Oh my God, Becky, look who’s back: me, with a Wheel of Time post! Again! What a world, what a world.
Today’s post completes my thoroughly odd trilogy of Best Moments and Worst Moments in the Wheel of Time, by adding a third category to what anyone normal would consider a dichotomy: a list of the Best Worst Moments of the Wheel of Time. Or maybe the Worst Best Moments?
Look, I don’t know, you don’t know, nobody knows, it’s fine. This whole thing is mainly just an excuse to be all like, hey, remember when that thing happened in the Wheel of Time and we all had feelings about it?, so I feel like everyone will be okay and have a good time with it in the end.
So if having feelings about Wheel of Time things seems like your bag, click on!
First, as ever and always, amen, be warned that there are humongous series-shredding SPOILERS for the entire Wheel of Time series below, so if you haven’t read, I really recommend that you give this post a miss. Like for reals, I spoil every damn thing in here.
Second, I sort of explained this in the Worst Moments post, but to recap: I was having a dilemma about what “Worst” actually meant in the context of moments in the Wheel of Time (or in general, really), and concluded that that could mean two very different things depending on context, and that really both interpretations deserved some love from moi, so here we are. Thus, the last post was the Top Five-ish actual Worst Moments of WOT (in my arrogant opinion, natch), and this post is about the Worst Best Moments – i.e. the moments that were so terrible they were awesome. You’ll see what I mean when you read them.
So let’s read them, shall we?
Best/Worst Moment No. 5: Egwene is captured and made damane (The Great Hunt)
“Many sul’dam,” Renna went on in that almost friendly tone, “do not believe damane should be allowed names, or at least only names they are given. But I am the one who took you, so I will be in charge of your training, and I will allow you to keep your own name. If you do not displease me too far. I am mildly upset with you now. Do you really wish to keep on until I am angry?”
Quivering, Egwene gritted her teeth. Her nails dug into her palms with the effort of not scratching wildly. Idiot! It’s only your name. “Egwene,” she managed to get out. “I am Egwene al’Vere.” Instantly the burning itch was gone. She let out a long, unsteady breath.
“Egwene,” Renna said. “That is a good name.” And to Egwene’s horror, Renna patted her on the head as she would a dog.
That, she realized, was what she had detected in the woman’s voice—a certain good will for a dog in training, not quite the friendliness one might have toward another human being.
OMG I PUNCH U
I think it is fairrrrly predictable by now what kinds of things are likely to redline my Rage-o-Meter, and “personal autonomy, comma, the deprivation thereof” is a vital element in just about all of them. So it’s no surprise, in retrospect, that this was the first event in the Wheel of Time that made me have to actually put the book down and walk away for a bit. It definitely wasn’t the last, but it was the first. Ergo, here we be.
It was also what first formed my initial, and very, very bad, impression of the Seanchan nation – one which they never did redeem themselves from, at least not as far as I was concerned. Yeah, sure, they fought on the Light side in the Last Battle, whatever; just because they were against Ultimate World-Smushing Evil doesn’t mean they get a pass on their egregious Fail when it comes to human rights. And Aviendha’s trip to the future showed that the chances were good that even after the Last Battle the Seanchan were going to keep right on imperialistically sucking. Bah.
So yeah, this whole sequence was wonderfully done, but it also made me hopping mad, and ergo, its entry here.
Best/Worst Moment No. 4: Dumai’s Wells (Lord of Chaos)
They will pay, Lews Therin growled. I am the Lord of the Morning.
Ha ha, you thought I wasn’t going to mention this one, didn’t you? Well, you were wrong.
But for me, Dumai’s Wells definitely goes here instead of in unadulterated “Best” moments, because while it was unquestionably one hell of a battle scene (wolf army, yay!), and everything you could want in a narrative “dramatic tension” sense, it was also a “victory” for the Light whose sheer darkness wouldn’t be equaled until events in The Gathering Storm. It may have been awesome to read, but Dumai’s Wells was not a good thing, you guys.
As I said in the original commentary: “I believe that in a way, to rejoice in the way LOC ended is to almost miss the point entirely. By which I mean, I don’t think Dumai’s Wells was really meant to be a victory at all.
