The Wheel of Time: Episode 6, “The Flame of Tar Valon”
I’m not crying; you’re crying.
This episode, y’all. Y’all. How do I put into words everything this episode made me feel? I almost feel like I could die happy now that I’ve seen it, except then I wouldn’t be able to watch it six dozen more times.
First, we have the cold open where we meet a young Siuan Sanche fishing with her father in Tear, where using the One Power is illegal. Her relationship with Berden, her father, is so touching, and their goodbye once she can no longer safely stay in Tear is heart-wrenching. We also get a taste of the kind of person Siuan will grow into. Clever as a pike, strong as the tides.
This cold open gives us a glimpse into a theme of this episode: unreliable narrators. Robert Jordan made wonderful use of unreliable narrators in his books, and the show is doing a brilliant job incorporating that aspect of his writing.
In “Leavetaking,” we heard a story from Nynaeve about the Old Wisdom—how she journeyed as a girl, alone, for months, to reach the White Tower but was rejected because of her “ragged clothes” and “peasant accent”—except now we’re seeing for ourselves a girl with a peasant accent make an even longer solitary journey in raggedy clothes, and we know she eventually becomes the Amyrlin.
It’s unlikely Nynaeve lied to Moiraine, so what happened? Did the Old Wisdom misunderstand, or just emphasize to herself and others an emotionally accurate rendering of her experience that was possibly thin on facts?
In the world of The Wheel of Time, “the truth the episode tells you may not be the truth you think you hear, so watch carefully” is exceedingly good advice.
Next is a seating of the Hall. Tower guards bring in Logain, having to prop him up. Despite his despondence, Logain summons enough energy to hurl spiteful invective at the Amyrlin, hoping to make her angry enough to execute him. When his manipulation fails, he begs the Aes Sedai to kill him—which they won’t.
The Amrylin then moves on to hearing from Liandrin, Moiraine, and Alanna, most likely the highest-ranking representatives of their Ajahs present. Liandrin, who was second-in-command to Kerene, bears the brunt of the punishment for gentling Logain without a fair trial, but she manages to force a confrontation between Moiraine and the Amyrlin about what Moiraine’s been up to, casting doubt on the entire Blue Ajah and the Amyrlin’s credibility and leadership, while simultaneously throwing Moiraine under the bus.
When Moiraine refuses to explain her mission, the Amyrlin sentences her to a penance she will decide later.
After leaving the Hall, Moiraine wastes no time. Turnabout is fair play: Lan tracked Nynaeve to the inn where she’s treating Mat. When Loial and Nynaeve step out, Moiraine and Lan enter the Light’s Blessing, tossing a “this is Jedi business” at the innkeeper before stomping into Rand and Mat’s room.
Rand leaps to his friend’s defense, insisting to Moiraine that Mat hasn’t channeled, that it’s not the Dark One’s corruption making him sick, it’s just a regular fever. When he suspects Moiraine might do to Mat what the Aes Sedai did to Logain, he dives for his father’s heron-marked sword and draws it, which is adorable, precious, and so noble, but also hilariously inadequate. He would’ve done nothing but sprain his wrist if he’d tried to swing it, and Lan doesn’t even draw his own sword in response, just wags a finger in his face.
Mat suddenly lunges for Moiraine with his cursed ruby-hilted dagger, and Moiraine instantly realizes where he got it. She’s able to pull mashadar (the creepy black “murder moss,” as one commenter described it last week) out of Mat and stuff it back into the dagger, but then warns Rand, in language akin to describing addiction, how Mat’s temptations regarding the dagger are probably not over.
Nynaeve arrives and, upon seeing Moiraine, becomes instantly hostile. Moiraine has pretty much had it up to here with Nynaeve’s prideful nonsense, and Nynaeve is probably going to have to get some aloe where she got those herbs, because there’s no way “If Wisdom is the title you claim, I suggest you start using some” didn’t burn.
Back in the Tower, Moiraine takes a meeting with Maigan, the head of her Ajah, in a sauna, and again, I just want to shout a huge “thank you” at Salli Richardson-Whitfield for her direction.
