The Wheel of Time series premiere recap: The Dark One is waking
It begins with a lore bomb.
This is appropriate, given that Eye of the World, the hefty first volume in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time saga, is itself a bracing and often overwhelming deluge of names, places, cultures, and curses. For now, just know this: The world is broken, a Dark One is waking, and the fate of existence rests on the shoulders of a chosen one, the reincarnated soul of the man responsible for the "Breaking of the World." You see, time is a wheel in this world, and, though it changes slightly with every spin, the wheel always comes back around to where it started.
Enter Moraine (Rosamund Pike), a member of the Aes Sedai, an all-female sect of powerful magic wielders. Joined by her "warder," a stern warrior named Lan (Daniel Henney), Moraine is in pursuit of the Dragon Reborn, who, according to prophecy, is just now coming of age. Their search brings them to Two Rivers, an idyllic, remote village in the mountains.
There, we meet Rand (Josha Stradowski), a 20-year old farmer who'd happily spend the rest of his days in Two Rivers with his father, Tam (Michael McElhatton), and girlfriend, Egwene (Madeleine Madden). Rand and Egwene's romance, hot and heavy as it is, is threatened by her desire to become a Wisdom, village healers-slash-authority figures who are forbidden from taking spouses and having children. He drowns his sorrows in ale (and one humongous wool sweater) with longtime companions Perrin (Marcus Rutherford), a married blacksmith, and Mat (Barney Harris), a charismatic rogue with a tortured home life.
Their shock at Moraine's arrival is mirrored by the rest of the Two Rivers folk, for whom the women of the Aes Sedai are something they've only read about in storybooks. Most wary of Moraine is Nynaeve (Zoë Robins), the local Wisdom, who has a story about her impoverished adopted mother being cruelly turned away by the Aes Sedai after she traveled on foot to their distant headquarters, the White Tower. She's not alone in her distrust, either. The Aes Sedai may be feared and respected, but beloved they are not. Many continue to associate the few who can channel the One Power, the source of all magic, with the Breaking of the World.
Still, an Aes Sedai is infinitely more welcome than the hooded figure that stalks Two Rivers at night. And, if that circle of disemboweled sheep that Lan discovers is any indication, it doesn't appear to be alone.
Unfortunately, Lan's discovery comes too late. As our heroes dance alongside their kinfolk at a festival meant to honor the souls of those they've lost, tragedy strikes with an impaling ax. Bursting through the festivities is an army of horned, hairy Trollocs — don't call 'em orcs! — who stand tall over the humans as they rain blows with serrated swords, and, in some cases, even eat the flesh of their victims.
An all-out slaughter is mitigated somewhat by Lan's swordsmanship and Moraine's magical abilities, which take the form of a lightning storm and a telekinetic hail of stones. Rand, too, takes out a Trolloc, but not before its poisoned blade punctures Tam. Mat rushes to find his sisters in the melee, while Perrin and his wife, Layla, defend their forge against the beasts.
After the fight, Moraine is able to heal Tam of his near-fatal wound, but not everyone is so lucky. Nynaeve is snatched by a Trolloc while tending to the wounded. Layla, meanwhile, is accidentally gored by Perrin amidst the assault on their forge, leaving the young blacksmith bereft. Even Moraine takes a Trolloc blade to the shoulder.
The dust of the crumbling village has barely settled before Moraine informs Rand, Egwene, Perrin, and Mat that the Trollocs arrived for the same reason she and Lan did. One of the four of them is the Dragon Reborn and the Dark One wants them as badly as the Aes Sedai. "Our only chance," Moraine says, "is to reach the White Tower and the other sisters of the Aes Sedai."
Knowing that the Trollocs (and their looming masters) will return to Two Rivers if the four of them stay, they say their goodbyes, hop on their horses, and reluctantly follow Moraine and Lan into an uncertain future.
A journey begins.
- By upping the ages of its central characters, showrunner Rafe Lee Judkins has allowed for a more adult adaptation. It's no Game of Thrones, but this take on Wheel of Time is both hornier and more violent than fans of the books might expect.
- Moraine isn't the only member of the Aes Sedai in pursuit of the Dragon Reborn. Early in the episode, we meet Liandrin (Kate Fleetwood) as she captures (and tortures) an unknown man who claims to be able to touch the One Power. Note her red ring and ensemble, as there are numerous societies among the Aes Sedai, each distinguished by a color. Some are more malevolent than others.
- Egwene's braid is a coming-of-age symbol bestowed upon her by the Women's Circle of Two Rivers. Nynaeve says it serves as a reminder that "you are a part of us and we are a part of you."
- Sharp-eyed viewers might notice that the only person at the festival not surprised by the Trolloc attack was Padan Fain (Johann Myers), the traveling merchant Mat haggled with earlier in the episode. There are more than just monsters who want the Dark One to win.
