The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again… and then there was a TV series. You know what time it is!
I know. It’s been a minute. Again. But you *knew* I was gonna come back for this…
If you’re a Wheel of Time fan you know when you read those above words, you were about settle down and start a good 700 to 1000+ pages of reading, (that’s not an exaggeration), with multiple characters, very defined landscapes, and explicit detail on Aes Sedai fashion and hairstyles. And you LOVE it. Don’t front. You LOVE the heck out of it. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have those 14 giant door stopper tomes sitting on your shelves and get chills when you think about Aelfinn and Eelfinn. Because this is what you do. And likely when you heard WoT was going to be on the actual TV, you damn near lost your mind. Now it’s here. The thing you dared not dream possible has happened. The reputedly “unadaptable” series is out in the world, streaming on Amazon Prime. So take a deep breath. Think about what a time it is to be alive. And let’s talk on it. The good, the bad, & the hrrrrm.
WARNING. There will be SPOILERS in here the size of The Green Man. See? There’s one right there. Yes, I’m going to talk about the books in relationship to the series. Yes, I’m going to hint at all kinds of possible plot points to come. This isn’t gatekeeping. I realize that any show (of this scale) must be different from its source. But I’m still gonna do it and you can’t stop me. So if you don’t wanna know too many things, please take the gateway offered (there’s another one) and enjoy the rest of the series.
Random factoid: according to the pop culturalists at Wikipedia, the Wheel of Time series might clock in at a jawbreaking 4.4 million words. That’s 1 million words more than the Malazan Book of the Fallen. Or as I call it, achieving peak white fantasy writer status.
OMG This is Happening!
I was never quite sure The Wheel of Time was going to be on my television until I actually saw it happen. We’d been burned before. We remember your shenanigans Red Eagle! *Scribbles the Dragon Fang on their studio door.* When things seemed to get the greenlight in 2017 I still didn’t dare get my hopes up. But I did blog about the possibilities. Then finally in 2018, news came that production was a go and it had been picked up by Amazon studios. Turns out the guys who could deliver all my unneeded stuff could also deliver this series. And before you could say “filthy rich supervillain space tourist,” it was happening. Wheel of Time was coming to my TV.
Like some reading this, I’ve been a fan for a minute. Sometime in 1990, after I’d finished up some Mallorean and Belgariad and what not, I was casing around for something to fill my young fantasy absorbing mind. I saw this guy I knew named Danny reading a book with an interesting cover. “Eye of the World?” I asked reading the title. “What’s that?” Danny excitedly told me it was a pretty good book he was reading and he’d let me borrow it as he was on the last pages, because he wanted to start over and finish it later. I accepted the book from Danny. Began the first few pages and… He. Never. Saw. It. Again. I cold jacked him for that joint then ducked him in the streets. And never looked back. I know. That was foul. I’m not proud of my blatant literary theft. Just keeping it a buck. I was young. It was a different time. George Bush was president (the first one). America was invading Iraq (the first time). I wore Cross Colours. The point is, everyone was making poor choices.
I’ve re-read Eye of the World a few times. Listened to the audiobook. And I don’t know precisely what it was in 1990 that drew my young mind too it. Maybe it was the chosen one trope. Maybe I was still wedded to the Tolkien-esque narrative. Maybe it was the young innocent heroes (and heroines) leaving behind their backwater village to enter the big wide world. Or the complex magic systems. And the monsters! But I loved that sh*t immediately, without hesitation. In the coming years, I was there for each new book. Each meandering plot line. Each weighty tome. I felt like I grew up with Rand, Matt, Perrin, Egwene, and Nyaneve. It was like they were old friends. Like I spent my summers in the Two Rivers. I don’t doubt that WoT was a strong influence in my desire to become a SFF writer. I wanted to make worlds this dazzling, characters this memorable. So WoT being adapted has been a big deal for me. As it has been for lots of fans. Cuz while we were there for film adaptations of Lord of the Rings, and followed along eagerly on HBO’s Game of Thrones, THIS has been our dream. And now it’s happening.
So pardon us whilst we geek da f–q out, get drunk on oosquai and sing Dance with Jak o’ the Shadows like its Winternight!
WoT on TV: A (Somewhat) Brief Review
Imma cut to the chase. I LIKED it.
