Say hay, Tor.commers, this is your Auntie Leigh, coming at you live-ish with a true blast from the past: a Wheel of Time post! From me! ZOMG!
Yes, indeed, in honor of the fresh new take we are getting on our favorite flagship series here in High Craggy Hill Land, the powers that be have asked me to revisit my, er, well-preserved and thoroughly seasoned take on the Wheel of Time and serve up some Best Of/Worst Of realness, for the pleasure of your eyeballs and the outrage to your moral sensibilities! Which I am of course always happy to provide.
In this post, O My Peeps, we will take a look at my not-even-slightly-biased opinion on the Top Five Best Moments of the Wheel of Time, which will naturally agree with everyone’s opinion of the top five moments of the Wheel of Time, right?
Right! Come and be gloriously incensed by all the obvious rightness, y’all! Whee!
Before we start, an obvious yet necessary disclaimer: this post is chock-a-block full of rampant, nuclear, series-obliterating SPOILERS for the entire Wheel of Time series. If you haven’t read, don’t read. And that means YOU, Mr. Kelsey Jefferson Barrett! Eyes averted, please! Thank you.
Everyone else, come further up and further in!
In classic countdown style, I will be starting at the fifth most awesomest bit and work our way up to the most most awesomest bit. So without further ado:
Top Moment No. 5: Verin’s undercover reveal (The Gathering Storm)
“Hello, Egwene,” Verin said, taking a sip from a steaming cup of tea. “My! I was beginning to wonder if I’d have to break into that cell of yours in order to speak with you.”
Egwene shook off her shock. Verin? When had the woman returned to the White Tower? How long had it been since Egwene had seen her? “There isn’t time right now, Verin,” she said, quickly opening the small locker that contained her extra dress. “I have work to be about.”
“Hmm, yes,” Verin said, taking a calm sip of her tea. “I suspect that you do. By the way, that dress you are wearing is green.”
Egwene frowned at the nonsense sentence, glancing down at her dress. Of course it wasn’t green. What was Verin saying? Had the woman become—
She froze, glancing at Verin.
That had been a lie. Verin could speak lies.
“Yes, I thought that might get your attention,” Verin said, smiling. “You should sit down. We have much to discuss and little time in which to do it.”
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Verin’s revelation in TGS – that she had deliberately become Black Ajah for the sole purpose of being a double agent and sabotaging the organization from within – is that no one saw it coming.
Not completely, anyway, at least as far as I know. In all the fandom’s rampant speculation on just What Verin’s Deal Was, for all those years, we all got soooo close to divining it, but never quite hit the mark. We got bits and pieces, but the whole truth, as revealed in the story itself, was a delightful shock.
It was for me, anyway. And I just absolutely adored that Verin, plump, unassuming, but oh-so-badass Verin, was the agent of the Black Ajah’s downfall – the solver of a mystery/conspiracy that stretched back the length of the entire series, and marked a major turning point in the war against the Shadow, enabling Egwene to do what no other Amyrlin had done before her and truly purge the Tower of Darkfriends once and for all.
And that it was also her death scene, necessarily, just added that perfect soupçon of emotion to make the whole thing amazing. Brava, Verin. Well done.
And speaking of Egwene, that brings us to:
Top Moment No. 4: Egwene pwns the White Tower (Knife of Dreams/The Gathering Storm)
The invaders screamed, the women in gray weaving shields. That proved to be the wrong choice, as both women’s leashes unlocked, twisting lines of Air unclasping them with dexterous speed. Just a heartbeat after that, one of the women in red and blue disappeared in a flash of lightning while the other was set upon by tongues of flame, like striking serpents. She screamed as she died, and a soldier shouted. It must have been the command to fall back, for the soldiers fled, leaving two frightened women who had been unleashed by the tongues of Air.
Adelorna turned hesitantly. A woman in white stood atop the rubble a short distance away, a massive halo of power surrounding her, her arm outstretched toward the fleeing soldiers, her eyes intense. The woman stood like vengeance itself, the power of saidar like a storm around her. The very air seemed alight, and her brown hair blew from the wind of the open gap in the wall beside them. Egwene al’Vere.
