The Wheel of Time continues to delight with its tricky task of moving away from the novels while also hitting key themes and plot points. Episode 5 “Blood Calls Blood” was another strong episode that mixed things up quite a bit while feeling very true to the heart of the story.
In a strange turn of events, I found that the plotline most removed from the novels had the biggest emotional impact on me. Following Stepin, after the death of his Aes Sedai Kerene, what it showed us about Aes Sedai/Warder relationships, as well as the male Warder relationships, caught me very much at the intersections of my interests.
This article contains spoilers for The Wheel of Time, based on the book series.
First of all, Lan worrying about Moiraine’s safety was so well done without the need for many words. Lan is clearly sitting with the fact that, although she is powerful, what they are doing is dangerous and he could lose her at any time. The softness and love in his eyes when he looks at her! The way he touches her ring!
Moiraine, simultaneously, is grappling with the fact that she has put Lan in this position. She knows that she could be killed at any point, and if she is, Lan will bear the pain of that loss. She even mentions the idea of undoing their magical connection, to save him from this fate – breaking their bond for the sake of their bond.
I continue to be knocked off my feet at this complicated portrayal of platonic love. It is so outside of how we usually experience a relationship between men and women in popular media. The Wheel of Time continues to push the intimacy between them without letting it fall over the line into a sexual relationship. Every week I am surprised and elated by this development.
Focusing on the Warders, and especially the relationships between the Warders, has also been a surprise and delight. We see a lot of male soldier comradery in media, but I feel like The Wheel of Time is pushing us to also see the intimate relationships between these men — both sexual, as with Maksim and Ihvon, but also platonic, as with Lan and Stepin and also Maksim and Ihvon with Lan and Stepin. They are there for each other, and not just in a stoic, masculine way, but rather, they are bound to each other through brotherhood and friendship, expressing deep emotions boldly with no shame!
The scene where Lan walks in on Stepin performing a religious ritual and comes close to him to hold his shoulders and say, “Enough of this, I’ll stay with you till morning,” had me weeping. Addressing the question of the relationship between Alanna and her two warders and her offer to take Stepin’s bond with “I’ve never been with a man,” and Lan’s casual, “Two men,” was a personal highlight. There’s a lot packed into these brief exchanges about the continuum of male relationships and I’m loving it.
Of course, Stepin grilling Lan on Nynaeve set all my hair follicles on fire. Lan insisting that it would be “bad for her” if she fell for him, and responding to Stepin’s assertion that life without love was intolerable with “I can tolerate a lot,” had me wanting to reach through the screen and shake him. That’s my book-Lan though — forever refusing to let himself have nice things. He’s slightly less repressed in the show, but I do like getting this glimpse of our classic, stoic Lan.
All of this emotional caretaking between Lan and Stepin makes Stepin’s fate even more tragic. Sometimes grief is like that. It can drag you under regardless of the support in your life. Kerene and Stepin exist in the book (I did have to look that up to be sure), but aside from both ending up dead, there’s not much similarity. Stepin and Kerene’s story gives us a lot of exposition about the nature of Aes Sedai and their Warders. They are a good mirror for Lan and Moiraine. Honestly, it’s fridging that I approve of. As I’ve said before, the moral high-ground is overrated.
Stepin’s funeral was the final haunting scene. There was something so beautiful about Lan taking on the burden of grieving for everyone assembled. These new and improved, emotionally available Warders are my jam. The look on Lan’s face as he glances up at Moiraine was heartbreaking. Nynaeve, behind Moiraine, also struggling to keep her composure in the face of Lan’s distress was — omph — a lot. The way the episode cut to black after Lan’s emotional outburst left me in tears.
Liandrin is currently the queen of weird vibes. Her attempts to sweet talk Nyneave feel beyond strange. How does she manage to make persimmons sound vaguely threatening? I have no idea what is going on with her and Moiraine, but their brief chat in this episode had unexpectedly graspy sexual undertones that made me uncomfortable. The lesbian I gave birth to assures me that this exchange had big lesbian exes energy and who am I to argue with that?
