THE WHEEL OF TIME S1E5 — Big Troubles in Little Tar Valon
“Blood Calls To Blood” does the amazing job of laying down a TON of groundwork for future seasons of The Wheel of Time, without being just a pure exposition dump within an episode. Although it definitely didn’t have as much action as the previous episode (how can you even try to top an ending like that?), we did get a couple of big reunions, one good and one bad, and get to meet an Ogier!
The episode was directed by Salli Richardson-Whitfield, who is perhaps best known as the actor who played Dr. Allison Blake in the SyFy show Eureka, but also as a prolific television director, working on projects like The Punisher, The Magicians, American Gods, to name just a few. The episode is written by Celine Song, who has experience as a playwright and is slated as the writer and director for an upcoming Korean romance film by A24 called Past Lives.
With a one-month jump happening after the opening credits, we are making the first massive jump in time with our heroes, and see them now approaching the city of Tar Valon.
Who’s afraid of the big bad Valda?
The month jump sees Perrin and Egwene still traveling with the Tinkers, Perrin seems to be much more comfortable with them and Egwene seems actually happy to be with them. There are still hints of a flirtation with Aram, which I wonder if they’ll bring back or if this is the last we see of the Tinkers for this season.
As they approach the city of Tar Valon, they spot the White Tower of the Aes Sedai, a nice beacon in the distance for travelers. But before they can make it to the gates, the caravan is stopped by Whitecloaks asking about the False Dragon. Unfortunately for them, leading the band of zealots is Eamon Valda, who immediately recognizes Egwene and Perrin from their previous encounter. He wants them captured, but the Tinkers link arms, opposing the Whitecloaks from taking the kids, even at the risk of bodily harm.
I do like this scene and how it shows that the Tinkers can be defensive and protective without resorting to violence, and also how awful the Whitecloaks can be for literally beating up people that they know would never fight back against them.
The awfulness of Whitecloaks is dialed up to 100 in this episode. Perrin and Egwene are captured trying to flee them, and there is an immensely uncomfortable and invasive scene where we see Egwene stripped naked in front of a group of the Whitecloaks as they scrub her with a coarse brush and unbraid her hair. It’s obviously not meant to be sexual, but it’s clearly a violation. Props to Richardson-Whitfield for keeping the camera on Madeleine Madden‘s face rather than her body.
Brutally scrubbed clean and put in a modest white gown, she’s tied with blood-stained rope to a chair. Valda walks in with Perrin in tow, gagged and then tied up. Valda suspects that Egwene might be an Aes Sedai and Perrin her Warder, but after realizing that she isn’t, he still is intent on killing one of them.
He tortures Perrin in front of Egwene, trying to trigger a response from her, but unbeknownst to him, Perrin’s eyes turn gold at the torture. In the distance, wolves are howling. Abdul Salis plays a perfect Valda, a character who is very easy to hate.
He gives them two choices: Egwene can channel and she can die, but Perrin will be freed, or Egwene can choose not to channel and she’ll live, but Perrin will die. I appreciate that Egwene stands her ground at this moment, even if she is helpless. Her boldness and unflinching endurance in the face of peril play perfectly in line with her character.
Unfortunately for Egwene, she still can’t channel, even being left with an ultimatum. Perrin tells her to stop trying, admitting to her the truth of how Laila died. He’s still plagued by the same guilt and is ready to sacrifice himself for his friend.
But, despite that, Egwene isn’t ready for him to die and tells him it was an accident. As Valda returns and begins to torture Perrin more, bleeding him out, Egwene begins to try and channel. Perrin’s eyes turn gold but Valda’s attention is on Egwene who makes a small fireball in her hand. Okay, not too impressive. But he misses the fire she creates to free Perrin from his bindings.
Freed and furious and probably in a massive amount of pain, Perrin attacks Valda, who is terrified by the golden eyes. Outside, the howling of wolves is much louder. Taking the opportunity of Valda’s shock, Egwene grabs a knife and stabs him in the back before grabbing his keychain of Aes Sedai trophy rings and making a run for it with Perrin.
Outside the tent, the Whitecloak camp is being attacked by a pack of wolves. Egwene seems shocked, but Perrin knows that they won’t hurt him. Honestly, of all the scenes in this episode, this is one where I wish the budget went more into. I would have loved to see a larger gang of wolves beyond just the shadows of a few that we saw. Give me Nymeria and her pack of a thousand wolves!
Ogier, not Ogre
On another road to Tar Valon is Mat and Rand, who definitely have had the worst time traveling. Mat clearly looks much worse, and it’s made more obvious by how stark Barney Harris‘ costume is compared to Josha Stradowski‘s. You can tell that Mat and Rand are from two different socioeconomic classes. Mat’s threadbare mottled coat looks chilly compared to Rand’s thick fur-lined jacket and clean, green cloak.