What follows is a (somewhat) brief summary, primarily of Episode 1 “Leavetaking” which gives us the first glimpse of this world as imagined for televsion.
From the very beginning when we see Moraine (Rosamund Pike) in what appears to be Tar Valon looking through old scrolls, narrating parts of the prophecy of the Dragon, and giving us brief hints of “The Breaking,” I was hooked. Rosamund Pike *felt* like Moraine. Think she even somehow pulls off the “ageless” Aes Sedai bit, even if they couldn’t afford the SFX to make that happen digitally. From there we’re immediately taken to a scene of two men running on foot, being chased through a rocky wilderness by women on horseback. Women dressed in red. Ohhhh snap! Red Ajah have entered the chat! They corner the two men, appearing to use the One Power to bring down parts of a hillside. One of the cornered men tells the other they can take the women. That they have power of their own. When one of them pleads that his companion not be hurt, the lead woman rider tells him, “Fool! You the only one here!” And we learn, that there aren’t two men. There’s just one. His companion is a hallucination.
So a quick explainer for those who might be new to this.
The One Power is the main magic system in WoT. Way back when in a utopian time called the Age of Legends, men and women “channeled” it and were called Aes Sedai. Then the men kinda mucked it up by going after more power and loosing the Dark One. Like some fracking gone very, very, very wrong. There’s a destructive war against the Dark One’s minions (the forces of the Shadow) where society is destroyed and millions die. The Shadow almost wins until led by a very strong male channeler, called the “The Dragon,” the forces of Light manage to seal the Dark One back into his prison. In vengeance, the Dark One taints the male side of the One Power. Yes, the show is going to use the word “taint” a lot. Get all the giggles and snickers out now. Grow up already. Anyway, after that the Dragon and any dudes wielding the One Power go stark raving mad. And since it seems there was no therapy during the Age of Legends, they break the already war ravaged world. And I do mean break. As Moraine says in the intro, cities burned, seas boiled, whole mountains swallowed up–millions more die. Women Aes Sedai were left to pick up the pieces. The survivors of this cataclysm have to start over–going from whatever magic near-future tech they had to…wagons and horses.
Thousands of years have passed, and now hardly anyone remembers this history. Some think they’re just old stories and folklore. Except the Aes Sedai, who are now all women. They try to safeguard the world (and control it to their own ends). The Aes Sedai come in different factions called Ajah identified by color. Moraine for instance is Blue Ajah and her faction is big on justice. The Red Ajah on the other hand make it their purpose to hunt down any men who can channel and “gentle” them (cut them off from the magic) to thwart a second breaking. One caveat tho, there’s now a prophecy that only Moraine and two other Aes Sedai know about: another Dragon is going to be born. That person will be the strongest channeler of the One Power in existence. Like the Kwisatz Haderach meets Neo. Moraine is out searching to find him before the forces of darkness, and her more zealous sisters in the Red Ajah, do. Because the prophecy also says this Dragon is going to fight a Last Battle against the Dark One, the only hope in saving the world.
Okay. Got that? Good.
So back to that first episode… the Red Ajah leader, who is none other than Liandrin Guirale (Kate Fleetwood), tells as much to the male channeler she’s cornered–before gentling him. Turns out gentling in the series is a lot more painful than in the books. Who knew?
Moraine and her warder Lan (Daniel Henney) watch this take place. She tells him that gentled dude ain’t the one, and that they have to journey to a backwater village in a place called The Two Rivers. There, she believes, they’ll find who they seek. We’re then treated to something I found absolutely stunning–we see the broader landscape. There are these tall risings of land covered in green that appear too thin to be mountains, and everything seems “broken.” In some of these odd mountains you can catch glimpses of buried architecture–and I think these are supposed to be the remains of cities, pieces of the world before the Breaking now reduced to ancient and overgrown ruins. It’s this reminder that sometimes becomes forgotten in the book: that the WoT is both a fantasy AND a kind of post-post-post apocalyptic story. This quasi-medieval (with hints of the early modern age) setting comes after a series of long ago earth-shattering events. In fact, if you ever want to do a deep dive into what Robert Jordan FIRST had in mind for the WoT, you’ll see that this was always a theme. Also, it may just be that this is all taking place in a far far far distant future Earth. *Mind blown hand gesture.*
Soon after this, we get our first glimpse of the Two Rivers and are introduced to Egwene (Madeline Madden), Rand (Josha Stradowski), his father Tam Al’Thor (Michael McElhatton), Perrin (Marcus Rutherford), Matrim (Barney Harris) and Nyaneve (Zoe Robins). The Two Rivers is as bucolic and folksy as the books describe. You definitely get the feel of some remote area, detached from the larger world, and where the most important thing is whether Egwene passes her test to become Wisdom (a type of village wise woman and healer) like Nyaneve and the upcoming Bel Tine festival. There are changes. Most noticeably, this is one heckuva diverse Two Rivers! As I wrote in an earlier blog, the show had a great chance to become the most diverse fantasy adaptation of all time. Robert Jordan, who had pulled from America’s diversity to populate his world, left a clear blue print. Not only are there entire nations of people across the sea, but right in WoT’s idea of the “West” there are PoC and nations made-up primarily of PoC. That’s why Daniel Henny makes such a good Lan Mandragoran. Still, the Two Rivers did not seem a diverse space in the books. And I was quite impressed with how far the showrunners went in diversifying not just this central space, but also some of these very central characters.
