Season One Rewatch
What are you doing? While we wait for Season Two, one of the things I wanted to do was gather some of my thoughts about Season One, things I liked, small details I found, foreshadowing I spotted, and other cool details. Mostly, I’ve been spilling tons of thoughts across various discords… I wanted to gather them all in one place!
Show Spoilers: this rewatch will contain spoilers for all of Season One of Amazon Prime’s Wheel of Time show. I’ll be connecting things that happen in early episodes to things that happen in later ones, so don’t read this unless you have watched the entire season! (Or you just… don’t care about spoilers.)
Book Spoilers: I’m going to occasionally include book spoilers in these posts, too. There is a lot of foreshadowing in Season One… like metric loads of it. However, so that people who haven’t read the books yet (or are only part way through) can still read these entries, I’ll be marking all book spoilers like this:
Predictions: I may also occasionally put predictions in here! These will probably be based on my book knowledge, so I will also mark them like this:
Other Notes: I am an author with deadlines and ADHD. I have no idea how regularly I’ll manage this. But if I start it, we’re almost guaranteed Amazon will drop Season 2 before I can finish it, so really… I’m doing it for y’all.
Episode One: Leavetakings
Wow, this episode wasted pretty much zero time kicking things off, huh?
When I see this opening scene, I will always think of two things: Moiraine’s suspenders breaking the internet, and how this specific line sent the fandom into a tizzy:
men who were born with great power believed they had the ability to cage darkness. The arrogance.
The Wheel of Time (for better or worse, and frequently for worse) was a series about gender. And in this opening, they said, “well, let’s just lean into that.” However, a female character calling a bunch of men arrogant in the opening of an epic fantasy show… ruffled some feathers.
I have two main reactions to this. The first is: lol is she wrong? These men were moving with some pretty serious arrogance! Also…
My second reaction is that right here, in the first scene, we have a direct set-up that pays off in the final episode. Consider these two lines.
In the first episode of the season, Moiraine tells us history as she understands it. She tells it with great conviction. She believes it. And in episode eight, we come to understand that she believes it because this is the story that was passed down to her from those who survived. The narrative she believes was set before the Breaking, set by this woman we see trying (and failing) to convince the Dragon not to act.
While I think that Moiraine was perfectly right to call those men arrogant, I think the most important point is that in this scene, Moiraine is getting dressed to go out and do exactly what the Dragon did: enact a secret plan that she believes is the only way to save the world. Throughout the season we’re reminded again and again that this is a secret. That Siuan and Moiraine can’t tell anyone without being cut off from their power and killed. What they’re doing is dangerous and reckless and at one point in episode six Moiraine says she feels like she knows less than she did when she started this mission twenty years ago.
But she’s committed. She’s going to do it. She’s going to march into the heart of evil and throw one of these children at literal satan and hope it saves the world.
The first time we see Moiraine, she is talking about how women had to pick up the pieces of men’s arrogance. The last time we see her, she is literally picking up pieces.
Only these pieces are here because of her arrogance.
Damn. (PS don’t worry, I love Magic Carpool Mom. But she didn’t make all the best choices, and as we’ll discuss in episode seven, she knew it!)
Wheee, we’re all of 30 seconds into this episode and I’ve already talked this much, but that set-up was not fucking around. Ready for the next 50 minutes??
Just Some Light Crimes Against Humanity
Just a note: pay attention to all the tall structures you see in the background of pretty much every scene. If you look at these ones, you can see windows/doorways carved into them. These are a lot more subtle, but the one we see at the end of this cold open as Lan & Moiraine ride off to the Two Rivers is another one that comes back to get us in the final episode.
The rest of this opening scene is pretty straight-forward to me, I mean as long as you can survive looking directly at the glorious sun that is Kate Fleetwood’s cheekbones. Casting a fabulous and terrifying Liandrin is one of the top crimes I’m going to need the show to answer for. I’m not supposed to love it when she appears on screen.
She’s loathsome, of course. She also comes in looking absolutely fabulous, with the rest of the red sisters backing her up like the wildest girl gang ever. I’m not going to say much about the costumes, as everything I could possibly say I have already said in the various Hidden Clues in the Wheel of Time Costumes I did with my good friends Pez and Lezbi Nerdy.
On to Moiraine and Lan, who are just chilling on a cliff and watching this extra-judicial trial & punishment go down. That’s hardcore. Nothing says, “I’m fanatically devoted to my task” like cool-facedly watching some light crimes against humanity before riding on to your next goal. The show is not shrinking away from the complexity of Moiraine or the dark choices she’ll make to accomplish her goal.
I love this for her and me.
I also think it’s interesting that already in episode one we are seeing that male channelers sometimes talk to imaginary friends, but I’m going to put a pin in this, as well, and go deep on it in Episode Four.
Emond’s Field the Two Rivers
Now we are off to the Two Rivers, where one of my favorite characters of all time has made her appearance! Please give it up for Nynaeve al’Meara, the Wisdom of Emond’s Field!
This scene was beautiful. Not just a wonderful introduction to the women of the Two Rivers, and Egwene and Nynaeve specifically, but also just loaded with cool symbolism and foreshadowing.