The story of David and Goliath is a classic for Biblical reasons, of course, but also because it is a trope uniquely tailored to appeal to the human psyche. There is nothing more satisfying, in a story, to see the little guy – or the little Ooh Ooh Girl, as it were – rise up against impossible odds and beat the bigger guy. Or girl.
Egwene’s story in this section of WOT, from the moment she is captured to the moment she takes full and undisputed control of the White Tower, is a stellar example of that trope in action. Her triumph over Elaida was not just one of strength of will, but of (as corny as this may sound) moral rectitude.
Egwene knew without a doubt that she was fighting the good fight and doing the right thing, which isn’t a luxury that most of us get in this world, and seeing the right thing happen after so many wrong things had happened for so long, in the WOT world generally but in the White Tower in particular, was intensely gratifying. With unshakeable calm and a fortitude that signaled the fullest flowering of her character as a leader and a warrior, Egwene wrested victory from seemingly the most abject of defeats and the lowest of positions, and it was glorious to read from start to finish.
And also, she gets to kick Seanchan and Aes Sedai ass. Righteously. Who could ask for more?
Top Moment No. 3: The Battle of the Two Rivers (The Shadow Rising)
Smoothing his marriage ribbon, he forced himself to ride calmly to the center of the Two Rivers line. The Companions formed behind him, the breeze lifting the banner with its red wolfhead. Aram had his sword out in both hands. “Be ready!” Perrin called. His voice was steady; he could not believe it.
“ISAM!” And the black tide rolled forward, howling wordlessly.
Faile was safe. Nothing else mattered. He would not let himself see the faces of the men stretched out to either side of him. He heard the same howls drifting from the south. Both sides at once. They had never tried that before. Faile was safe. “At four hundred paces…!” All along the ranks, bows rose together. Closer the howling mass came, long thick legs eating ground. Closer. “Loose!”
The Battle of the Two Rivers was not even close to being the most important or pivotal engagement of the overall war; in fact it would prove to be positively rinky-dink in comparison to the conflicts that would come later. But for my money, the emotional resonance of the Two Rivers’ desperate last stand in TSR is second to none in the series, even the Last Battle itself. Possibly because the stakes in the Last Battle were so vast, almost too much so to encompass, while the stakes here were all too intimate and human.
Because we knew these characters, and we loved them. The Two Rivers folk were the first part of the greater WOT world we ever got to know as readers, and thus their fate was just that much more precious to us. We identified with the people of the Two Rivers because we saw ourselves in them: ordinary folk doing extraordinary things for love of their home and families. We would all hope that in a similar situation we would do no less, and so their triumph feels like ours as well.
Don’t get me wrong, the Last Battle was a stupendous achievement, and it was amazing in many ways. But this one, this small desperate battle in the backwater of the world, all the more desperately relevant to its participants for its very smallness, will always hold a special place in my heart.
Top Moment No. 2: Rand meets Elaida in Caemlyn (The Eye of the World)
Morgase made a soothing gesture toward her daughter, but her eyes remained on Rand. “Is this a Foretelling, Elaida? Are you reading the Pattern? You say it comes on you when you least expect it and goes as suddenly as it comes. If this is a Foretelling, Elaida, I command you to speak the truth clearly, without your usual habit of wrapping it in so much mystery that no one can tell if you have said yes or no. Speak. What do you see?”
“This I Foretell,” Elaida replied, “and swear under the Light that I can say no clearer. From this day Andor marches toward pain and division. The Shadow has yet to darken to its blackest, and I cannot see if the Light will come after. Where the world has wept one tear, it will weep thousands. This I Foretell.”
A pall of silence clung to the room, broken only by Morgase expelling her breath as if it were her last.
Elaida continued to stare into Rand’s eyes. She spoke again, barely moving her lips, so softly that he could barely hear her less than an arm’s length away. “This, too, I Foretell. Pain and division come to the whole world, and this man stands at the heart of it. I obey the Queen,” she whispered, “and speak it clearly.”
Rand felt as if his feet had become rooted in the marble floor. The cold and stiffness of the stone crept up his legs and sent a shiver up his spine. No one else could have heard. But she was still looking at him, and he had heard.
