The Wheel of Time Grapples With Uncertainty in “The Dragon Reborn”

We’ve only seen women channel so far in The Wheel of Time. But oh, my friends, that is about to change.

(These reviews might contain some minor spoilers for the Wheel of Time book series. Please note that the comment section may also contain spoilers for those unfamiliar with the book series.)

Recap

We open on a battle in Ghealdan, where soldiers are trying to get their king (Miguel Alvarez) to safety. Logain Ablar (Álvaro Morte) appears from the smoke. We see him channel, but the white tendrils change to black as he does so. Logain tells the king that he is the Dragon Reborn as voices whisper in his ear. He heals the King’s wounds and tells him that while the last Dragon broke the world, he plans to bind it.

Pictured (left): Daniel Henney (Lan Mondragoran), Peter Franzén (Stepin)

Credit: Jan Thijs

Nynaeve regards the Aes Sedai camp from a distance, where Warders mingle with Red and Green sisters. In a tent, Kerene (Clare Perkins) heals Moiraine’s wound. They go to Logain’s prison, where Alanna (Priyanka Bose) and Liandrin are both working to shield him from the Power; Moiraine and Kerene take over. Lan and Stepin (Peter Franzén) practice with their weapons. Stepin joins Kerene in her tent and they discuss the rumors that Reds have been gentling others across the countryside.

Thom leads Rand and Mat towards a farmhouse. They wonder if they can trust him, and what Dana meant when she said there were five possible Dragons. At the farmhouse, Rand, Thom, and Mat are discovered. Rand talks the farmer down and the family agrees that the men can stay the night if they clean the stables. At the camp, Moiraine and Alanna sit together, taking their shifts shielding Logain. We learn that they were friends as novices. Logain starts to push his shield away, and the two have to re-establish it before it breaks.

Pictured (front L-R): Daryl McCormack (Aram), Madeleine Madden (Egwene al’Vere), Marcus Rutherford (Perrin Aybara)

Credit: Jan Thijs

Egwene and Perrin are lectured about the Way of the Leaf, the philosophy of non-violence that the Tuatha’an follow. Ila (Maria Doyle Kennedy) asks Perrin if his life has been better or worse since he picked up an axe. Mat leaves the stable cleaning to throw up a black shadow. The farmer’s young daughter (Robyn Betteridge) brings him a loaf of bread. In the barn, Rand and Thom discuss Mat’s obvious illness and change in demeanor—Thom explains that his nephew Owyn showed the same signs before it was discovered that he could channel. Owyn was gentled by the Aes Sedai, then killed himself shortly after.

Nynaeve sits at the Warders’ fire listening to stories about Lan. Stepin tells her about the Bond between Warders and Aes Sedai, and how Aes Sedai means “servant of all” in the old tongue. Lan goes to join Moiraine in the tent. Moiraine is worried that Logain may be the Dragon even though he is too old, and tells Lan that the Dark One doesn’t have any more idea who the Dragon is than they do. They worry about having lost their four villagers.

Rand dreams of Perrin hammering on Laila’s body, and of Mat with bloody hands. Egwene calls to him, and then is grabbed by the figure with fiery eyes. He wakes, and Thom and Rand discover the farmer’s family murdered in the house, and Mat standing in the middle. He points with the jeweled knife and a Fade appears. Thom fights it and yells for the boys to run. Rand drags Mat away and they ride off.

Liandrin tries to convince Kerene that gentling Logain would be safer than keeping him shielded all the way back to the White Tower. Nynaeve follows Lan into the forest where she finds him praying. They share a moment, then Lan and Kerene both realize that Logain’s army is attacking. The Aes Sedai and Warders gather, and Alanna uses the One Power to stop a hail of arrows and turn it on the army. Logain breaks free of the shielding, knocking out Kerene and Liandrin.