Approaching a lookout point, Rand notes that the volcano he sees in the distance looks familiar to him, and in the foreground is the city of Tar Valon with the White Tower jutting out. Unlike Perrin and Egwene, they arrive in the city without much pomp or circumstance. But, remembering Thom’s story about his nephew, Rand is not eager to get to the White Tower. Instead, he takes Mat to an inn, fearing that the White Tower will gentle him.
It’s also obvious that the month hasn’t been enough time to heal from the trauma of what happened at the farm. Mat is plagued with the fear that he might have killed that family and is depressed at the thought that Thom is dead (granted, we didn’t actually see him die on-screen…).
While Mat rests, Rand explores the city. In a bookstore, he comes across a being named Loial! Rand realizes he’s an Ogier and Loial points out that Rand is an Aielman. You’ll remember Aielmen from “A Place of Safety” where one was killed in the mining town of Breen’s Spring and buried by Thom and Mat. It’s a nice chunk of worldbuilding and information to drop without being too overbearing and Hammed Animashaun‘s performance as Loial is on point. Completely lovable. We love Loial.
Rand, of course, vehemently denies that he’s an Aielman, saying he is from the Two Rivers. He also mentions Egwene to Loial, saying that he came to Tar Valon for her. But their conversation is cut short when the commotion outside in the streets draws their attention. It’s the Aes Sedai coming back home, with Logain in their tow.
Rand runs off to find Mat, who has found a spot on a ledge to watch. We see a glimpse of Padan Fain (Johann Myers), who you’ll remember was the peddler from the Two Rivers that Mat sold his stolen bracelet to. Keep an eye out for him.
On the street, people are eagerly throwing vegetables at the false Dragon. Logain is dazed and unresponsive in his cage as Alanna and Liandrin sit behind him on thrones. When Logain’s eyes find Mat and Rand, he starts laughing maniacally. Mat is seriously disturbed by it (and perhaps the laughing was all in his head?) and is shaken by the sight. Seeing Logain, Mat asks Rand to promise that they won’t end up like that if one of them is the Dragon Reborn. It seems to illustrate that he also might suspect that he can channel, or at least understand Rand’s fear.
But, before we push on with Mat and Rand, let’s jump back in time to the beginning of the episode…
White Tower Politics
The episode opens with a funeral procession after the battle last week. I’ve enjoyed the in-universe songs up until now, but Alanna’s lamenting song was a little too on-the-nose tonally to me. We watch as the Aes Sedai and Warders bury the dead. Stepin, played masterfully this week by Peter Franzén, is burying Kerene. He takes her ring and wears it on his neck before departing, completely devastated. A month later and he’s not doing any better.
With the group closing in on the Tar Valon, the group is returning home. Though Moiraine states that it no longer feels like home to her after 20 years of travel away from home. She notes to Lan that Nynaeve has been spending every night eating at the Warder’s fire. I like that little detail of her sticking with the Warders, who seem generally warmer than the Aes Sedai.
Arriving at the tower, Moiraine hides Nynaeve away immediately in the Warders’ quarters until the Amyrlin Seat arrives. Nynaeve bristles at this, eager to find her people, but Moiraine knows better. Her display of power is sure to draw the attention of the other Aes Sedai and there will be an expectation for Nynaeve to join their ranks immediately.
It’s fair for Nynaeve to mistrust Moiraine since it doesn’t feel like Moiraine would go directly to her if she finds out where the kids are in the city. Could Moiraine already know of Mat and Rand’s presence in the city? It’s very possible. But, at the same time, we see in this episode how the tower politics, that Nynaeve despises, are already coming into play. She couldn’t escape it even if she tried.
Elsewhere in the tower, Stepin is being dressed for Kerene’s funeral by Ihvon (Emmanuel Imani) and Maksim (Taylor Napier). Lan comes to see them and Stepin tells them the story of how he met Kerene and found redemption in his life after becoming a Warder and bonding with Kerene. It’s an enjoyable moment, especially for an episode that focuses so much on Warders, to see the Warders all bonding and being close friends.
There’s a suggestion for Stepin to bond to Alanna, but it’s not so easy for Stepin to move on. Bearing Kerene’s ring, he approaches a furnace full of molten metal and drops her ring into it, watching as it melts away. Again, the Warder scenes in this episode are incredibly poignant.
Especially when we cut to a wordless scene between Moiraine and Lan, which manages to speak volumes. It’s underplayed in the episode, especially when Stepin’s grief is so center-staged, but Moiraine’s connection with Lan is fierce in these scenes. Her watching him being overwhelmed by sadness for a friend and then later by grief for his friend’s death is palpable. It’s impossible for her not to feel his anguish and they don’t need to share a single word about it. I love Rosamund Pike and Daniel Henney‘s chemistry in these scenes, they pull it off flawlessly.