“Oh sure, it was a victory in the sense that the Good Guys won the actual fight, but given the way they won it, through what can only be described as a wholesale massacre, and the state of affairs Our Heroes are left with as a result – distrust, dissension, massive casualties, forcible coercion of allies, a political situation in shambles, and a savior left more than halfway unhinged – Dumai’s Wells is better described as a Pyrrhic victory than anything else. As Pyrrhus himself would say, ‘Another such victory over the [Shadow] and we are undone.’ And the insupportable cost is not measured so much in the physical losses, but in the degree to which the moral high ground is lost. Our Good Guys, in the end, didn’t act much like Good Guys at all, and that will (and does) take a serious toll. Chaos, indeed.”
Best/Worst Moment No. 3: Semirhage controls Rand with the Domination Band (The Gathering Storm)
What have you done? Lews Therin asked. Oh, Light. Better to have killed again than to do this… Oh, Light. We are doomed.
Rand savored the power for a moment longer, then—regretfully—let it drop away. He would have held on, but he was simply too exhausted. The vanishing of it left him numb.
Oh… no. That numbness had nothing to do with the power he’d held.
[… ] “It is done,” Rand whispered.
“What?” Min asked, coughing again.
“The last that could be done to me,” he said, surprised at his own calmness. “They have taken everything from me now.”
Well, that wasn’t terrifying or upsetting or terribly sad or anything.
TGS as a whole was Rand’s nadir as a character, but this scene was the catalyst for that, and it was awful, awful, awful to read as a fan. As a writer, on the other hand, it gets a decisive nod of “yeah, that had to happen”.
Dramatically speaking, after everything Rand went through over the course of the series, if he hadn’t had some kind of rock bottom snapping point it would have cheapened the entire story. A world savior Messiah figure doesn’t get to play the game on the “Easy” setting; the greater the triumph being striven for, the heavier the corresponding price must be. Them’s the breaks, fictional Messiah figgers, sorry.
So, the story had to go there, in one form or another. Doesn’t mean it wasn’t horrible to watch him go through, though. And keep going through, all through the book, getting worse and worse. Which, of course, brings us to:
Best/Worst Moment No. 2: Rand Almost Commits Worldicide (The Gathering Storm)
Rand raised his arms high, a conduit of power and energy. An incarnation of death and destruction. He would end it. End it all and let men rest, finally, from their suffering. Stop them from having to live over and over again. Why? Why had the Creator done this to them? Why?
Why do we live again? Lews Therin asked, suddenly. His voice was crisp and distinct.
Yes, Rand said, pleading. Tell me. Why?
Maybe… Lews Therin said, shockingly lucid, not a hint of madness to him. He spoke softly, reverently. Why? Could it be… Maybe it’s so that we can have a second chance.
Rand froze. The winds blew against him, but he could not be moved by them. The Power hesitated inside him, like the headsman’s axe, held quivering above the criminal’s neck. You may not have a choice about which duties are given you, Tam’s voice, just a memory, said in his mind. But you can choose why you fulfill them.
Why, Rand? Why do you go to battle? What is the point?
All was still. Even with the tempest, the winds, the crashes of thunder. All was still.
Why? Rand thought with wonder. Because each time we live, we get to love again.
When I initially read TGS, I actually found this ending a little anticlimactic – being, as it were, basically a guy sitting on top of a mountain yelling at himself. However, I soon came to realize that this was a seriously unfair interpretation of the importance of the conflict on display here.
For if it is narratively mandatory, as I just said above, that your Big Damn Hero has a Big Damn Nadir, then he is just as irrevocably owed a Big Damn Redemption, too. The central conflict for Rand in TGS *was* all internal, and thus its resolution had to be as well. As I said at the time:
“It had to be done. We could not have continued forward with a hero whose purpose had been so thoroughly lost. Rand had to win the battle with himself if he was to have a hope of winning the battle with the Dark One; he could not have had a hope of succeeding if any part of him still agreed with his opposite number’s goals.”
However painful it may have been to watch him get there. So while this was probably the happiest Big Ass Ending of, well, basically any other WoT book (including the last one!), the journey we (and Rand) had to take to get there was… rough, to say the least.
So there. And now, some honorable mentions!
Honorable Mention #1: The Tower Coup (The Shadow Rising)
It may seem like small potatoes/old hat now, but Elaida’s bloody coup and everything it wrought (in particular Siuan and Leane’s stilling, a thing which we believed at that point to be irreversible) was shocking at the time. Not to mention upsetting. I was appalled, you guys, and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one.