Logain melts the bars of his cage and Moiraine arrives to talk to him. He tells her that he can hear the previous Dragons when he channels, teaching him how to do better in this life. She tells him that the whispers he hears are madness, and that his power is a flicker compared to the raging sun that will be the Dragon Reborn. Kerene and Liandrin recover and the three try to shield Logain again. Kerene protects her sisters but is killed by Logain.

Stepin, Lan, and Nynaeve rush to Moiraine and Liandrin as they struggle to shield Logain. Stepin tries to attack Logain, allowing Logain to channel into Stepin’s axes and cut down everyone but Nynaeve. She kneels by Lan, who is bleeding out from a neck wound. Suddenly she channels, healing everyone. Logain stares in awe. Liandrin commands the others to link with her, and uses the combined Power to take Logain’s ability to channel from him. Lan sits up, touching his neck, and he and Moiraine look at Nynaeve.

 

Analysis

There is so much worldbuilding in this episode that it feels almost twice as long as it is. We see a man use the Power and learn what that does to his mind. We learn a little bit about the Green and Red Ajahs of the Aes Sedai. We learn about Warders. We watch Lan and Nynaeve flirt a whole bunch. Oh, and we had our first taste of queer representation.

Oh yeah. That’s where I want to start.

There is polyamory in the Wheel of Time novels, but it is limited to one culture and only to the concept of one man having more than one wife. The narrative still manages to do some interesting things with the dynamic, but it all ends up pretty unsatisfying when one can’t get away from the basic stereotypes: that a woman would never want more than one husband, that a man would never want to share a wife with another man, and that these complex dynamics would never include anything remotely non-heteronormative. Similarly, while some Aes Sedai (especially Greens) do have sexual and even romantic relationships with their Warders, it is never suggested that any of those Warders share such relationships with each other.

Even in just one scene, Ihvon (Emmanuel Imani) and Maksim (Taylor Napier) are a complete joy. The introduction to their relationship is subtle, shown in body language and physical closeness that none of the other Warders, or even Nynaeve, question or find uncomfortable. Their bond is clear, their dynamic warm and humorous, even before Nynaeve realizes that they are also in a relationship with Alanna. I am so pleased to have the queer representation from the show, and hope that it marks the first, but not the only, time we will see gay and bisexual relationships in the series.

Pictured (L-R): Peter Franzén (Stepin), Zoë Robins (Nynaeve al’Meara)

Credit: Jan Thijs

The way Stepin explains the Warder bond to Nynaeve as being closer than husband and wife or parent and child is a little bit awkward, but it does show that the connection is hard to define; he’s only telling her what it isn’t, rather than what it is. The acting does a better job of communicating the connection than words do—the way the Warders turn towards their Aes Sedai even before the women are in frame, the shared looks, the easy way they fall into step together. What’s more, because men are the Warders and the women are Aes Sedai, we see Stepin and Lan in a position that is usually the purview of female characters. Their Aes Sedai are the generals, the warriors, the heroes making hard decisions and sacrificing themselves for the greater good. The men are caretakers, worrying over Kerene and Moiraine’s mental health, safety, and when they last ate or slept. They’re there to bounce ideas off of, to take a little of the burden or responsibility off the Aes Sedai’s shoulders for a moment. It’s a nice role reversal from what is typically seen in film and television, and as a man, I really appreciate seeing strong fighter types show such gentle, typically feminine-coded sides.

The costuming on the show has been great from the beginning, but it’s with the Aes Sedai that Isis Mussenden and the costuming department really get to shine. Kerene’s outfit is practical and weather-beaten, almost ranger-like, and resembles the Warder’s clothing more than the outfits worn by her sisters. We get the sense of her as a practical, slightly battle-weary general who has long since abandoned any nonessential frippery or ornamentation. Alanna, on the other hand, has more of a military dress look to her clothing, with the decorative cold chains strung across her chest over the ruffled silk, the big buckle on her belt, and the gold bands across her bracers. It’s a more than fitting look for someone who says she felt “heroic” when she chose the Green Ajah. Also, I loved the detail of the bells in her hair.

