Wheel of Time on TV: The Flame of Tar Valon

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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… also, THEE Siuan Sanche, Watcher of the Seals, Keeper of the Flame, the Amyrlin Seat, straight outta Tear, Put Some Respek Upon Her Name–has entered the chat!

After Episode 5 slowed things down to give us worldbuilding, Episode 6 keeps up the pace and takes us into the heady world of Aes Sedai Tower politics. Less action and lots of talking, scheming, and plotting with plots within plots. Since that’s like 60% of the books, seems like a much needed moment. Let’s get into it.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

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We start off with a young girl waking up in a small shack of a house near a river. She’s brown-skinned with tattoos and is soon joined by an older man who has a similar look and sports similar tattoos. He turns out to be her father, Berden Sanche (Peter de Jersey). And by their talk, the two are fisher folk–making their livelihood on the river. They set out in a small boat to do some fishing. We notice that the father, while working at some ropes, is visibly struggling–as he’s missing a hand. The girl, also noticing, moves her hands and we notice weaves forming. As she channels, the knot her father is struggling with comes undone. He smiles at first, until realizing it was her. He becomes wary, warning her that someone can see–even as she protests that no one does. They do well in their fishing and return home–to find it burned to the ground. On what is left a mark like a teardrop is scrawled–the Dragon’s Fang, the mark often ascribed to people accused of being Darkfriends.

In the next scene, we see Berden Sanche putting his daughter in a boat, sending her away for her own safety. She is reluctant, but he tells her she has to go away–until it’s safe for girls like her in Tear. She’s heading to the White Tower, to learn to be Aes Sedai. Her father tells her that at the Tower she’s going to do great things–and if anyone tries to mistreat her for her humble origins, let em’ know who she is: Siuan Sanche, Daughter of the river, clever as a pike, strong as the tides.

Credits roll…

It was really great to see this background intro to Siuan Sanche, a key character from the books and one of my favorites. Her story line is not as prominent as that of the folks from the Two Rivers, but it’s still pretty big and very entangled with all that. In the books, Siuan is always going on about growing up as the child of fisher folk. All her references have to do with boats and fishing. Even her cusses, often a reference to “fish guts,” revolve around that theme. Here we get to see those humble beginnings that would shape her life.

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When the episode opens proper, we are in the hall of the Tower. Moraine (Rosamund Pike) stands with Alanna (Priyanka Bose) and Liandrin (Kate Fleetwood), surrounded by Aes Sedai from different Ajah represented by their colors. All rise as a woman with a staff, the Keeper, one Leane (Jennifer Cheon), comes out to announce the arrival of the Flame of Tar Valon–the Amyrlin Seat, basically the Head Aes Sedai In Charge, who everyone calls Mother.

We are treated to a fantastic camera angle showing her walking in regal dress to take her seat. When she sits and we see her face, it is Siuan Sanche (Sophie Okonedo) now grown up, the fisher girl now the most powerful woman in the world. And while I didn’t see a stole exactly, the stripes representing the 7 Ajahs are visible on her dress. The Amyrlin Seat–from all Ajahs and none at all. Everybody take a goddamn bow!

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Upon the orders of Leane, Logain Ablar (Álvaro Morte) is brought out in chains. The Amyrlin asks why he’s in chains, gentled as he is and severed from the One Power. When she asks if Logain knows why he’s here, he growls that the Aes Sedai are waning in power and brags about how he almost defeated them–killing at least one of their own (Kerene Nagashi). Siuan is like, yeah, yeah, whatever my dude. We gonna keep you here, study you, and make you an example. That breaks Logain, who leaves crying and begging to be killed. Yeah, don’t f*ck with the Amyrlin Seat. Talk sh*t now.

One thing though. Siuan insinuates he’s going to go crazy. But since he’s gentled, there’s no more madness–because he’s no longer touching the taint on Saidin. So don’t understand that much. In the books, men who are gentled mostly just grow despondent–because touching the One Power is like the best drug ever. Unable to know that bliss, they eventually fade away and try to take their own life.

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When he’s gone, the Amyrlin calls forward Moraine, Alanna and Liandrin, to stand judgment for gentling Logain before he could stand trial. When Liandrin tries to get froggy, Siuan snaps her back into place. Both Alanna and Moraine step forward to defend Liandrin, but Siuan ain’t hearing it. She says since Liandrin was in charge, the fault was hers and she’ll be judged for it. Like a scolded child, Liandrin decides she ain’t going down by herself. This is bigger than Nino Brown! Out the blue, she lays into Moraine. Just starts snitching, telling all Moraine’s business, claiming that she’s running around keeping secrets that no one knows, endangering the Tower. When the other Blues say this is Blue Ajah business, Liandrin asks if Siuan might be going easy on her (Moraine) because she (Siuan) used to be Blue. Ooooh. I know she didn’t. Leane bang that Keeper staff!

