The Wheel of Time Season One Watch-Along – Episode Six: “The Flame of Tar Valon”
Episode Six is an episode that presents events that are mostly invented for the show and that ends with a pair of MAJOR changes from the books that are bound to prove controversial for book readers. With that said, Episode Six is also the talkiest episode of the season so far and mostly centers on Moiraine, giving her some much-needed character development. In my blog post for the previous episode, I mentioned that the show has been effectively humanizing the character of Lan by softening him compared to his portrayal in the books. Similarly to Lan, Moiraine in the book series is rarely presented as anything other than stoic and inscrutable (the sole exception to this is the prequel novel, New Spring, which is narrated almost entirely from Moiraine’s point of view); when Moiraine does eventually acquire a love interest in the book series, the moment came as a shock to me, as it was difficult for me to imagine such a bloodless character in the throes of passion with anyone at all, even if the books also stipulate that Moiraine had a sexual relationship with her best friend Siuan Sanche when the two were novices together at the White Tower. While the books never confirm whether or not that relationship persisted past adolescence, the show has definitively decided that it did, a decision that serves to greatly humanize Moiraine and to introduce some much-needed LGBT representation to the show.
Moiraine’s storyline in this episode revolves largely around her relationship with Siuan, and the episode opens with a flashback to Siuan’s childhood in the country of Tear, revealing that she was chased out of the country by her fellow Tairens who were hostile to her on account of her ability to channel (eagle-eyed viewers will catch a brief glimpse of the Stone of Tear during this sequence). This sequence allows viewers to understand Siuan’s resourcefulness, fortitude, and determination, all qualities that are expertly brought to life by Academy Award-nominee Sophie Okonedo as an adult Siuan in this episode. When Okonedo first appears in the episode, making her entrance into the hall of the Tower, her regal and self-possessed demeanor lets the viewer know exactly who this woman is and how much power she wields. Siuan first chastises the party of Aes Sedai for gentling Logain without a trial and then singles out Moiraine when she refuses to divulge what she has been doing away from the Tower for the past two years. I found this a little confusing, as this episode also reveals that Siuan is perfectly aware of Moiraine’s search for the Dragon Reborn; I can only think that this display was put on for show, to dispel the appearance of any favoritism toward Moiraine on Siuan’s part.
When Moiraine visits Siuan’s chambers later for a sexual rendezvous, Rosamund Pike imbues the character with a tenderness, vulnerability, and humanity that the books never afford Moiraine, even in New Spring. The decision to make these changes to Moiraine and Lan’s characters is probably my favorite change that the show has made to the books, as it gives us a reason to care about the two of them and to be invested in them as characters. Moiraine tells Siuan that she must exile her, as one of the sitters in the hall of the Tower for the Blue Ajah has commanded Moiraine to remain in Tar Valon, and only a sentence of exile could override that command. The next day, when the sentence is pronounced, all the Aes Sedai ritualistically turn their back on Moiraine as she leaves; Pike’s acting throughout this scene is the most impressive she’s been all season, with her love for Siuan combining with the embarrassment and trauma of being shunned by her sisters. Tears stream down Pike’s face as she leaves the chamber, and this is only a further illustration of how different this Moiraine is from the books’ incarnation of her, as I could never imagine book Moiraine crying at all. There are still two episodes left in the season, but I’m thinking that this is definitely the episode that Pike should submit for possible awards nominations.
And just like that, Siuan Sanche is gone from the show (she also has a meeting with Egwene and Nynaeve in which she reinforces the importance of Moiraine’s mission for the younger women)! For now, anyway – as book readers know, she has her own sizable storyline across the entire series. Okonedo’s performance in this episode was a treat, easily selling the dichotomy between the regal ruler who commands respect and the fisherman’s daughter who is in love with her best friend (as a side note, I do wonder whether the male love interests that both Siuan and Moiraine develop in the books will be retained or whether they will be cut in favor of further developing the relationship between the two of them). I have been a fan of Okonedo’s since I saw her Academy Award-nominated performance in Hotel Rwanda (2004) – she also recently gave an hilariously camp performance in the Netflix series Ratched (2020), in which she continuously spouts a few grandiose declarations of self-importance that have lived rent-free in my head ever since – so I am very much looking forward to seeing her appear in future seasons of The Wheel of Time.
