Here’s our full spoiler review for episode seven: The Dark Along the Ways, written by A.K. Shuman and Katherine B. McKenna and directed by Ciaran Donnelly.
As a reminder, when we say “full spoilers,” we’re including the entire book series, as we will be discussing changes from the books and potential ramifications for the future. If you don’t want plot points from the books that may show up in future seasons of The Wheel of Time spoiled for you, you may want to just scroll down to the ending, where you’ll find our final thoughts and ratings.
The episode opens on Tigraine (Magdalena Sittova), who’s in labor while fighting Illianer soldiers on the snowy slopes of Dragonmount. In true Aiel fashion she takes them out one by one until one soldier manages to stab her in the belly with a knife. She dispatches him, takes his cloak, and then crawls behind a boulder to give birth. Suddenly, another soldier approaches her and holds her at sword point.
In the main timeline, the Waygate has closed with Mat still outside. Moiraine says that it’s better if he doesn’t come, but Nynaeve promises her friends that they’ll find him after this is all over. The group is stopped when they reach a Guiding that’s been defaced. They camp while Loial tries to work out which way to go. Egwene is awakened by the sound of whistling. A Trolloc appears, and Rand moves to protect her while Egwene throws her arms up, the One Power pushing the Trolloc over the edge of the Ways to plummet endlessly. Everyone’s awake now, including Machin Shin, a malevolent force that inhabits the corrupted Ways. Moiraine tells Loial to guide them to the Fal Dara Waygate instead of the Eye of the World, but before they can get the Waygate open, Machin Shin catches up with them. It whispers their deepest fears to them, but Nynaeve explodes in rage at its suggestion she’ll have to watch them all die, and channels to keeps the wind at bay long enough for Moiraine to open the Waygate.
Outside, they’re shaken by their encounter with Machin Shin. Loial tells them they’re at the fortress city of Fal Dara. The Eye of the World is still a day’s walk past the city, but they can rest within the walls of the fortress for now. Within the fortress, the group is greeted by Shienaran soldiers. They call Lan Dai Shan. The group meets with Lord Agelmar (Thomas Chaanhing), who insists they don’t need help from Aes Sedai to fight against the ever encroaching Blight. Moiraine finally explains that the forces of the Dark have been using the Ways and she advises him to close the entrance to the Fal Dara Waygate. Agelmar tells Moiraine that she and her group are welcome for as long as they need.
Meanwhile, Padan Fain exits the Ways from the Fal Dara Waygate and heads toward the city.
Agelmar’s sister, Lady Amalisa (Sandra Yi Sencindiver), escorts Moiraine to her room. Moiraine verifies that Min, whom Amalisa calls a seer, is still in the city. Amalisa studied at the White Tower, but was not strong enough to become Aes Sedai. Moiraine asks her to send a message to the Red Ajah to look for Mat Cauthon. Later, Moiraine leads the group out into town, when Perrin spots Padan Fain passing by. Nynaeve doesn’t believe it and insists that Fain is dead. They arrive at their destination, a bar, and Moiraine heads straight to the bartender. This is Min (Kae Alexander), and Moiraine asks her what sort of visions she sees around the four companions. Min sees golden eyes for Perrin, Rand holding a baby, and a white flame and gold ring for the girls. She also sees the Amyrlin in full regalia, who will be Moiraine’s downfall.
That night, tensions are high as Moiraine admits that only the Dragon will make it out of the Eye alive. The group argues over what to do, with Rand accusing Egwene of not caring about Mat. Nynaeve accidentally sparks a fight between Rand and Perrin over the latter’s supposed crush on Egwene. The group disperses without coming to any kind of decision.
Lan and Moiraine reminisce about how they met, and Lan reminds Moiraine that he had nothing to live for — or die for — until he met her. She instructs him to say any goodbyes in the city that he needs. Lan heads into the city to reunite with a Malkieri man, Zahir (Michael D’Cruze), and his family, who invite him in for dinner. Nynaeve follows him and watches through the window. Lan spots her and invites her inside.
Afterward, Lan and Nynaeve walk back to their rooms. The romantic tension is high, but they bid each other goodnight. Nynaeve, however, soon returns to Lan’s room and they finally give in to their feelings. Later in the night, Nynaeve prepares to sneak out as Lan sleeps, but he awakens and asks her to stay. He tells her about his royal heritage and fallen homeland of Malkier, and how Zahir was one of his father’s armsmen who smuggled him out of the city the night it was overtaken by the Blight. Zahir brought him to Fal Dara. Nynaeve finally understands how Moiraine gave him a purpose and a sense of belonging.
