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Recap: The Wheel of Time: Episode 2, “Shadow’s Waiting”

Holy worldbuilding, Batman!

Still of a city from Amazon's Wheel of Time.

Robert Jordan is renowned for the breadth and depth of the world he constructed for The Wheel of Time. He created a language, spun out cultures for multiple continents, and invented hundreds of political factions with a dizzying array of motivations and goals. One of the most prominent of those factions is the Children of the Light, derogatorily referred to as Whitecloaks. However, in three minutes of runtime in Amazon’s adaptation, the showrunners convinced me to do something Robert Jordan never did, no matter how many times he insisted they were a legitimate threat: take the Whitecloaks seriously.

The Children are a paramilitary ecclesiastical order who supposedly fight the forces of darkness but somehow end up spending most of their time harassing ordinary people and hunting “witches.” In the opening sequence, we meet Eamon Valda, who is gloating to a captured Aes Sedai about the “brutality of mercy” while he removes her ring from her severed hand and burns her at the stake.

I hated Valda in the books, but wow do I loathe him now.

Meanwhile, Moiraine and company are incredibly busy running away from trollocs, who they have successfully diverted from torching the rest of their hometown. With the monsters almost breathing down their necks they reach Taren Ferry, Moiraine assures the group that not even a Fade can make trollocs cross deep water. They convince Hightower to ferry them across, and not a moment too soon, as the trollocs arrive en masse at the dock and they watch a Fade literally scream in frustration.

Still of a monster from Amazon's wheel of time.

Moiraine and Lan prevent the ferryman from giving the army a way to follow them by cutting down the rope and sinking the ferry in a whirlpool. As a stunned Two Rivers contingent watch, Hightower declares all Aes Sedai “monsters” and swims straight toward his death. This undeniable evidence that Moiraine and Lan are not exactly heroes from storybooks disturbs them, and they spend the next few stops discussing a) the somewhat preposterous notion that one of them is the Dragon, and b) Moiraine’s ultimate goals and what that means for their personal safety.

Moiraine earns an ally in Egwene when she takes her under her wing and informs her the Two Rivers Wisdom skill of “listening to the wind” is actually the ability to channel the One Power, guiding Egwene through her first attempt to touch it. In a deft closure of setup and payoff, Egwene’s initiation ceremony where Nynaeve instructs her to “trust the river,” and this guided meditation on “surrendering” to a river have clear parallels. Moiraine also gives us Robert Jordan’s version of the Three Laws of Robotics: the Three Oaths all Aes Sedai swear, and uses the reality of the Oaths to explain the Taren Ferry incident from her point of view.

That night, the Two Rivers ensemble experience markedly similar nightmares. In Rand’s version, he gags up a dead bat before seeing a man with burning eyes watching him. He wakes up to the same dead bat at his feet; but in Mat’s nightmare, he sees dozens of bats have their necks snapped midair. Perrin describes a similar ember-eyed figure, and Egwene witnessed something similar.

Moiraine informs them dreams are more powerful than they know, and her general tendency to keep her cards so close to her chest that they’re practically mounted to her spine … well, remember when I said Rand isn’t easily intimidated? He doesn’t exactly enjoy being led around on a string by someone he doesn’t trust, and this causes another fracture between him and Egwene. With mostly bad choices and Mat’s quip “the lady does shoot fireballs, so let’s try to stay on her good side?” the group reluctantly catches up to Moiraine and a watchful Lan.

Still of Amazon's Wheel of Time cast traveling on horseback.

In the Aspen Forest, they encounter the Whitecloaks fresh off their earlier “victory.” Moiraine demonstrates the reality “the truth an Aes Sedai says may not be the truth you think you hear,” and the showrunners leave a wonderful little Easter egg in the way she threads this particular needle: She tells the Two Rivers folk not to mention anything about the Aes Sedai and that she is a lady of a fallen house (Damodred, which is oh-so-very-fallen). I loved how, in this scene, you could see the Oaths clamping down on her as she makes the truth spin like a top.