“I’m a shepherd,” he said for the entire room. “From the Two Rivers. A shepherd.”
As I observed in the original Re-read of this chapter, this was more than just a pivotal moment in the inaugural novel; it was a fundamental game changer for the entire series – and a moment that still to this day gives me chills when I read it. It raised the stakes and truly focused us, for the first time, squarely on Rand al’Thor and his centrality to the entire story, and it was amazing.
Anyone who knows me knows that my favorite thing ever in fiction, especially speculative fiction, is that moment of self-realization, when a character learns something, not about the world but about his- or –herself, that utterly alters everything for them. These are not generally terribly fun moments for the character, admittedly, but damn are they fun for us to read about. Or at least I think so.
Robert Jordan once said that one of his basic premises for the Wheel of Time is the thought of what it would be like if one day someone walked up to you and was like so hey, turns out you’re destined to be the savior of the world! Ha ha, sucks to be you! Because God, would (and did) that job suck. And this is the scene where Rand discovers that, like it or not, that’s the job he’s got. Terrible for him; awesome for us.
So that’s four out of my five best moments. But believe me, I had to do some serious winnowing and soul-searching before I managed to cut the list down this far. Because there are a lot of awesome moments in the Wheel of Time, y’all. Picking just five was a really hard decision! You should feel really sympathetic for me, for real.
Thus as a balm to my agonized decisionators, before we get to No. 1, let’s have some honorable mentions!
Honorable Mention #1: Mat blows the Horn of Valere (The Great Hunt)
There’s more than one Mat Moment of Awesome in WOT that I probably personally prefer over this one (when he defeats Gawyn and Galad at the Tower in The Dragon Reborn, for instance, or when he accidentally becomes a warleader at the Battle of Cairhien in The Fires of Heaven), but this one wins out for how pivotal it was to the overall story.
Mostly, though, it’s in honor of my memory of how breathlessly enthralled I was reading this scene for the first time – and for no few times after that, to boot. It was stellar world-building combined with great action, and definitely one of the best Big Ass Endings in a series stuffed with them.
Honorable Mention #2: Nynaeve battles Moghedien (The Fires of Heaven)
Again, there’s a number of other Nynaeve triumphs I could have chosen from (when she Heals Logain in Lord of Chaos, when she breaks her block in A Crown of Swords) but this one has that special extra flavor of self-realization that we all know how much I love. It is that delicious moment when Nynaeve, and by extension the rest of us, first truly understand that she is just as badass as a Forsaken, characters who up to that point had been depicted as having almost godlike superiority over modern-day channelers, nigh-undefeatable and hopelessly advanced. Nynaeve smashed that perception with hilariously furious ferocity when she fought Moghedien to a standstill in Tanchico, and it was just a great moment all around.
Honorable Mention #3: Aviendha goes through the Wayforward Ter’Angreal (Towers of Midnight)
In addition to being the best-written section of the book, Aviendha’s glimpse into the (terrible) potential future of the Aiel qualifies as one of the most genuinely shocking plot twists I’ve read in epic fantasy. I was legit upset by this revelation, y’all. As would be, I would think, most readers who have invested literal decades in following a fictional nation of fascinating, proud, occasionally infuriating people, only to be slapped in the face with their extinction, achieved in the most ugly, sad, and ignominious way possible.
Despite that, it was saved from being a Worst Moment because even as terrible as the knowledge was, just having Aviendha (aka the Most Stubbornest Supergirl Of Them All) gain it in the first place let us know that things weren’t actually going to turn out that way, because Aviendha would goddamn well make sure they didn’t. So there, Pattern of the Wheel. Sniff.
Honorable Mention #4: Lan’s duel with Demandred (A Memory of Light)
[…] Lan reached him and flung himself into Thistledown Floats on the Whirlwind, a tempestuous, offensive sword form. Demandred whipped his sword up, catching the blow on his weapon and skidding backward a step at the force of it. They exchanged three blows, quick as cracks of lightning, Lan still in motion until the last blow caught Demandred on the cheek. Lan felt a slight tug, and a blood sprayed into the air.
Demandred felt at the wound in his cheek, and his eyes opened wider. “Who are you?” Demandred asked.
“I am the man who will kill you.”
