Updated: Nov 28, 2021
Wow. What an episode. If Episode One threw the viewer headlong into the world of The Wheel of Time, Episode Two eases off the gas a little bit to let viewers become more acclimated to what they’re seeing. We get some longer dialogue scenes in this episode that give the characters more room to grow than in the harried first episode, and the actors take good advantage of it, particularly Rosamund Pike, who truly shines. But first, we need to talk about the Whitecloaks.
The episode opens with the villainous Whitecloak questioner Eamon Valda (Abdul Salis) burning an Aes Sedai at the stake. Now, I have questions, as burning an Aes Sedai at the stake is a rather difficult feat to achieve, given that the women are able to use magic. The books never actually depict this kind of ritualized execution of an Aes Sedai by the Whitecloaks, although the Whitecloaks’ animosity for the Aes Sedai is well established, and we do hear of Aes Sedai having been killed by them. The true name of the Whitecloaks is the Children of the Light, and they are the closest thing that the book series depicts to a religious organization in the world of The Wheel of Time. While they are nominally devoted to glorifying the Creator and combating darkfriends and other forces of evil, in practice they are dangerous religious zealots who maintain a sizable force of armed men and who serve as the true power behind the throne in the country of Amadicia. In the books, the Whitecloaks regard Aes Sedai as witches, holding that no human being should ever channel the One Power, as doing so is, in their opinion, a desecration of the divine. Later in the episode, it’s revealed that Valda has killed no fewer than seven Aes Sedai, so the show is clearly laying the ground work here for the viewer to regard the Children as an antagonistic force. Eamon Valda’s appearance will come a surprise to book readers, as he doesn’t show up in the books until Book Six (!), but he’s a thorough scumbag in the books too, so it’s not that illogical to see him getting up to some villainy this early (I suspect that the show may have folded a couple of other unpleasant Whitecloaks into Valda’s character, as there are only so many characters we can have in a TV show). Abdul Salis is instantly an iconic villain, declaiming his religious platitudes through an oil slick of a smile that calls to mind another great villain of fantasy literature, Dolores Umbridge from the Harry Potter series. He lights up the screen for every second that he appears in this episode, and I look forward to seeing more of him in future episodes.
To talk about good acting in this episode, however, is to discuss the performance of Rosamund Pike. The first episode was so rushed that Pike had precious little to do in the acting department besides absolutely bodying an entire host of trollocs. In this episode, though, we get a pair of scenes that let the Academy Award-nominated actress shine at her most convincing, both of which are drawn directly from the books. As the group, on the run from the trollocs, goes to sleep for the night, Moiraine and Egwene have a conversation under the moonlight in which Moiraine reveals to Egwene that she has the ability to channel the One Power. Even as Moiraine gives the viewer some needed exposition about the One Power, so too does she encourage Egwene to embrace the power within herself. It is a small scene, just two women talking under the moonlight, but Pike imbues the dialogue with every ounce of wisdom, self-confidence, and encouragement that the moment needs. This is the moment when I fully saw how thoroughly Pike has embodied this character, who often comes off as a bit of a blank cipher in the books, as we see her actions mostly through the points of view of other characters (the exception is the prequel novel, New Spring, which is narrated almost entirely from her point of view). The second scene gives us the iconic “weep for Manetheren” speech from The Eye of the World, although now performed on horseback as the group is traveling instead of in the town of Emond’s Field. In the speech, Moiraine recounts the history of the nation of Manetheren, a nation that once stood where the Two Rivers and Emond’s Field exist today, and how the country was destroyed during the conflict known as the Trolloc Wars, during which time trollocs swept across the land and threatened to destroy civilization once again. Pike imbues the monologue with a tremendous amount of pathos that nearly brings the other characters to tears – I certainly found myself getting a little misty-eyed by the time she was finished. Transposed as it is from before the trolloc attack on Emond’s Field to after, the monologue now also functions as a requiem for all those whom our central characters have so recently lost. If this is what Rosamund Pike is bringing to her performance as Moiraine, I can’t wait to see more.