After Moiraine safely maneuvers them away from the Whitecloaks, Mat notices the disposition of the group is headed toward melancholy and decides to help it along with a rendition of “Weep for Menatheren,” a Two Rivers folk song no one knows the origins of—which Moiraine eloquently explains. Book fans who were worried we might not get the famous “Weep for Menatheren” speech, rejoice! We have the speech and a lilting song that’s been stuck in my head for a week!

Moiraine’s wound from getting stabby-stabbed via trolloc dagger is clearly taking a toll, so Lan finds a safe place for them to stop for the night. As Perrin refills their waterskins, he examines a wound on his leg that is not festering as much as Moiraine’s shoulder but is probably something worth telling a grownup about. Mid-wince, though, he’s interrupted by some ferocious growling doggos. (I hesitate to call them wolves. They’re, uh, small for wolves.)

They don’t attack him, though, and instead … lick his wound? And leave? Online fan discussions have noted the showrunners are involving an interesting number of werewolf tropes in Perrin’s development. From the “bloodlust” moment in the last episode to wounds inflicted by creatures such as trollocs tending to have a “transformative” effect, the evidence is certainly suggestive.

When the Dark One’s army is suddenly upon them out of nowhere, Lan decides to usher the unconscious Moiraine and “the kids” (as I’m sure he thinks of them) into Shadar Logoth despite Moiraine’s previous insistence it is far too dangerous to take refuge there. Once inside the eerily silent ruins, Lan explains the history of Aridhol, now Shadar Logoth or “Shadow’s Waiting” (holy worldbuilding, Batman!), and warns the kids against touching anything.

Sitll of Mat holding a dagger in Amazon's Wheel of Time.

There’s a lot of adaptive changes here, and personally I love every single one of them. Mat re-gifts Perrin the dagger Laila made for him, telling Perrin a story about how weapons are merely “tools” to protect the ones you love (a story I hope Perrin remembers). It’s fascinating to me that it’s Mat who wakes up and is drawn out into the city by a shadow and a whistle. Mat, the unconventional one. Mat, the impoverished one. Mat, the one with some internal conflicts that a city killed by its own self-interest could capitalize on. It’s definitely not a coincidence he’s presented with a dagger after giving one away. Setup with almost immediate payoff? Give me more.

I also love giving mashadar, the creeping blackness that dissolves a horse into dust in seconds, a deliberate almost-sentience. Instead of getting split up via “Rand does an inattentive whoopsie” like in the book, mashadar separates them intentionally, and they rush for three different exits. And oh, the sweet sweet payoff of Egwene getting yeeted off a cliff into a river in episode one: She grabs Perrin’s hand, says, “Ready?” and jumps. She’s an old hat at this.

Episode 2 finishes off with what is probably my favorite moment so far: Nynaeve getting the drop on Lan. That is, chef’s kiss, quite perfect.

Sadly, I don’t want to leave off this recap without mentioning something unfortunate. The showrunner, Rafe Judkins, and the casting director, Kelly Hendry, should absolutely be applauded for their efforts in bringing Robert Jordan’s diverse world to life accurately. All the crybabies currently review-bombing The Wheel of Time on Amazon and IMDB need to have a serious come-to-Jordan moment because it does not make sense for a cosmopolitan, global, technologically advanced world to have an apocalypse and end up with racially segregated regions.

However. Judkins’ and Henry’s phenomenally diverse casting isn’t immune from criticism, as at this point in the series, there’s a colorism issue. Right now, the two characters we know are evil—one a Darkfriend (Johann Myers), another a fundamentalist zealot (Abdul Salis)—are the ones with darker skin. Hopefully, the creators are listening to the conversation and find a way to improve on this front.

(images: Amazon)

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Samantha Field is a queer writer, gamer, geek, and activist. Her earliest memory is the Star Trek: Next Generation theme song, and she walked down the aisle to the theme from Star Trek: First Contact. She's also read Wheel of Time four times (currently working on her fifth reread). When not writing about the cross section of feminism and culture, her day job is as a children's rights lobbyist.