The Wheel of Time goes Game of Thrones in “The Flame of Tar Valon”

©2020 Amazon Prime Video; photo by Jan Thijs
©2020 Amazon Prime Video; photo by Jan Thijs /

Although many have made the comparison between Game of Thrones and The Wheel of Time, the two shows don’t have a ton in common…until this week’s episode. “The Flame of Tar Valon” focuses on scheming and political maneuvering in a way that would have made Tywin Lannister proud, even if it lacks the grit that often accompanied the backstabbing on Thrones. Regardless, this is perhaps the show’s best episode so far, and begins to close in on the climax of the first season.

Meet Siuan Sanche, the Flame of Tar Valon

In a cold opening, we are introduced to the current leader of the Aes Sedai, the Amrylin Seat, Siuan Sanche. Although this extended flashback sequence is beautifully shot, it goes on a bit long.

Back in the present, we quickly learn Siuan (Sophie Okonedo) is not a woman to be trifled with, and that even Moiraine fears her at least a bit. When Logain attempts to goad Siuan into executing him, Siuan is not fooled, and coldly sentences him to a life of servitude.

And Siuan is just getting started, as she disciplines Liandrin, Alanna and Moiraine for gentling of Logain. Liandrin is quick to point fingers and sow the seeds of a potential rebellion against Siuan somewhere down the road. But as with the opening sequence, something feels a bit off. Siuan is certainly headstrong and confident in Robert Jordan’s novels, but here she oscillates between extreme calm and almost petty anger. Ultimately, it’s just the beginning of the plots and schemes swirling around the White Tower.

The Wheel of Time gang gets back together

Despite being publicly tongue-lashed by the Amyrlin Seat, Moraine is quickly off to look after her charges from the Two Rivers, starting with Mat. Although the show has teased Mat as having the ability to channel, we learn that it was Mat’s theft of the dagger back in Shadar Logoth that has been driving him insane. Moiraine is able to remove the evil taint from Mat in one of the show’s more terrifying bits, but we’re left to wonder if the darkness might return.

After healing Mat, it’s off for more scheming, as a fellow member of the Blue Ajah attempts to convince Moiraine to remain in the White Tower to show penance. Book-readers will delight at the mention of ships disappearing and Aiel being spotted, and show-only fans are left with a vague sense of unrest in the world. Then Moiraine heads to another inn to look in on Perrin and Egwene. Moraine appears to tell a lie to Egwene about Rand and Mat’s whereabouts, and ultimately tells her to stay put and to hide Perrin’s newfound wolf powers.

The Wheel of Time makes some big book changes

At this point, book readers might begin to take issue with some of the show’s changes, as not only does Moiraine appear to have the ability to open a gateway from one location to another (a power she does not posses in the books), but it’s revealed that Moiraine and Siuan are secretly lovers. Although the latter fact is hinted at in the novels, it happened in the past, not the present. How much does this change the overall story? Probably not much, but the changes are there.

In private, Moiraine and Siuan’s discuss who the Dragon Reborn might be, as they are looking to find him or her again, believing their work important for the safely of the world. They have prophecy as their guide, although Moiraine brings up the valid point that prophecies can’t be fully trusted after thousands of years of translation.

Moiraine and Siuan are way outside the lines attempting to save the Dragon Reborn, and know they would be condemned if their plans came to light. Siuan reveals dreams of the Dark One healing at the “Eye of the World,” which is where Moiraine must go. To preserve the illusion that they are at odds, the pair decide that Moiraine must be sentenced to exile in order to continue her fight against the Dark One.

Although we know Moiraine and Siuan are working together by this point, it is nevertheless painful to watch Moiraine accept her banishment in public. Okenedo and Rosamund Pike knock it out of the park, acting for the benefit of the assembled sisters. After that, Moiraine quickly gathers her charges and makes for a Waygate, a sort of other-dimensional pathway that will allow them to quickly reach the Eye of the World.

Our five Two Rivers heroes are reunited, but the joy doesn’t last long. Desperate to reach the Eye and force a confrontation with the Dragon Reborn before the Dark One gathers his strength, Moiraine and company enter the Waygate…except for Mat, who stays behind, which does not happen in the book. It’s probably a smart move on Mat’s part given that Moiraine still doesn’t know who the Dragon is, and that both Siuan and Moiraine believe everyone who is not the Dragon will perish in the confrontation.

The Wheel of Time sets up the big finish

And so our group, minus Mat, heads through the Ways with Loial’s help towards a fight with the Dark One. That Moiraine is willing to sacrifice her charges proves most of the group right that she cannot be fully trusted (even if they don’t realize it yet). With just two episodes left, there’s still a lot of runway left for the season to come to a safe landing.

Where our heroes land is anyone’s guess, but it’s been interesting to see the show switch gears so many times throughout its first season. This episode feels mostly like political theater, while others focus on action or character; each episode has had a distinct feel to it. Aside from this episode’s opening moments, “The Flame of Tar Valon” is pretty good, bordering on great. It might not have had the standout acting performances of previous episodes, but it’s no slouch either.

With the White Tower behind us, it’s back to the “road” next week. Should be an exciting final two episodes.

Episode Grade: B+

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

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