The centerpiece of this episode revolves around the abandoned city of Shadar Logoth, where our group heads in order to escape the pursuing trolloc horde. Gone from the show is the small city of Baerlon, where our heroes first arrive in the books after leaving the Two Rivers, and the major character of Min Farshaw with it, although we know from casting information that Min will appear later in the season in some other manner. Given the iconicity of Shadar Logoth, however, it makes sense from a pacing perspective to end this episode with the events that take place there. The city is shadowy and purple-toned CGI sepulcher that lives up to the picture of it that had been created in my imagination as I read the books, although our characters spend precious little time there in the show (okay, maybe the pacing is still a little rushed, but we have 14 books to get through). Shortly after the group’s arrival at Shadar Logoth, we get my favorite scene of the episode, which is a very sweet conversation between Mat and Perrin that, ironically, stems directly out of the unfortunate fate of Perrin’s wife Laila. Yes, I’m still mad that they fridged her. In the scene, Mat gives Perrin a knife that Laila had made and given to him, saying that he should have it instead, as Mat thinks that it should be used to protect someone that he loves. If anything, this is slightly out of character for Mat, although it’s a change that I enjoy. I mentioned in my review of Episode One that Mat has an inner sweetness hidden under a layer of nonchalance and flippancy, but the way that manifests in the books is by Mat always doing whatever is necessary to protect the people he cares about while all the time swearing he doesn’t really care. It’s an endearing dichotomy in the books because we as readers have access to his point of view, but the surface level of his character always leads with the flippancy. His being so overtly kind and loving to Perrin in this moment isn’t something I think book Mat would have done, but it does ultimately represent how Mat feels about Perrin as one of his closest friends. If anything, this gives me hope that they will re-frame a certain decision that Mat makes in Book Five that I found personally repulsive and callous in a more sensitive way. So all that is basically to say, I like soft boy Mat! I’m interested to see if Donal Finn, who will be portraying Mat in Season Two, will be able to nail that same balance of sweetness and snark that Harris is exuding so well.
One scene in Shadar Logoth that was re-worked for the show is Mat’s encounter with the ruby-hilted dagger – although, in the show, the ruby has been moved from the hilt to just below the blade, so I guess we can’t even call it that anymore? Gone is the villainous Mordeth and his trove of treasure from the books; in the show, Mat merely wanders into a room, finds a box, and opens it to reveal the dagger. I get why the entire Mordeth sequence was cut, but they couldn’t come up with anything more imaginative than that? This scene is the one glaring negative for me in this episode, besides the fact that I just wanted to spend more time in Shadar Logoth in general. After Mat finds the dagger, the evil force that pervades the city, given the name Mashadar in the books, begins to attack. Mashadar has been visually re-imagined from the white mist that it is described as in the books to something closer to a fluidly-moving black fungus, likely to avoid confusion with how channeling is depicted in the show as involving smoky white tendrils of the One Power. As in the books, our group is split up as they flee Shadar Logoth, with Mat and Rand going one way, Perrin and Egwene another, and Lan and Moiraine yet another. The episode ends with Nynaeve, whom everyone thought dead after the events of Winternight, holding a blade to Lan’s throat and demanding to be taken to the rest of the villagers. This is a bit of the change from the books, in which Nynaeve catches up to the rest of the group in Baerlon and journeys together with them to Shadar Logoth, but the removal of Baerlon clearly necessitated this change. At any rate, Nynaeve ends up with Lan and Moiraine after the events of Shadar Logoth, just as she does in the books, and we can expect plenty of fireworks between them next episode.
This was a very good episode, a step up from the first in my opinion. This episode gave me a much better sense of what the show is going to be like from episode to episode as it goes on. The acting was top notch yet again, and I’m falling even more deeply in love with Rosamund Pike as Moiraine and Barney Harris as Mat. Now that Perrin and Egwene are separated from the rest of the group and off in their own storyline for the time being, I’m also hoping to see more from Marcus Rutherford, who clearly has talent but has not been given very much to do these first two episodes. Tai’shar, and I’ll see you in my next post for Episode Three!
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.