The other main event that takes place this episode – at least before its ending – is that Moiraine heals Mat of his connection to the dagger, using the One Power to pull a viscous black substance out of his body that then attached itself to her face (!) until she is finally able to direct it back into the dagger itself. Book readers will know that this is a pretty substantial change, as Mat is not healed of his connection to the dagger until Book Three, The Dragon Reborn. It may be that the writers on the show decided that having Mat be emo and mopey for that long may have just proven to be unpalatable to viewers, so they decided to accelerate the timeline on his healing. It remains to be seen how this change will affect Mat’s storyline moving forward, as his entire storyline in Book Two is dedicated to trying to get the dagger back after it’s stolen from him; I’m really just hoping that we can still somehow keep the iconic fight in book three that happens between Mat and two other characters very shortly after Mat has been healed, as it is continually held up as a favorite scene from the series among fans.
Speaking of Mat, we need to talk about the end of the episode and the two major changes that are brought in there. Everyone from the Two Rivers reunites outside of the city at a waygate, a magical artifact that can grant entry to the Ways, an extra-dimensional space that can allow travelers to cover vast distances quickly (while anyone can use a waygate in the books, the show has changed them to be accessible only to channelers; it remains to be seen what ramifications will come of that change). Moiraine then explains that she is taking them to the Eye of the World, the Dark One’s prison, in the hope that whichever one of them is the Dragon Reborn will be able to re-seal or kill the Dark One there. In the books, the Eye of the World is a pool of untainted saidin, created through the cooperation of male and female Aes Sedai shortly after the sealing of the Dark One; the group journeys to the Eye in order to prevent the forces of the Shadow from harming it or using it for some nefarious purpose, as they have received intelligence that suggests that the Eye is in danger. If that sounds confusing and half-baked, a lot of fans agree that the events surround the Eye of the World at the end of Book One don’t make very much sense, which is presumably why the show has made this change. But taking this group of untrained youths TO THE DARK ONE’S PRISON makes NO sense whatsoever. In the books, the Dark One’s prison, located in the mountain of Shayol Ghul, is an extremely dangerous place with forces of evil swarming all around the area. Also, how does Moiraine expect the Dragon Reborn to do anything if he hasn’t been taught how to channel yet? This seriously makes no sense; I guess we’ll see how they handle it in Episode Eight.
The episode ends with a second major change that is honestly kind of heartbreaking. As the group enters the Ways, we see that Mat has hung back, allowing the waygate to close without him ever entering (credit to Josha Stradowski for the look of pure horror that appears on Rand’s face as he sees Mat refusing to enter the Ways). In the books, Mat travels to the Eye with everyone else, although he doesn’t have too much to do between this point in the story and the end of Book One, so his absence shouldn’t affect that portion of the story substantially. I can’t help but think that this storytelling decision is a direct result of Barney Harris’ decision to leave the show; I had heard rumors some time back that he had left during the middle of production, necessitating that Mat be written out of the final two episodes. Whether Mat appears in the final two episodes or not is something that no one knows for sure at this point, as only the first six episodes were made available to critics for advance reviews. What is sure, however, is that Mat has been recast for Season Two, and that whatever is going on with Barney Harris seems to be something more significant than simply a desire to quit the show, as he has also deleted all his social media and has not made a single appearance alongside his fellow cast members during promotional events for the show. I sincerely hope that he’s doing okay. In these first six episodes, Harris was able to bring a sympathy and softness to Mat that it takes a long time for book readers to discover in his character, and I have no doubt that he would have continued giving a pitch-perfect performance throughout the rest of the series had he chosen to remain part of the cast. I am excited to see Donal Finn’s performance as Mat next season, and I wish him the best of luck in taking over this character partway through. As for what’s going to happen to Mat, it remains to be seen how the writers are going to maneuver him into his future story beats, especially given that his connection to the dagger was healed extremely early here in the show; again, we’ll just have to wait and see.
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.