The Wheel of Time Solves a Great Mystery in “The Dark Along the Ways”

This week’s episode of The Wheel of Time brings us closer to the Blight, and to the season finale. Who will turn out to be the Dragon Reborn? Only Min can tell.

(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.)

 

Summary

“The Dark Along the Ways” opens on Tigraine (Magdalena Sittova), a heavily pregnant woman in Aiel garb who is going into labor as she fights armored soldiers on the snowy base of a mountain. She defeats all the soldiers and then sits down to deliver her child when she is discovered by yet another soldier.

Back with our main crew, Loial tells Egwene and Nynaeve that channeling inside the Ways will bring Machin Shin, as everyone realizes they have to continue without Mat. Loial tells them about how the Ways were once green and verdant. While they are resting, Egwene wakes to the distant sound of whistling. Suddenly, a Trolloc leaps from the Darkness; Rand and Egwene throw their hands up and the Trolloc is thrown over the edge by the One Power.

Screenshot: Prime Video

Lan and Moiraine decide to go to the Waygate at Fal Dara and everyone runs. Machin Shin catches up to them just as they reach the Waygate, and each of them hears their greatest fears whispered in their minds by their own voices as Moiraine tries to open the gate. Nynaeve hears channels, creating a huge shield against the Black Wind. The Waygate opens and Lan grabs Nynaeve as everyone rushes out. In the distance is the fortress city of Fal Dara.

They enter the city and are escorted to an audience with Lord Agelmar (Thomas Chaanhing). Agelmar is hostile at first, assuming that his sister, Lady Amelisa (Sandra Yi Sencindiver) sent for White Tower aid to help Fal Dara stand against the Blight. Moiraine tells him that they only came with a warning that the Dark One is using the Ways to move his armies, and that Agelmar should wall up the Fal Daran Waygate.

Outside, Padan Fain steps down from the Waygate platform.

Walking the halls with Lady Amalisa, Moiraine asks if the seer, Min, still lives in the city. She references Amalisa’s time training in the Tower, and asks her to send a message to the Red Ajah to find Mat Cauthon.

Moiraine takes Perrin, Rand, Egwene, and Nynaeve to a bar and leaves them at a table while she speaks to Min Farshaw (Kae Alexander). Min looks at the others and sees some visions around them, but none conclusive.  She tells Moiraine that she sees a vision around her as well—the Amyrlin Seat will be Moiraine’s downfall.

Gathered together in the fortress, Moiraine explains that whoever goes to the Eye of the World and is not the Dragon will die. Nynaeve declares that they will make their own choices, and Moiraine tells them to think it over until sunrise. An argument begins: Rand accuses Egwene of not caring about Mat, Perrin comes to her defense, and Nynaeve shouts at them for fighting over Egwene. Everyone leaves upset.

Screenshot: Prime Video

Nynaeve follows Lan to a small house where he is greeted by a family. Lan is aware he’s being followed and invites her in to share their meal. Later, Nynaeve walks Lan back to his rooms and the two part awkwardly. But as Lan is undressing, Nynaeve comes in without knocking. She asks if he wants her to go, and they kiss.

Rand practices archery, frustrated with his shooting. Egwene comes to talk to him and Rand apologizes, admitting that he’s scared and afraid to lose her. Rand tells her that she should go to the White Tower and become an Aes Sedai, and suggests that he could come, too, and be her Warder. They kiss, and Egwene tells Rand that if he turns out to be the Dragon, she will always stand by him.

After sleeping together, Nynaeve asks Lan about the name “Dai Shan” that she has heard others calling him, and he admits it is the title given to the future kings of Malkier, and that the patriarch of the family they just visited was an armsman who smuggled Lan as a baby out of Malkier while it was being overrun by the Blight. He also tells her that Moiraine doesn’t own him any more than Egwene and the others own Nynaeve.

