The Wheel of Time debuted their first three episodes together, therefore this recap will reference events that happened in the first three episodes.
The Wheel of Time starts with “Leavetaking”, written by Rafe Judkins (who also serves as showrunner) and directed by Uta Brieswitz. “Leavetaking” opens with an introduction to the world of the story, with Rosamund Pike‘s Moiraine narrating the story of her world, one that has been broken by a man that is called the Dragon. As it happens, the Dragon has been reborn and Moiraine is on a mission to find that reborn child before the Dark forces do.
Right off the bat, The Wheel of Time kicks off its series inspired by Robert Jordan‘s series with a big change. The Dragon Reborn, once known in the books as a boy, is now a child of any gender. This adds a bit of intrigue as we eventually discover who is in the running to gain the title. In the interest of those who haven’t read the books, I’ll keep my recaps to minimum spoilers on the books, but I will point out any major changes if there are some that come up.
Moiraine is an Aes Sedai, an exclusive organization made up of women who can harness the magic of the world which is called the One Power. In the main opening sequence, we meet Liandrin (Kate Fleetwood), a Red Aes Sedai who is chasing down a man who can channel with her fellow sisters. This scene is meant to illustrate that men with the One Power are not allowed to exist and also that these men typically go mad in the process. I don’t know how well this scene illustrates that second point, and I would have preferred an opening closer to the one in The Eye of the World, where we meet the original Dragon, but perhaps they’re saving that for another episode?
We see Moiraine and her warder Lan (Daniel Henney) watching from afar and she notes to him that that man was not the Dragon and they head toward the Two Rivers. A brief note on warders, they’re essentially like superpowered bodyguards for the Aes Sedai. A Warder is bonded to the Aes Sedai and is, therefore, able to reap the physical benefits of durability and supernatural skill. They have an intrinsic link to each other emotionally and physically. Moiraine and Lan have an amazing harmony together, and I talked more about how much I enjoyed Pike and Henney’s casting in my overall review of the series.
And as the cameras rise, we see the landscape before us: a beautiful valley but one that is peppered with large structures that look like skyscrapers that have been rusted and grown over. Yep, friends, we’re also kind of in a distant post-apocalyptic world, it seems.
Now it’s time to meet the first of the Emond’s Field Five! First up we have Egwene (Madeleine Madden). She is gathered with the women of Emond’s Field, a small village in the Two Rivers region, for a coming of age ritual. Her hair is braided and she is met by Nynaeve (Zoë Robins), the Wisdom — a healer and leader of the village — who gives her some words of encouragement before pushing her off a cliff as a part of the end of the ceremony. And all I got for my 20th was some gift cards.
Absurdity of the scene aside, it’s quite a nice scene with Egwene in the water. Her initial chaotic landing where she fights with the current and struggles to stay afloat slowly leads into her eventually learning the movement of the water and allowing herself to flow with the river. There’s a nice callback to this moment later with Egwene and Moiraine which makes it more significant.
Next, we meet Rand (Josha Stradowski), who is walking down a path with his father, Tam (Michael McElhatton, we see you, Roose!). We learn that Rand has had a brush on Egwene for years and the two are very clearly childhood sweethearts. Returning to the village, Rand meets up with his two friends Mat (Barney Harris) and Perrin (Marcus Rutherford). The trio of actors have instant chemistry and perfectly mesh together as these three best friends.
And there we have it, the Emond’s Field Five! Egwene, Nynaeve, Rand, Mat, and Perrin!
So we learn also here that Perrin is married, which later plays a large role when Perrin’s wife Laila (Helena Westerman) is essentially fridged before the gang leave town after a trolloc attack. So here are my thoughts on this, while I see the effectiveness of Laila’s character and felt the pain that Perrin felt in that moment when he accidentally kills his wife, I’m still not thrilled by the fridging.
Could this character merely have been someone else in Perrin’s life? Yes. It didn’t have to be a non-book canon wife that was created purposefully for the reason of her being killed. And given some of the quiet implications of a bond that later forms between Egwene and Perrin, this sits less well with me as time goes on.