Rand is in the courtyard practicing his archery, but he’s clearly upset and can’t quite hit the center of the targets. Egwene confronts him about accusing her of not caring for Mat, and she insists she would fight for Mat just like she’d fight for any of the rest of them. They reconcile and Rand says he will go to the White Tower with her to be her Warder. Egwene promises that if Rand is the Dragon she will always stand by him and support him.
Later, Rand can’t sleep and returns to the courtyard. He is finally putting the pieces together: a flashback to Tam’s feverish ramblings about finding a tiny baby on the battlefield, accidental channeling to break down Dana’s door, and his channeling in the Ways when the Trolloc surprised them. And the entirety of what Machin Shin said to him: It’s you. You’ve always known. You are the Dragon. He returns to Min’s bar, where she is closing up, and demands she tell him what visions she sees about him. She tells him about the first vision she ever had, as a young girl in Tar Valon. She saw Tam with his heron-marked blade, carrying baby Rand after the battle of the Blood Snow. She saw a vision of Tam raising Rand on a little sheep farm surrounded by two rivers, and that the baby — Rand — was “something impossible.” Rand asks if he will return from the Eye, and she doesn’t answer, leading him to assume the answer is no.
At dawn, Egwene, Nynaeve, and Perrin meet and agree to go with Moiraine, but realize Rand is missing. Lan finds them and says Moiraine has masked their bond and left. We then see Moiraine and Rand heading into the Blight — a twisted, dark mass of deformed trees, roots and vines. They must pass through it to get to the Eye of the World.
Likes: This episode started off with a bang! Ever since the scene was spotted in the full trailer, the Blood Snow was something fans were eager to see, and we were not disappointed. The cinematography of the scene is beautiful, as is the fight choreography. The grace of the Aiel is highlighted compared to the Illianer soldiers, and we think this fight scene will thrill both book fans and show-only fans alike!
The production design for this episode was excellent. From the Ways to Fal Dara and its exterior and interior shots, set designer Ondrej Nekvasil did a wonderful job designing and bringing to life these new locations. Additionally, the costumes for the Borderlanders were beautiful, with siblings Lord Agelmar and Lady Amalisa’s looks particularly standing out. Kudos to costume designer Isis Mussenden and hair and makeup designer Denise Kum.
We’ve been eating up all the scenes between Lan and Nynaeve all season, and we’re thrilled with the further development of their relationship in this episode.
The reveal of Rand being the Dragon Reborn was done in a very satisfying way, reviewing every piece of the puzzle we’ve seen so far through a different lens, and also giving us new pieces, like Tam’s fever dream back when they were fleeing the Trollocs in episode one.
Speaking of Rand, Josha Stradowski’s acting was wonderful this episode. After the reveal we could fully appreciate the layers of Rand’s reactions throughout the events of the episode. This episode makes it clear that Josha has the chops to handle Rand’s complex journey and incredibly dark moments over the upcoming seasons.
And we can’t praise the acting without mentioning Magdalena Sittova and her incredible performance as Tigraine Mantear. Despite not speaking a single word, she was one of the most compelling roles in the entire show so far. Although Tigraine may not be making another appearance, we hope we’ll see more of Magdalena’s incredible stunt work in the future.
Dislikes: Whatever that was with Perrin, Egwene, and Rand? Yeah, we weren’t fans. At least now we know why Perrin and Laila had a weird tension between them back in episode 1; however, there were no hints of any kind of romantic feelings for Egwene on Perrin’s part during the rest of the season until now. We hope that this argument is a result of Machin Shin nerves and Nynaeve misinterpreting a vibe or old crush of Perrin’s, and the whole thing is dead and buried now after everybody hashed it out. After all, Egwene says she doesn’t feel that way about Perrin, Perrin says he’s only loved Laila, and Rand admits he was wrong to accuse them of anything, so that’s something at least.
Mat’s absence was unfortunately distracting, despite the writers’ best attempts to salvage the situation. We’ll go into some more detail on this in the changes section.
Moiraine immediately taking Rand’s word that he was the Dragon was a little strange, although we can chalk this up to her accepting the Wheel had woven it, and/or already suspecting it was him. It also brings up the question of whether she knew about Min’s first vision; since Min clearly seems to be part of the Blue Ajah’s eyes-and-ears network, it might be something that had come up before.