A depressed Stepin goes to visit Nynaeve for some medicine to help him sleep. She offers it gladly, having been concerned for him ever since Kerene’s death. He tells her that the pain he feels is the only thing he has left of Kerene and he doesn’t want to let go of it yet. In a sad and oddly comforting turn of phrase, Nynaeve replies that the pain will never go away.
Slipping out of her room later, Nynaeve is found by Liandrin. Nynaeve points out that Reds don’t have Warders because they hate men, and Liandrin replies, “Women hold the One Power, but men still control much of this world, and they are rarely kind to little girls who show a spark of being greater than they are.”
It’s hard to deny how true that rings on the heels of watching Valda torture and abuse Egwene and Perrin because of his hatred of women who can channel aka any woman with even a small potential to harness the One Power. This is a direct parallel to Valda’s cruelty and it’s not difficult to comprehend how a group of hateful extremist men could form in a world where their connection to the One Power has been severed and perhaps they feel a little inadequate.
Liandrin points Nynaeve toward the library, which she says leads out into the gardens. Of course, in the next scene, we see that her trip to the library led her to bump into Loial. There’s no way Liandrin could have meant for this to happen, but it’s a pleasant coincidence, as Loial notes that Egwene’s hair is braided in the style of the Two Rivers.
The group is reunited! It’s great to see our heroes back together again and to see Nynaeve’s protectiveness over Rand and Mat. Mat is clearly not in a good spot, but Nynaeve is determined to heal him herself. Like Rand, she also doesn’t trust the White Tower not to gentle him if Mat can channel. She decides to wait for Egwene and Perrin, and tend to Mat in the meantime.
She shares a story with Rand about a young Egwene, who caught an illness called break-bone fever (an extreme version of dengue fever, the real illness does not make your own legs and arms snap in half). The previous Wisdom was ready for Egwene to die, brewing a tea to ease her passing. But Nynaeve didn’t want to give it to her and Egwene didn’t want to die. Instead, she suffered through the pain of the illness and the fever broke in the morning. Again, a good parallel scene to Egwene’s endurance in the face of Valda’s torture.
Back at the White Tower, more machinations are at play. Liandrin finds Moiraine and seems intent on luring Nynaeve to the side of the Reds, though Moiraine simply rolls her eyes at this, seeing clearly that Nynaeve is likely to choose the Yellow Ajah, who are the healers of the Aes Sedai. Also, it helps that Nynaeve doesn’t seem to have any contempt for men.
Alanna also visits Moiraine, who discusses with her the potential of breaking the bond between Aes Sedai and a Warder. Again, more ties to the closeness between Moiraine and Lan and her concern for him, she doesn’t want him to become like Stepin in case she faces an untimely death.
Switching topics, Alanna notes that the Amyrlin Seat is on her way back to the Tower and is looking for someone to blame for the gentling of Logain, remember they were supposed to bring him back for judgment. Alanna suggests Moiraine challenge the Amyrlin, especially with Liandrin gaining followers in the tower, but Moiraine seems eager to leave the Tower soon. She didn’t even take off her boots to lay in bed!
When Alanna leaves, we see Moiraine look longingly at a gilded frame on her wall that is reminiscent of panel paintings. Opening the little window in the frame, we see the image of a woman. Interesting…
At night, Lan visits Stepin, who is making offerings to ward off the Forsaken, about eight carved figures. Non-book-readers, remember that name! Lan informs us that the Forsaken are those who sold their soul to the Dark One for eternal life. They were sealed away by the last Dragon.
The two then share a drink, with Stepin hinting at a potential romance between Lan and Nynaeve. Though it’s clear that the two have a connection, Lan seems reluctant to pursue the idea of romantic love.
In the morning, Lan wakes up after passing out in Stepin’s bedroom. He’s been drugged by Stepin with Nynaeve’s sleeping medicine. Rushing out of the room, he finds Stepin dead. He killed himself, unable to live with the grief of his loss.
Unlike Kerene’s quiet funeral, Stepin’s is full of mourners. We see Lan in the position of chief mourner, and it feels very much in the tradition of what I know of Asian mourning ceremonies. Lan’s pounding of his chest and anguished cries feel familiar to the idea of performative mourning, though it’s clear from the tears in Moiraine’s eyes that what he feels is very real.
The shirt ripping might have been a comical step too far, but damn, what an emotional ending.
Although some book readers might dislike the episode being so focused on the Warders, specifically Stepin, this episode is a masterclass in weaving in a lot of worldbuilding quickly but also effectively. There are memorable scenes where we are given a lot of information without feeling tiring or overly informative. Does it top last week’s episode? Not really in terms of wow factor, but emotionally it is far more powerful. Meeting Loial, seeing the kids back together, watching Perrin and Egwene escape, the funerals in the tower, it’s all tied together well thematically and sets up the final three episodes.
The Wheel of Time streams Fridays exclusively on Prime Video.