The Wheel of Time episode 7 finally tells us who the Dragon is

Moiraine strides purposefully, as usual.

Enlarge / Moiraine strides purposefully, as usual.

Andrew Cunningham and Lee Hutchinson have spent decades of their lives with Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson’s Wheel of Time books, and they’re bringing that knowledge to bear as they recap each episode of Amazon’s new WoT TV series. These recaps won’t cover every element of every episode, but they will contain major spoilers for the show and the book series. If you want to stay unspoiled and haven’t read the books, these recaps aren’t for you.

New episodes of The Wheel of Time will be posted to Amazon Prime subscribers every Friday.

Andrew: I wouldn’t say that the middle of this Wheel of Time season slowed down, exactly, but episode seven sees the show kicking back up into a busier register that reminded me more of the bewildering early episodes of the season. In just one episode, we navigate through the darkness of The Ways; we encounter our first Borderlanders, the Blight, and the fortress city of Fal Dara; we get a small info dump on Lan’s doomed homeland of Malkier; we meet a woman named Min who sees visions of the future; and the show resolves the mystery of Who The Dragon Reborn Is (we will talk about the how and the who momentarily, but let’s just say book readers won’t be surprised). That’s a long list of stuff—did any of it stick out to you?
Lee: So many things stuck out! I have so many thoughts on this one, and not all of them are positive. And I’m a little disappointed in the show for playing dirty with its big mystery—we’ll get to that.

But the thing that stuck out most is the pre-credits intro, where we get to see an Aiel Maiden of the Spear doing what Maidens do best: killing the crap out of things. The moment of compassion between Tam (wearing the Golden Bees of Illian) and the maiden during Rand’s birth was so incredibly powerful—it was an instance of pure raw humanity that transcended conflict, and I thought it was really nice. On the other hand, book readers know precisely who Rand’s mother is, and without spoiling anything at all about that Maiden’s identity, I’m starting to wonder if the show is going to change up Rand’s mom from the books. I am somewhat doubtful, given how well the woman we see on screen fights, that her identity is the same as it is in the books. Do you think I’m off-base here, Andrew? Either way, I loved the little prologue. Easily my favorite part of the episode, and possibly my favorite series moment so far.

Andrew: I think the cold open was trying to do a couple of things—show us something about Rand’s previously hinted-at parentage, and show us how well Aiel characters fight. The latter bit is endlessly discussed in the books, and while Aiel only hover at the margins of this first season, I’d expect the accelerated pace of the show to bring us in contact with more of them next year. This scene accomplishes those things! And as for a more detailed depiction of who Rand’s mother is, as a person, there’s some room for the show to fudge this, given how little we actually learn about her show-character from this brief glimpse.While we’re talking about things that were adapted well, I did think the spookiness of the Ways was pretty pitch-perfect. And if Machin Shin (or the Black Wind, if you prefer) doesn’t work exactly as it did in the books, I do really like the depiction of it as a force that breaks you down by repeating all the stuff that the shittiest part of your brain tells you about yourself. (Maybe you don’t know what I am talking about if you don’t have a history of dealing with impostor syndrome and depression! But it hit uncomfortably close to home for me).
Lee: I am 100% OK with the depiction of Machin Shin in the Ways—it’s suitably creepy, and it also works as a storytelling change to hurry everybody’s plots along, because this is the second-to-last episode of the season. Whispering the characters’ inner fears back to them is a neat way to surface (or re-surface) that information to the audience.

I wish the Ways themselves had been a little easier to see on the screen—they were a little Battle of Winterfell-esque in how dark they were. (Though that may just have been the lower bitrate of the media screener we were watching.) Obviously it’s hard to depict on screen a place that’s pitch black and lit only by torches, but I could have used a little more light to actually, you know, see stuff.

There is one major complaint I have about Machin Shin’s whispers, and it has to do with the show not playing fair with its mysteries. But lemme table that for just a moment—I’ve got a big bit of spleen-venting to do about the episode’s middle, where the characters rest overnight in Fal Dara.

Andrew: Why don’t you just go ahead and spleen vent for a sec?
Lee: All righty then. There are two major, major problems I have with this episode, and I want to run these by you to see if I’m just being overly picky. The first problem is the weird out-of-nowhere accusation that Perrin is seemingly in love with another woman–and that it seems to be Egwene.

Huh? Obviously two people with shared trauma and a lot of rough traveling—like Perrin and Egwene—will develop some closeness, even if it’s not romantic. This makes total sense. But there are clues here that paint a different picture—is Perrin always supposed to have been in love with Egwene? Is that the reason why Laila didn’t go to Egwene’s braid ceremony celebration back in the Two Rivers?

It’s a weird moment that feels unearned and… just… weird. Rand eventually laughs off the accusations, which might just be part of the post-channeling “madness lite” that boys experience the first few times they touch the One Power, but that was just an odd scene. It smelled more like the result of studio notes than organic storytelling. (Though I guess we got to see Rand do the “Flame and Void” archery trick, at least.)

Andrew: The Perrin-Egwene thing is just there to artificially heighten tensions between some of our main characters, because some shows seem to believe that characters can’t be interesting unless they’re in some kind of conflict with one another at literally every possible second.

