If you’ve been thinking to yourself, “I’d really like to find the perfect Wheel of Time episode to watch with a beloved lesbian” then The Wheel of Time episode 6, ‘The Flame of Tar Valon,’ is the one for you.
My particular beloved lesbian, Sylvia, is away at college, so we had to watch via a combination of Amazon Watch Party and FaceTime, but it was well worth the technological battle. Sylvia’s Wheel of Time knowledge previously came from listening to a selection of audiobooks with me on her elementary school commute, as well as my explanations of things as I read new books. Sylvia spent her last week of school, while working in the glass blowing studio on final projects, re-listening to the first book, The Eye of The World, and calling me two to three times a day to discuss plot points. It’s been extremely gratifying. We were both looking forward to this week’s episode and it did not disappoint.
I apologize for the fact that this is going to be a very horny review. In my defense, this was a very horny episode. If you don’t want horny reviews, don’t put clandestine gay sex portals in your episodes. I don’t make the rules.
If this article were truly to give you a glimpse inside my brain immediately following the episode, it would probably consist of “Moiraine Siuan KISS KISS KISS” repeated for about 1000 words and then maybe three sentences to recap Lan’s banger lines, of which there were many. Let’s start with Lan and then move on to the clandestine gay sex portal.
Rafe Judkins, is Lan Mandragoran your favorite Wheel of Time character? The show is making a compelling argument that he is. Absolutely every decision that has been made with regard to his character has been flawless. Both Lan and Moiraine are so much more emotionally accessible at this point in the show than they were in the book. Lan’s dry sense of humor can fuel me for days and he had two lines that made me laugh out loud this week.
The first is when they first meet Rand again. Rand is surprised to see them and says, “You’re alive,” to which Lan responds, “Well, it’s nice to see you, too,” looking so hilariously offended. It’s… I know objectively this is not the funniest line ever written for television, but Daniel Henney’s delivery was so good. He somehow manages to be restrained and stoic while also projecting an aura of someone whose inner monologue would curl your toes.
The second was when he confronted Moiraine about masking their bond for the first time in two years. With the bond masked, Lan is unable to feel what is happening to Moiraine and is not as able to protect her. They have both realized they are in more danger than they anticipated in the White Tower and Lan is reluctant to be disconnected longer than necessary. He tells her to be back before dawn. When Moiraine questions if that is an order, Lan says, “Did it sound like a suggestion?” which has already become a staple response in my household. Honorable mention for “Give her my love,” the line that confirmed I was about to have my wildest dreams come true.
Which brings us back to the clandestine gay sex portal. Of all the reasons I thought Moiraine was staring longingly at that painting in her room last episode, “If I stare at it hard enough it can transport me to my lover’s fishing hut” was not on the list. It turns out that painting is probably a ter’angreal, an item created with the One Power that has a specific purpose. In this case the purpose is to transport the user… somewhere? I’m a little fuzzy on the details, but that’s my best guess.
The show has also been working hard to convince us that Moiraine and Siuan Sanche, the Amyrlin Seat, are at odds, so their tense confrontation when they meet is to be expected. However, that scene is VIBRATING with undercurrents. I suppose we are theoretically supposed to be convinced that the unspoken emotion behind Moiraine and Siuan’s confrontation is anger, but even in this scene it feels sexual. It didn’t help that Liandrin, who last week was busy skeeving on Moiraine in the hallways, is the one pushing to make the confrontation worse. By the time Moiraine appears in Siuan’s fishing hut in her nightshirt, fully unbuttoned, the horny is dialed up to 11.
This is the part where, if you are watching this episode with a beloved lesbian, you get to listen to them scream and watch them shake their computer until they cry. Top tier experience. Do recommend. According to Rafe Judkins, Sophie Okonedo was independently both his and Rosamund Pike’s first choice for the role, and the chemistry between Pike as Moiraine and Okonedo as Siuan Sanche is scorching. Words fail me to adequately express this scene. Moiraine mirroring Siuan’s “On your knees” in a different context was, uh, really something. It had it all. Reunited secret lovers, powerful women allowing themselves to express fear and doubt, sacrificing your own desires for the greater good — mwah.
Book fans know that Moiraine and Siuan Sanche, now the Amyrlin Seat, were good friends as novices (known “pillow friends” even. No, I don’t want to talk about it. The 90s had some problems, but I do give Jordan points for trying.) They were driven by circumstance to pretend to have grown from girlhood friends into antagonists, so no one ever suspects them of working together. The show hasn’t really gotten into it too deeply, but what they hope to do is in opposition to the White Tower’s basic function of finding and gentling men who can channel.