All through the books, readers encounter casual nudity, as activities like communal bathing are commonplace. In this adapted scene, naked women wander in and out of the shot, but their bodies are treated respectfully, and it’s not just nubile women with perky double-Ds. Even Moiraine’s body isn’t sexualized, but is cinematically treated the way art museums present marble statues.
Maigan goes on to highlight some concerning global events while commanding Moiraine to stay in the Tower, which we the viewer know isn’t going to work for her.
The Yellow Ajah uses their flower-based signal system to send Moiraine a message, and she arrives at what appears to be a hospital wing where they’ve Healed Perrin, and Egwene attends him. Egwene has no qualms about filling Moiraine in on her experiences, immediately handing over the rings she took from Valda, as well as her belief she’s killed him. She’s also upfront about Perrin’s emotional suffering, how Perrin’s eyes turned golden “like a wolf’s,” and wonders if that’s a sign he’s the Dragon.
That night, Lan interrupts Moiraine’s bedtime routine because she’s “masked the bond,” communicating that it hides her location and emotional state from him and he can’t protect her that way. She’s aware, but not-so-gently hints to get lost. He smirks knowingly, says, “Give her my love,” and leaves as Moiraine uses the ter’angreal hanging on her wall to open a gateway. The x-ray trivia here notes some ter’angreal can be used to make “doorways to different places, spaces, or experiences.”
She meets Siuan in a room reminiscent of Siuan’s childhood hut, and I am not kidding that I was screaming with joy when they kissed. It was gorgeous. It was sweet. It was intimate. It was perfect. My sapphic heart was full to bursting.
The camera returns to them later, having “mussed up the sheets something fierce,” as Robert Jordan put it when describing the Tower-specific term “pillow friends” (which, canonically, Moiraine and Siuan are, so do not let queerphobic book “readers” tell you different). They are both troubled by their shared mission to find the Dragon, as they are the only people now living who were present during Gitara’s Foretelling.
Moiraine once again hammers home the principle of the unreliable narrator, as she is reasonably uncertain of their 3,000-year-old prophecies that have been translated hundreds of times over the millennia, as well as all the contradictory prophecies, beliefs, and stories she’s encountered in her travels. Siuan is also bothered by the recurring dreams she’s been having of a weakened Dark One at the Eye of the World.
Both seem to have reason to trust the predictive power of her dreams, but it’s clear he may not always be at the Eye, so they have to act quickly. Moiraine also tells Siuan she has to be Exiled in order to avoid being trapped in the Tower by Maigan’s order.
The next day, Liandrin attempts to manipulate Moiraine by revealing she knows about the others, but it immediately backfires as Moiraine efficiently shuts her up with a blackmail threat about some man Liandrin sees in Northharbor. Moiraine’s plans are coming together quickly, as she convinces Loial to assist in her mission before ushering a reunited Egwene and Nynaeve into the Amyrlin’s study.
Nynaeve is as prickly as a blackthorn bush, but Siuan handles her expertly. Egwene also makes it clear that Nynaeve doesn’t speak for her and she can make her own decisions about what she wants. Look at my precious girl, individuating and everything.
During another convening of the Hall, Siuan exiles Moiraine, and she swears on the Oath Rod (another ter’angreal) to “honor and obey” Siuan in the most enjoyably heartbreaking wedding ceremony I’ve ever seen. The way Siuan inches her finger forward so they can touch one last time? I’m not crying as I write this. Watching all the Aes Sedai turn their backs on Moiraine as she’s shunned and excommunicated from the only family she’s ever known definitely didn’t make me sob buckets, either.
At the end of the episode, Moiraine meets everyone at the Tar Valon Waygate, a (dangerous) interdimensional portal that can shorten travel times. She informs everyone of their mission, as well as the stakes if they fail. Egwene is the first to follow Moiraine, through, and Rand, of course, follows her. Hearing there’s no way to know what’ll happen to anyone who isn’t the Dragon and seeing an interdimensional rift into a terrifying void, Mat very understandably bails. Cue credits.
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