But, before we get to all that Egwene returns home and comes to the tavern where everyone is gathered. She avoids Rand while the people celebrate her return from the river. Then, Moiraine and Lan arrive in a very dramatic fashion, making a very unsubtle note that she is an Aes Sedai, before heading up to her room. I generally enjoyed the tone and approach that the villagers had toward her as an Aes Sedai, with equal parts caution, curiosity, and mistrust.
It’s also nice to see more glimpses into Lan and Moiraine’s relationship in the following bath scene between the two. It’s clear that they have a close connection, but it’s not framed as romantic, but they are intimate in a platonic way. Also just nice to see Lan teasing and Moiraine let some of her guard down.
As the party dies down, we meet Mat’s family and Mat’s character introduction in these three episodes is the strongest. The changes to his family only further his development as a character, Mat’s parents are degenerates, ones who care more about themselves than Mat or their younger daughters, who Mat primarily takes care of.
The changes help us understand his character motivations, even when he does things that are less than savory. He’s doing bad things but for a good reason, and he never feels good about it, he does what is necessary. Like when he sells a stolen bracelet to Padan Fain (Johann Myers) (keep an eye on this guy!!), he’s stealing for necessity.
Back in the tavern, now that everyone’s gone, Egwene and Rand reunite, and like the horny young people they are, they have sex before Egwene drops some bombs on him. She’s been tapped by Nynaeve to become the next Wisdom of the village, but the downside of that is that a Wisdom can not marry or have children, which means Rand’s plans for a marriage to and family with Egwene are now crumbling.
Egwene and Rand’s relationship is surprisingly well done in these first three episodes. You can see that the couple is in love, but that they are both standing on the edge of a precipice of change. They are destined to walk different paths, and for Rand, who has imagined a whole life for himself, this destiny is jarring and difficult to grasp at first.
The next morning, Moiraine is on the hunt for the Dragon Reborn and first goes to speak with Nynaeve, who she interrogates in expert fashion. I haven’t stated it yet, but I feel this very passionately, Rosamund Pike, Madeleine Madden, and Zoë Robins have three of the strongest performances in this show, and when we get any iteration of two of the actors interacting with one another, it’s fantastic. At a sacred pool that Nynaeve is cleaning, Moiraine speaks with her.
Immediately we can tell that Nynaeve doesn’t like Aes Sedai and the story she tells about how her mentor was rejected by the organization reveals the chip on her shoulder. Meanwhile, we can tell that Moiraine is using these high emotions to wrestle out her age and her potential of being the Dragon Reborn.
In town, it is Bel Tine, a festival day, and people are preparing for celebrations. At night, the villagers light lanterns and think of the people they lost, before dancing and partying into the night. Too bad this year the party is being crashed by trollocs. I mentioned them before, but trollocs are essentially orcs but with bull horns and boar tusks. They’re minions of the Dark One and they’ve come to Emond’s Field.
The attack is absolutely horrific as these massive beasts descend on the town. Chaos and bloodshed are everywhere. We spot Nynaeve and Egwene trying to triage those who have been attacked, while Mat runs around trying to protect his sisters. Tam and Rand are attacked back at their home and the two manage to kill a trolloc though Tam is injured in the process. Meanwhile, Perrin and Laila are fighting off trollocs in the village.
At the center of it all is Moiraine, who is channelling the One Power with tremendous skill, and Lan, who is fighting off the trollocs with ferocious strength. It’s a nice demonstration of just how lethal the two of these characters can be when they’re in sync with one another.
Eventually, Moiraine is able to siphon a large amount of power to destroy the trollocs, but the aftermath is grisly. Nynaeve is dragged off by a trolloc, many people are dead, Moiraine is injured by a trolloc blade, and Laila is now dead. Again, not in love with the way that Laila was used essentially as a representative of Perrin’s rage and the bloodlust that looks like it takes over him when he’s fighting. But, it is what it is, I hope this isn’t just forgotten by the end of the season, given how traumatic the experience was for Perrin.
Noting that there are more trollocs on the way to the village, Moiraine gathers the remaining four and coax them to leave their hometowns behind them and go to the White Tower with her. She reveals hastily that one of them is the Dragon Reborn and she is here in town for the same reason as the trollocs, to find them. As far as calls to action go, this is not really the strongest. In comparison to the three episodes, this is definitely the clunkiest, having to do a lot of worldbuilding quickly. But despite the rocky start and serious doubt, the kids acquiesce and they’re off.