Rand lies in bed next to Egwene. A flashback to an unrevealed moment in the first episode shows a wounded Tam al’Thor muttering about finding a baby on a mountain in the snow. Rand goes to the archery range, hitting the bullseye three times as he remembers knocking down the door of the room Dana trapped him in, remembers recognizing Dragonmount. It is revealed that it was he who channeled against the Trolloc in the Ways, not Egwene, and also that the Machin Shin whispered to him that he knows that he is the Dragon Reborn.

Screenshot: Prime Video

Rand goes to see Min, who tells him about the first vision she ever had, when she was a child in Tar Valon—it was Tigraine on the slopes of Dragonmount. Tam was the last soldier who found her, and he removes his helmet and holds out his hands for to her squeeze. She gives birth and he picks up the baby, then sees that Tigraine has died of a wound she received fighting the soldiers. Min tells Rand that when she looks at him she sees rainbows and carnivals and three beautiful women, but she also admits that she sees the Eye of the World.

Egwene goes to Nynaeve’s room and finds the bed unslept in. Nynaeve arrives. Perrin joins them and they all agree that they are going to go to the Eye of the World.

Rand walks down a hall and hesitates before knocking on a door.

Nynaeve opens her door to Lan.

Moiraine opens her door to Rand, who tells her that he is the Dragon.

Lan and the others realize that Moiraine and Rand have left on their own. At the edge of the Blight, Rand and Moiraine begin to make their way through the thicket of vine-like growths on their way to the Eye of the World.

 

Analysis

The Wheel of Time continues to impress with how well it builds its scripts. Overall I’ve been impressed by all the episodes, but the first few were a little less sure footed, a little less ready to commit to what kind of story they were telling. Some viewers even found the first two or three episodes boring, especially those who were trying to get to know the world for the first time. For me, The Wheel of Time really found its feet midway through episode three, and each subsequent script has been tighter, more exciting, and more complex than the last.

There are a lot of fabulous details in this episode, such as the way Machin Shin, the Black Wind, whispers your greatest fears and heartbreaks into your mind, or the way the Blight looks like a field of giant creeping vines. The connection between Lady Amalisa and the White Tower teaches us that not all women with the ability to channel are able to become Aes Sedai, but that the White Tower strings never really leave you. Shout out to the costume designers for that incredible white dress she is wearing. White is a mourning color in most nations of their world, but is also the color worn by the students in the White Tower, and so is symbolic of the fact that Amalisa studied there but never graduated to full Aes Sedai, just as she bears the ring but it has no colored stone.

Screenshot: Prime Video

Shout out to the first appearance of Uno (Guy Roberts), a fan favorite in the books!

Also a huge shout out to Sittova for giving us such an incredible performance as Tigraine. It’s clear why she was cast; Her IMDb credits include being a stuntwoman for Villeneuve’s Dune and Underworld: Blood Wars, and her skills really make this scene. I was kind of disappointed with the way we were introduced to the Aiel through a dead body in a gibbet and Thom’s explanation, but this cold open more than redeems that. We couldn’t ask for a better introduction to Aiel warriors, especially the female ones. What’s more, the show has once again improved on the books—in which Tam only found the baby Rand after Tigraine had already given birth and died. But she is a person here, a warrior, and a mother who we and Tam get to meet and appreciate, if only briefly. The moment also shows us the kind of man Tam is.

The Wheel of Time manages to fit quite a lot into each episode without them feeling either bloated or rushed. This episode, in particular, manages to pack two excellent action scenes and an incredible amount of character work into a single hour—I was actually surprised at how seamless the episode felt. The action scenes in The Wheel of Time have all been interesting and varied, but despite the time limitations of an eight episode season, the show is spending a great deal of its focus on character development. And after having our heroes scattered into small groups for three episodes, it’s very satisfying that everyone gets time to reconnect and reestablish their relationships, as well as where they are emotionally vis-à-vis their fears, hopes, and budding new powers. Despite the fact that they were mostly arguing during the scene where they discussed whether or not they’d go to the Eye, there is still a sense of history and connection between all of them, which makes the discord between them all the more painful.