This braid will remind you that you are a part of us, and we a part of you… So when the Dark surrounds you and you see no Light, feel this braid and know that we all stood before you. We all stand with you.
The Wheel of Time is famous for its somewhat repetitive quirks, and one of the most roasted (both lovingly and sometimes not) is the fact that Nyneave is constantly “tugging” her braid. She mostly does it when she’s angry or upset, but yanking, pulling, tugging, choking (gosh these words sound lurid when I just list them out) are all words constantly repeated.
And in one line, her very first line of the show, every single one of those references became Nynaeve, a woman far from home, clutching this symbol of community and love and home and grounding herself in the knowledge that she is part of a long tradition of ass-kickers, even if she feels alone in the moment.
Hot damn. And if you think that’s a wild trick, wait until they do it to Siuan’s fish references in Episode Six.
While this Women’s Circle tradition does not appear in the books (in fact, we don’t see the Two Rivers from any POV but Rand’s) it’s clear that they came up with it for very specific reasons. This is imagery that will stick with us going forward re: channeling. But it’s also just a very clear thematic statement to kick off a season that is going to be about one of our characters having to accept their destiny: fight the current and it will pull you under. Trust it, and you can save [yourself/the world?]. Time will tell! Let’s put a pin in this until Episode Seven!
An Empty Road?
Those who have spent time in the fandom with me know that I have a complicated relationship with Rand al’Thor. The broader fandom tends to be a place that venerates complicated heroes even if they do whoopsie-daisy war crimes while shredding female characters for breathing too forcefully. As of Episode Seven we know that Rand is the Dragon and that means he’s got a complicated path ahead of him–and the way fandom takes his side while jumping on my favorite female characters has driven my vague ambivalence toward him to outright dislike. While reading the books I was usually just impatient to get back to the POV of some of my favorite female characters. There’s some great storytelling at work here, don’t get me wrong, but he wasn’t why I showed up or kept coming back to these books. I’d seen farmboys with great destinies before.
So imagine my outright annoyance when Josha Stradowski showed up in this sweater, being charming and adorable and sweet and a real sap. Ugh, my heart. He is my sweater son now, I am so protective of Show!Rand and I do not want terrible things to happen to him. Badly done, show! Stop making me like people I don’t want to like!!!
Again, I have to direct you to the video Pez, Lezbi Nerdy & I did specifically about Rand’s costumes over the season. This sweater tells a whole story without saying a word and Pez, who is brilliant at picking apart the stories being told, goes in deep on it.
Suffice to say, this is the woolheaded sheepherder I never wanted to love, and now my life will be pain. Also fuck yeah, Kari al’Thor could drink Tam under the table headcanon confirmed!
The Winespring Inn
Oh my gosh, how is this show this beautiful? I absolutely love every shot we get of the Two Rivers. The vistas, the mountains, the rivers, and the town! Every perfect tiny detail. I love it.
Speaking of things I love… here is another of those complicated boys. In the books, Mat Cauthon veers wildly between being one of my favorites and The Guy I’d Most Like To Lovingly Smother With a Pillow. There’s really very little in-between for him. Mat is not a man of moderation.
Brought to life here by Barney Harris (who regrettably had to leave the show before the final two episodes), I loved him (against my will) from the moment he arrived rattling those dice in a cup.
Changes were made to Mat’s backstory that many fans found extremely controversial. In this episode we find out that his mother is drunk and his father is some sort of low-life prick who seems to be fucking around. This is a pretty radical departure from fan-favorite Abel Cauthon in the books. But I also understand exactly why they did it.
But I’m not going to get ahead of myself. Let’s unpack that a little more later in the episode.
Since we’re introducing our hapless boys of the Two Rivers, I can’t not comment on my personal favorite, the boy I imprinted on as a teenager, the gentle giant blacksmith with an odd connection to wolves. Perrin Aybara, I love you.
Perrin is another one whose backstory got a pretty heavy update from the books. When I first heard the rumors that he would start this show with a wife, I was, to put a fine point on it… not happy. Not because they changed it, but because I knew that Perrin does not have a wife in the books and that meant this wife was not long for this world. And fridging wives to inspire trauma? It’s a very tired trope.
I’ll go deeper on that once we get there, but for now let’s just focus on what we learn about Perrin in this scene. And there are a few things:
- He’s married.
- He’s friends with Rand & Mat.
- He has something weird going on with Egwene.
Sorry, y’all. I know people got very upset in Episode Seven as if that all came out of nowhere, but it’s right here on our screen.
The adoring look Perrin gives Egwene when she walks in. The way Nynaeve comes up to him with a You Know What You Did face and asks where Laila is and then pointedly tells him to get his ass back home. The fact that right after she says that, Perrin looks at Egwene. And then he goes home to his badass wife and points out that she skipped Egwene’s ceremony at the river (even though all of the other women were there) and has skipped her celebration.
It’s a fraught moment with strong jealousy undertones, and I’m not really a fan of this subplot as I don’t think it really got fleshed out and dealt with well. But I also don’t understand people who said it came out of nowhere in Episode Seven. It most definitely did not.