As novices they were with a former Amyrlin Seat and witnessed the foretelling of the rebirth of the Dragon. They were sworn to secrecy while Amyrlin sent other sisters, in secret, to search for the baby. All of those sisters and the Amyrlin ended up dead, so Moiraine and Siuan realized they had to search for the Dragon themselves, but couldn’t trust anyone else. From that point on, they distanced themselves from each other in public while working together in secret.
While this new romantic side of the relationship is built from the seeds of canon, the show has pushed it into an ongoing adult relationship. In the book, Moiraine does have an endgame relationship with someone else. The book canon endgame relationship was always kind of a reach, but I enjoyed it for that reason. That said, it is a perfect relationship to lose, because everything that relationship accomplishes (assuming they leave it in) can be done in a platonic way. I am eager to see how they move forward with Siuan’s arc (spoiler alert-she has some not great things coming for her). I think it will look a bit different when you add in this deep, emotional connection to Moiraine.
If I thought the actual sex scene was horny, it has nothing on the oath rod scene. I have a particular weakness for scenes that are burning with so much unexpressed longing that they turn a non-sexual interaction into something so explicit it makes you blush. The phallic oath rod? The slight overlap of their fingers? The One Power coursing from Siuan to Moiraine? The tears barely held back in both their eyes? The way Moiraine changed the oath to be to Siuan herself rather than the Amyrlin Seat? Readers, I was sweating.
On a side note, one of the small things The Wheel of Time does that stands out is the wide range of appearances each individual female character is allowed. No mistake, every actor is beautiful to an extreme, but the way Moiraine, especially, is allowed to look, for example, like she’s been riding a horse and sleeping outside for 3 days feels weirdly revolutionary. When they are traveling, her hair is down and a little frizzy, and most notably for a woman on television, especially a woman over 40, she’s not wearing much makeup.
She looks realistically (by TV standards) like someone who hasn’t had access to indoor plumbing for a few days. The contrast becomes clear in this episode, where we see her dressed up, her hair in an elaborate style with her signature decorative headpiece, and in full makeup. She looks gorgeous, but in a way that feels more about putting on armor than about catering to a gaze. The contrast between Moiraine and Siuan in the throne room to Moiraine and Siuan alone and stripped down is striking. These costuming/makeup choices did so much to heighten the extreme tension vs the extreme intimacy in those three scenes.
Other things did happen in this episode, a few of which I feel compelled to touch on in spite of the fact that they are not horny at all. Mat got better. The four kids were reunited. One of my notes after the episode was simply, Nynaeve sure is bitchy this episode. Book Nynaeve is basically always at this level of absolute stubborn refusal to bend to anyone or anything. The show has so far managed to wrangle that aspect of her personality into something less annoying than book Nynaeve could sometimes be. However, this stubborn aspect of her personality has far-reaching implications to her relationship with the One Power, so it makes sense that we have to see how she can be stubborn beyond reasonable sense, like when she is faced with the most powerful woman in the world and still talks back.
Siuan gives a very convincing, and somewhat menacing, Gandalf “so do all who live to see such times” speech to Nynaeve and Egwene. Shout out to Sophie Okonedo who can go from powerful ruler to vulnerable lover to stern disciplinarian to strict auntie to “I will sacrifice myself, and you too if I need to, to save the world” with a glance. Whoever is responsible for casting this show is batting a thousand and has a place in my heart forever.
My final point of note is on the Waygates. I did feel my book reader hackles go up twice in this scene. First: in the book, the Waygates do not require the One Power to open, and that’s important to the how and why of them. I mean, did it look more visually interesting to have Moiraine open them with the power than to have her rearrange some carvings? I guess so, but it’s such a strange change that I feel like there must be something else behind it, so I’m reserving judgement.
The second time is Mat refusing to enter the Ways. One of the best things about book Mat is that he constantly tells everyone else they are sucker chumps for wanting to/trying to be heros, but in the end, he is incapable of stopping himself from doing the most dangerous, heroic things. My best guess is that because of the way they are dealing with the dagger, we need Mat to go through some things differently to move him to the correct point in the story. Maybe it was a fake out and he ends up just making it in. It surely did leave me bewildered though.
To sum up, The Wheel of Time episode 6, ‘The Flame of Tar Valon’ gave us the sapphic content we crave and some other stuff happened. Bless.