in the story told by Moiraine; as punishment, the place was consumed from within by evil, leaving no living thing behind. Fortunately, the extremely cool ruins have been left alone.
For a while, the group minds its own business: Lan takes care of Moiraine, sicker than ever, while Mat gives Perrin a knife made for him by Perrin’s late wife, Laila. Mat then leaves on his own and finds a jewel dagger hidden in the debris. Probably nothing to worry about!
Then the shit, or shadow, hits the fan. The darkness itself rises and devours one of their horses, sending the group in three distinct directions. Rand (who made a connection between him and Egwene) and Mat flee the city engulfed by darkness by slipping through the wall. Perrin and Egwene scale one of its shield walls and jump into the water beyond. Lan and Moiraine escape on horseback – and are quickly attacked by Nynaeve, the wisdom of the village of Two Rivers, whose reports of the death have been greatly exaggerated. Roll the credits.
As a dark fantasy work (ish), this episode has a lot to recommend. Eamon and the White Mantles are instantly memorable foes, diametrically opposed to the Fade and his Trollocs but worse to contemplate due to their very humanity. Shadar Logoth, like the rest of the computerized ruins the group passes on their journey, is duly awe-inspiring, evoking the untold centuries in which the history of light and dark has so far unfolded.
Meanwhile, it’s easy to see both why Rand (angrily) and Mat (sarcastically) dismiss Moiraine and Lan as guides and why Egwene would cling to anything that gives the chaos in his current life some kind of meaning. and direction. And it’s actually quite impressive for the show to chronicle Moiraine’s behavior towards the ferryman in such a way that you might think, “Hey, those witch-burners are right.” The whole story depends on whether the quartet should trust their guide; give us reasons not doing it is a brave game so early on.
All of this leaves you wondering: is the Dragon Reborn a person you would really like? want to to find? Or does their legacy of global destruction threaten to carry on into the present, potentially drowning the world just as Moiraine’s Aes Sedai powers accidentally but not quite drowned this poor smuggler and sentenced his family to death at the hands of the Trollocs? In this war, who can be sacrificed?