We say goodbye to Kerene, meet some new friends, and have a few reunions this week on The Wheel of Time, in an all-in-all very emotional episode.
(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.)
“Blood Calls Blood” opens on the Aes Sedai burying the dead, including the King of Ghealdan and Kerene. Stepin takes her ring and Moiraine murmurs a prayer as Kerene is laid to rest. One month later their caravan nears Tar Valon. Logain rides in chains, looking dejected. Lan expresses concern about Stepin, and reminds Moiraine that Warders are not supposed to outlive their Aes Sedai. They wonder about the location of Rand, Mat, Perrin, and Egwene.
Rand and Mat walk with some travelers. Mat snaps at a little boy. Rand sees a volcanic mountain in the distance that seems familiar to him, and climbs a hill to look down on the city, the White Tower, and the mountain beyond. Once in the city, Rand takes Mat to an inn Thom told him to find. Rand assures Mat, not for the first time, that the Fade killed the family at the farm, not him.
Moiraine and Lan hide Nynaeve in the Warder’s quarters. Moiraine warns Nynaeve about the Aes Sedai’s interest in making her a novice, and promises to let her know the moment she hears word of the others. Outside Tar Valon, the Tuatha’an caravan encounters Eamon Valda and a band of Whitecloaks. Valda spots Egwene and Perrin, but the Tinkers refuse to give them up, linking arms and forming a line. The Whitecloaks attack as Aram tries to lead Perrin and Egwene to safety, but they get captured.
Rand meets an Ogier named Loial (Hammed Animashaun), who believes Rand to be an Aielman because of his red hair. Rand and Mat watch the arrival of the Aes Sedai procession. As he passes, Logain looks up at them and begins laughing. Mat asks Rand to make a deal that they won’t let each other end up like Logain. At the Tower, Ihvon, Maksim, and Lan help Stepin dress in mourning white, and Stepin talks of how he met Kerene. They escort Stepin to another room where he kisses Kerene’s ring and places it in a fiery basin of liquid metal.
In the Whitecloak camp, Egwene is stripped, washed, and forced into new clothes, then brought to Valda’s tent and tied to a chair. Perrin is strapped down on a rack. Valda tells Egwene that he knows she can touch the One Power. He takes a knife to Perrin’s back, and Perrin’s eyes turn golden as he cries out. Valda gives Egwene a choice; if she channels, Valda will kill her and let Perrin go. If she doesn’t, he will kill Perrin and let her go.
Stepin visits Nynaeve to ask for tea to help him sleep. After, Nynaeve runs into Liandrin in the hallway.
Loial finds Nynaeve at the White Tower and brings her to Rand and Mat. Mat is pleased to see her, but his demeanor changes to hostility when she tries to examine him. Outside, Rand tells Nynaeve that he believes Mat can channel, but that he’s not sure if they can trust Moiraine. Nynaeve says they don’t need the Aes Sedai, and that Two Rivers folk take care of each other.
In the Whitecloak tent, Egwene tries to channel Valda’s knife to her. Perrin insists that she let him die, and tells her the truth about Laila’s death. Valda returns and begins torturing Perrin again. Outside wolves begin to howl. Egwene assures Perrin that Laila’s death wasn’t his fault, then concentrates, telling herself to drift. She shoots a tiny fireball at Valda and then, while he is distracted, she burns away Perrin’s bindings. Perrin breaks free, yellow-eyed and snarling like a wolf, and Valda drops his knife in terror. Egwene stabs him with it and snatches Valda’s chain of Aes Sedai rings as they flee. Outside the Whitecloaks are being viciously killed by wolves, but Perrin knows that the wolves won’t hurt them.
In the White Tower, Liandrin confronts Moiraine about Nynaeve. Lan finds Stepin making offerings to ward off the Forsaken. He says he is trying to keep away Ishamael, the father of lies, so that they can see clearly. Lan promises to stay with him until morning.
Meanwhile, Moiraine and Alanna discuss Alanna’s offer to make Stepin another of her Warders. Alanna is worried about Moiraine’s enemies in the Tower; Liandrin is gaining strength amongst the sisters, and the Amyrlin Seat has returned. She warns Moiraine that someday she will have to trust someone with her secrets. When she is gone, Moiraine looks at a painting.
Lan and Stepin share tea. Stepin asks about Nynaeve, how she touched the One Power for the first time to save Lan’s life. Lan says it’s a bad idea for her to fall for him, and Stepin points out that without love, life would be intolerable. In the morning Lan wakes, groggy and still holding his teacup. He realizes that he’s been drugged, and runs to find Stepin in the hallway—he has killed himself.