There were some other changes. Perrin, for one, is married. Whuuuut? And Matt has financial and dysfunctional family problems. He’s hustling for money for his sisters, trying to take care of his alcoholic mother, and having to deal with his philandering father. That’s a lot! The Matt from the book is at best, at this early stage, a happy-go-lucky teen-child who lives to play pranks. He has something of the rogue to him throughout, and he certainly grows into the role. But nothing like this, not so early. Perrin is so shy he doesn’t even know how to talk to women, much less marry one. Rand, meanwhile, is a wide-eyed bumpkin who has arguments with Egwene that border on infantile. And I suppose that’s one of the most noticeable changes. In the books Rand and his friends are perhaps 19 or 20, while Egwene is 18. But they behave and act more like they’re 15. Matt is hoping to loose a badger during Winternight to scare girls. Perrin’s greatest hope is to work the blacksmithy as an apprentice. Rand and Egwene are betrothed but they’re also the most obvious virgins in the world. Not here tho. They are definitely doing all the things.
Maybe in keeping with the modern age, the show decided to have the maturity of these main characters (and their problems) realistically fit their age group. That makes sense. I don’t think anyone would have accepted 20-year-old men carrying on in the boyish way Rand, Matt and Perrin do in the books around the beginning. In fact, I’d assumed they were young teens until looking up their ages once. And I can only assume this was part of Jordan’s marketing WoT as a “coming of age” story, so his main characters behave much more childish. On the other hand, there is something about stripping away their naivete that also takes the Tolkien-esque innocence with it. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. Just different.
Well, it’s a pretty regular Bel Tine at the Two Rivers until two strangers show up at the central inn: Lan and Moraine. And we get to see one of the most iconic bits from the book: someone noticing the great serpent ring worn by Aes Sedai and then being left in awe. For the folk of the Two Rivers, an Aes Sedai and her warder being in town is about the biggest thing that’s ever happened to their small village. Speaking of which, we’re treated to an “interesting” scene where Moraine and Lan are bare ass naked sharing a small hot bath. Now, some Aes Sedai and their warders (who are tied to them through the One Power) have a much more “intimate” bond. But not Lan and Moraine. Still, there is a closeness between any Aes Sedai and warder that at times makes you wonder… seems the showrunners couldn’t help but tease the possibility. Or, they’re maybe trying to say that the relationship between these two is simply beyond such mundane things as sex. Or–they just wanted a risque scene. Who knows?
Oh! How could I forget, that night we also get our first glimpse of a Myrddraal. A Fade! The Eyeless servants of the Dark. The Never-born. And whenever one of them showed up in the story, you knew sh*t was about to go down. The special effects being what they are, the Fade wasn’t half bad. There was something slightly…cartoonish… to the smoothness of his face. And I always imagined them even paler, as they’re often described as maggot-white. But when in later episodes it opens to shriek and show those endless teeth (also a new touch), I’m definitely here for it!
