The Wheel of Time episode 7, ‘The Dark Along the Ways,’ was the first episode of the TV adaptation to cause the book reader in me to hiss like an angry cat — please take that literally, I’m pretty sure I actually hissed out loud. While the episode gave me several things I’ve been hoping for and dreaming of, the 10% that made me mad put a bit of a damper on my initial reaction.
I’m sure every book reader has that thing – the thing that is going to be hard to watch when twisted into something new and different. I have definitely tried to let go of a lot of my expectations from the books and I have been well rewarded for my efforts. The things that have been changed for The Wheel of Time have mostly served a function that I understand, and I have delighted in the changes that have allowed me to experience the story again, in a way, for the first time. But a few things in this episode were jarring enough to throw me right out of the viewing experience.
The first, which I’ve touched on in some earlier reviews, has to do with the changes to Mat’s arc. My feelings about this are all tangled up with the fact that, evidently, Barney Harris left production in the middle of filming season 1.
I had previously been under the impression he left after The Wheel of Time season 1 was complete, but leaving unexpectedly in the middle of season 1 – it looks like he didn’t return after the COVID shutdown – makes it hard to judge what events of episode 7 (and presumably 8) were pre-planned story choices that I just don’t like, and what things were last minute adjustments they made with a forced hand, to account for missing a main character for the last two episodes.
Even if you didn’t know about the behind-the-scenes issues, it is clear that The Wheel of Time writers were wrangling with some kind of plot issue and needed to sacrifice Mat’s character in order to make it work. Mat is the only one of the leads where I feel the changes they have made have resulted in an almost unrecognizable character. I do feel frustrated and upset about the changes to Mat’s character, but I’m trying to put it in the perspective that they were likely making the best of a bad situation on short notice. That said, I think the implications deserve to be talked about.
In the first few episodes, pre-Shadar Logoth, my distaste for Mat’s “tragic backstory” was offset by the way that The Wheel of Time was clearly positioning Mat as the one in the group with some level of emotional intelligence, who was checking in on his friends and being a voice of reason. It was a nice way to illustrate the contradictions in Mat’s personality.
In the book he talks a big game about not wanting to be a hero or make sacrifices, but he is unable to keep himself from intervening if others are in danger. He is reluctantly, intrinsically heroic, and it’s why he’s many people’s favorite character. So offsetting Mat’s difficult home life and desperation with a kindness and a kind of caretaking helped to make those changes make sense.
With the introduction of the dagger, of course, Mat’s personality slid darker, but there is not an “inherent darkness” in Mat. When Moiraine said that, I yelled! There is an inherent goodness in Mat! It may be buried under swagger and grumbling, but he has such an inherent goodness that he was able to hold out against the darkness of the dagger for a very long time without becoming evil. He is a scamp and a gambler, but — He. Is. Not. Evil. There is no “inherent darkness,” only the darkness that he has to live with after making his Big Mistake with the dagger.
The Wheel of Time has positioned Moiraine as much more trustworthy than the early Jordan books. Because The Eye of the World begins with Rand’s POV, we are given more reasons to be skeptical of her motives than in the show. While the adaptation has shown us that she has her own mission and goals and is not always transparent with the Two Rivers folk, we have been more or less led to the conclusion that her motives are for the greater good. The show is telling us to trust Moraine’s lens and her point of view, so as viewers, we are going to be inclined to think her judgements are sound.
That doesn’t mean that the show isn’t setting up Moiraine to be wrong about Mat, or any other number of things, but they aren’t really telegraphing her as an unreliable perspective in any way, and now we, as viewers, have also been led to think, via his tragic backstory, that there could be something very wrong with Mat. When Moiraine sent the message to the Red sisters to find Mat, my reaction was not to be repeated in print.
Of course, it’s too early to know where The Wheel of Time is leading us with Mat. From what I’ve read, episode 6 was the last he filmed, so we are unlikely to see him again. Knowing that, I find it hard to even speculate on where we might be going with his story. My gut feeling is that he’ll end up reunited with Thom. He could use some time with a solid father figure and they did spend a little time setting that up with Thom before the dagger started dragging Mat down with it. Also, bringing the Reds into it gives Thom more motivation to protect him.