Moiraine and Nynaeve attend the Warders’ funeral for Stepin. Lan wails in grief as tears fall down Moiraine’s face.
It’s a shame that The Wheel of Time is only going to have an eight-episode season, given the density of the story and the number of main characters. However, the show doesn’t feel hurried; there is a lot of time spent on conversational moments and getting to know the characters, what they’re feeling and how they connect to each other. This is especially true when it comes to Moiraine and Lan, and Moiraine is really the main character of season one, even before the five Two Rivers folks and whoever turns out to be the Dragon Reborn. This focus on character and world building means that the plot gets slightly rushed over or muddied—most viewers would probably like some clarification at this point about men channeling, what exactly Moiraine is trying to accomplish, and what the deal is with this person called the Dragon and the coming of the Last Battle. But at the end of the day, it’s nice to feel so rooted in a world, and to really get to know the people whose journey we are following.
This episode has also given us a lot of worldbuilding around the lives of Aes Sedai and Warders, and yet still managed to devote a lot of attention to Egwene, Perrin, Nynaeve, Rand, and Mat. It’s probably my favorite episode so far.
The character of Egwene in the novels is an absolute badass, but of all our heroes she probably gets the least amount of time spent on her own desires, feelings, and fears. Whenever the narrative spends time in her point of view, her thoughts are almost always plot-focused; Nynaeve and the boys get much more time to be up in their feelings about their difficult destinies, their personal foibles, and how frustrated or angry they are at everybody around them. I feel like I know this Egwene better than I knew the other version three books in, and the show manages to capture all of what makes the character great while also making her a more well-rounded and relatable person.
Madeleine Madden really got to come into her own in this episode, as Egwene is doing less reacting and really taking center stage in the action. The moment in the tent where she centered herself enough to touch the Source was really powerful, as was the way she deflected from her channeling to free Perrin by throwing the tiny fireball at Valda.
This episode really builds on the theme of what it is like to be a woman in the world of The Wheel of Time. They are the only ones who can hold the One Power, but most societies are largely male-dominated, as Liandrin points out. The episode weaves this theme very well, showing the internal struggles in the White Tower as well as the conflict between them and the Whitecloaks, as Valda accuses the Aes Sedai of “walking like gods among men” and declares his belief that the One Power is unnatural and comes from the Dark. Even the Whitecloaks’ confrontation with the Tuatha’an fits this theme, since Ila is their leader and our ambassador for the pacifist philosophy of The Way of the Leaf.
I want to note here that this effect feels marred by colorism in the casting for The Wheel of Time. Abdul Salis is an absolutely incredible actor, but one can’t ignore that there are only a few dark-skinned black actors, all men, who have speaking roles in The Wheel of Time, two of whom are playing villains. The encounter between the Whitecloaks and the Tuatha’an is very evocative of the peace protests in the 60s, with the Tuatha’an’s colorful clothes, vegetarianism, and pacifist ways coming up against the Whitecloaks’ buzzed haircuts and military dress. However, it feels irresponsible here to have a dark-skinned black man as the villain facing off against a group of people who are all of lighter skin tone than he, and who are being led by a white woman.
The Wheel of Time does very well in many arenas of casting; it has middle-aged women of color in prominent roles, some queer representation, depicts Aes Sedai wearing head coverings, and contains diverse populations in every town and city we’ve seen so far. But in some ways that makes the places where they fall down all the more glaring.
Stepin’s grief over Kerene’s death is palpable throughout the episode, and it allows the characters to explore what the Aes Sedai/Warder Bond means in a much deeper way than Stepin’s brief explanation to Nynaeve. We see concern from Moiraine about what might happen to Lan if she were to be killed, and get an interesting comment from Liandrin about the statues representing “the tens of thousands of men who Bonded themselves to [her] sisters,” and how the statues stand guard outside the Hall of the Tower “in death as they did in life.” It’s unclear if Liandrin’s tone is due to the fact that she just dislikes the entire existence of Warders or if she finds a certain sadness in that endless watch—a bit of perplexed sympathy for people who would give up so much for that duty. Either way, the commentary adds interesting flavor to what is otherwise just a stereotype of (literal) misandry that surrounds the Red Ajah in the novels.
But it’s not just the friendships between Aes Sedai and Warders that important here. The episode also spends time on the relationships that the Aes Sedai share with each other, and shows how, even among women she calls her sisters, Moiraine stands apart and alone from others. Both Liandrin and the Amyrlin Seat are her enemies, Alanna warns, as the Green sister worries that her friend’s secrets will destroy her. No wonder that Moiraine shows so much compassion to Nynaeve, despite Nynaeve’s contempt for the Aes Sedai. Moiraine knows what it is to stand alone. You can definitely imagine her giving that same speech to each of the Two Rivers folk—one of them is the Dragon, after all, and every one of them has a powerful destiny that will make them stand apart from the others that they love. Moiraine will understand that pain, and hopefully be able to guide them through it.