The next day we see the arrival of the peddler Padan Fain (Johann Myers) who is greeted Gandalf-style by the children. Pay attention to that dude. He’s gonna be around a whille. Then we’re greeted to new shifty Matt trying to pilfer some goods he stole off a friend. Given what we saw earlier where he was losing at dice, supposing his famed luck hasn’t kicked in yet. Soon come. That day, Moraine spends her time snooping around the village. She’s learning all she can about Matt, Perrin, and Rand. And most interestingly, she’s also learning about Egwene and Nyaneve–the latter of who she has a terse convo with. Here’s another major change–and perhaps the most refreshing. In the books, Moraine comes searching for the Dragon Reborn in the Two Rivers and she encounters three young men (Matt, Perrin, Rand) who are Ta’veren: people who the Pattern (reality, time. existence) bends around, or who warp that Pattern and thus will have a profound impact upon the world. Makes sense why she thinks one of the three boys could be the Dragon Reborn. But the show has expanded its Ta’veren list, to include it would seem both Nyaneve and Egwene. In the books, it was always an odd oversight because those two are also going to have very profound impacts on events. They are Ta’veren just not in name. It seems the show decided to go ahead and make it official. Not only that, but no longer is the Dragon Reborn strictly supposed to be a “he.” As Nyaneve makes clear, the Dragon can be reborn as anyone of any gender. That’s a small but monumental change. And it was long overdue.
Later that first night of Bel Tine, Rand and his father have returned home. Both on his farm and in the village, the festival is kicked off by a floating lantern ceremony to remember those who have died and might be reborn in the Pattern. It’s a reminder that Jordan pulled quite heavily on lots of Eastern themes for his world building. From the notion of the turning wheel and cyclical events, to the water lantern ceremony, his works show the very obvious marks of his influence. The show plays this up further, where even the musicians of the Two Rivers seem to play instruments plucked from diverse parts of the world–but manage to pull them together into harmony. After a while tho, gotta admit, that music started taking on a wierd 90s folkband quality. For whatever reason that sorta threw me off a bit. And then this dude took an arrow through the neck.
It happened so quick. One second Egwene is doing some River Dance type joint to a grunge band soundtrack. The next, her would be dance partner seems to have an arrow head coming out his throat. He stares in disbelief before pitching forward, dead. Only it’s not an arrow at all! It’s a BIG and NASTY looking sword buried in his back! Still dazed at this she looks up to see something charging her way–big, bestial, with ram horns and snarling.
So, ladies and gents you know this is what you came to see. The main event. This was the thing that would decide the fate of this show. What would Trollocs (the mook badguys of WoT) look like. The previews only frustratingly gave us glimpses. So I held my breath waiting, waiting… And ohhhh snap!
Now that’s a GODDAMN TROLLOC!
As I looked upon them I could breathe a sigh of religion. The Trollocs did not suck. In fact, they looked fine. Even better than I aimagined. And they were just as terrible as I always imagined them.
The attack of Trollocs on the Two Rivers is superbly shot. It’s mayhem and chaos. With people fleeing in every direction as the camera’s angle seems to flee with them. Coming in and out of shot are Trollocs just rampaging, burning, and killing and eating some folk. They are big and brutish and senseless. There’s no arguing or reasoning with them. They are simply death. This one scene firmly establishes Trollocs as the shadowspawn you need to be afraid of. And the special effects are well done! They didn’t look fake or cheesey. They seemed absolutely nightmarish and monstrous. Meanwhile, back at the Al’ Thor farm, a Trolloc comes after Rand and his father Tam–who we get to see wield a heron-marked blade. Beautiful! The Trolloc nearly skewers him tho, and he’s only saved by Rand’s intervention.
Now in the books, Rand’s encounter with the Trollocs is a bit more complicated. It’s many, not just one. And I do regret we don’t get to see Narg–a talking Trolloc who tries to Jedi mind trick Rand. “Narg smart!” We also don’t get to see Tam reveal in a fever dream from his injury, that he ain’t Rand’s biological daddy…and gives hints as to how he earned the sword of a blademaster.
What we do get however, what is entirely absent from the books, is the fight scene between Moraine, Lan and the Trollocs! In Eye of the World, all the shown action is out at Rand’s farm. We only learn that Moraine and Lan was out there taking down Trollocs the next day. Here though, we see that whole fantastic battle take place. And it’s a great time to show everyone what an Aes Sedai and her warder let loose can do. We get to see actual weaves–how the One Power is channeled–as Moraine tears Trollocs apart with wind, blasts them with fire, and calls down lightening from the sky. In the end she defeats the small Trolloc army, and brings the house down in the process. Literally.
