“The Flame of Tar Valon” marks many things, the end of an arc of a story for many characters in the series, the beginning of the final act of the first season of The Wheel of Time, and notably for myself, the point at which my screeners stopped. By the end of the episode, it feels very much like we are on the edge of a precipice and while I can’t wait to watch the final two episodes, I’m also left to wonder, what will I do with my life when Season One is over?!
Once again directed by Salli Richardson-Whitfield, “The Flame of Tar Valon” continues the games of tower politics at Tar Valon and brings our heroes all back together for a climactic finale. The episode was written by Justine Juel Gillmer, who is also known for her work on The 100 and McLeod’s Daughters.
The Fingers of the Dragon
We open on a young Siuan Sanche (Keira Chansa) with her father (Peter de Jersey), inside a fishing hut in the nation of Tear. We watch as the two go fishing and while her father struggles to unknot a net with his hand, Siuan channels the One Power to help him. But, instead of being delighted, this is a curse. In Tear, channeling is illegal. When a girl discovers she can channel, she must leave that same day and never return. It’s obvious that Siuan’s father has known she could channel, and repeatedly tells her she must hide her gift.
But, returning back after fishing, their hut is in ashes. Siuan’s abilities are now known and she must leave immediately. It’s an emotional scene between father and daughter as he gives her the boat that he fishes with, his livelihood, and sends her on her own to Tar Valon to become an Aes Sedai. Have to say that I love the musical theme for Siuan that plays whenever her character is on screen, it’s quite beautiful, Lorne Balfe.
Jump back to present day, and we see Moiraine, Alanna, and Liandrin in the Hall of the Tower as the Amyrlin Seat approaches. Sophie Okonedo is superb as the adult Siuan Sanche, and this episode really highlights her as much as it does Moiraine. Siuan is the youngest Amyrlin Seat in history, having come to the title at the age of 30. At her right hand is Leane (Jennifer Cheon Garcia), the Keeper of the Chronicles, who is a sort of historian, with knowledge on the details of the law, second only to the Seat herself.
Logain is then brought in front of the Amyrlin in chains, but even a gentled Logaine still has his barbs. He insults the White Tower, calling them weak and how eager men were to come and join him when he proclaimed himself the Dragon. He revels in the death of Kerene, trying to provoke the sisters to kill him, but Siuan is not fooled. She knows he longs for death, but she intends to keep him alive as an example to other false Dragons and men who dare to channel.
When Logaine is taken away, the Amyrlin addresses the trio about Logaine, but Liandrin is quick to justify her reasoning, saying that Logaine needed to be gentled otherwise all of the sisters might have died. Alanna speaks out in agreement, and after some prodding looks, so does Moiraine. But, because Liandrin inherited the command after Kerene died, she will be the one punished for gentling Logaine, because the adherence to law is paramount.
In an attempt to divert punishment, Liandrin points out Nynaeve’s immense power and asks why Moiraine hid the power of the young Wisdom. Liandrin points out that not only is Nynaeve the most powerful channeler they’ve met in a thousand years (even more than Siuan), but Moiraine has been on the road for 20 years with no indication of what her mission is. She did not warn anyone of the false Dragon or of the Trolloc attacks.
Highlighting the fact that Siuan’s previous Ajah was blue and therefore she might be showing preference to Moiraine, Liandrin demands that the Amyrlin question Moiraine. When Maigan (Sandy McDade), the head of the Blue ajah, tries to speak out, but it is not enough. The questioning does not go well since Moiraine can not bend the truth enough when describing her mission, and she is forced to keep her goals a secret. Calling her out as a lady and a noble before she became an Aes Sedai, the Amyrlin makes Moiraine bow to her and beg for mercy. She ends the meeting promising to make her judgment the next day.
You Stupid Boy
Later, in the city, Moiraine finds the location where Mat and Rand have been staying and realizes that Mat is not going mad from channeling, but is being taken over by a dark magic. In the books, this is called Mashadar, which is the same evil that destroyed Shadar Logoth. She scolds Rand and Nynaeve for not coming to her sooner, since the darkness could have taken Mat at any time, and it should have many weeks ago. The fact that Mat is even alive is impressive.
Also, I appreciate how ridiculous Rand looked pulling a sword on Lan and how quickly he was disarmed. He’s a loyal friend, but yes, a very stupid boy.
At the bath house, Moiraine meets with Maigan, and Maigan mentions that they’ve sent money to Taren Ferry after she destroyed it in Episode 2. Maigan notes that the Tower alliances and politics are changing, and that Moiraine must return to the White Tower permanently after being alone for so long. She is also intent on going to investigate disappearing ships in the West (probably not relevant this season, but will definitely be relevant in future seasons).
The best part about this scene is that despite the fact that it took place in a bath house and both of the characters are naked, it’s not overt or sexualized. The setting is a place away from the Tower where Moiraine can speak with Maigan without the prying eyes of the sisters, but it’s also a touch of luxury after years on the road. Taking away the sexuality of female bodies was a perfect touch.
It’s a busy day for Moiraine, as she gets a note from one of her spies that Perrin and Egwene are in town as well. They are being healed by Yellow sisters. Egwene seems excited to see Moiraine, although the Aes Sedai does not give away that Mat and Rand are already in the city. Guess Nynaeve was wise enough not to trust her fully, at least.
Giving Moiraine the chain of taken Aes Sedai rings from Valda, she tells her that Valda won’t be hurting any more sisters, but that guy is definitely not dead, Egwene. She also informs Moiraine of what happened to Perrin’s eyes and the wolf attack, which seems to immediately concern Moiraine, who is not any close to figuring out who the hell is the Dragon. Promising to call on her again tomorrow, Moiraine departs.