When Moraine is brought forward by the Amyrlin to answer for this, she refuses to divulge the truth of her secretive actions–which would be that she went to the Two Rivers to find the friggin’ Dragon Reborn! No one at the Tower should know that. Siuan’s voice grows dangerous and she gives Moraine a second chance, and gets the same answer. This infuriates the Amyrlin who goes SMOOTH OFF. I AM THE AMYRLIN SEAT! THIS IS MY CITY! THIS IS MY WORLD! BOW YO’ ASS DOWN!

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She ends by saying she’ll deal with Moraine tomorrow. *Gulp*

Outside, Liandrin confronts Moraine–saying she did all that for her own good, and that tomorrow her (Moraine’s) reckoning comes. You doing too much Liandrin. Way too much. Now in the books, Liandrin certainly doesn’t get along with Moraine. But the notion (insinuated often here) that they were once friends, seems created for the show. I guess it builds up the drama?

Later, we see Moraine having tea somewhere in Tar Valon–while in the background, we see the Ogier Loial (Hammed Animashaun) going to a room. Lan (Daniel Henny) arrives, and the two go across the way to where Rand and Matt are holed up. When Moraine tries to see what’s wrong with Matt (who still looks tore up) Rand tries to pull out on her and Lan almost slaps him into next week. My dude, he’s a warder. Rand is yelling that Matt can’t channel so he doesn’t need to be gentled. Matt starts doing a kinda exorcist thing, saying the world doesn’t need a Dragon like him. He tries to slash Moraine with the dagger but she stops him, and then pulls all that nasty Shadar Logoth sh*t out his mouth.

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Rand goes outside to thank Moraine, asking if this is proof Matt is not the Dragon Reborn. She’s evasive on that front, but says that the dagger and Matt now have a link. She’s healed him, but hasn’t cleansed the darkness. Just about then Nyaneve (Zoe Robbins) shows up, holding some ginseng and leaves she hoped to heal Matt with. C’mon now. When she tries to talk smack, Moraine tells her she coulda gotten Matt killed. Before she goes she says, “If the title of Wisdom is what you claim, you better start using some.”

Well damn.

Later, Moraine and the head of the Blue Ajah, Maigan (Sandy McDade), sit talking Aes Sedai politics in the baths. I didn’t even know that spot existed. There are some interesting hints in this exchange. The head of the Blue Ajah speaks not only of the Trolloc attack on the Two Rivers, but other happenings in the world–rumors of the Aiel coming out of the Waste and ships disappearing (Seanchan!) in the West. But mostly, they talk about the power shifts in the Tower–how people wonder if Siuan is losing her grip (mentally) and of troubling alliances, like Reds and Greens working together. The Blue Ajah head says they need Moraine to stay in the Tower during these perilous times.

Just then, someone delivers a message to Moraine–a bit of yellow plant. This is actually getting at something from the books: Moraine’s many “eyes and ears” that keep her informed on everything. This message takes her to a place in Tar Valon full of Yellow sisters, where she reunites with Egwene (Madeleine Madden) and Perrin (Marcus Rutherfood)–fresh from their ordeal with the White Cloaks. Egwene relates as much, while Perrin lies resting, and then offers Moraine the rings Eamon Valda (Abdul Salis) kept of slain Aes Sedai. She also tells Moraine about Perrin’s recently acquired golden eyes and his rapport with wolves. Moraine tells her to tell no one, as Perrin could be in danger for his abilities. Interestingly, when Egwene asks if she’s heard from Rand and the others–Moraine does some clever Aes Sedai dissembling.

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That night, Lan confronts Moraine about their next steps. She says their number one priority is protecting the lot from the Two Rivers. Seeming to ask for privacy, she dismisses him but he gives her a knowing, don’t stay up all night. We then see Moraine once more go to that picture on the wall from the end of the last episode. She opens it, channels power into it, and then steps through and ends up…in a room with Siuan Sanche, no longer dressed as the Amyrlin. She berates Moraine for making her dress her down earlier. And we realize, that whole thing was ruse. Well, if you’re familiar with the books, you know it was always a ruse. These two are anything but enemies. When Siuan talks about the loneliness of being Aes Sedai and ends up drawing Moraine into a deep kiss…yeah, they ain’t enemies at all.