But not before Nyaneve gets snatched. And not before one of the most gut wrenching scenes take place. Perrin and his wife are battling Trollocs back to back. Driven to frenzy, Perrin is butchering a Trolloc and turns to do so to another–but ends up fatally stabbing his wife. What the whut!?!? Horrified, he holds her as she dies in his arms. Awww man! Perrin!
Okay, so far, I’m not feeling this Dark Perrin. And mostly because, I don’t understand the purpose. I think maybe the showrunners were playing on a common theme about Perrin in the book: that he’s big, and so he is always careful not to let loose and hurt others. Here, he let loose, and tragedy struck. But this seems hella extra. First off, they marry off Perrin. Then we have no connection to this wife of his because she has like two speaking lines and just lots of “looks.” There’s something celarly wrong in their marriage, but because she doesn’t speak we have *no idea what that is.* Was it communication Perrin? Did you two need to work on your communciation? Cuz that, we could see. So it’s doubly frustrating that she is just offed so suddenly and so brutally. In later episodes, it appears that this dark event will have an impact on shaping Perrin–which basically makes it fridging. Yeah, nothing about Dark Perrin makes sense to me. Not a lick. Maybe it’ll come together by episode 4. But so far, just seems gratituous. Just because you can do it writers, doesn’t mean you should!
While I’m leveling criticisms…okay, took another look at the Trollocs through the episodes. Eh. Still not bad. But… there were some scenes featuring them when the CGI was a bit overdone. And they became a bit cartoonish. Also, dunno if I’m a fan of the strappy bare chest outfits they got going on. What happened to the chainmail? I still think they’re good. But, look long enough and you’ll find the flaws.
So overall I was impressed with that first episode of the Wheel of Time. I also watched the next two episodes which had some revealing moments. In them, we got to the see the Children of the Light–the closest thing WoT has to the Klan. And not just because they’re in those all-white get-ups. They’re self-righeous fanatics, zealots and bigots who cause trouble wherever they go. Nothing I enjoy more than detesting the Children, also known as Whitecloaks. They are, the WORST.
We also got to see the city of Shadar Logoth! That was impressively done. Nothing creepier than an emptied city that seems to sit on the edge of nowhere. There’s a scene where Rand and Egwene are standing on a balcony and you get a full sweep of how grand Shadar Logoth (old Aridhol) actually was–reminding us this is an *epic* fantasy, on par with LOTR. I understand of course things had to be changed about Shadar Logoth from the books. Who after all has time to go wandering around with Mordeth, or as I like to think of him, evil Tom Bombadil. Mashadar (that creeping black fog) also only gets short thrift. Given how much both the city and Mashadar play out in later parts of the story, wondering if we may yet see Mordeth and the doomed city in later seasons? Most important though, Matt went and found THEE ruby-hilted-dagger. If you’re wondering why by episode 3 he’s kinda acting like a prick, hint–don’t go taking unknown jewelery from dark abandoned cities full of evil fog stuff. It’s just common sense.
Nyaneve’s back! We see how she survived the Trollocs and found Lan and company. Their terse exchanges are great…for…reasons. We also got several interesting new characters and bits of worldbuilding. Everyone was treated to the song Weep for Manetheren and learned that important history–which was almost cut! After escaping Shadar Logoth the fellowship is split up. Egwene and Perrin are on the run and they encounter wolves! Though wolves are mentioned throughout the episode, their importance–particularly to Perrin–hasn’t been revealed yet. But that scene he has with them is major. We’re also introduced to Tinkers, the Tuatha’an–traveling folk and pacifists. And we even meet Aram (Daryl McCormack). Whoo boy. Aram.
Meanwhile, Mat and Rand have escaped to a mining town. And it may be the grimiest non-hygenic and bleakest place I’ve ever seen in the WoT. Soap and water for everyone. They do however make the acquaintance of a very important character–THEE Thom Merrilin (Alexandre Willaume)! Was I a fan of the gleeman’s little rock ballad performance? Not much, though it at least seemed to be about Lews Therin (the first Dragon). And I’m absolutely no fan of those sparse “whiskers.” Facial hair department needs a serious upgrade for Thom. He’s also a bit darker than he is in the books. But overall, was excited to see his appearance–as in Eye of the World he’s actually visiting the Two Rivers and leaves with the entire group.