The theme of Moiraine’s pain, and the sacrifices she has made to walk the path the Pattern has laid for her, was a big focus of the previous two episodes, and we are starting to see that theme transfer into the Two Rivers folk. Last week Siuan lectured Egwene and Nynaeve about how the Wheel doesn’t care about their youth, or their fear, or what they want their lives to look like, and the viewer was very aware that she spoke from personal, painful experience. This week, when Moiraine warned Nynaeve, Perrin, Rand, and Egwene that running and hiding won’t save them from the weaving of the Pattern, she goes a step further, and outright admits the fact that she is the same as them, telling them, “I didn’t choose this path for myself anymore than you did, but I will follow it because I must. Because I know what is right.”

Screenshot: Prime Video

After being the point of view character, the center around which every episode turns, Moiraine seems very different in “The Dark Along the Ways.” Even the way she is styled, the way her hair hangs and the redness around her eyes, makes her feel less otherworldly, more mortal, than she appeared before. She spends much less time on screen, and isn’t even the center of focus in most of the ensemble shots the way she has been previously. One feels the weight of destiny, the burden of control, shifting away from her and onto the shoulders of the young people she has found and brought so close to the Eye of the World. Min’s vision that the Amyrlin Seat will be Moiraine’s downfall isn’t the only sign that there is something on the wind, and you can tell Moiraine feels it. Her shared moment with Lan is particularly poignant, as she confessed that she feels she took his life from him. Lan’s assurance is beautiful, but it’s clear that Moiraine isn’t just thinking about the past. She is also thinking about the future—that’s why she tells Lan that she likes Nynaeve.

Speaking of Nynaeve, I love how she’s such a great tracker, and yet such a terrible spy. But her nosiness does give us a great peek into Lan’s past. His backstory here is basically the same as the books, but the show has made slight changes in how it presents the armsman (unnamed here, called Bukama in the books) who carried him from Malkier. Bukama was more of a soldier-mentor for Lan in the novels, while here he is presented as a man with a family who expresses paternal care and softness towards Lan. The Wheel of Time is continuing to add moments of softness and connection to the lives and the personalities of it male characters in really moving ways. Lan doesn’t just train and learn the burdens of lost kingship from the man who raised him. They also eat soup together, and spend time with others.

Also, the moment when Nynaeve turns away from the window and Lan is right there might be one of the hottest things I’ve seen on TV. The way he says “hello” like that? I’m surprised Nynaeve didn’t swoon right there. (She’s clearly made of sterner stuff than me.) And she gets her own back when she shows up in his room later, too. In Lan’s lost kingdom of Malkier, women made the first move and let men know what they wanted, so this is a nice reference to the background of the novels as well as being both sexy and romantic.

Screenshot: Prime Video

Egwene has really come into her own as a character in the last few episodes, and you can see her beginning to take on a leadership role over the others. She is practical about her own emotions and those of other people. She catches on to the fact that Nynaeve’s hostility towards Moiraine is clouding her judgment about what must be done at the Eye of the World, and is clear-headed regarding what can and cannot be done about Mat’s desertion of the group, despite her care for him. None of the others are able to see past their own fears so quickly, or perceive the struggles their peers are going through.

Which brings us to Rand.

As a book fan, I already knew that he was the Dragon Reborn, and most of the clues in the show (Tam’s fevered confession of finding Rand as a baby on the battlefield, Rand breaking down the door to escape Dana, Rand channeling to save Egwene from the Trolloc in the Ways) are very similar to the clues given in The Eye of the World. But a reader of The Eye of the World experiences all these things from Rand’s point of view as they happen, and since the reveal that Tam found Rand as a baby happens immediately after the Trolloc attack, Rand and the reader both have a huge clue to his identity even before Moiraine explains that she is looking for the Dragon Reborn.

