This episode serves as a bit of a turning point for the show, and one that should come as a welcome spot of relief for non-readers who have been hopelessly confused about what they’ve been seeing in the show up until this point, as our characters finally begin to make their way to the city of Tar Valon, the headquarters of the Aes Sedai. This is a change from the books, in which our characters reconvene in the city of Caemlyn, the capital city of the country of Andor, the country in which the village of Emond’s Field, from which our central characters hail, is located – in the books, none of our main characters arrives in Tar Valon until Book 2, The Great Hunt. Showrunner Rafe Judkins has spoken about the construction of different locations being the show’s greatest budgetary limitations, and it is clear that the show did not have sufficient funds to depict both Caemlyn and Tar Valon in the first season. Naturally, some of the events from The Eye of the World that took place in Caemlyn, such as Rand’s encounter with the Aes Sedai Elaida do Avriny a’Roihan and Queen Morgase of Andor, may be cut from the show entirely, while the introduction of major character Elayne Trakand, who appears in Caemlyn and meets Rand in The Eye of the World, will be re-worked for next season (we already know that Elayne will be appearing in Season Two). Conversely, our characters’ early arrival in Tar Valon means that some material from The Great Hunt, including the introduction of the Amyrlin Seat Siuan Sanche (Sophie Okonedo), who will make her first appearance in the next episode, will be covered in the first season. Such is the nature of adaptations; and while a certain part of me does want to see events unfold in the show as closely as possible to how they were depicted in the books, I also understand that these sorts of changes often lend strength and cohesion to the show when it is considered in its totality. There will inevitably be some changes that the show makes with which I take issue (see Laila Aybarra and the possibility of a female Dragon as two examples so far this season), but I can get behind changes such as this one that help to streamline the storytelling.
Beyond the changes to the story that this early introduction of Tar Valon entails, our characters’ arrival in the city serves to greatly expand the scope of the world as it has been presented so far in the show. One inevitable problem that would always plague the first season of The Wheel of Time is the insular nature of its storytelling, as The Eye of the World is very much a self-contained, insular story – it is truly nothing more than the prologue of the story that stretches across the 14-book saga, and it is largely focused on the immediate experiences of the central characters as they flee their home village and try to make it to Caemlyn. Many of the elements that fans most love about the book series – the Forsaken, the Seanchan, the Aiel, the White Tower – are either barely present in or completely absent from the first book. The first four episodes of the show, which have been focused on our characters’ flight from the forces of the Shadow, have replicated these insular tendencies in a way that, based on what I’ve seen of reviews of the show, has proven truly baffling to some non-book-reading viewers who are confused about the nature of this world and its stakes and history. While Episode Five certainly isn’t providing those viewers all the answers they seek, it certainly does allow us to get a broader view of the world, as we are taken into the White Tower and introduced to the inner workings of the Aes Sedai.
The characters’ plotlines in this episode remain largely in the tripartite structure that they have maintained since Episode Three, so I’ll consider each individually once again. The two main characters who don’t make it to Tar Valon this episode are Perrin and Egwene, who come near to the city as they continue to travel with the Tinkers, but who are set upon by Whitecloaks under Eamon Valda before they can arrive. This plotline sets up the series-long conflict between Perrin and the Whitecloaks that is central to his story arc in the books, but it unfolds rather differently from its depiction in The Eye of the World. I mentioned previously that Eamon Valda is a character who does not show up in the book series until Book Six; based on this episode, it appears that the show is merging him with a different Whitecloak named Jaret Byar, who serves as a nemesis to Perrin in the books. In the books, Perrin and Egwene are accosted by Whitecloaks who kill some of the wolves that come to their aid; losing control of himself, Perrin kills two of the Whitecloaks, and he and Egwene are then taken prisoner. The group of Whitecloaks who hold them prisoner is led by Geofram Bornhald (the Whitecloak commander with the grey beard who appeared in Episode Two), and his right-hand man is Jaret Byar, a sniveling, snakey sort of specimen who develops an intense hatred of Perrin. Before Byar can engineer their deaths, Perrin and Egwene are rescued by Moiraine, Lan, and Nynaeve, and the group continues on to Caemlyn from there.
The events that play out in this plotline in the show, with Valda goading Egwene into channeling, are drastically different from the books and re-center the entire plotline to focus on Egwene rather than on Perrin. I’m fine with that, but what this episode does NOT depict is Perrin’s killing of the two Whitecloaks, which serves as a major component of his storyline in the books. I wonder if the writers felt it might be redundant to show him killing even more people after we already saw him kill Laila, or whether it might make him too morally unsympathetic; additionally, his killing of the Whitecloaks in the books is tied in to information regarding his relationship with wolves that had already been revealed in the books by that point but that has yet to be fully addressed in the show. I suppose he could still kill them in the next episode, but if that’s cut completely, I’ll be confused as to how certain later events in the books will play out, unless his menacing of Valda in this episode before he and Egwene make their escape is enough to establish the series-long antagonism between him and the Whitecloaks; I guess we’ll see. One thing we DO see in this episode is the introduction of Perrin’s golden eyes (if you know, you know). I’m sure the show will expand on that soon, so I won’t do so here; suffice it to say, you’ll probably be hearing the name “Perrin Goldeneyes” quite a bit from hereon out.