There is a difference between my negative reaction to these changes and these changes being bad or wrong. The changes definitely make me feel bad and distract from my enjoyment, but I don’t necessarily think the changes themselves are bad. No matter how they came about, in terms of drama and stakes, I can see how the uncertainty around Mat changes things for our heroes and puts a little more fear and risk into the mix of the core group’s friendship dynamic, evidenced by Egwene and Rand’s heated conversations about Mat. So while I can’t withhold judgement about how I feel (because I feel bad, guys), I am withholding judgement about what it means for The Wheel of Time itself.
The other issue that got my hackles all the way up, and which I am not giving the benefit of doubt, is the Perrin/Egwene/Rand love triangle mess. Suddenly, out of nowhere, we are supposed to believe this has been an ongoing issue for Perrin? That he has been in love with Egwene from afar? That it was noticeable enough that Nynaeve is sick of Rand and Perrin fighting over her? Are we supposed to look back at the weirdness between Laila and Perrin and think it has to do with Egwene?!?
The Wheel of Time has done a lot to fix some of the outdated gender issues in the book, yet they still managed to add a wife only to fridge her in the same episode. And now they using a dumb, lowest common denominator love triangle to create tension among the friends? Fuck that shit all the way to Shayol Ghul, to be honest.
I hate love triangles, so I would probably be worked up about this no matter what, but it feels particularly bad given how well they are dealing with platonic love vs. romantic love in other relationships. I have never, even when I first read the books, shipped Rand and Egwene. Their relationship always felt to me like it was a platonic puppy love that they thought was romantic love simply because other people told them it was.
Because the show has aged them up and sex is involved, I don’t feel like The Wheel of Time has done a great job of giving their relationship a fundamental crack that will make the fact that they don’t end up romantically together feel right and realistic. Similarly to how the show seems to want viewers to trust Moraine implicitly, The Wheel of Time right now feels like it wants you to root for Rand and Egwene as a couple, and I’m guessing a lot of non-book viewers will be disgruntled at the ultimate trajectory of their relationship.
In spite of the fact that I literally physically recoiled from my television at these two changes, the episode was a good one with a lot to love. I have been hoping for a few specific flashbacks and we got two of them this episode, along with a flashback I didn’t dare dream of!
The episode kicked off with an ass-kicking Aiel Maiden of the Spear fighting off soldiers while in labor. A book reader comes into that scene with a lot more information than a viewer, but even if you don’t understand what you are seeing until the end, it was brilliant. Magdalena Sittova radiates ferocity as a Maiden of the Spear, but also the moment where she crumples in relief when met with Tam’s humanity brought tears to my eyes.
This is a slight change to the book, but I love how it underlines Tam’s goodness even in the midst of war (Tam’s the best, I will not be taking questions at this time). I honestly didn’t think we’d see this particular flashback and I’m obsessed with the raw… everything… about it. Tied to this scene is the flashback I have been hoping for since the first episode skipped over one of my favorite scenes in The Eye of the World: the scene where Rand drags a feverish and delusional Tam back to Emond’s Field.
Along the way, Tam starts raving about the Aiel war, at times mistaking Rand for his mother, Kari. As if talking to Kari, he says, “I couldn’t just leave a child… no children of our own… always knew you wanted children. I knew you’d take it to your heart, Kari. Yes, lass. Rand is a good name. A good name.” We only got a few snippets of Tam’s raving, but combined with the flashback of Tam and the Aiel and Rand’s own internal struggle, the emotion of it all was so powerful. To me, this was an example of the show taking what’s in the book and reworking it for maximum visual impact in the best possible way.
The story of Rand’s birth and Tam’s fever rantings had a huge emotional impact on me when reading the book, and even though the way the show has delivered the scenes is very different, I had the same emotional reaction, as if experiencing it again for the first time. What a gift! My only small complaint, please — please — stop trying to digitally de-age people. Tam’s face gave me uncanny valley Polar Express vibes. Do not want.
