New faces, new places, and big secrets finally revealed! The Wheel of Time throws our heroes into the Ways and to the edges of the map in “The Dark Along the Ways”. The episode is directed by Ciaran Donnelly, who is also known for his work on Vikings, and will be directing the season finale as well. Amanda Kate Shuman and Katherine B. McKenna wrote the episode. Shuman also wrote “Shadow’s Waiting” and is known also for her work on The Blacklist, while McKenna is worked previously as a staff writer on Dirty John.
For book readers, the cold open of the episode kicks off a much-anticipated storyline. We see a woman dressed as an Aiel running along the slopes of a snowy volcano in the midst of a battle. Her weapons are bloodied, she’s fighting off assailants, and to add fuel to the fire, she’s going into labor. Despite going through labor pains, she still manages to kill multiple soldiers attacking her (what kind of asshole attacks a pregnant woman, much less stabs her?) before laying down against a rock to give birth.
As we will find out later in the episode, this woman is Rand’s birth mother, Tigraine Mantear (played with glorious ferocity by Magdalena Sittova), she is on Dragonmount, and she is soon found by Tam al’Thor (a horrifyingly de-aged Michael McElhatton), who does the right thing and instead of attacking her holds her hand as she gives birth. Remember Rand pointing out that mountain in episode 5, that was Dragonmount, a volcano located to the west of Tar Valon.
The Ways and the Black Wind
But more on Rand much later, first, let’s cut back to the present day. The episode quickly answers a question that came to mind in the last episode, if there is even a small possibility that Mat is the Dragon, shouldn’t they go back to him? But, Moiraine points out that since Mat already has been infected by the dagger’s evil, he has a higher likelihood of siding with the Dark One, which, if Mat truly was the Dragon, would be catastrophic.
The series really captures the same mistrust people have toward Aes Sedai that is seen in the books. Though Rand really has no reason to mistrust Moiraine beyond his own prejudices, he immediately bristles at the idea of leaving Mat behind. Though, after this episode, it definitely feels like Mat is safer in Tar Valon than anywhere near his childhood friends. But, Rand is still very upset, even though, as Egwene points out… Mat left them. Nynaeve promises to go back for Mat after all of this is over, but that’s about the best she can offer.
Even if the kids wanted to go back for Mat, it’s too late. Using the One Power in the Ways, as Loial explains, would be dangerous. It brings Machin Shin to you and feeds on your soul. The kids don’t know it yet, but Machin Shin aka the Black Wind is a malevolent force that speaks horrible things to a person and kills them by slowly draining their soul or driving them insane. Its inhabitation in the Ways is what makes it hard to travel through now, and is likely the reason why it is no longer verdant and welcoming.
The weakness of this episode is how tonally unbalanced it is. We jump from epic quest to petty drama to romantic flirtation and the whiplash is overwhelming. Even as a massive fan of Lan and Nynaeve, the scene that shows Lan trying to flirt with Nynaeve, joking about her pouting, feels very odd considering the location and what just happened. And following Lan’s conversation with Stepin about how he can’t be with anyone romantically, I have to wonder, what changed?
The group is soon stopped when Perrin points out something in the dark. Moving forward, Loial identifies it as a guiding stone but it’s been horribly defaced making it difficult to read. He asks for patience, which in terms of Ogier means everyone can take a short rest. Resting in front of the stone, Moiraine notes that something has been following them. Egwene and Rand make up in the meantime, finding comfort in each other.
But soon, she is awakened by the sound of whistling. Walking toward the sound, a trolloc jumps out of nowhere. It looks like Egwene uses the One Power to push it away, but we know now that it was actually Rand. The use of the One Power calls Machin Shin, the presence of trollocs reveals that the Dark One has been using the Ways to transport his armies, and it also explains the defacing of the guiding stones.
The gang is on the move, with Machin Shin on their heels they have no choice but to go toward the waygate in Fal Dara instead of straight to the Eye of the World. In the distance, we see a figure in the darkness and Machin Shin, which looks like a swarm. The figure, if you squint, is actually Padan Fain (Johann Myers) who has been following the group since the Two Rivers. We saw him last in Tar Valon and he’s now following them through the Ways.