Episode 2: Shadow's Waiting
So, just who was it we saw trotting through Two Rivers the night before last episode's Trolloc attack? It's more helpful to ask "what" than "who." That waxen, frowning face belongs to what Moraine and Lan call Fades, a subset of Shadowspawn also known as the Eyeless (for obvious reasons). We get our first good look at one as our heroes board a ferry to cross the Taren River and the creature, a leader to the army of Trollocs at its back, leaves a memorable impression, what with its violent shriek and Sarlacc-like mouth.
That shriek is one of frustration, as deep bodies of water are one of the only things that can stop a Trolloc army in its tracks. That provides little comfort to the ferryman, however, who is apoplectic when, after they've landed, Lan cuts the ropes that guide the ferry and Moraine sinks it in a magic-made whirlpool. His family is on the other side, and the fact that they're doomed to be Trolloc kibble doesn't stop him from drowning in an effort to save his boat.
Moraine and Lan's cold reaction to his death doesn't sit well with Rand, who questions why they should trust the Aes Sedai at all. He's something of an audience surrogate here, asking all of the questions viewers are probably turning over. Is there any truth to the prophecy of the Dragon Reborn? Is it true that while the last Dragon broke the world the next one will save it? Where, exactly, are Moraine and Lan taking them? And what will he, Perrin, and Mat do once they get there? The Aes Sedai is not suited for men.
But Moraine's answers remain cryptic and unsatisfying. It's an absence of alternatives that keep the reluctant friends with their guides. But not everyone is so suspicious of the Aes Sedai. During a late-night pow-wow, Egwene is both encouraged and intrigued when Moraine tells her that Wisdoms, too, draw upon the One Power. Her nascent talents have the potential to grow into something much stronger. She just needs training.
A future as an Aes Sedai, it seems, is a possibility for Egwene. This appeals to her. But it continues to drive a wedge between her and Rand, who resents her desire to pursue a life that leaves no room for him.
On the road, our heroes encounter the Children of the Light, a zealous military outfit proving that not all adversaries are servants of the Dark One. Clad in brilliant white, the sour soldiers are devoted not only to eradicating those affiliated with the Dark One, but also anyone who draws upon the One Power. That includes the Aes Sedai. As such, Moraine deftly puts on the guise of a hapless citizen when questioned, allowing them to pass unscathed.
But her power is fading. The wound she received in the last episode is only getting worse, and while the Aes Sedai have the power to heal others, they (rather inconveniently) aren't able to heal themselves. There's help in Whitebridge, the nearest town, but a pack of Shadowspawn chases them somewhere far less ideal: Shadar Logoth.
Abandoned and cursed, Shadar Logoth was formerly known as Aridhol before it succumbed to a shapeless evil called Mashadar. Shadowspawn won't dare to enter and, as Perrin notes, nor will any birds or bugs. "Touch nothing," Lan warns. "Eat only the food you brought."
Mat, not one for obedience, ventures out on his own as the others sleep. In a shadowy nook, buried beneath some rubble, he finds a pristine, jewel-encrusted gold dagger. His discovery appears to trigger some kind of awakening; within seconds, one of their horses has collapsed into dust and the others have fled in fear. A darkness begins to quickly spread throughout the town like lava, separating our heroes and throwing them in different directions. Rand and Mat escape through a crack in the wall. Perrin and Egwene leap from a terrace into a nearby body of water. Lan and Moraine retreat back into the forest.
As Lan tends to an unconscious Moraine, a knife rises to his throat. It's Nynaeve. "If you don't take me to them right now, I'll slit your throat," she warns.
- To help portray the Children of the Light for the unhinged zealots they are, the episode begins with a grinning Eamon Valda (Abdul Salis) burning an Aes Sedai woman alive as he enjoys an ortolan. (What is it with TV characters and ortolan?) An experienced Aes Sedai hunter, he carries the rings of those he kills on a jangling chain by his side.
- Perrin, too, is still nursing his wounds (both emotional and physical), though comfort comes from, of all places, a pack of wolves. They can't all be this friendly, can they?
- Nightmares are plaguing all the Two Rivers travelers, each of whom dreams of pulling a dead bat from their throat before waking to find a dead bat beside their bedroll. Also present in their dreams: a dark, humanoid creature with glowing red eyes.
- Moraine offers a history lesson to her companions, telling them of a time when Two Rivers was known as Manetheren and fought valiantly in the age-old Trolloc Wars. The queen of Manetheren, she explains, was a legendarily powerful Aes Sedai.
- The lore, it goes deep in this one.
