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The Wheel of Time Season One Watch-Along – Episode Seven: “The Dark Along the Ways”

We’re almost to the end of the season! Episode Seven of The Wheel of Time brings our characters to the edge of the Great Blight and positions them for the final conflict of the season that will unfold in the final episode. The episode begins with a cold open depicting the birth of the Dragon Reborn on the slopes of Dragonmount during the Aiel War; the scene of a pregnant woman kicking butt while actively in labor is certainly not something I’ve ever seen before, and it serves as an apt introduction to the Aiel’s considerable martial prowess. After the cold open, we pick up with our characters distraught over Mat’s abandonment of the group – one feels that Egwene’s repeated pronouncements that “He left us!” during this episode represent the writers expressing their umbrage at Barney Harris’ departure from the show (Harris does not appear in this episode, as I expected he would not). The writing rationalizes this story change by having Moiraine express her opinion that Mat has an “inner darkness” in him and that it would be ill-advised to bring him to the Eye of the World, as he might be tempted to join the Shadow. I suppose that’s as good an explanation as any; I look forward to picking Mat’s story back up next season and putting this entire story change behind us.

Despite Episode Seven being entitled “The Dark Along the Ways,” our characters are out of the Ways by the 17-minute mark, but not before they are antagonized by Machin Shin, an evil entity that resides in the Ways and that carries whispers of insanity with it – the show’s visualization of Machin Shin as a swarm of black, glass-like fragments was appropriately menacing, if different from how I previously envisioned the force while reading the books, and looked great on screen. The Ways themselves, filled with inky darkness punctuated by the odd flash of foreboding lightning in the distance, were visually spectacular, given how small the actual physical set that they must have built for the show was.

After leaving the Ways, our characters arrive at the fortress city of Fal Dara in the country of Shienar and meet its lord, Agelmar Jagad (Thomas Chaanhing). We also see that Padan Fain has followed the group through the Ways, which is appropriate, as book readers will know that his presence in Fal Dara is necessary to set off the main plotline of Book Two. Everything about the set design in Fal Dara this episode, both interior and exterior, felt expensive and lived-in – bravo to the set design team. A few important story developments happen in Fal Dara this episode, and first among these is the introduction of Min Farshaw (Kae Alexander), who appears now in Fal Dara because our main characters never traveled to the town of Baerlon, where Min lives in the books, after they left Emond’s Field. The episode actually lets us visually see some of Min’s visions, which is nice, as it makes very clear for the viewer that Min’s ability to see glimpses of the Pattern is specifically a visual phenomenon for her. I am less enthusiastic about Alexander’s performance, however, as something about her sharp and world-weary taken on Min felt leagues away from the witty and compassionate young woman that Min was in the books – this is compounded by the fact that Alexander, at 36 years old, is considerably older than her book counterpart, who is only 23. Much like Thom Merrilin earlier in the season, Min is only present in this first season of the show for a brief period of time, so there is plenty of time in the seasons ahead for Alexander’s performance to grow and evolve. Out of all the performances in this season so far, however, only Alexandre Willaume’s and Alexander’s have felt to me like they don’t accurately represent the essence of the character from the books – I suppose that’s a good thing, as it means that all the other actors are channeling their characters perfectly. Regardless, I do look forward to seeing more from both of them next season and to seeing how the characters of Thom and Min develop.

There’s a stupid argument that our main characters have this episode about a potential love triangle between Rand, Perrin, and Egwene. This is so egregious, since Rand and Egwene had nothing more than a flirtation in the books, while Perrin and Egwene were NEVER depicted as anything more than friends. I hate this.

Moving on from that ill-informed writing decision, we do see an accelerated development of Lan and Nynaeve’s relationship here in the show compared to how their relationship developed in the books, but this is a change that works, as the show has already done a better job of laying the groundwork for their mutual attraction than The Eye of the World ever did. It’s tremendously touching to see Nynaeve drop her prickly exterior and open up to another person, while Lan continues to be enriched this episode, as we learn about his backstory as the uncrowned king of the country of Malkier, which no longer exists. Lan and Nynaeve’s relationship in the book is already a treasure, but with how much more emotional dimension the show is adding to Lan, I expect this relationship to be much more well-developed in the show as it continues.

The main development this episode is the revelation that Rand is the Dragon Reborn; thank God they finally revealed it, so we can finally drop all this “Who is the Dragon Reborn?” marketing nonsense and get on with the story. Up until this point in the story, Rand has been purposefully sidelined, with less focus paid to him than any of the other main characters. This is a huge deviation from the books in order to preserve the mystery of the Dragon’s identity – case in point, almost the entirety of The Eye of the World is narrated from Rand’s point of view, while the show’s first season has basically made Nynaeve the main character (as a Nynaeve lover, I’ve kind of been here for it). This is another change that actually works quite well, as I’m sure that it would hit the uninitiated like a ton of bricks to realize that the boring guy who’s in the background most of the time is actually the main character. Given that so much of the story going forward will be centered on Rand, this storytelling decision also allowed the rest of the cast to shine more and establish a better grounding during this first season, which is nice. Up until this episode, Josha Stradowski’s performance as Rand was always competent, but he had never really been given very much interesting to do acting-wise; the scene of Rand’s revelation as the Dragon is a great acting moment for Stradowski, however, as we see the intense whirlwind of emotions playing out on his anguished face. From what I’ve seen of his performance so far, I do think that Stradowski was the right choice of actor to play Rand and will be able to embody Rand’s incredible evolution over the course of the series.

The episode ends with another major change from the books, with Rand revealing that he is the Dragon Reborn to Moiraine and the two of them venturing alone into the Great Blight. In the books, the entire crew, including the now-absent Mat, go to the Eye together. The ending of The Eye of the World is universally considered fairly confusing and half-baked by even fans of the book series, however, so it doesn’t surprise me that they’re going to change the ending of the first book radically – if ever the show had carte blanche to do something completely different, this is the time. We’ll see what changes lie in store during the next and final episode of the season! Until then, I’ll simply say: The Dragon has been reborn; weep for your salvation.

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.

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