‘The Wheel of Time’ season 1, episode 8 review: A frustrating finale, but the season 2 setup is there

If I had written my review immediately after having watched The Wheel of Time finale, it would consist of simply one word. “Huh.” I was left with so many questions — not about what was coming next (although I had some of those too!) but about what had just happened.

There have been some instances throughout The Wheel of Time season 1 where I think the plot has made a bit more sense if you’ve read the books, but for this episode, book-knowledge seemed to make it make less sense. Before I started writing, I rewatched The Wheel of Time finale to try to see it as a non-reader might. While my viewing experience improved slightly on rewatch, I’m still left with questions.

The episode opened 3000 years in the past, with another Dragon, Lews Therin. We got a glimpse of his plans to seal the Dark One away, and the opposition to the plan. The Wheel of Time finale did an excellent job of showing how different the world was in the so-called Age of Legends. Visually, it had more of a sci-fi than fantasy quality.

My daughter was disturbed by the visuals (“All of this sci-fi right in front of my fantasy salad?”) but I thought the show did a good job of showing us how the breaking of the world had destroyed much of the cultural and technological developments of the Age of Legends and set the society of Jordan’s universe back in progress.

The Wheel of Time finale then split our attention into three different tracks. As Moiraine and Rand are traveling to the Eye of the World alone, trollocs attack Fal Dara. While Lord Algemar and his troops head to Tarwin’s Gap to try to hold off the trollocs, Lady Amalisa puts out a call to all women who can channel, drawing Nynaeve and Egwene to her. Loial and Perrin just…hang out?

One the way to the Eye of the World, Rand falls asleep and dreams of a man he identifies as the Dark One in human form (my daughter described the actor, Fares Fares, as “the right amount of sexy” and I have to agree) killing Moiraine. He wakes up and they keep going.

The show treats the Eye of the World much differently from in the books, and if we are taking the show at face value, I think we are supposed to think the Eye is where Lews Therin originally fought and imprisoned the Dark One, and when Rand and Moiraine arrive, Rand begins to piece together memories of his past life.

When he reaches down to touch the ancient symbol of the Aes Sedai, he is transported into his mind palace where he lives in wedded bliss with Egwene and a daughter in the Two Rivers. Rand’s vision here is an idea borrowed from the books, but on the page, it is a vision that Egwene has while being tested by the White Tower to become an Accepted. The same man from Rand’s dream appears both at the Eye with Moiraine and Rand’s unconscious body and in Rand’s perfect life vision.

In the real world, at the Eye, the man deals with Moiraine by cutting her off from the One Power. She is still able to get a knife to Rand’s throat, ready to kill him if he makes the wrong choice. Within Rand’s vision, the man tempts Rand to make his dream life a reality, and a highlight of the Wheel of Time finale for me came when Rand chooses to reject his vision because he knows that the life offered is not what Egwene wants.

This awareness from Rand helped to make explicit the divide that Rand and Egwene find themselves on opposite sides of. In spite of the fact that they love each other, what they want is fundamentally incompatible, and they both love each other enough that neither one would impose a life the other doesn’t want.

While I was pleased with the resolution — Rand rejecting the Dark One because of his love and respect for Egwene as an individual — I felt that the scene itself was weak. It seemed to go on forever and it wasn’t really clear what the Dark One was after. Was it just a ploy to get him on his side? A test? In what way does Rand choosing to make this his life benefit the Dark One? How does it help free him from his prison?

Also, visually, Rand “defeating” the Dark One was anti-climatic. The show has done an excellent job up until this point of capitalizing on being a visual medium, but this whole scene felt like it relied overly on exposition (and exposition that was not related to the book) and never really wowed with it’s visual representation of Rand’s choices. One thing of interest I did notice is that when Rand looks back as he’s leaving the Eye, visually it looks like it could be the same view as when Lews Therin looked out over the city.

This leads me to one of my questions. Who, exactly, was Rand confronting? Within The Wheel of Time finale he is referred to exclusively as The Dark One, however, the actor is listed as playing Ishamael, one of the Forsaken. This is not entirely different than in the books, where Ishamael calls himself Ba’alzamon and is sometimes believed to be the Dark One.

But what does the show want us to think at this point? A reader knows that cuendillar is the material used to make the seals on the Dark One’s prison. In the book, as the seals are found, some are broken and some are now fragile, indicating the growing power of the Dark One. Here, it seems that somehow Rand’s confrontation with the Dark One (or Ishamael, or some combination) is what broke the seal. Does that mean, regardless of what Rand did, that the confrontation was a success?

The Dark One’s little smirk as he’s vanishing seems to indicate yes. Rand thinks he defeated him, but Moiraine seems to know this is only the beginning and yet she lets Rand run off. So maybe we are supposed to think that Fares was the real Dark One and he has suffered a setback, though is not defeated. The messaging felt muddled.

In the book after the confrontation at the Eye, Rand thinks he has destroyed the Dark One, which he has not, but it is still a genuine setback for the Dark One and the Forsaken. Some of that may be me trying to reconcile the show and the book when this particular scene is not something meant to be reconciled.