So that was HUGE! First off, the picture must be a ter’angreal–an object from the Age of Legends that can perform some specific task using the One Power. Only, I’m not sure what this one does. Did Moraine literally walk and go somewhere else–like a doorway? That would be weird because there’s this big deal called Traveling and that can’t happen yet or we’re gonna have massive plot holes. Maybe it’s a ter’angreal that only goes to a specific place? That place looks almost like a fisher’s hut back in Siuan’s own village–an odd place for a ter’angreal to go. The other possibility is that it’s a dream ter’angreal, and the two met in Tel’aran’rhiod, the dream realm of this world. I have to believe the folks doing this show had to have thought this out, but it’s puzzling and I got questions!

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Beyond that, the really big BIG deal here is the show deciding to ship Siuan and Moraine! There’s not exactly an explicit romantic relationship between the two women in the books. But it’s hinted they may have had some prior intimate relationship. They are quite close, confidants and friends. It seems the show just decided to take things a step further. Before anyone complains about some massive deviation from the books, let me stop you right there. First off, the books make quite plain that Aes Sedai + Aes Sedai relationships are fairly common in the White Tower–so much so that there’s a term for it, a “pillow friend.” Yeah, hella corny. Did I mention a dude came up with this?

Anyway, that dude, Robert Jordan, was pretty blunt that in his worldbuidling he’d included same-sex relationships. As he wrote in his notes: “Between one-third and one-half of all Aes Sedai (possibly somewhat more) are either gay or (mainly) bisexual to one degree or another. This is in large part because relationships with men are exceedingly difficult: men age and die, many men find a relationship with a woman so powerful difficult.” Make of that what you will. Again, a dude did it.

The problem was that his framing of sexuality in the books (while admirable and forward thinking in a way) was also awkward and clumsy. We never get to fully explore this type of relationship between Aes Sedai, and both Siuan and Moraine end up later with men (old men at that), as if to imply any possible prior romantic relationship they had was some childhood tryst–and not serious. The show has decided to de-clumsy the entire “pillow friend” premise. Bully for them. And let’s be real, fanfiction folks have been shipping these two for a hot minute. That kiss alone felt like a “finally!” And when Moraine does the reversal on Siuan telling her to bow and get downn on her knees….!

Later, as the two sit talking, Moraine gives us more bits of backstory–that the two of them were there when the prophecy announcing the Dragon being reborn was given. And that they have both been hunting him since. A frustrated Moraine wonders if its too much for just them, and if they should bring in the others sisters. But Siuane says that if the other sisters found out what they were doing, that they could be stilled–a version of gentling for women, and that Aes Sedai say is worse than death. She also reveals she’s been having dreams. Of the Dark One. And the Eye of the World. She claims that the Dark One is weak now, and that if one of the five from The Two Rivers is the Dragon, Moraine needs to take them to the Eye of the World and defeat the Dark One while they can.

Okay. That was a bit quick. This need to go to the Eye of the World happens in the book. But it has nothing to do with Siuan Sanche. It plays out over the length of the first novel, so that we get hints before things take that direction. This turn in the TV adaptation seemed oddly done–completely out of left field as I don’t recall the Eye of the World ever being discussed previously. It’s a reminder that the series is trying to adapt a massively long story and are cutting some corners. That’s not always going to work so seamlessly.

Moraine does tell Siuan tho that if she’s to go, she (Siuan) has to exile her–so that other sisters are not suspicious of her travels. Wow. A bit extreme. But okay.

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The next day Moraine and Lan are walking, discussing their next moves. Lan mentions Matt Cauthon and who should over hear but Liandrin. With her ol’ eavesdropping ass… She walks up and starts doing her Liandrin thing, asking questions she shouldn’t, threatening to snitch to the Amyrlin. Moraine, finally having had enough walks up to her face (her FACE!) and tells her, “I know about the man you meet in North Harbor.” And I Oop! That shuts Liandrin all the way up. Moraine goes on to say that unless Liandrin wants her sisters to know she gonna need to back the hell up! And if that wasn’t the most satisfying part of this episode! Moraine was like, “I’m working down at Mind Your Own Business and they hiring–want an application?” Of course, I’d like to know more about who this man is Liandrin is meeting with. Because if this Liandrin is like the Liandrin in the books, it ain’t what you thinking. Like, at all.

