Review: The Wheel of Time pauses to reflect in “Blood calls Blood”

Josha Stradowski as Rand and Barney Harris as Mat
Josha Stradowski as Rand and Barney Harris as Mat /

Five episodes in, and The Wheel of Time is really beginning to find its stride. After four relatively fast-paced episodes, “Blood Calls  Blood” slows things down and takes stock of what’s happened so far. Skipping ahead one month, the episode largely focuses on the scattered main characters arriving in Tar Valon, the headquarters of the Aes Sedai. The show has treated us to one stunning vista after another, and Tar Valon may be the best yet. The city proves an intricate background for the largely internal issues our heroes now face, from Nynaeve reckoning with her power to Mat’s doubts about what happened at the Grinwell farm.

The exceptions are Egwene and Perrin, who are captured by the Whitecloaks early in the episode and find themselves at the mercy of Eamon Valda, who tortures them. Facing death, Perrin finally confesses to his killing of Layla, and also gets better hold of his ability to communicate with wolves. This might seem an odd power, but it certainly comes in handy when a pack of wolves attacks the Whitecloaks and gives Egwene and Perrin a chance to flee.

So Perrin can talk to wolves, Mat is possessed by some kind of demonic force and Egwene and Nynaeve can both channel. Give or take that door he busted through a couple episodes back, Rand has remained the blandest member of the group. That finally changes in this episode, where we get hints that there’s more to him than meets the eye. From his vague memory of the mountain outside Tar Valon to a new character’s insistence that Rand is not actually from the Two Rivers, we begin to see that Rand might have more going on than his ability to chop wood and clean stables.

Loial may divide The Wheel of Time fans

Speaking of a new character, “Blood Calls Blood” introduces another fan favorite: Loial, a member of the Ogier race. His depiction may prove divisive among fans. In Robert Jordan’s novels, Ogier are a giant race standing over eight fight tall and have a distinctly exotic look that do not translate to the screen. As played by Hammed Animashaun, Loial is only a few inches taller than Rand, with only the slightest hint that he belongs to a different species. In the show’s defense, it could hardly afford to have a central character that requires extensive special effects, but that might not appease some fans who were expected more.

Regardless, this Loial shares the jovial attitude of his book counterpart, which is welcome given how somber the rest of the cast can be. None more so than Mat, who struggles with the idea that he might have murdered the Grinwell family and that he could potentially channel. Mat forces Rand to promise to kill him should he it be discovered that he can channel. (Eagle-eyed fans will spot Padan Fain in the crowd during this scene, FYI).

“Blood for Blood” is a dour episode of The Wheel of Time

The dourness continues in the White Tower, where as the warder Stepin (Peter Franzen) spirals into despair after the death of his Aes Sedai Kerene. Franzen plays the part with a sincere pain that’s striking considering how powerful a warrior we saw him be just one episode prior. Stepin’s sorrow highlights the bond between warder and Aes Sedai, something that will likely become important in the future for Moraine and Lan.

Elsewhere, Nynaeve is reunited with Rand and Mat, and again we are treated to a delightful performance from Zoe Robins. Robins is quickly becoming the show’s MVP for me, which comes as a surprise given that I never really cared for Nynaeve in the books. Here, Nynaeve is one of  my favorite characters to watch, owing in no small part to Robins. Before the episode ends however, Daniel Henney and Rosamund Pike make their case for best performers as well. Henney is particularly excellent; his final scene is painful to watch.

A well-written narrative is critical to any show’s success, and The Wheel of Time appears to largely have that under control. Hand in hand with that is the actor’s ability to bring that story alive. The show is also knocking that out of the park. Robins, Henney, Franzen and Pike might provide the acting highlights of this episode, but they’re just one example of the show’s stellar casting.

We’re officially at the halfway mark of the first season and The Wheel of Time is well on its way to being a successful show. Here’s hoping that streak continues.

Episode Grade: A

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