Lan Mandragoran, ladies and gentlemen: God’s own Ultimate Badass. It’s no accident that the mega-humongoinsanity that is Chapter 37 of A Memory of Light ends with Lan’s takedown of Demandred, because Lan’s victory (Yeah! Whoo! Yeah!) over Demandred is what marks the turn of the tide of the Last Battle, and signals, at long last, that hey, maybe these crazy kids might make it after all. It was pretty sweet, y’all, don’t lie.
Aaand now that we’ve had our HMs (and believe me, it was pretty hard to narrow even just those down to where I did), it’s time for the moment you’ve all (maybe) been waiting for: My Top Moment of WOT, Ever. Drumroll, please:
Top Moment No. 1: Rand goes through the Wayback Ter’Angreal (The Shadow Rising)
“You do not know why,” Mordaine said, and Narisse added, “There is too much you do not know. Yet you must know.”
“What do you want?” Mandein demanded.
“You.” Dermon ran his eyes across the Aiel, making that one word fit them all. “Whoever would lead among you must come to Rhuidean and learn where we came from, and why you do not carry swords. Who cannot learn, will not live.”
“Your Wise Ones have spoken to you,” Mordaine said, “or you would not be here. You know the cost to those who refuse.”
Charendin pushed his way to the front, alternately glaring at Mandein and the Jenn. Mandein had put that long puckered scar down his face; they had nearly killed each other three times. “Just come to you?” Charendin said. “Whichever of us comes to you will lead the Aiel?”
“No.” The word came thin as a whisper, but strong enough to fill every ear. It came from the dark eyed Aes Sedai sitting in her carved chair with a blanket across her legs as if she felt cold under the broiling sun. “That one will come later,” she said. “The stone that never falls will fall to announce his coming. Of the blood, but not raised by the blood, he will come from Rhuidean at dawn, and tie you together with bonds you cannot break. He will take you back, and he will destroy you.”
Some of the sept chiefs moved as if to leave, but none took more than a few steps. Each had listened to the Wise One of his sept. Agree, or we will be destroyed as if we never were. Agree, or we will destroy ourselves.
My choice of these two chapters in TSR for my number one Best Moment in the Wheel of Time probably does not come as a surprise for anyone who read the WOT Re-read. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if there is any part of the Wheel of Time that qualifies as perfect, it is this sequence. As a piece of writing, it delivered, in every way: symbolically, thematically, dramatically, it encapsulated everything about this series that made me love it.
Once again I am rather at a loss to adequately convey how I felt about these chapters other than to quote once more the way I put it the first time: “What you’ve got here, kids, is a two-chapter mosaic puzzle box that is only nominally a history of the Aiel people, and is in actuality both a retelling of the Fall (yes, that Fall), and an expression of the raison d’etre of the entire series. […] Reading it is like playing a winning game of Tetris, where the pieces all twist and fall and slot in among each other exactly right, and then you get the long piece and blammo, the whole thing melds together and disappears and you get 5,000 points.
“Yes, I just used Tetris as a literary metaphor, shut up.”
(And that I did use Tetris as a literary metaphor still cracks me up to this day. LOL, past me, where did you even get that.)
Anyway, my point is: of all the kickassedness that exists in the Wheel of Time series, this bit kicked the most ass. This bit kicked all the ass. Bravo, Robert Jordan. Bravo.
So there you have it! My Not-At-All Arrogant Opinions on what were the Best Bits of the Wheel of Time. If you agree, tell me! If you disagree, tell me and show your work! I wanna know.
So tell me, and then stay tuned for the other WOT post I’m working on, in which we will discuss the Top Five Worst Moments of WOT, and my many many humble opinions on that subject. ‘Twill be fun, you guys. This I Foretell. Cheers!
Leigh Butler is a writer, blogger and critic, who feels humor and weirding of language is the best way to examine the impact of sociocultural issues on popular SF works (and vice versa). She has been a regular columnist for Tor.com since 2009, where she has conducted or is conducting three series: the now-retired Wheel of Time Reread and A Read of Ice and Fire, and the very much active Movie Rewatch of Great Nostalgia. She lives in New Orleans, and therefore advises you to let your good times roll, y’all.