Happy New Year, everyone! I’m sorry that I couldn’t get this blog post out sooner after the episode aired, but I’ve started a new job in Nebraska, and between the relocation and spending Christmas with my family, I’ve been very busy! Season One of The Wheel of Time has now come to a close, and it will likely be almost another full year before we see Season Two, so if you’re feeling post-season depression, this would be a perfect time to start reading the book series! I’m exhausted and have so many things to do, so this might be a bit of a shorter blog post, but let’s go ahead and get into the Season One finale of The Wheel of Time.
Right off the bat, I can say that this is the episode that definitively separates the show from the books – at this point, you either have to accept that this is an adaptation that is charting its own course, or you will be disappointed. Despite my assertion in the last blog post that the show would be allowed creative liberty to make changes to the end of The Eye of the World, the outraged reaction among some vocal die-hard book fans on the Internet that has exploded since Episode Eight’s airing has perhaps proven me wrong on that point. The thing is, when has a TV series adapted from a book series ever not charted its own path and made changes to the story? Did fans of Game of Thrones who are now watching The Wheel of Time conveniently forget the absence of characters such as Young Griff and Arianne Martel from the show? What about the completely different characterization of Euron Greyjoy? A TV show is its own entity – unless you have an unlimited amount of time and money, it wouldn’t be possible to make a shot-for-shot recreation of the book series, and it would probably feel utterly bizarre if you did. If you are utterly anti-change, then adaptations probably just aren’t for you, and that’s fine, because you can always go back and re-read the books. I’ve accepted that this story will change in adaptation, and when you let go of the terror and anxiety of your beloved story being changed in any way, then you can truly appreciate the cinematic re-imagining of the story on its own merit. I plan to re-watch Season One of The Wheel of Time prior to the premiere of Season Two for just this reason, as I think that I was too close to the source material on this first viewing to allow me to fully appreciate the show as a show; for anyone with adaptation anxiety, I’d recommend you to do the same.
We get our first glimpse of the Age of Legends in this episode, as the cold open shows us Lews Therin Telamon (Alexander Karim), the Dragon, immediately prior to his attempt to seal the bore in the Dark One’s prison. This sequence is spoken entirely in the Old Tongue, complete with subtitles, and ends by showing us a view of a technologically-advanced sci-fi-style city; eagle-eyed viewers will recognize this city as the ruins we saw at the beginning of Episode One, which is a nice touch. We only ever got a couple of scenes explicitly set in the Age of Legends in the books, so I hope that we can see more of that time period in the show, possibly as flashback sequences involving the various Forsaken.
I’m exhausted and have so much to do in the next few days, so pardon me if I don’t go into huge detail about what goes down during this episode. Suffice it to say that the Battle of Tarwin’s Gap takes place like in the books, but instead of Rand showing up and decimating the trolloc horde, that task is given to the armsmen of Fal Dara and a circle of channelers led by Lord Agelmar’s sister, Lady Amalisa (Sandra Yi Sencindiver). They wipe out the trolloc army, but also everyone but Egwene and Nynaeve basically dies; this sequence does a good job of highlighting the dangers of burning out while using the One Power, as each member of the circle begins to succumb to the flow of the Power overloading their bodies. After Nynaeve takes more of the Power in to spare Egwene, Egwene repays the kindness by healing her; I’ve seen some people on the Internet opining that Nynaeve had died and Egwene resurrected her, but I’m here to tell you that that’s BS – the books make it VERY clear that death cannot be healed. I’ll agree that Nynaeve looked pretty rough, but she was still alive when Egwene healed her – some bridges are just too far to be crossed, no matter the adaptational logic.
The main events of the episode surround the events at the Eye of the World, revealed to in fact NOT be the Dark One’s prison (which I assume is still located in the mountain of Shayol Ghul) OR the pool of saidin as it’s depicted in the books, but rather the location of one of the seven cuendillar seals of the Dark One’s prison. I also think that in the show, it’s quite possible that the Forsaken Ishamael (Fares Fares) is imprisoned in this location and has lured Rand to him in order to free him (in the books, Ishamael is already completely free at this point). In that sense, the Eye of the World is a prison, just not the Dark One’s prison. Of course, none of our characters realizes that the affable bearded man played by Fares Fares who has been masquerading as the fire-eyed dream monster all season is in fact actually just a man and not the Dark One himself. Indeed, the credits of the episode identify this figure as the Forsaken Ishamael, and this tracks with the books, as it was not until Book Three that it was revealed that this figure was actually Ishamael and not the Dark One. Ishamael tempts Rand to join the Shadow by showing him the idyllic future that he could have with Egwene, but Rand rejects this illusion and channels into the sa’angreal that Moiraine has given him (and where did she get a male sa’angreal???), seemingly blowing Ishamael away. The channeling cracks the cuendillar seal on the floor, however, which, paired with Ishamael’s smile as he dissolves, leads me to think that not only has Rand just destroyed one of the seals of the Dark One’s prison, but he has also freed Ishamael from his own imprisonment – suffice it to say, I doubt that this is the last we’ll see of Fares Fares. The episode ends on an incredible note by introducing the Seanchan, looking even more evil and imposing than I had envisioned them, absolutely wrecking an unfortunate little girl with a giant tidal wave as they make landfall on the western shore of the continent – look for them to be a major presence in Season Two.
Overall, this episode had some problems with logic and storytelling – the mechanics of channeling still haven’t been thoroughly explained yet, and it sure looked like Egwene resurrected Nynaeve from death, even though I and other book readers know better. The confrontation with Ishamael at the Eye of the World actually worked better in the show, however, than in the book, which fans universally agree had a confusing ending. Despite the flood of negative fan reactions that I’ve seen on the Internet, I liked this episode overall and particularly thought that Josha Stradowski built on his strong work in Episode Seven here as Rand wrestles with the temptation extended to him by Ishamael. Although, again, I have seen lots of book purists trashing the season, this season of The Wheel of Time brought to life a story that has been dear to me since I was a child, and I found the results to be magical. Was it completely without any issues? No, of course not – I particularly think that the show has not done a very good job of explaining several key elements to non-book readers, which will hopefully be rectified as the show continues on and has more time to dive into those minutiae. In its essence, however, this show IS The Wheel of Time – this is the story, and these are the characters I fell in love with. I can’t wait for more. I hope that you all love it as much as I do. Tai’shar.
Dr. Nolan Boyd is currently Visiting Instructor of English at the University of South Florida. He graduated with a PhD in English Literature and a Graduate Certificate in Women's Gender, and Sexuality Studies from Miami University in 2020. His scholarship analyzes the cultural work performed by cinema and contemporary literature, and particularly by representations of queerness and disability. He also serves as a peer reviewer for the journal.