Mixed up with those flashbacks were also flashbacks of Rand channeling, when he knocked down the door to escape the darkfriend and when they were attacked in the Ways to save Egwene. While the confirmation was nice, I’m still wondering why we never saw Rand having any of the physical reactions to channeling for the first time. Perhaps at some point we’ll hear more about that, but it does feel like we’ve narratively moved right past that in spite of the fact that it came up as a reason to suspect Mat is the Dragon.
Capping off Rand’s series of flashbacks and internal revelations is his discussion with Min, the seer introduced in this episode, played by Kae Alexander. Min’s confirmation, through her own childhood vision of Tam’s story, helps convince Rand that he was, indeed, born on the slopes of Dragonmount. When Rand asks what she sees around him, and she answers, “Rainbows and carnivals and three beautiful women,” it feels like a joke, and may well be read as such by viewers, but I had a moment of relief, like, yes, we are going there.
Min is one of the few characters for whom I had a very specific image that I was pretty attached to, from reading the books. Kae Alexander doesn’t look even a tiny bit like how I pictured her, but she is still perfect. Again, I’d like to send the casting department a fruit basket for so carefully considering my personal needs for each character.
Rand immediately following up his realization that he is the Dragon Reborn by deciding to go to the Eye of the World alone with Moiraine is pretty on brand, even though it doesn’t happen that way in the book. I have to assume Lan and the gang will catch up with them for the climax and that Moiraine can expect to get an earful from Lan about masking the bond.
The last big thing this episode accomplished was moving Nynaeve and Lan’s relationship forward another step. Lan’s little smirk when he realized Nynaeve was following him was so pleasing to me. Lan inviting her in to meet the Cratchit-coded Malkier family offered us more soft!Lan, which I have become addicted to.
The awkward end-of-first-date vibes after Nynaeve and Lan walked back to the palace had me and my daughter repeating, “What if they kissed?” in slightly different intonations for the full 40 seconds they stood staring at each other in the hallway. When Lan abruptly said goodnight and left, I wasn’t surprised, assuming we were going to draw things out a little longer.
Reader, I was wrong. What we were going to do was see Lan without his shirt on again and give Nynaeve a standing ovation for going after what she wants. Somewhere in the last 6 episodes, Lan seems to have acquired some major back scars that he doesn’t have when he bathes with Moiraine in the Two Rivers. They were so prominent in this scene that I have to wonder if they’ll ever be mentioned. Aside from dying, we haven’t seen him take any real injury, so I’m a little confused. Not confused enough to look this particular gift horse in the mouth though.
Lan and Nynaeve are so good together that even my daughter, noted heterophobe, said, “We can have a little heterosexuality as a treat.” It is actually possible I am going to die from all of this tenderness. The two of them being on the same page about their relationship and moving forward at this pace is a big change from the book, but this is my canon now. Nynaeve took the news that Lan is actually the uncrowned king of Malkier pretty well and Lan made some very attractive stoic faces while he told her the story of his parents and kingdom.
Nynaeve also chose to address the elephant in the room — Lan’s relationship to Moiraine. Again, you go girl, put your cards on the table! Lan was quick to point out that Moiraine doesn’t own him. I loved his comparison of his relationship with Moiraine and Nynaeve’s relationship with the Two Rivers kids. He loves Moiraine and would protect her with his life, but that doesn’t mean there is not also a place for his romantic love of Nynaeve in his life. Finally, I think I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this — Lan’s hands are so big, guys. They’re so big.
‘The Dark Along the Ways’ was an extremely enjoyable episode. While my qualms with the episode were intense for me personally, I don’t think they detract from the episode overall. With the last episode almost upon us, we are poised for an exciting finish, however, I find myself most excited about what is to come in The Wheel of Time season 2, which is filming now.
Even just writing those words makes my heart race a bit in anticipation. There are so many great characters coming that I can’t wait for viewers to meet. The thought of having this show to watch for 7 (or more?) new seasons is almost too much for my heart to take. Please, Amazon Prime, keep the faith!