Episode 3: A Place of Safety
Trollocs: strong, but not particularly smart or focused. That's the lesson of this episode's cold open, in which we witness Nynaeve's escape from the horde during the attack on Two Rivers. It's a dying Trolloc that provides her opportunity, as the beast dragging her to her doom can't help but drop her body in favor of his fading friend's delicious flesh. (No loyalty among beasts, huh?) Nynaeve escapes into a nearby cave, hides in a small pool of water, and, after a quick game of cat and mouse, steals the Trolloc's dagger, striking a fatal blow to its chest.
That brings us back to the present, where she and Lan stand off. She wants to know where her friends are. He wants her to use her powers as a Wisdom to heal Moraine. Her distrust is fierce, however, and a scrap between the two eventually gives way to an uneasy alliance. They both need each other, after all. Using herbs gathered from the area, she's able to nurse Moraine back to consciousness, though the poison coursing through her veins persists. Lan has an idea.
Having been flung far from their friends, Perrin and Egwene are desperate to stay warm after their leap of faith from Shadar Logoth. As Perrin struggles to make a fire, Egwene opts for a different approach, channeling her budding powers to create a simple spark that blooms into a humble fire. Moraine would be proud.
Perrin's furry friends return, this time nipping at the heels of the pair as they careen through the wilderness. After stumbling upon a pair of tracks in the mud, though, Egwene and Perrin realize that the wolves weren't chasing them, but guiding them to this very spot. Following the tracks, they eventually stumble upon a group of Romani-like travelers with Adam Duritz hair. They have many names — Tuatha'an, Traveling People, Tinkers — and apparently have a bad reputation as thieves and kidnappers. From what we see, however, they are a peaceful nomadic community with big, slobbery dogs and plenty of plates of food for our famished heroes. "A Place of Safety," indeed.
Rand and Mat are not so lucky. A dead body, riddled with arrows, hangs in a cage outside the gates of the first village they find, nobody's idea of a good omen. The innkeeper, a young woman named Dana (Izuka Hoyle) is friendly enough, offering them work in exchange for lodging, but the local "gleeman," a deep-throated troubadour named Thom Merrilin (Alexandre Willaume), nicks what little money they have. "Small fee for a life lesson," he muses.
Tensions are running high between Rand and Mat. Rand wants to continue their journey to the White Tower, while a brash and surly Mat wishes to return home to his sisters. Neither of them trusts Moraine, but Rand says Egwene has faith enough for both of them. "You don't need to go there for her," Mat counters. "She wouldn't go there for you." Rand's reply: "You are such a prick."
The pair split off. Mat returns to the hanging body, which he noted was carrying a purple crystal he could potentially pawn for a hefty sum. Before he can pluck it, however, he's interrupted by Thom Merrilin, who explains that the dead person is an Aiel, a race of warriors with a reputation as muddy as the Tinkers. "Stories say they're as bad as Trollocs," Mat says. Thom, who seems to know quite a bit about the Aiel, denies this, saying this Aiel was "murdered by cowards" and deserves a proper burial. Mat helps him, but not before reluctantly plundering the body of the crystal and a small wooden carving. "I'm sorry," he says. "I've got sisters that need me." It's a shame that Barney Harris has been recast for season 2; his performance so far has been among the show's best.
Dana gives Rand a cozy room for his work and the two share a beer. She makes a move to kiss him, which he denies, no doubt thinking of Egwene. That's when Dana reveals her true motives. She's a Darkfriend, a human who's been tempted by promises of power by the Dark One. Rand manages to escape the room and find Mat, but they're stopped by a sword-wielding Dana, who says it's the Aes Sedai who want Rand and his friends dead, not the Dark One. The Dark One, rather, would utilize the Dragon to break the Wheel of Time, thus disrupting the cosmic pattern that rules all life. (Oh, is that all?)
She just has time to reveal a Fade is on the way when a spear impales her throat. It's Thom, who suggests they leave before the Fade and its Trolloc army arrive.
The episode ends with Nynaeve, Lan, and a now-conscious Moraine crossing paths with Liandrin, the red-ringed Aes Sedai we last glimpsed at the top of the premiere. Her prisoner, the same man we saw her subdue then, is marched by in a cage. He is claiming, she informs them, to be the Dragon Reborn.
- Perrin's nightmares grow even more intense. In this episode, he has one in which he stumbles upon the fresh corpse of his wife, Layla, being feasted upon by wolves as the red-eyed figure watches on. What, exactly, is Perrin's relationship to wolves?
- We also get a sweet moment between him and Egwene, who recognizes his pain and tries to convince him Layla's death wasn't his fault.
- Dana mentions dreaming of Rand, Mat, Perrin, and Egwene, and a fifth member of their party. I'm assuming she's referring to Nynaeve, who Rand and Mat still believe to be dead.
- Thom Merrilin is greyer and more somber here than he is in the books, though the colored patches on the inside of his jacket nod towards the cape of many colors he wears in Jordan's prose.
- Rand's reply when Dana insinuates he and Mat are lovers: "If I wanted a man, I could do better."
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