Moraine and Lan then go on to meet with none other than Loial the Ogier, asking for help. That can only mean one thing–there’s a Waygate in our future!

Afterwards, Moraine ends up in the central chamber of the Tower with Egwene…where she reunites her with Nyaneve. She tells them the Amyrlin wants to meet them. Nyaneve does her stubborn thing but Moraine walks off saying, “Siuan Sanche only waits for one woman, and it’s not you.” Damn. She got bars and burns for this whole episode! The two younger women end up meeting with the Amyrlin greets them pretty matter-o-factly, and not as the formal Amyrilin Seat. She tells both, including a skeptical Nyaneve, that the fate of the world depends on the choices and actions they make in the coming days. That the Wheel doesn’t care what you want. The Last Battle is coming. They all have to do their duty.

Duty…heavier than a mountain…lighter than a feather.

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There’s a shot we’ve seen in the previews, of Moraine standing in a blue dress looking out at the White Tower from Tar Valon. We’re treated to this before her next meeting with the Amyrlin for judgment of her previous disobedience. And this one’s emotional y’all.

A visibly angry (yet shaken) Siuan delivers the sentence of exile to Moraine. Worse still, Moraine has to use the one and only oath road to bind her to her penance. I don’t think this was something Moraine expected, but it is pure Siuan Sanche to realize this has to look as real as possible to the other sisters. As both women speak the words binding their oaths there is a strong coursing of emotions and the Amyrlin looks to be just holding back tears–as these two friends, lovers, are forced to sever ties. We get the feeling that is the duty Siuan had earlier alluded to, and we are treated to at least one tear–as Moraine interweaves her own oath with mentions of Siuan’s earliest titles given to her by her father: Daughter of the river, clever as a pike, strong as the tides. Whew. Grab a hanky.

As Moraine leaves the Tower, all the other sisters do a Klingon excommuncation ritual–turning their backs on her. Even Alanna, though her face falls as she does so. It’s like walking a gauntlet as she is forced to leave the place she’s given her life to–and will still be giving her life to.

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Moraine rides out of Tar Valon and towards a structure somewhere outside the city–a stairway with two two stone structures rising on either side and a space in the middle. She waits for a while and Loial shows up, riding a massive horse. She asks if he’s alone, and dramatic music starts when Lan, Egwene and Perrin ride up. There’s even more excitement (and more dramatic music) when Rand, Matt and Nyaneve show up. The fellowship is back together!

Loial explains they are at a Waygate–a way of traveling between space and time. The five from Two Rivers are hesitant. Moraine explains to them that they have to go the Eye of the World, where the Dark One’s prison is, and stop him. If they don’t, they will allow Trollocs and Fades to invade and destroy the world. When Egwene asks what’s going to happen to those of them who aren’t the Dragon. Moraine says they’ll see when the time comes. She then steps up and uses a weave to open the Waygate. The Wheel weaves as the Wheel will, she says before entering. They all follow, into a place of darkness and weird lightening.

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Wait, did I say all? Nope. Because Matt is hanging in the back. And as the Waygate closes an everyone yells frantically for him to come on–everything goes black. WTH!!?

Me when Matt just didn’t bother to walk through that Waygate:

So this episode probably gave us some of the deepest dives into Robert Jordan’s world, and finally lays us on a path to the climax of the first book–at the Eye of the World. It also is heavy on the intrigue of White Tower politics and deepens Moraine and Siuan’s relationship on multiple levels. It also perhaps deviates from the series more than any of the previous episodes to get us there.

This episode creates completely new plot lines like the exile of Moraine. It turns Liandrin into a type of direct rival and seems to hint at some past “friendship” (or more) between she and Moraine. It makes Siuan Sanche the catalyst to get them on their path. And it seems to turn the Eye of the World into the Dark One’s prison, though I’m hoping they just mean its in the general vicinity because it’s also in the Blight. Like Dark Lord adjacent.

Lots of changes, big and small. Even the Waygate isn’t the same, now opened by Aes Sedai channeling instead of nimble Ogier hands. And I gotta admit, I would have loved to have seen the Waygate as described in the book, complete with the carved Avendesora leaves. The typical portal-looking structure was somewhat disappointing.

A more traditional Waygate imagined

But I guess if we all arrive at the same destination, maybe it doesn’t matter so much? I guess?

Anyway, waiting for next week. So get your topknots tight and ready to say prayers to the last embrace of the mother. We’re heading to Shienar!

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