Either way, #JusticeForLaila. She is the badass blacksmith of the Two Rivers I never knew I needed.
Wait, Something Else Happened In That Winespring Inn Scene
Name yourself, stranger!
Lan’s melodramatic entrance into the Winespring Inn is flawless. He could not be more menacing and suspicious. Poor Moiraine is just outside counting to ten while he broods broodily and sets the stage for her. I love it. This is a very different entrance than in the books, but I think it works on a lot of levels.
My biased favorite part of it, of course, is that we have introduced Belligerent Sexual Tension between Lan & Nynaeve. Mmmmm, tastes like shipper dreams.
This scene is another sharp (and occasionally controversial) divergence from the books on several fronts, the first of which I’m going to have to dive into once so we can just get it over with.
Ageless Face Amirite?
In the Wheel of Time, Aes Sedai are marked by two things: the rings they wear (described as a snake eating its own tail, aka the Great Serpent Ring) and their ageless faces. Ageless often being defined as “sometimes they look 20 and sometimes they look 40 and no one really knows which, just can’t decide how old they are” which is a lot to unpack!
As a teenager reading these books, I was like “oh cool magic face!” As an adult I’m more in the “the obsession with not allowing women to age is uncomfortable” place.
I imagine that the show’s motivations for ditching the ageless faces are more “y’all really think we’re going to apply CGI to every Aes Sedai in every scene?! NO THANK YOU” and for that I am grateful.
But now that I have said all of this, it is to say that in the books, the village is so backwards that the people there don’t even recognize an ageless face. Moiraine is wandering around asking everyone very chill and casual questions like “anyone steal a baby and bring it here” and “name, DOB, social security number plz” for a long time before anyone clocks her as Aes Sedai.
The show doesn’t have time for that. She comes in with her fabulous blow-pop Great Serpent Ring (which you can clock from across the room! thank you!) and everyone knows what she is… even if they don’t entirely know what that means. It’s a dramatic entrance worthy of Moiraine Damodred who flashes that ring and is like, “That’s right now get me the good bathtub. And two beds. I’m trying to deter the shippers.”
The Elephant in the Fridge
So we’re headed to the forge, and since the episode is going to get busy later on, we might as well tackle this one right here. And I will be talking about not just Laila as a concept, but her death, why I kind of hated it, and yet why I also think this perfectly sets up Season Three. Yeah, I’m going there.
First off, I’m just going to let it be an acceptable non-spoiler that Laila as seen in the show does not exist in the books. Perrin does not start the series married. Especially not to a badass blacksmith. He starts the series as an apprentice blacksmith living with his master and definitely 100% not married.
First off: this news (which broke well in advance of season one) did not thrill me. It was, in fact, a bucket of cold water in my face. Because fridging (a shorthand for creating a female character explicitly to murder her for the story benefit of a hero) is an extremely exhausting, and exhausted trope. And in fantasy, a genre where our TV shows have thus far been rather heavily slanted toward gratuitous misogyny, it was a huge red flag. It is such a glaring misstep, in my opinion, that it undermined my trust that this show was going to be able to deliver the female-friendly content I wanted.
(And while this is outside my lane, I also want to acknowledge that Black creators and fans have pointed out that a Black man killing a white woman in an out-of-control rage also plays into extremely dangerous tropes that, honestly, we just don’t need to be fucking around with.)
On the whole? This ranks up there as one of my least favorite story decisions.
So, why did they give Perrin a wife?
The best discussion of this that I saw was, without a doubt, Ali’s breakdown of it on the Wheel Takes podcast. Ali is a writer with experience in how television scripts work and how you break down your story for a season arc. (Their podcast is also helpfully divided into easy spoiler sections!) Her argument, which she made in a very compelling manner, was that this helped grapple with the fact that in the books, Perrin is an extremely internal character. He thinks a lot and talks little. That’s not helpful on a TV show. By giving him such a deep, immediate, and viscerally understood trauma, the show was ensuring that every time Perrin got quiet and stared sadly into the middle distance, you knew exactly what was going on there.
And…yes. That’s true. Do I think there were better ways to accomplish that from a storytelling perspective? Probably. Would any of them made it past the (reportedly) thousands of notes from the studio that it took to get this episode made? Maybe not.
I will never like it, and will always wish they’d dug a little deeper to find a better way. But I’ve made my peace with it for one reason.
Baby Bump or Pinky Promise?
One of the big fan theories coming out of episode one was that Laila had been pregnant, making the axe to the stomach a whole lot more tragic. The reason was the fact that Perrin places his hand on her abdomen in this scene and the camera focuses in on it.
I never read it that way.
To me, this was a signal. These two have a secret gesture. This is the quiet way Laila says I Love You. Because when Perrin comes in and says I love you to her, she gives him an extremely Han Solo-ish, I know. She doesn’t say it back… with words.
But she grabs his pinky. And then she does it two more times.
The Rule of Three gets you every time. The first two times, I think the show was setting us up to understand that this was how Laila says that she loves him. And then… I love you is the final thing Laila says to Perrin.
And he knows.
Now That We’re All Depressed, To The Moppets!