Pictured (L-R): Taylor Napier (Maksim), Priyanka Bose (Alanna Mosvani)

Credit: Jan Thijs

Speaking of hair, I also love the way Liandrin’s hair is done. In the book she is described as having many tiny braids, and I could never really picture how that would look. This hairstyle keeps to that description without making it either look silly or being appropriative. (Obviously, the superlative of best braids goes to Nynaeve, as is right and proper.) The Red Ajah in general have great outfits; they’re slightly less tunic-like than the Greens’, but just as practically designed for riding or fighting, and favoring the same wide belt shape that the Greens and most of the Warders seem to favor. Leather accents are common as well, some of which are a bit reminiscent of Moiraine’s fantastic shoulder pads. I was also thrilled to see a Red sister wearing a headscarf. There is clearly a lot of room in the Aes Sedai to bring their own personality and culture into their clothes, and yet both the Reds and Greens still feel like they are all wearing the same uniform. Moiraine, on the other hand, with her suspenders and wrap-shirt and unbound hair, doesn’t feel like a soldier. She stands out slightly amongst the ranks of Greens and Reds both for her style and the color of her clothes, and there is a feeling of isolation about her for this entire episode, except in her scene with Lan.

It’s lovely to see hints of Moiraine’s softer and more playful side as she interacts with Alanna (secret pet dog!) even though she is still also on guard. There is so much danger and heartache facing our heroes that they don’t get much time to rest, but The Eye of the World manages to show us moments in which Moiraine lets her hair down, so to speak, enjoying a dance or a moment teasing the boys or playing a game. Given that the first season of The Wheel of Time only has eight episodes, it’s nice that “The Dragon Reborn,” allows them to stop for a breath and gives the characters space to expand on the screen. And Rosamund Pike does a wonderful job letting us see concern, amusement, and even pleasure in Moiraine’s interactions this episode, while still maintaining the strength and secrecy that is such a hallmark of the character.

Rand and Mat and Thom also finally get a moment to stop and talk, Nynaeve gets to make friends with the Warders and share some moments with Lan, Egwene gets to go dancing, and Perrin finds some peace in doing a little wagon repair work. Lan gets to pray. Logain has some meditation time.

Logain has a really great introduction here. I love his costume as well; the robes feel very spiritual and are ornamented without being ostentatious, which fits with Logain’s mingled pride and humility in his believed identity as the Dragon Reborn. I actually expected him to kill the King of Ghealdan, especially with those voices whispering in his mind. We can recognize them as the madness, of course, but Logain believes that these are the voices of previous Dragons and still chooses not to kill when they advise them to. This tells us a lot about his character, I think—he’s dangerous, yes, and a threat to Moiraine and our heroes. But he’s not Evil, not a Darkfriend who has willingly given his soul to the Dark One. He truly believes that he is the reincarnated Dragon and wants to save the world. Honestly, I like him a lot, and I really felt for him when he saw Nynaeve’s power and recognized the truth of what Moiraine said about how strong the Dragon will be. It will be interesting to see where he ends up, now that he’s had his Power taken from him.

Liandrin is a pretty one-dimensional character in the books, but she is quite interesting in this episode. Her drive to gentle Logain makes sense, even if it is morally questionable, and she exhibited real pain when Kerene died. She’s definitely a snake, as Nynaeve puts it, and clearly out to get Moiraine, but she seems to have a keen mind and is interesting to watch on screen.

