The Wheel of Time Season One Watch-Along – Episode Four: “The Dragon Reborn”
Wow, what a fantastic episode. Episode Four of The Wheel of Time is easily the best episode of the show’s first season so far and finally gives those viewers unfamiliar with the books some much-needed information about the world of this story, most especially regarding how channeling the One Power works for men. We saw a brief scene in Episode One of Liandrin (Kate Fleetwood) and other Aes Sedai of the Red Ajah gentling a man who could channel, and that earlier scene also made clear for the viewer that men who could channel would eventually go mad; Episode Four, however, through two of the episode’s main storylines, makes the stakes of that madness much more palpable for the viewer. Before we move on to that topic, however, I’ll discuss the episode’s other storyline.
In the last episode, we saw Perrin and Egwene come across the Tinkers, a group of non-violent nomads who are clearly based on the Romani people of the real world. In this episode, they continue to travel with the Tinkers, who explain their philosophy of non-violence, known as The Way of the Leaf, to them. Veteran Irish actress Maria Doyle Kennedy plays Illa, the leader of this particular group of Tinkers, and gives a heartbreaking monologue about the death of her daughter in this episode. As she explains, she is motivated to pursue non-violence as a form of vengeance upon the violent world that took her daughter from her, so that she might make the world a kinder place for her daughter to inhabit when the wheel of time returns her soul to the world. Kennedy’s delivery of this story is impeccable, but the real focus of this scene is Perrin, who is listening to her story. Although I still disagree with the decision, the fridging of Laila Aybarra is making more sense as the season goes on, as without that foundational trauma, Perrin would come off as nothing more than “the character who listens and doesn’t say anything.” With our knowledge of Perrin’s trauma, however, we are able to view scenes such as Kennedy’s monologue as moments of character growth and development for Perrin, whose storyline in the books very much hinges upon his give and take relationship with his inner violence. With those themes already articulated for the viewer through Perrin’s accidental slaying of Laila, we are able to see the guilt and self-hatred that the character does indeed carry throughout the book series as he oscillates between the impulse toward violence and gentleness from the very beginning. While I remain convinced of the misogyny of the fridging trope, at least it’s clear after this episode that there was some justification, from a storytelling perspective, of this narrative decision. Marcus Rutherford’s acting really began to shine for me in this episode as well, as he brings Perrin’s internal conflict to life with little more than his facial expressions. I can’t wait for him to actually get more material to work with later in the story, as I can already tell that his performance will only grow and grow.
Rand, Mat, and Thom are still traveling together following their flight from Breen Spring in the previous episode. In this episode, we see them come across a farmer and his family and then bed down in the hayloft for the night. Although their plotline is rather brief this episode, the main conflict centers on Mat’s increasingly erratic behavior. In the last episode, Mat was very rude to Rand, and while that could have been written off as a bad moment, this episode makes clear that something is wrong with Mat – very clear, in fact, as we see tendrils of Mashadar – the devouring black fungus entity from Shadar Logoth – literally leaking out of his mouth. This is a visual confirmation of the fact that the dagger that Mat purloined from Shadar Logoth is cursed and is having a deleterious effect on him. Rand and Thom don’t know exactly what’s going on, but Thom suggests to Rand that Mat is exhibiting some early symptoms common for a man who is beginning to channel the One Power, which he is familiar with because his nephew, Owyn, was also a man who could channel. Although the episode makes pretty clear that Mat’s condition is due to the dagger (as it indeed is in the books), Thom’s monologue about Owyn’s gentling and suicide provides the viewer with some crucial information about how male channelers exist in this world. The Red Ajah of the Aes Sedai are clearly stipulated in this episode to be devoted to hunting down and gentling men who can channel, which is necessary, as every male channeler is fated to go mad due to the Dark One’s taint on saidin, the male half of the One Power. Also revealed through Thom’s tale of his nephew is how despondent a person can become after losing the ability to channel, often to the point of suicide – this will have implications for multiple characters later in the story who lose the ability to channel, including one character in this very episode. Alexandre Willaume is growing on me a bit after this episode. His physical appearance is so different from Thom’s description in the books that the experience of seeing him embody the character is still a bit jarring, but his portrayal of Thom felt more authentic to the character in this episode than it did in the previous episode. I still think that Thom will be the one major character from the season who feels drastically different in the show compared to in the books, but I’m still willing to give the show the benefit of the doubt at this point.
The main plotline in this episode revolves around Logain Ablar, who made his first appearance in the final scene of the previous episode. As we learn in this episode, Logain is both a channeler and a false dragon – a man who has falsely declared himself to be the Dragon Reborn – and has been the driving force behind the rebellion in the country of Ghealdan that has been mentioned already a couple of times this season. In The Eye of the World, Logain appears only very briefly as a captive of the Aes Sedai being taken to the White Tower to be gentled. Showrunner Rafe Judkins has specifically cited Logain as a personal favorite character of his, however, and made it known that Logain would have an expanded role in the series as compared to the books. While I was initially skeptical of this decision, there’s no denying that the conflict centered on Logain in this episode has been the best the show’s had to offer across the first half of the season. For the first time, we get to see multiple Aes Sedai and their warders congregated together in one spot, which gives us our first understanding of what it’s like at the White Tower, where Aes Sedai live and work together as a community. The episode also introduces the viewer properly to the notion that each of the ajahs of the Aes Sedai serves a different function, as we see sisters of both the Red and Green Ajahs working together to secure Logain. And perhaps most crucially, this episode gives us Moiraine back, as her wound is healed by an Aes Sedai named Kerene Nagashi (Clare Perkins). We also get some emotional bonding between Lan and Nynaeve and an explosive action sequence when Logain’s followers attack and the Aes Sedai have to fight back using the One Power. All of this, however, is only a lead-up to the end of the episode, which was so powerful and so deftly handled that it took my breath away. After Logain breaks free and kills Kerene, Kerene’s warder Stepin (Peter Franzen) attempts to kill Logain, a move that backfires when Logain uses saidin to shatter Stepin’s axes and send shards of shrapnel flying into everyone in the room. The trauma of witnessing so much carnage pushes Nynaeve so hard that she touches the One Power for the first time to heal everyone in the room in what the show makes clear is a stunning display of power. Much is made in the books of Nynaeve’s incredible strength in the One Power, and seeing her finally tap into that strength gave me chills. Zoe Robins plays the moment perfectly in an explosion of rage and grief that solidifies her work as one of the best performances in the show, and I am so excited to see her performance continue as the show progresses. After everyone has recovered, the Aes Sedai link and gentle Logain on the spot, the black corruption of saidin exploding out of his chest like a fountain in an innovative visual move. We end the episode on a close-up of Nynaeve’s face, as the show seems to suggest that she could be the Dragon Reborn (despite being the wrong age AND sex – I guess I’ll just have to get used to the show playing fast and loose with book canon). At any rate, it is a moment of incredible power that shows the viewer that she will be a central character in this story moving forward – I can’t wait to see it.
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.