The show, on the other hand, has taken every opportunity to amp up the mystery of who the Dragon will turn out to be, which has turned out to be a very engaging choice. Where Egwene and Nynaeve have struggled to understand their channeling and the demand that they become Aes Sedai, where Perrin has discovered his connection to wolves and his capacity for violence, and where Mat has nearly collapsed under the attack of both outer and inner darkness, Rand’s journey has seemed curiously empty in comparison. His only real conflict has been over losing Egwene, which has come off as rather selfish and small-minded in comparison to everything else that has happened.

Now, however, the viewer realizes that the conflict within Rand has been much bigger than we could see. His fear over losing Egwene is not just because she has ambitions he doesn’t share, but because he might be the Dragon reborn, destined to go mad and become a terrible danger to everyone around him. We can feel a surge of compassion for Rand’s struggle to keep Mat safe when we realize that some part of him must have hoped that Mat really was the Dragon, that Rand’s suspicions about himself were wrong. One wonders what mixture of relief and guilt Rand felt watching Mat’s condition worsen, and what he was really thinking when he asked Moiraine about it. Rand was able to break down that door, after all, so maybe he suspected that both he and Mat could channel, and believed that, Dragon or no, he was seeing in Mat’s suffering a future he would one day share. Just as Mat believed he saw in Logain’s caged, laughing visage.

Screenshot: Prime Video

Without all the facts, without knowing what the Machin Shin actually whispered into Rand’s mind or why Rand seemed so much more hostile towards Moiraine than Mat or Perrin did, it was easy to find him childish, or selfish, or even boring. It was easy to judge him… just as men who channel are judged. And it is very moving to watch Rand choose to embrace the truth he has been resisting for so long for the sake of the people he loves.

Min is an intriguing addition to the cast, and I’m very curious about how she will be handled going forward, especially since her introduction is very different from the novels. There is something very reminiscent of Dana about her, and not just because of her occupation. There is a world-weariness about Min, and she has a similar dry sense of humor. It seems that the Aes Sedai constantly blackmail her to use her abilities for them with the threat of exposing the truth of what she can do—in which case everyone would expect her to use those abilities for them. But it’s clear that Min isn’t helpless, and she seems to hold back from giving Moiraine the whole truth. Either that or the visions she sees around Rand change or become more clear once he gets to the point where he is ready to accept who he is.

Lan’s post-coital admission to Nynaeve about his heritage is contrasted with the fact that Rand only makes the full decision to embrace his identity after going to bed with Egwene. There is a certain parallel, a sense of closing some chapters and opening others, but they are a reversal of each other. Lan is being subtly urged by Moiraine to think of a life outside of his service to her, while Rand is realizing that he must let go of Egwene in order to do what he must do as the Dragon Reborn. Even Rand’s going to Moiraine to tell her who he is is contrasted with Lan going to Nynaeve—it’s almost like Moiraine is trading Lan to the other Two Rivers folks in exchange for Rand.

I have a hard time believing that Egwene, Nynaeve, and Perrin will just let Rand run off and make this sacrifice alone, however. Just as I have a hard time believing that Lan will let Moiraine walk into the Blight without him. Min’s vision showed how closely connected Egwene, Nynaeve, Perrin, and Rand are, how the sparks of light around them were trying to fight off the darkness even as the darkness tried to consume the light. Moiraine may believe that everyone who comes to the Eye besides the Dragon will be killed, but I wouldn’t be too hasty. Egwene and Perrin are still ta’veren, after all. And we’ve seen what Nynaeve’s stubbornness can do.

 

Interesting Notes and Easter Eggs

  • “The Dark Along the Ways” is Chapter 44 of The Eye of the World.
  • Lan explains to Nynaeve that Dai Shan is a title from Malkier. In the old tongue it means “battle lord” and it was a title Lan was anointed with by his parents before Malkier fell.
  • The golden bees on Tam’s armor are the emblem of the nation of Illian.
  • Did you catch that glimpse of Padan Fain in a flash of lightning in the Ways? The whistling was also him. I spotted Fain in the background in episode five as well, but I’m wondering if there’s been any other moments that I missed.
  • Also his coat is fantastic, and I want it.

Join us next week for the season finale! I am already bracing myself.

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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