I am also just completely lost with how I’m supposed to feel about Perrin’s Dead Wife, and how he feels about her, and just what her sketchily drawn character was supposed to be doing for the story in the first place (the most interesting theory I’ve heard among my friends is that she was a Darkfriend and she was actually going for Perrin at the moment he killed her, but the show hasn’t offered much to support that). We talked last week about how Perrin and Mat were feeling a bit underwritten compared to a lot of our other characters and this kind of scene is what you get when you try to use an underdeveloped character to prop up an emotional beat like this.

As for Mat, he’s just gone from this episode after last week’s cliffhanger, and it says something about his presence on the show that neither the viewers nor the characters on screen seem to actually miss him much.

Lee: Yep. And here’s problem number two: a hugely pivotal scene in the books occurs when Rand is helping a Trolloc-injured Tam into town for help, and Tam, delirious with fever, spills the beans that Rand was a foundling baby. This scene was absent from the show, and book fans complained bitterly about it.

Well, it turns out that the scene wasn’t absent—it happened, and we just didn’t get to see it until now. And also, in the Ways, the Black Wind whispered some more stuff to Rand that we didn’t hear the first time around, about how he’s, you know, the Dragon Reborn and stuff.

Look. I enjoy it when shows give us mysteries to play with. I loved it when Westworld constructed this amazing puzzle box story and dared you to solve it. And I’ve been enjoying the game of “Who’s the Dragon” that WoT has been stringing us along with.

But this isn’t honest storytelling. This is cheating. If you’re going to lay out a mystery for the audience to solve, you can’t spring up at the last second and say “LOL, psyche! We actually withheld critical information from you, so there’s no way you could have pieced together the solution on your own!” This is taking what should have been an earned and gratifying resolution to a season-long puzzle and turning it into a cheap gotcha. It’s the same complaint I have about Rand’s Machin Shin whispers—we see one set of events it happens, and then a bit later the show comes back with the rest of what it said to Rand. It just feels like a low blow.

Andrew: Both of those contrivances—Perrin has feelings for Egwene, plus a whole scene about the Dragon Reborn thing that happened but didn’t make it onscreen at the time—definitely feel very Made For TV, in a bad way. And the retconned-in scene between Tam and Rand… It feels like an awfully cheap way to add another piece to the “Who Is The Dragon Reborn” mystery, because I feel like the show was honestly doing a pretty solid job of juggling that up until now—that they were handling it well helped me excuse the fact that they were doing it in the first place, and this reveal squanders a lot of that. I think you can replay those scenes of Rand doing things he shouldn’t have been able to do, and reveal to us what the Black Wind was saying to him, and then let the cold open and the season’s Rand-is-an-Aiel-breadcrumbs work together to let us arrive at the same conclusion without making the audience feel duped.
Lee: Yeah. This is lame, y’all. This is lame sauce. This is not how you do a puzzle. I am disappointed and annoyed that Rand’s “I am the Dragon” reveal happened this way. This is going beyond having an unreliable narrator and into feeling like we have dishonest storytellers. Come on, Amazon and Rafe and team. You can do better than this.
Andrew: It’s a shame to have spent so much time on something that I honestly don’t think sticks the landing, because on balance I still think the show as a whole—and even within this episode—are doing about as well as anyone could have expected at adapting a story of this size and complexity for the screen.

I did really enjoy the snippets of time we spend with Min (who, apart from being transplanted from a tavern from early in Eye of the World to a tavern from later in Eye of the World, does and says pretty much what she does and says in the book). I think the bits of Lan-Nynaeve we get here are basically fine—on the gauzy side, but the presence of Lan’s “family” here is keeping with the books’ depiction of him as a sort of king-in-exile whose former subjects are scattered across the Borderlands. This episode also makes explicit what eagle-eyed book-readers have probably picked up on by now—that Padan Fain, a barely-remarked-upon peddler in the very first episode of the show, has been tracking our party from a distance, Gollum-like, lurking in the shadows and waiting for… something.

But I do think this episode’s busy-ness hurts it, and that the show would really have benefitted from a 10-episode season instead of an abbreviated 8-episode order that needs to rush so many things.

Lee: I really quite liked the way they did Min’s visions, too. They looked quite “realistic,” in that I could believe that if one were to hallucinate prescient visions about people, they’d look like this—not incredibly dramatic or with swooshy sound effects or anything. Just ghostly weird stuff that comes and goes. And it was nice to see Lord Agelmar and his sister, and Uno, and Ingtar (though I don’t believe Ingtar was named on-screen). These are all faces that we’ll see again.

And I really like the visual look they’ve got for Fal Dara—it looks Tibetan, and that fits in really well with my mental image of the Borderlands. We even get a glimpse of what I assume is Tarwin’s Gap next to the fortress—and then, near the end of the episode, Moiraine and Rand ride out into the Blight together.

The Blight, for non-book-readers, is the part of the physical world that’s withering and rotting from being in proximity to the Dark One’s prison—the prison that the show has apparently relocated to the Eye of the World. There are a ton of unresolved threads around the Bad Guy side of the story so far, and wrapping together the Eye, the Forsaken, the weird dreams Rand is having about Dude With Fire Coming Out of His Eyes and Mouth, and the overall tale of the Dragon Reborn is going to be a pretty tall order for the single episode we have left.

Andrew: Maybe it will have an extended runtime? These finales sometimes do. But there’s certainly a lot to wrap up in our last hour, and then a gap of who knows how long between seasons (though season two is well into filming at this point).

Whatever happens, we’ll be back to talk about it (and our impressions of the season as a whole) one last time next week. May you always find water and shade, Lee!

(credit: WoT Wiki)

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