When Machin Shin attacks, it feeds on each of the party members’ fears and insecurities. It also acts as a convenient storytelling shorthand, by revealing the characters’ true thoughts. With Moiraine, it tells her that she’ll lead the children to their death and call it heroism. With Egwene, it calls her an imposter and a fraud. With Perrin, it tells him that he wanted Laila dead because he loves another woman more than his wife. (For those following along at home, I called it that they were doing a Perrin/Egwene romance early on!) With Lan, it tells him that he can’t protect “her”, which given the circumstances could either be Moiraine or Nynaeve or both. With Nynaeve, it tells her that she will hear her friends’ screams before they die just like her parents and that she’ll lose all her friends like she lost Mat. With Rand, we learn later on that it not only tells Rand that he will never be loved by Egwene as much as he loves her, but also that he is the Dragon Reborn.
Pushed on by Machin Shin, Nynaeve channels the One Power to create a force field around the group while Moiraine uses the One Power to open up the waygate into Fal Dara. They make it out safely but not after getting a heavy dose of trauma from that experience. Moiraine congratulates them for making it to safety but it sure doesn’t feel like anyone is comforted by that fact. In the distance is the fortress city of Fal Dara, the last bastion against the Blight to the north of the continent.
Friends from Fal Dara
Arriving at the city, the group is taken to meet Lord Agelmar (Thomas Chaanhing) and along the way, multiple people call Lan the name Dai Shan. While Agelmar is warm toward Lan, he is immediately on the defensive meeting Moiraine. He believes that Moiraine is there because his sister, Amalisa (Sandra Yi Sencindiver), contacted the White Tower for help with the trolloc attacks from the Blight.
Again Agelmar’s apprehension and derision of Aes Sedai feels familiar from the books when it comes to people’s general reaction toward the organization. At this moment, Agelmar’s posturing feels childish since Moiraine is clearly not here because of Amalisa’s messages and he doesn’t even give her a chance to explain before he starts talking down to her.
While Agelmar is by no means inept, this scene really illustrates how prideful he is, and it is pretty satisfying to see Moiraine shoot him down and warn him against the trollocs who could be entering through the Waygate. Heeding her warning, he sends men to wall up the waygate and then offers them a place to stay for the night. Too bad they didn’t get to that Waygate sooner since we see another figure walk out from the gate. Yep, that’s Padan Fain.
Amalisa guides Moiraine to her chambers and Moiraine asks her for the location on a seer named Min. There’s a bit of testing between the two characters. Amalisa wants to know why Moiraine is here, Moiraine wants Amalisa’s discretion. In the end, even after saying her allegiance is with the city and not the Aes Sedai, Moiraine trusts Amalisa to send a message to the White Tower to find Mat, and she tells her to notify the Red Ajah. Okay…
On the streets, the Two Rivers kids are walking the marketplace with Moiraine to find Min and Perrin brushes past Padan Fain. Nynaeve points out that he’s dead, but we already know that Perrin’s instincts are right. Entering into a pub, we meet Min (Kae Alexander) who is able to look at the group of kids and identify their link to the pattern. She points out that it is unusual that the four are linked together, and their clear visions mean that they are important to the pattern.
With Perrin she sees his gold eyes and blood running down his chin, with Rand, she sees him holding a baby, and then with Egwene and Nynaeve she says she sees a white flame and a ring of gold, though she doesn’t specify who has which. Then, when prompted, she tells Moiraine that she sees her with the Amyrlin Seat in full regalia and that she will be her downfall. Ominous but vague news all around.
The Last Night Together
Later that night, Moiraine tells the group that they must leave at sunrise, but the kids aren’t so eager to agree. After the loss of Mat and the journey through the ways, Nynaeve demands to know about Min and what Moiraine is planning. After some prodding, Moiraine reveals that Min can see glimpses of the pattern but was not able to point out which of them was the dragon. Anyone caught between the Dragon and the Dark One will die, so she wanted to prevent whoever was not the Dragon from dying.
The four kids get into an argument, Egwene wanting to believe Moiraine, while Nynaeve and Rand are more cautious. The discussion devolves into an argument between Egwene and Rand with Perrin thrown in the mix before Nynaeve blurts out that Rand and Perrin have apparently both been vying for Egwene’s affection this whole time. A love triangle! Despite Perrin’s attempts at defending himself, Rand takes this revelation and runs with it, pointing out that he proposed to Laila the day he and Egwene got together, which is pretty damning evidence. The group is left unsure of what to do and reeling from the reveal.