Clever as a Pike, Strong as the Tides
In the evening, Lan comes to Moiraine, asking her why she has masked their bond. This is something that channelers are able to do to cloak the connection of a bond, which immediately concerns him. The tower is not a safe place, and he wants to keep her protected. But, knowing who Moiraine is going to meet, Lan offers to stand guard at her bedroom for the night.
Remember that painting on the wall of Moiraine’s bedroom from last week? Well it looks like it’s no average painting! Channeling, the small panel painting with a door becomes a way for Moiraine to meet with her paramour, the one and only Siuan Sanche! Some side notes, I love that the show has pushed Moiraine and Siuan beyond just being “pillow friends” and into a clear romantic relationship. Also, Moiraine’s two sleep dresses in this scene look immensely comfortable.
The place Moiraine is transported to where Siuan is resembles the hut from Siuan’s childhood, and the woman is working on a net when Moiraine arrives. The tattoo markings on her chest from childhood have expanded. In the trivia for the show, it says that the tattoos not only represent her culture but also a map for those skilled enough to navigate the Fingers of the Dragon delta where she was born.
The two lovers reunite, revealing that they are not at odds but rather allies on the same side. Moiraine tells Siuan about the Emond’s Field Five and their potential to each be the dragon and it’s clear that the mission Moiraine has been on was conjured up by the two of them. They mention Gitara, who was an Aes Sedai who foretold the moment of the Dragon’s Rebirth, a moment so powerful and shocking that it actually killed her. The only people witnessed to that foretelling were the then Amyrlin Seat, Moiraine, and Siuan.
Troubled by recent nightmares of the Dark One at the Eye of the World, Siuan suggests going after him immediately while he is still weak. But without knowing which of the kids is the Dragon, going could sentence the other four to death since anyone who comes between the Dark One and the Dragon will die. But time is short. Moiraine tells Siuan to exile her, because Maigan’s orders will keep her at the White Tower, and the two share their last night together for a while.
Called to Greatness
In the morning, Moiraine and Lan are on the move, prepping the kids to leave and making plans, but they’re interrupted by Liandrin, who reveals that she knows about the Two Rivers kids. Moiraine shoots back that she knows about a man that Liandrin meets, but is this a secret lover that the Red sister meets… or is it something else? No matter what it is, it stops Liandrin in her tracks.
Moiraine then goes to meet with Loial, who Lan describes as “very upbeat”. Presumably Moiraine tells Loial the plan, since Ogier are able to navigate the Ways that the gang go into at the end of the episode.
Egwene is then brought to the White Tower and reunited with Nynaeve! The two share a sweet moment before being invited to meet the Amyrlin Seat. It’s clear in these scenes that Egwene is very eager to impress the Aes Sedai. There’s a small moment when you see the disappointment on her face that she is not the most powerful channeler that the Amyrlin is referring to. She wants to be liked by them, but obviously, Nynaeve does not.
In a lengthy monologue, Siuan tells the two that they have been called to greatness and the fate of the world rests on the two of them. The Wheel and the Pattern are woven together with the lives and events of the age. They are a part of that Pattern and unlike the majority of the people living, they can not escape their destiny. She says, “The Wheel does not care if you are young or afraid, petty or weak. It certainly doesn’t care what you want. The Wheel calls you to this, whether you can bear it or not. The Last Battle is coming, what any of us want now is meaningless. The only thing that matters is what you do.”
Later, in the Hall, the Amyrlin sentences Moiraine to exile, where she must swear on the oath rod, making the exile unbreakable and eternally binding. This is the same oath rod that the Accepted swear on when they become Aes Sedai. However, the oath that Moiraine recites is different than the one the Amyrlin speaks. She swears to honor and obey Siuan Sanche, not to obey the judgment of the Amyrlin seat, which is a nice detail.
The scene is a little odd because their relationship is clearly supposed to be a big secret, but they are very openly emotional during the moment. Moiraine even calls her Daughter of the River, clever as a pike, strong as the tides, a clear callback to Siuan’s childhood and her father. Their fingers touch, and both Moiraine and Siuan’s eyes are full of tears.
But despite this clear problem, I don’t actually mind it. I really enjoy Moiraine and Siuan’s relationship, from Siuan calling her a pufferfish, to the moments of clear softness and love on Moiraine’s face, I’m fine with the explanation that maybe Moiraine muttered those words under her breath a little. Or perhaps someone saw their connection and it will play out in future seasons.
Is It Too Late To Turn Back?
With the oath taken, the sisters of the Aes Sedai all stand and turn their backs on Moiraine, who leaves the tower in an emotional finale.
Out past the walls of the city, Moiraine rides toward a large structure. This is a Waygate. There, the Emond’s Field Five, Lan, and Loial ride to meet with her. The kids are finally reunited and hey! They all made it! But there’s no time for catching up now. Moiraine and Lan free their horses and Moiraine tells them that they will be going to the Eye of the World where the Dark One is imprisoned.
She avoids a question about what will happen to the ones in the group who are not the dragon, which is not super encouraging. Instead she turns to open the Waygate, which is essentially like a Fast Travel. It’s an ancient pathway out of time and space. One step in the Ways is equal to 100 miles.
But, as the gang cautiously follow Moiraine inside, Mat stays behind. The group shouts at him that the gate is closing, but he clearly does not want to risk his life to go through the gate. As it closes, I wonder if this is the last we will see of Barney Harris as Mat. There was a break in filming between Episode 6 and 7, so perhaps this is where Harris will depart and we will see Mat again in Season Two played by Dónal Finn. I hope we at least get some shots of him in the last two episodes since Harris has been such a delight, but there’s little doubt that this Mat’s deviation from the group is tied to the character’s recasting.
The Wheel of Time streams Fridays exclusively on Prime Video.