Before the trolloc attack, Nynaeve sent Lan after Moiraine by giving him a mysterious way to track her, and before he leaves, Nynaeve and Lan have a heartfelt goodbye that was directly lifted from Jordan. The thrill of seeing a scene I loved from the book done so well was a little dampened by the fact that it didn’t seem that in character with how the show has been moving the relationship forward.

For Lan to suddenly assume that Nynaeve is going to choose someone else seems very at odds with his declaration last episode that Moiraine didn’t own him, implying there was room for a relationship between them. At least give her the Golden Crane signet ring, you coward.

Related: ‘The Wheel of Time’ season 1, episode 7 review: Hissing out loud and a little heterosexuality, as a treat

Meanwhile, Loial and Perrin are just there. They decide to go ask how they can assist non-violently and end up in the throne room, helping to unearth the Horn of Valere. In the book the Horn was hidden at the bottom of the Eye of the World and only unearthed after Rand uses up the untainted saidin that was stored in the Eye.

With the major changes to the confrontation at the Eye (the Eye no longer being a place that was hidden and guarded by the Green Man, storing away tools for the Last Battle — the untainted saidin, the Horn, the Dragon banner), it makes sense to move the location of the Horn. Still, the idea that an artifact as powerful as the Horn could be hidden in a known location for 3000 years and never used seems unlikely.

Perrin thinks he sees Padin Fain and goes to look for him. However, he runs back when he hears fighting only to discover that Fain has already attacked and murdered (??) everyone, including Loial, in order to take the Horn. Fain has Mat’s evil dagger and some stuff to say to Perrin. Maybe this scene was originally supposed to between Fain and Mat, and was rearranged after Barney Harris was written out?

Fain reveals how he’s always been a darkfriend and that the trollocs came to the Two Rivers to capture the five ta’veren – although, for some reason, now he seems just as happy to let Perrin be. It’s all up to fate and ‘balance’, I guess. Side note: Johann Myers is doing an amazing job as Padan Fain and I hope we keep his descent into madness, because I feel like he will absolutely kill it.

I realize that finales are designed for maximum drama, however, this scene left me frustrated because, one, I know Loial is still alive. This isn’t wild speculation. The actor is literally filming season 2. But not only was he injured when Perrin arrived, we watch Padin Fain stab him to finish him off. As viewers, there is no question that we are supposed to think he is dead. Also, Algemar’s men, including book fan-favorite Uno, all also appear dead. I find it hard to believe that Uno is dead, though it is possible.

So, basically are we opening up season 2 to a “not dead just injured” situation, at least with Loial? Why would Padan Fain, along with two Fades, leave them alive? It left me feeling a little manipulated, because it feels obvious that they are not all dead, but the show didn’t leave that wiggle room for us to wonder. I would be less irritated if we were given a more ambiguous fate for them.

Nynaeve and Egwene join Amalisa and the few women in the city who can channel to try to hold the trollocs back from the city. With the combined might of Egwene and Nynaeve, Amalisa is able to channel enough of the power to destroy the trolloc hordes. However, it doesn’t come without a cost. Amalisa channels more than she, or any of the women, are able to hold, burning them all out. Nynaeve somehow manages to break the flow to Egwene to save her, but Nynaeve appears to also end up very dead.

We see Egwene attempting to channel to bring her back at first to no avail. Then, after it looks like she’s given up, we see saidar flowing around Nynaeve and healing her. Aes Sedai can’t heal death (and we’ve already seen this, as Nynaeve didn’t bring back Karene in episode 4 because she was already dead when they arrived), so are we meant to think Nynaeve was not fully dead, or that Egwene brought her back from death, apparently, without even trying? Or that there was another force at work? Again, I just ended up feeling manipulated rather than moved by the scene, because it just wasn’t clear what happened or even what the show wanted us to think happened.

In the end, Lan does find Moiraine and she tells Lan she can’t touch the Source. It’s another instance where we don’t know what happened and I can’t tell what the show expects us to think. I assume we are meant to think she was stilled, permanently cut off from the Source, as that is what we have already learned about via Logain. But, with the way they showed his weaves laying over her, another option is that she has simply been shielded with the weaves tied off, a much less permanent situation. Since we haven’t been introduced to that concept, I don’t think that is what we, as viewers, are supposed to think, but it wasn’t really clear enough to be a satisfying nod to book readers either.

One big thing the finale did right was teasing the arrival of the Seanchan. The visuals were stunning and shocking. Book readers know enough to get excited, but viewers are also given enough information to feel anticipation and trepidation in equal measure. This scene typifies the best of what the show has been able to do throughout the series — taking the best from the book and delivering it in new and interesting ways.

Related: ‘The Wheel of Time’ and How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Adaptation

This season, the show has delivered well on most of the changes they’ve introduced and none of my issues with The Wheel of Time finale center around the changes themselves, only the fact that this episode didn’t land the emotional or visual impact at a level I want or expect from a season finale. While the finale was my least favorite episode and had more misses than hits for me, I am still excited about what season 2 has in store. Overall the series has succeeded in so many specific ways that I’m not deterred by one episode that didn’t deliver quite as well as others. Season two is still far, far away, but I know I’ll be spending a lot of time in the interim thinking about what we’ve gotten so far and wondering what is coming next!

‘The Wheel of Time’ season 1 is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video