Rand and Mat’s plotline revolves around their arrival in Tar Valon and Mat’s increasingly worsening condition, which is definitely now showing in his physical appearance. This episode continues to suggest that Mat might be suffering the effects of channeling the One Power, but I thought it was made almost explicitly clear last episode that his condition is related to the dagger? He literally had tendrils of Mashadar leaking out of his mouth. If the show didn’t want non-readers to make the connection between his deteriorating condition and the dagger/Shadar Logoth, I have no idea why it so clearly linked him to Mashadar in that scene – this continuing misdirection that Mat might be the Dragon Reborn is working against what the show itself has already shown, so I find that aspect confusing. Rand and Mat’s arrival in Tar Valon this episode means that an extremely important scene from The Eye of the World that takes place during their journey to Caemlyn and that confirms for the reader the identity of the Dragon Reborn has been cut here to sustain the show’s already-undercut misdirection that Mat might be the DR. I guess now anyone reading this obviously knows who the Dragon Reborn is, but like I just said, it’s not exactly kept a mystery for very long in the books – the show is playing up the “Who is the Dragon Reborn?” mystery as a marketing tactic to draw in new viewers; and while I understand why this might be effective, I ultimately find it rather annoying.
One treasure that this plotline does give us is the introduction of fan-favorite character Loial (Hammed Animashaun), a lovable and bookish Ogier (large non-human creature with bushy eyebrows) and probably the most pure-hearted character from the book series. Aside from taking place in Tar Valon rather than in Caemlyn, Rand’s first meeting with Loial plays out exactly as it does in The Eye of the World, with entire passages of dialogue lifted directly from the book. Animashaun’s vocal delivery as Loial is a particular delight, as it sounds almost exactly the same as Michael Kramer’s performance as Loial in the audiobooks. Loial is a character who simply made me happy every time he appeared in the books; and based on what we got to see of Loial in this episode, I think that I can confidently say that that trend will continue for the show. Loial comes across Nynaeve while wandering through the city and brings her to Rand and Mat, providing us with our first character reunion since they all became separated. This scene provides us with our first real glimpse of Nynaeve’s relationship with Rand and Mat, as she spent very little time with anyone other than Egwene in Episode One before being carted off braid-first by a trolloc. Immediately, you can see the love and care that Nynaeve has for these boys, which resonates so perfectly with the way her character is described in the books. Being five years older than Rand, Mat, Perrin, and Egwene (seven years older than Egwene in the books, as Egwene is 18 rather than 20 in the books), Nynaeve helped care for them all when they were children and regards all of them as something close to younger siblings. Her motivations in The Eye of the World in particular are clearly informed by her desire to protect the four of them at all costs, even from the Aes Sedai should she need to. Every aspect of that fierce protectiveness is shining through in Zoe Robins’ performance as Nynaeve, and it proves beyond doubt that she was the correct actress to play this role.
That does bring us to the final plotline of the episode, which centers mainly on Lan and his relationship with Stepin, the warder of the late Aes Sedai Kerene Nagashi. We do get some scenes with Nynaeve, Moiraine, Liandrin, and Alanna after the group arrives at the White Tower, but the show centers Lan in this plotline in a way that it hasn’t up until now. While the last episode established that Lan and Stepin were clearly friends, this episode suggests that that friendship was deeper and more important to both of them than we previously saw. The main emotional conflict here revolves around Stepin’s grief over Kerene’s death and his eventual decision to commit suicide, which he is only able to accomplish after drugging Lan so that he will not impede him. This plotline is entirely invented for the show – the Aes Sedai named Kerene Nagashi is depicted in the books as dying in the prequel novel, New Spring, set 20 years before the beginning of The Eye of the World, and I cannot remember if her warder is ever even mentioned in that book. While this plotline does give us an insight into the warder community and how it functions, its main purpose is to deepen and humanize Lan’s character, as Lan has been by far the most stoic character that the show has presented thus far. Even before this episode, though, Lan’s characterization was being presented as softer and more empathetic than how he appears in the books, in which he is little more than a stoic cypher for much of the entire series. This is the best change that the show has made from the books so far, as Lan was a character who was – dare I say it? – actually poorly written in the books, in my opinion. By showing us Lan’s emotions and his ability to love and care for others, the show makes us more invested in the character from the very beginning of the story and lays a better foundation for the romantic relationship that he develops with one of the story’s other central characters (you should probably be able to guess who that is by this point). Although he had a couple of really enjoyable scenes in the last episode, this episode really cemented Daniel Henney’s performance as Lan for me. He has consistently been able to channel the key qualities that Lan displays in the books while also bringing a much-needed humanity to everyone’s favorite warder, and I am excited to see how his performance continues to develop in future episodes.
Episode Five was an episode that gave us a contemplative breather after the action set-piece of the previous episode and served to expand and build the world of the series in a way that hopefully served to entice non-readers and to give them a glimpse of the larger frameworks within which this story is unfolding. The acting was also the strongest across the board of all five episodes of the series so far, with Daniel Henney, Zoe Robins, Peter Franzen as the doomed Stepin, and Marcus Rutherford (who finally got to let out some emotion as he confessed to Egwene to accidentally killing Laila on Winternight!) as particular standouts, with a pitch-perfect introduction to Loial by Hammed Animashaun. The next episode promises to stay entirely within Tar Valon, so I look forward to seeing our characters all finally reunited. I’ll see you all again then! Until then – 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.