We had a handful of other quibbles, like Tam’s wonky de-aging CGI and a couple strange cuts (e.g. Lan seemingly teleporting to Nynaeve outside Zahir’s house). Also, we wish there was just a little more time to include scenes that seem to have been cut, judging from the behind-the-scenes stills. In two such stills, Padan Fain stands outside the Waygate and appears to have the Avendesora leaf key in his hand. However, no such scene made it to the final episode, which leaves the question how he was able to enter and exit the Ways.
Changes From Book to Screen
- Unless episode 8 really pulls off a twist, we think it’s safe to say Mat was essentially written out of the first season after Barney Harris’ unexpected departure. His absence is glaring for book fans, and although we obviously don’t like it, we think it’s still very possible for things to work out reasonably close to how they otherwise would have. Moiraine seemingly sending the Red Ajah after him was jarring at first, but upon further reflection, it’s quite clever writing. Moiraine knows she can’t send a message to Siuan without revealing their collaboration. She also knows that of all the Ajahs, the Reds would be most likely to immediately act on the threat of a possible male channeler, regardless of their personal feelings about Moiraine herself. If Mat can’t channel, you can be sure they’d still be poking and prodding (like with Elyas in the books) and will keep him in the Tower, where he’ll be safe. And if he can channel, Moiraine would rather he be gentled than join the Dark One as she’s convinced he will. At any rate, Mat is in Tar Valon, making it pretty easy to rearrange his plot line slightly and give him some early The Dragon Reborn material at the beginning of next season. As we’re so fond of saying, we’ll have to wait and see how this one plays out — and we might be waiting quite a while in this case! Regardless, it’s fortunate that they had to do the recasting now instead of several seasons in, once Mat’s character is much more established.
- Lan and Nynaeve’s relationship has been somewhat accelerated, although in the books it’s hard to gauge how much was going on off-screen since Rand wasn’t exactly good at noticing it. Some fans have expressed disappointment that they slept together earlier on, removing some of the “will they, won’t they?” tension, but we think it’s understandable considering they both expected to die the next day at the Eye. They’ve also made Lan a bit less stony, whereas in the book he rejects her confession of love because he knows she’ll be widowed someday.
- Min’s introduction was moved from Baerlon to Fal Dara, but other than that, there really isn’t much materially changed here. Even her nationality is unchanged, at least according to the character profile available in X-Ray, which lists her as Andoran. Her visions aren’t quite as numerous as they were during her book introduction, but, again, the general concept is the same. We loved Kae Alexander’s portrayal and can’t wait to see more of her.
- Machin Shin, while still a malevolent force haunting the Ways, was changed to give it the role of manifesting one’s deepest fears and anxieties. This is a change that we feel makes sense for the television medium, as it was a chance to convey a lot of information in a short amount of time. And, of course, it was used as an integral part of Rand’s reveal as the Dragon.
- Although we can’t know for sure until the finale, the nature of the Eye of the World seems different from its book counterpart. This shouldn’t come as a big surprise, since many fans agree the ending of The Eye of the World is confusing and doesn’t mesh well with the rest of the series. (Easily explained by this being the first book, and Robert Jordan not having figured everything out yet.) It’s unclear whether the Eye and the Bore will actually be at the same place, or if this was a misdirect in Siuan’s dream planted by Ishamael. We think it’s more likely to be the latter, as Ishamael planting false dreams to lure the Dragon into a trap seems exactly like something he’d do.
Maybe it’s just us, but it felt like the overall production quality increased a notch this episode. The set design, the lighting, the costumes — everything felt just a little bit better than before. Ciaran Donnelly’s directing was excellent and Lorne Balfe’s score was, again, outstanding. This was a very strong penultimate episode for the first season, and we can finally put the Dragon Reborn mystery to rest and get the rest of the plot moving. It still feels like there’s quite a bit to accomplish in the finale, so they aren’t going to have much breathing room. We can’t wait to see how they pull it off.
It’s bittersweet to realize we only have one episode left before we’ll be back to waiting another year or so for season 2. Join us in watching the season 1 finale on December 24 at midnight UTC (December 23 at 7PM Eastern)!
Episode 7 – The Dark Along the Ways (Overall: 4.4/5)
Lane: 4/5, Sara: 4.5/5, Eri: 4.5/5, Omar: 4.5/5
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