Stepin and Lan’s relationship is clearly a close one, and Stepin feels a little bit like a big brother to Lan—we saw him tease Lan in episode four and they clearly often train together. In this episode, he pushes Lan to open up about his feelings, giving him advice about the importance of love even as he is struggling with his own grief. The connection between the Warders is clearly a strong one; they are brothers in every way that the Aes Sedai are sisters—as Maksim says, the White Tower is their family. Daniel Henney brings so much soul to his performance as Lan, and the small scene where he comes to Moiraine in her room and grasps her hand was almost as moving as the funeral in which Lan finally lets himself express his emotions.
Rand and Mat’s fear about Mat’s condition is palpable, and although I haven’t much cared for the way Mat is portrayed in the show, the scene on the balcony was really beautiful, and it finally gives us a look into what Mat is actually feeling about what he’s going through. But Rand is still mostly an observer in this story, as the scene with Nynaeve acknowledges. He is presented as a very kind character, but other than that his focus has mostly been on other people—first Egwene, then Mat—and we really don’t know very much else about him. He doesn’t have the quick key-in that Mat and Perrin have been given in the show, and the viewers’ connection to him suffers because of it.
There is that bit where Loial believes he is an Aielman, however. Viewers will remember the dead Aiel from episode three, and how Thom explains to Mat that red hair is one of their distinctive traits, and rare to find other places. One wonders why Thom didn’t have any questions about Rand’s lineage, but perhaps he was too busy worrying about Mat possibly being a channeler to pay attention. Oh, and there’s the Fade that attacked them. Busy few days for the gleeman.
Loial is a delight, though he isn’t in the episode very much. I really enjoyed his lines, and the show tweaked them so they sounded a little less like—but still delightfully reminiscent of—Quickbeam and Treebeard from The Lord of the Rings. I really hope he gets more screen time soon, since it’s difficult to juggle this large and ever-expanding cast.
Nynaeve’s story about Egwene suffering from breakbone fever as a child built up Egwene’s character very well, but it also showed Nynaeve in a moment of open vulnerability, and reminded us that her protectiveness over the Two Rivers folk is not just an abstract duty—she feels it very deeply, both as a responsibility and as a deep and abiding love for her people. She might be stubborn to the point of foolishness at time, but she is also capable of a truly powerful love—the same love that she tapped into when she Healed Lan. Liandrin thinks Nynaeve’s desire to have everyone follow the rules would lead her to choose the Red Ajah, but it’s clear that love is a much stronger driving force in her life.
Interesting Notes and Easter Eggs:
- “Blood Calls Blood” is the title of Chapter 7 of The Great Hunt.
- When Kerene is laid to rest, Moiraine murmurs over her grave “May the last embrace of the Mother welcome you home.” This is a phrase used in the Borderlands, who refer to the Earth as “the mother.” Kerene is from the Borderlands in the novels, and specifically stated to be from Kandor, a Borderland nation, in the show.
- Lan notes that the offerings that Stepin is giving are to ward off the Forsaken. These are powerful channelers who, in the Last Age, sold their soul to the Dark One in return for eternal life. The men note that the last Dragon “sealed the Forsaken away” but some people believe that they may still be able to touch the world.
- Ishamael. There’s that name again!
- In the library, Rand picks up a book and exclaims “The Karaethon Cycle.” This is a collection of the Foretellings around the Dragon Reborn and what their arrival will mean for the world. Rand also looks at “The Travels of Jain Farstrider,” a popular book in the westlands. Jain Farstrider is a real person, and Egwene believing that she is Jain reincarnated is an especially lovely bit of worldbuilding since Jain was a man.
- Let’s play Spot Padan Fain! Did you catch him there in the procession scene? He’s sitting and laughing to himself as three novices in white walk past.
- I love the subtle dig at the text in Rand calling Loial an ogre before being corrected.
- What was that creepy/sexy energy with Liandrin stroking Moiraine’s face? Because I have feelings.
- Favorite line: “It was all worth it to see Liandrin’s face when she accidentally got hit with a radish.”
- Runner up: “This saddle is home. This cloak, these boots, this brooding man at my side.”
Next week is in many ways the week I’ve been waiting for; the Amyrlin Seat is coming home to the Tower. I’m sure you’re all as excited as I am. As always, the comments will be open on Monday, and be sure to join us next Saturday for our review of episode six: “The Flame of Tar Valon.”
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.