The Wheel Of Time – Season 1, Episode 2: Shadow’s Waiting

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After the distinctly ‘Lord Of The Rings’ tone of the first episode, we now take a turn into the ‘Game Of Thrones’ side of fantasy as we are introduced to a rival faction to the Aes Sedai.  The opening follows a young boy as he serves a Whitecloak questioner.  This questioner is gleefully watching a member of the Aes Sedai suffer as she is burnt at the stake after having both hands chopped off.  Attached to his belt are a number of Aes Sedai rings, implying that this is a regular occurrence.  This would label the Whitecloaks as the villains of this story but, of course, nothing is that simple.  Magic broke the world so they clearly see themselves as the heroes who’s role it is to purify the world by removing it.

The series then debuts its fancy opening credit sequence. Again, this is ‘Thrones’ inspired but lacks the narrative reason that that one had.  In GoT the credits built a mechanical, woodwork map of the world and the cities that we would visit.  This gave you a sense of the geography to the story and an understanding to where everything was taking place.  In ‘The Wheel Of Time’ the credit sequence is the story of the world being woven on a loom.  It’s all very pretty but doesn’t really add anything. 

With this out of the way, we jump back into the main story.  Moiraine, Lan, Egwene, Rand, Mat, and Perrin are still on the run from the Fade and the Trollocs. The Trollocs can’t swim so the solution is to cross a deep river.  What follows adds shades of grey to Moiraine, who we have been presented as the hero of the story.  The group pay a ferryman to get them to safety but, when he wants to go back to rescue his own family, Moiraine sinks his ferry with a whirlpool and when he dives in after it she makes no effort to save him as he drowns.

We are told that the Aes Sedai have three rules – they must not use the magic to kill unless in defence, they must not make a weapon that can be used to kill, and they must not lie.  Moiraine shrugs the death of the ferryman off as not a killing.  Her magic may have caused his death but it was his fault because he got in the way of what she wanted to achieve.  So now we have a darkness to a hero and a question mark around her use of magic.  Could the Whitecloaks be right?

This is followed up by a meeting between Moiraine and her group with a patrol of Whitecloaks on a forest road. Moiraine tells them all to tell the truth and hides her magic ring. She immediately breaks another on her her oaths by lying to the questioner we met at the start of the episode and saying she is travelling to town to meet her sister.  She sells the story by showing the wound she picked up during their first battle with the Trolloc and they are allowed to continue on their way but the questioner ominously says he won’t forget their faces. Her excuse for this lie is that all Aes Sedai are sisters and the truth is all in the interpretation of the wording.

On their travels we also get more intrigue about who may be the Dragon Reborn, the chosen one of this world who will have the power to fix everything the previous Dragon broke.  Rand has a dream where he is choking and coughs up a dead bat. He is woken by the image of a cloaked figure with flaming eye.  It appears that everyone has had a version of this dream and the campsite is covered with corpses of bats.  Moiraine delivers the warning that dreams have power and to tell her straightaway if this happens again.  At their next stop it is revealed that Perrin is suffering from an injury to his leg.  As he inspects his wound he is surrounded by a pack of wolves.  But the wolves do not attack, instead they lick his cuts and then run off.  Traditionally bats and wolves have been used to represent evil so the omens are not good.

Moiraine falls unconscious due to her wound and, as the Trollocs close in, the group go on the run again and arrive at the city of Shadar Logoth or “Shadow’s Waiting”, a place so evil that evil won’t follow them in there.  Lan dumps the exposition, which is amusingly pointed out to him, that this was once the greatest city in the region but during the last war with the Trollocs they just shut the gates and refused to help the smaller towns.  The city was then consumed by the evil within and everyone died and just uninhabitable ruins where left behind.

As the group rest, you can see the darkness creeping in at the edges.  Mat senses a shadow stalking then, goes to investigate, and is called to by a hidden jewelled dagger (Dragon Reborn hints?).  As he unsheathes it all hell breaks loose as the shadowy darkness breaks forth like the Venom symbiote and consumes one of the horses and then comes for the group.  All the heroes become separated.  Lan escapes on a horse with Moiraine, Egwene is split from Rand and is given her ‘Last Of The Mohicans’ “I will find you moment” as she jumps from the city’s wall into the river with Perrin, and Rand and Mat escape through tunnels into the river.

We close out with the four chosen ones split into pairs and lost and with Lan cradling a dying Moiraine when Nynaeve, the Two Rivers Wisdom from then first episode who was presumed dead, reappears putting a blade to Lan’s throat and demanding to be reunited with the others.  All in all, an effective cliffhanger to bring you back for more and an intriguing end to an entertaining episode. 

The world has now been opened up with shades of grey rather than the light verses dark that we were introduced to at the start.  The Whitecloaks, whose all white appearance is striking in this dirty world (maybe shades of Star Wars Stormtroopers), are presented as chilling opponents who might, and that is a big might, be doing the right thing in the wrong way but the same could be said for the Aes Sedia, who are presented as our heroes.

The series is clearly pushing its budget to the limits and effects are just on the right side of convincing. There are enough scenes set at night to hide any short comings in effects but unfortunately this doesn’t aid with the acting which, while not bad, at the moment isn’t making anyone a star.  None of the characters are coming across as likeable (a common problem with a lot of modern shows).  Do you really want any of these people to inherite a power that could destroy the world?  But this is only the second episode so there is plenty of time for them to grow.

My one big complaint so far is I have no idea of the geography of this world.  Characters talk about where they are going and what is happening in various directions but I have no clue what this means and a map would be helpful.  I haven’t read the books but they strike my as the sort of thing that would use this storytelling tool, a common and popular part of fantasy fiction.

This show is a lot more thrilling in it second episode with everything constantly on the move and the major exposition out of the way.  While nowhere near perfect, this so a show that entertains, which is the most you can ask for, and will hopefully grow into itself if given time.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

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