(Not to also mention, it featured Frickin’ Gawyn being perhaps his most Frickingly Fricked buttmunch self in the whole series. Yes, Prince Gawyn, let’s hear your rationale for supporting a violent usurper of (the functional equivalent of) a monarch and world leader, do frickin’ tell. Ugh.)
The Tower coup also, as I observed in the Redux Reread, represented a pivotal turning point in the series, marking as it did the first major defeat for the Light, and the first time, I think, where it truly seemed that it was possible for the Good Guys to actually lose. So it sucked, and it was awesome. Q.E.D.
Honorable Mention #2: Aviendha goes through the Wayforward Ter’Angreal (Towers of Midnight)
I know, I know, this was on the “Best Of” list. But really it belongs here, given how deeply upsetting and freakin’ amazing it was, and if I’d known I was going to do this post this way at the time I did the first post, I’d have changed it. My bad. But since I have already mentioned it, it gets an honorable mention rather than a slot on the list proper. That’s according to the rules I just made up, nyah!
Honorable Mention #3: The Asmodean Murder Mystery of Doom (The Fires of Heaven)
He pulled open a small door, intending to find his way to the pantry. There should be some decent wine. One step, and he stopped, the blood draining from his face.
“You? No!” The word still hung in the air when death took him.
So, on the one hand, we the fandom spent years and years arguing theories – and I personally spent a nearly obscene amount of time laboriously winnowing through and distilling those theories for WOTFAQ-updating purposes – over a murder mystery that was, in retrospect, arguably impossible to solve from the get-go with the information we had available. Even more so if you believe that Jordan changed his mind midstream, and only made Graendal the killer once he decided that Taim was not Demandred. Which is not awesome.
On the other hand, we the fandom spent years and years having a fabulous time arguing about fictional murderous characters on the internet like the glorious nerds we are, and having meetups and gatherings and even conventions about it. And I personally made friends as a result that I still have today, and who are some of the most wonderful people I will ever know. Which is most decidedly awesome.
So there. And with that, we come to (drumroll plz):
Best/Worst Moment No. 1: Egwene’s death (A Memory of Light)
She closed her eyes and drew in the power. More than a woman should be able to, more than was right. Far beyond safety, far beyond wisdom. This sa’angreal had no buffer to prevent this.
Her body was spent. She offered it up and became a column of light, releasing the Flame of Tar Valon into the ground beneath her and high into the sky. The Power left her in a quiet, beautiful explosion, washing across the Sharans and sealing the cracks created by her fight with M’Hael.
Egwene’s soul separated from her collapsing body and rested upon that wave, riding it into the Light.
Yep, still makes me tear up. You can read my whole reaction in the Reread, but here’s the gist:
“She was my Ooh Ooh Girl, and so maybe it might have hurt me even more than it should have to see her die, even as it filled me with a kind of terrible pride to see her go down in such a (literal) blaze of glory. She didn’t just take down her opposite; she also saved the world while doing it, because if I’m reading this right, if she hadn’t done what she did Rand might not have had a world left to save, so it totally counts. Her stint as Amyrlin has to be the briefest and yet most spectacular in the history of the Tower, so take that, traditionalists!”
There are probably more gut-wrenching (or at least more famously gut-wrenching) character deaths out there than Egwene’s, but for me personally hers hit me harder than nearly any other. You just can’t invest the kind of time and effort and love on this story and these characters as I have and not feel that blow on a visceral level.
Well, I can’t, anyway. So if you want my opinion on the epitome of a terrible wonderful Best/Worst Moment in the Wheel of Time, there really can’t possibly be any other moment that qualifies more thoroughly. Rest in Fictional Peace, Egwene al’Vere; as far as I’m concerned, at least, your place in Crowning Moment of Bittersweet Awesome history is secure.
And there you have it, WOTers! Thanks for coming with me on this trip down WOT memory lane, and if you had a good time here, maybe you’ll want to check out how fellow Tor.com blogger Kelsey Jefferson Barrett is finding it on his First Read of the Wheel of Time!
Love, luck and lollipops to you, my friends. Stay tuned for a new Nostalgia Rewatch post, coming soon. Until then, cheers!