In Moiraine’s room, she tells Lan that she’s afraid that she’s taken everything from him, and Lan replies that she’s given him a reason to live and die. It seems that Lan is ready to die no matter what, so he tells her that he must say his goodbyes to friends in the city. Before leaving, Moiraine tells him that she likes Nynaeve, effectively giving him her stamp of approval.
Following Lan out into the city, Nynaeve comes across him meeting with a family and is soon invited into dinner with them because she is the least subtle person in the world. There she meets Zahir (Michael D’Cruze), the man who effectively raised Lan. After dinner, the two stroll back to their rooms, and after some will-they-won’t-they, they go to bed together finally.
I have to commend Nynaeve on her ability to both do the deed with Lan and manage to look as if nothing has happened afterward. Could the costume department not have had her shed a couple of layers to make the scene a little more believable? Anyway, she asks Lan why Zahir called him Dai Shan and Lan reveals the truth of his parentage. It is a title given to future kings of Malkier, a kingdom that was taken by the blight. Zahir was one of Lan’s father’s armsman and when the kingdom was overrun, Lan’s family was killed, but he was smuggled out of the palace.
Knowing this, Nynaeve says that she understands why Lan bonded himself to Moiraine. Without a family and a kingdom, he bonded himself to Moiraine and now belongs to her. As unsubtle as the previous love triangle revelation was, Nynaeve’s jealousy of Moiraine has been stewing for a while. Not only is she untrusting of the Aes Sedai, but her bond with Lan definitely adds fuel to her fire. But Lan points out that Moiraine doesn’t own him any more than Nynaeve is bonded to the Two Rivers as a Wisdom. Without much persuading, he asks her to stay with him for the rest of the night.
The Dragon Revealed
Elsewhere in the keep, Rand and Egwene have patched things up. Egwene was still upset at him for assuming she did not care about Mat, but he apologizes and then pushes her to go to the White Tower to become an Aes Sedai and promises to come with her to be his warder. It’s kind of a confusing promise in hindsight since at this point we already know that the wind told him that he is the Dragon Reborn.
They go to bed together, but Rand can’t sleep. Instead, he remembers back to when his father fought off the trolloc during the attack at Bel Tine. We see glimpses of Tam’s sword and the heron mark on the blade is identical to the man who met Tigraine on that mountain. An injured Tam briefly mentions the name Kari, and says, “I didn’t mean to find her there,” and mentions a crying baby.
Then we get a montage of events from the last few episodes. We recall Rand breaking down the door at Breen’s Spring, him recognizing Dragonmount, the revelation that it was actually him using the One Power in the Ways to defend Egwene (if you squint, you can even see the taint in his use of the One Power). Then we see that Machin Shin already told him that he is the Dragon Reborn and that Rand perhaps already suspected it for himself.
He visits Min, who confirms this. She tells him that when she was young in Tar Valon, she had a vision of a man in armor with a heron-marked blade, he was covered in snow and blood, and then she saw a baby born on the Dragonmount, and that that man would raise the son as his own in the Two Rivers. That child would be the Dragon Reborn. We see in the flashback that Tigraine died not long after giving birth and the camera pans out to show Tam with baby Rand looking out at the White Tower.
When Rand asks what Min sees when she looks at him, she teasingly replies, “Rainbows, carnivals, and three beautiful women.” Whatever Min knows, she keeps it close to her chest. While, yes, she does see the Eye of the World, she doesn’t reveal whether he will make it back or not. But this is all that Rand needs to go to Moiraine and tell her that he is the one.
When the others awaken, Lan comes to find them and tells them that Moiraine has masked their bond and that Rand is also gone. Not willing to let his friends die, he and Moiraine venture forward into the Blight. Couple things to note, it was funny seeing Nynaeve getting caught red-handed coming back from her night with Lan by Egwene, and also does Moiraine look older now? She looks haggard upon entering the Blight and some of her hair even looks white.
As far as penultimate episodes go, “The Dark Along the Ways” felt a little rocky. The tonal shifts make the episode rather disjointed and the unearthing of a love triangle, while not out of nowhere, felt both monumental and inconsequential. It feels very much like a setup episode and deviates the story further from original lore, which is undoubtedly going to ruffle feathers. With the actual reveal of the Dragon Reborn out of the way, perhaps the other character’s individual storylines will take off more in the second season.
The Wheel of Time streams Fridays exclusively on Prime Video.