The following contains spoilers for The Wheel of Time’s seventh episode, “The Dark Along the Ways,” which aired on Amazon on Dec. 17. For more, check out our review of last week’s episode.
“The Dark Along the Ways” feels like an attempt to pack in a bunch of character development and relationship drama before the season finale. It’s the season’s worst episode to date, simultaneously full of filler and weirdly abrupt reveals.
The episode kicks off with who we’ll later learn is Rand’s mom, an Aiel warrior laying waste to her enemies while in labor. As impressive as her spear fighting and ability to turn all of her opponents’ weapons against them is, the fight feels unnecessarily long and gory. It’s been a while since the last big battle in episode 4, so maybe the writers thought they needed to spice things up with some blood and guts.
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They would have been better off getting to the Eye of the World sooner or really doing almost anything else with the core of the episode than the melodrama they went with. Meanwhile, it’s still unclear what the plan is for Mat. It feels like the writers are trying to make the best out of a bad situation after Barney Harris’ early departure from the series. There’s a lot of fighting among the rest of the Emond’s Field crew about Mat’s decision to stay behind and whether or not to risk the fate of the world to go back for him. Moiraine’s got the best response to the issue, concluding that if he is the Dragon Reborn, he’s an evil coward and the world would be better off with him as far from the Dark One as possible.
The jaunt through the Ways does feature an excellent portrayal of Machin Shin, the Black Wind that kills or drives insane anyone who dares to use the form of fast travel. Egwene summons it by instinctually channeling to fight off a Trolloc, showing the need to get her some serious training soon. Machin Shin is a great villain because its attacks reveal what each of the characters is most afraid of. Nynaeve continues to show off her awesome power by keeping it at bay long enough for everyone to escape, even if they don’t end up where they intended.
In the books, the characters arrive at the fortress of Fal Dara as its residents are preparing to fight an army of Trollocs. Here, everything seems pretty chill. Lord Agelmar Jagad is actually pretty annoyed to have an Aes Sedai show up, predicting she’s here to tell him he’s not doing a good enough job of keeping agents of the Dark One under control. He’s not, but that’s because Trollocs are in the Ways. We get a hint of who’s responsible, and more will be revealed next episode.
We get our first introduction to the seer Min here, who looks at the Emond’s Field crew at Moiraine’s behest to try one more time to figure out who the Dragon Reborn actually is. Her visions for Rand, Egwene, and Nynaeve show big upcoming plot points from the books, but for Perrin she just sees the golden eyes, which almost everyone already knows about at this point. Robert Jordan never really seemed to know what to do with Perrin and it seems like the writers of the show don’t either. What they have added in his dead wife and a truly awful love triangle involving Rand and Egwene really isn’t helping anything. Hopefully they come up with something better soon.
Now it’s time for the big pep talk where Moiraine tells everyone they need to risk their lives to save the world because she still hasn’t figured out who the Dragon is. There’s a lot of pretty performative huffing when it’s clear that all of these young heroes are going to do the right thing when it comes down to it. But emotions are high, with Rand and Egwene fighting about Mat and Perrin and Rand fighting about Egwene before everyone goes off to either brood or hook up.
Rand offering to become Egwene’s warder is pretty cute, but this whole reconciliation seems unnecessary since that’s not going to happen. Nynaeve and Lan’s romance works better — a match between two people who are married to their jobs — but the explanation of Lan’s backstory still feels forced.
But that reveal feels smooth compared to Rand seemingly randomly figuring out that he’s the Dragon Reborn. As we see in the sequence of replayed scenes throughout the season, this time around with the channeling CGI added in, there’s been plenty of foreshadowing that Rand has touched the One Power. Yet there doesn’t seem to be any good reason why he realizes what he’s doing now besides his contact with the Black Wind.
This isn’t how things play out in the novel Eye of the World, where Rand only consciously channels in an epic battle at the end of the book. So far the changes made from the books have helped better develop characters or the world, or felt like necessary edits to keep the season from being too long. This change doesn’t do any of those things. It’s a lot clearer in the book from the beginning that Rand is the Dragon, and the obfuscation the show did seems much cheaper in retrospect given how poorly the final reveal was handled.
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Another odd change is the appearance of the Blight, which instead of a poisonous desert looks like a twisted forest. It’s an odd stylistic change that will likely give the coming episode a claustrophobic feel. Considering how much of the plot has been altered, we’ll just have to see what the writers have in store.