We get two other important bits of worldbuilding in this encounter. One, we get to see an Aiel! Dead, yes, but noticeable by the red hair. Hey, who else so far has red hair? Hmmmm? I’ve been wondering how the show will handle the Aiel when it comes to diversity. In the books, the Aiel are pretty much “white” people noted by their impressive height (hey, who else so far is pretty tall? Hmmmm?) and red hair. But, here’s the ironic part, their entire culture, fighting style, weapons, and dress are cobbled together from African, Native American and Middle Eastern influences. Will the showrunners keep them white? Or will they realize red-hair can be found in a diversity of people, and have the Aiel physically match the many cultures they represent? Matt and Rand also encounter our first offiicial Darkfriend–a reminder that not only shadowspawn serve the Shadow!
Oh, and how could I forget… LOGAIN!!!!!
That was a great way to end, with a caged False Dragon. Bring on episode 4!
Okay, so I’ve said that overall I like the series so far. There are obvious and understandable changes from the books, because how in the world can you adapt 14 lengthy novels into a visual series? Stuff gotta get cut. Stuff *needs* to get cut. I would have loved to see the town of Baerlon. In Eye of the World, the fellowship stays there before going through Shadar Logoth. Cutting it isn’t a huge, huge deal. But there are at least two pretty important people encountered there. And I’m figuring they’ll just show up elsewhere, in other episodes. So that stuff, no big whoop. But I do have several real quibbles.
Dark Perrin– After three episodes, still not feeling this new incarnation of Perrin. He’s understandably brooding over killing his wife, but I’m still not connecting with that loss. Partly, again, because I don’t know her. She was very poorly introduced, given almost no lines, and before you can say “wooly headed sheepherder” she’s dead. We need some flashbacks or something to flesh her out, and to flesh out their kinda maybe troubled relationship. I still fail to understand why Dark Perrin was needed. This addition to the storyline hasn’t brought anything refreshing or new. Right now, just seems like an unforced error. Or, worse, some writers were chasing some GoT type “grimdark”–which WoT ain’t. Fix Dark Perrin, because right now, he’s a problem for one of the most likeable characters in the series.
Super Children– When we meet The Children of the Light, we’re introudced to the Lord Captain Commander Eamon Valda (Abdul Salis) who is eating something fairly disgusting while watching a bound woman tied to a stake. The woman, it turns out, is an Aes Sedai of the Yellow Ajah and her hands have been cut off. After an evil little speech, Valda has her burned at the stake while he adds her Serpent Ring to a string of them at his belt.
Wait a minute (record scratch). Hold the hell up. Whitecloaks are going around murking Aes Sedai? Taking their rings? What the hell?!? I might need to do a reread, but I don’t recall the Children just willy-nilly offing Aes Sedai, not to mention their warders. These Whitelcoaks seem a little jumped up from what I remember. And I’m not sure how to feel about that. I get what they’re doing here–really making the Children terrifying by showing they are murderous tyrants who terrorize, and hate, women. Which they are, and they do. But… killing an Aes Sedai should be hard, hard, hard, work. Granted, not all can channel like Moraine. But still, being Aes Sedai comes with clout. The Whitecloaks may despise the “Tar Valon witches” but they also know that if they just directly attack Aes Sedai lightening might strike them all dead. They know where the Aes Sedai stay. They could roll up any time. But they know they don’t want NO PARTS of Tar Valon. Sheeeet. Stay yo’ ass in Almoth. Run up get done up…
From what I recall, the Children mostly harrass regular folk: accusing people of not walking in the Light, of being Darkfriends, and terrorizing old women or girls who people accuse of being unnatural, maybe because they show a glimmer of being able to channel. But manhandling and snuffing out Aes Sedai? Nah son. I’m not buying that. Not unless they got like gallons of forkroot (like novacaine for channeling) and they’re spiking Aes Sedai tea up and down the lands. I suppose what bothers me most about this apparent change (unless my memory is off) is that in trying to show the Whitecloaks as this threat to women, it simultaneously diminishes the Aes Sedai–the most powerful women in the book.