Perrin’s story continues to irk, and it feels like it robs Ila’s argument of some of its potency when we know that of course his life has been worse since he picked up a weapon—he accidentally killed his wife with it.  Granted there is something to be said for pointing out that weapons can often accidentally harm family members, but it would be more significant if Perrin had only used a violence against enemies, had perhaps even managed to save lives, and still felt the worse for it. (In general, though I enjoyed his scenes with Ila, and explanation of the Way of the Leaf is even better than the books.) Kennedy is extremely affecting when she declares that peace is the best revenge against violence, and life the best revenge against death. We also come back to the mythology of the world here, with the reminder of what reincarnation means. The concept of building a better future for the generations to come becomes much more personal when you know the people you love, the people who suffered in this life, will be the ones who benefit from that future. The Way of the Leaf is not just a existential concept, and that makes it a lot more accessible to your average person, be they characters in the show or viewers on their couches.

 Pictured (L-R): Alexandre Willaume (Thom Merrilin), Barney Harris (Mat Cauthon), Josha Stradowski (Rand al’Thor)

Credit: Jan Thijs

Mat’s journey also irks; the character started out from such a dour place that he doesn’t have somewhere to go to illustrate the dagger’s affect on him. Without Rand and Thom’s judgements on the matter, I wouldn’t necessarily have guessed that the horse’s reaction or Mat’s grumpiness were anything untoward—horses are spooked by everything all the time, and Mat is lost, far from home, and worried about his sisters. Being moody is understandable, even if lashing out is unfair to Rand, who is in the same boat. Mat has a sarcastic, slightly biting sense of humor, but there was not really much lightness there, so we have to trust Rand’s assessment that he’s acting out of character now.

Throwing up the same black shadow that we saw in Shadar Logoth is a pretty good indicator that something’s off, though. The scene between Mat and the little girl (who the credits name Helga) was very touching, and was a good reminder of the best part of Mat’s character.

Rand is a hard person for the viewer to get to know, but now that he’s not whining about Egwene breaking up with him, we have more of an opportunity to see what a kind and caring person he is. The way he talks Master Grinwell down was excellently played. He shows that same warmth and protectiveness towards Mat as well. Rand seems to be a person who connects easily with others, even outside the home he never wanted to leave. He also displays a knowledge of bowcraft here, which is significant, since we’ve seen him carry that bow since his first scene but never use it.

And now we know that Nynaeve is a very powerful channeler. How will she feel about this revelation, given her dislike and suspicion for the Aes Sedai? Was she the fifth person that Dana saw in her dreams, even if Lan and Moiraine think that she is too old to be the Dragon Reborn? What does the enemy know about the Dragon’s identity, and is Moiraine right that the Dark One is as lost as she is? Only time will answer these questions, though it may be time our heroes don’t have.

 

Final Thoughts and Easter Eggs

  • The Dragon Reborn is the title of Chapter 8 of The Great Hunt. In it, Moraine reveals to the Dragon Reborn that she knows who they are.
  • Every time I watch the “Previously On,” recap I’m struck again by the fact that it’s Egwene promising Rand “I’ll find you.” Usually that line goes to the male hero, and I love that they’ve reversed it here.
  • In the novels, the Grinwells are a family Rand and Mat encounter on the road. They are not murdered by either Mat or a Fade, however. Else Grinwell is their oldest daughter and has a small part in the series.
  • Nynaeve has the same background as Din from The Mandalorian. I don’t know why I find that so charming, but I do.
  • Helga Grinwell’s doll is named Brigitte after Birgitte Silverbow, a legendary hero and archer in The Wheel of Time mythology.
  • I really, really want to know what Lan was going to say about Nynaeve being exactly who he thought she was.
  • Favorite Quote: “We call ourselves gleemen because a silly name makes us less frightening. Nothing is more dangerous than a man who knows the past.”
  • Runner up: “Nothing is ever lost. The Wheel returns all.”

Join us next week for our spoiler review of episode five: “Blood Calls to Blood.”

Sylas K Barrett is a writer, actor, and long-time fan of epic journeys, heroes, and magic. You can find other reviews and op-eds here on Tor.com, including his ongoing Reading the Wheel of Time series, in which he reads the novels for the first time and engages in both critical analogy and a fair bit of fanboy glee.

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