The Wheel of Time is going to keep making me confront how much I hate the White Cloaks. We’ve already seen the upsetting, proprietary way the Children of the Light feel they can manhandle women in their search for Aes Sedai and the way they stripped, scrubbed and re-dressed Egwene was nothing short of non-penetrative rape. I physically cringed away from the screen while watching it. Have I mentioned how much I hate these guys?
Both Aram and Egwene seem to give the White Cloaks more credit than I would, insisting they may be unhinged bullies, but wouldn’t kill someone who has done nothing wrong. THIS IS INCORRECT, FRIENDS. The White Cloaks think the light is on their side and therefore whatever they do is sanctioned by the light. The Children of the Light live a very, “it’s your fault you made me hit you” life and they are the worst.
Perrin finally confessing that he swung the ax that killed Laila was a relief, as was Egwene making the decision to save Perrin so that he could live long enough to stop blaming himself. Valda’s creepy insistence that Egwene call him Child Valda instead of Sir was small, but somehow just as upsetting as everything else he did. I did love Egwene’s baller attitude though. “I’ll come back in my next life and split you from head to tail like the pig you are.” She’s Battle Ajah-ready for sure.
Valda underestimates Egwene and Perrin, to his peril and my only regret is that Egwene didn’t kill him then and there. I understand, intellectually, that he’s too good a villain to lose this early, but as previously mentioned, I do hate the White Cloaks. A lot.
We get Perrin’s gold eyes and the wolves coming to help free him, but I am still wondering if we are ever getting Elyas. We have enough information to know that Perrin is somehow connected to the wolves, but without a human intermediary are we going to get an explanation of what is happening? Elyas is a great character and I love how morally neutral and disdainful of humanity he is. Fingers crossed.
I cannot help but be a little sad that we just skipped over Caemlyn, the capital city of Andor and a location where we meet several new characters in the novel. It does seem like we are getting some of the same plot points in Tar Valon instead. So many of the things that happen in Caemlyn in the novel highlight Rand, but The Wheel of Time mostly continues to hide Rand in plain sight, with one exception.
One Camelyn plot point they’ve moved to Tar Valon is the introduction of Loial. Rand and Loial meeting in a library, just as they do in the book, is comforting and familiar in the middle of so many changes. And finally, finally we get someone noting how Rand looks like an Aielman! Of course, as viewers we know so little about the Aiel at this point that it isn’t giving a newbie much to work with, except for dropping the hint that Rand might not, in fact, be from the Two Rivers. The novel hammers this home early in several ways, so the show avoiding it until this episode feels deliberate.
Loial’s size and appearance is a bit more tame in The Wheel of Time than in the novel, however, I much prefer what they’ve done to the prospect of a CGI Loial. Hammed Animashaun may not be ten feet tall, but he has captured Loial’s slow, deliberate speech and movements, and his delight at getting to know humans. Loial continuing to talk while the characters around him jump to the next thing without listening made me laugh aloud, not just because the scenes were objectively funny, but because it captures book-Loial so well that I was filled with satisfaction.
I did breathe a huge sigh of relief when Nynaeve was finally reunited with Rand and Mat. I am past ready for someone to realize that Mat has got that evil dagger and do something about it. I will say, I don’t have much faith in Moiraine’s “eyes and ears” in the city if Padan Fain can stroll around lurking in doorways to spy on Mat and Rand, and Loial can reunite them all while Moiraine has no idea the boys are in the city.
While the last several Wheel of Time episodes have veered off the path of the books, I feel like that with the core group so close to being reunited, we might be getting a few more scenes that more closely line-up with the novel soon. If we don’t, I’m not pressed. While there is joy in seeing a scene, like Rand and Loial meeting, play out the way envisioned it, I am finding a different kind of joy in essentially watching an expertly produced fanfiction play out.
One of the things I enjoy most in fanfiction is when an author takes the characters and motivations and plays them out in a way that highlights the themes of the story in a new way, yet it still feels real to the world I love. It gives me the opportunity to experience the story again for the first time, and I’m basically getting more content featuring the same characters that I recognise and adore! Rafe Judkins and his crew have found the heart of the story and are presenting us with something beautiful to love for its own sake.