Aes Sedai make kings and queens jump to their commands. People see that ring and scurry. They are shrouded in legend and myth and whispers, and their title precedes them. In fact, the hubris they’ve acquired because of this is a major theme in the books–because after being used to having no equals, it will make the sisters, and their leadership, ill-equipped to deal with the challenges in this age. Sure in the books, they steer clear of places dominated by Whitecloaks. But living in fear that they’ll be hunted down by them, get their hands chopped off, and burned alive? FOH. A Whitecloak even think about doing some sh*t like that he better wake up and apologize. The other thing this does, is it also diminishes the real existential threat the Aes Sedai will soon face, one that in their hubris they even refuse to believe–the Seanchan. Imbuing the Children with life or death power over Aes Sedai, nah…not feeling it. Sorry, not sorry.
A Quibble on Colorism– Sigh. Okay, so finally, this has to be mentioned. I thought hard and long whether to even bring it up. But decided, Imma have to walk in the Light and speak my truth. I am absolutely elated that the showrunners of WoT have decided to go with diversity for this series. As I’ve said before, in many ways they’ve gone above and beyond my expectations. But diversity can be a tricky thing. It can have blindspots, even by the well-meaning.
The need for diversity exists because of racism and the expectations of white universality, where whitenss is default, thus leaving BIPOC often marginalized or absent. There are long histories there. Complex ones. Intertwined ones. So when you’re thinking about engaging in diversity, you have to keep those histories in mind, understand the complexities and how it all intertwines. One of those complications is colorism. Call it white supremacy’s near cousin, colonization’s sibling, whiteness’s ugly stepchild. Colorism is often described as intraracial–wherein people usually considered of “the same” ethnic or racial background discriminate against each other based on perceived differences in skin tone. But this is a poor and half-definition. Because that discrimination is always in one direction: the more lighter or fair skinned persons are placed near the top of the hierarchy; those who are darker hued end up at the bottom. And all the usual traits of intelligence, beauty, goodness and their opposites tend to overlap with that hierarchy. In other words, the closer one is on the scale to whiteness the higher one’s ranking; the further away, the lower. Colorism therefore may be practiced within a group, but its origins and power lie outside that group. What’s more, whiteness and white society play active roles in selecting and determining real world social positioning and status on the colorism. Hence, in Hollywood there is the constant issue of hiring fair skinned actresses to play darker skinned characters. Or movie posters and books might “lighten” a character to make them more palatable to white audiences. There’s even colorism in our music.
Colorisim is a perrenial problem, one that I hoped not to see in WoT. Yet… in the three episodes released there are prominent characters of many shades. Only two however, are noticeably much more dark-skinned: the peddler Padan Fain (Johann Myers) and the Lord Commander Eamon Valdar (Abdul Salis). And they’re both…pretty evil. Like really bad. It leaves the only two Black dark-skinned actors of prominence on the show, as very noxious bad guys. Now caveat, there’s another dark-skinned Black actor playing an Aes Sedai warder. But his role is hardly that prominent. There’s one more, but he’s quite literally a non-human Ogier. That’s it on the casting, so far. And that has me feeling…kind of a way. Colorism may be something that slips by those not paying attention–who have the privilege not to pay attention. But I noticed it straight off. I’ve seen it come up here and there in Black spaces in social media. And… I fear, it’s gonna be an awkward *problem* for a show that prides itself on diversity. There’s a chance for this to change, in coming episodes or seasons, with new cast members. And I dearly hope so. Right now tho, it’s where we at.
So, I’ll wrap things up here. Despite my quibbles, despite some things I think need working out (and hope to see worked out) I am enjoying this show I’ve waited so long to see. I’ll be there for the episodes starting every Friday. The showrunners claim they have 8 seasons already mapped out, if Amazon gives the greenlight. If so, I’ll be there! All the way to Tarmon Gai’don!
Oooh thank you so much for writing this!
Thanks for this. Somehow I managed to never read the books (a horrible oversight to be sure), But reading your post made me go back and rewatch the episodes because the first time around, I missed a lot. Now once I’m done the series I’m currently reading, I guess it’s time to finally read WoT.
I feel the same way about the changes they made. Some of the changes make sense, but things like Dark Perrin are just not right.
The Aiel pull from Irish and Scottish traditions as well as the other societies you mentioned. They mostly get their looks and the organization of their society into clans, septs, etc. from the Irish and Scottish side of things and part of what made Rand stand out from other Two Rivers folk was his pale complexion. I’m interested to see how they handle the rest of the Aiel, especially since it always struck me as strange that people who live in a desert would have super pale skin.