The Wheel of Time, Episode 6: The Flame of Tar Valon
Reviewed by Steven Poore
The further into this first season of The Wheel of Time we travel, the more it becomes its own thing. Carefully, and quite cannily too, Rafe Judkins and his team of directors and writers are weaving a more modern telling of the Wheel that is so far managing to sidestep many of the creakier elements of the original books. And given that both Brandon Sanderson and Harriet McDougal have evidently signed off on the changes, they clearly believe this is a good thing too.
This episode, The Flame of Tar Valon, maintains last week’s focus on that city and the White Tower of the Aes Sedai. More pertinently, it narrows in on the relationship between The Amerlyn Seat, Siuan Sanche (Sophie Okonedo), and Moiraine Sedai (Rosamund Pike) and adds sharper edges to the Tower politics played by Liandrin (Kate Fleetwood). Sophie Okonedo plays Siuan Sanche with a steel core, and the script plays well on her character’s fisherfolk upbringing. We are allowed glimpses behind the wall raised around the Amerlyn Seat – and into the risks that both she and Moiraine take. Their scenes together are outstanding, and Moiraine’s waspish “Siuan Sanche waits for only one woman, and it’s not you” is a beautifully sharp line following them.
Little details stand out more on a second viewing: the city of Tear high on a hillside behind the young Siuan Sanche in the pre-credits sequence that introduces us to her; the incense burning on Moiraine’s balcony to sweeten the doubtlessly fetid city air; the net being mended in Siuan’s room when Moiraine enters. These little things reflect a growing confidence across the entire production. They were most likely there all along in the series, but I think it’s easier to see them once you accept the show for its own thing rather than comparing it to the books.
Mat Cauthon continues to be the group’s energy vampire. While Moiraine heals him of his connection to the dagger, he is still susceptible to dark influences, and the climax of the episode sees him making a rather rash decision that further separates the series from the books. But all of the characters are growing and developing, becoming people you care about – if only because with these divergences from the books, nothing is quite as predictable as it might have otherwise been. Even Loial appears less of a caricature when he makes his appearance. The only one who is still little more than a blank slate is Rand al’Thor himself, which I’m beginning to suspect may indicate that in one important aspect, at least the production team are sticking to the original story.
There may be cries on the internet about “heresy” and a lack of faithfulness, but I believe the choices Judkins’s crew have taken make this a much better series than I had initially expected it to be. And with the “fellowship” taking the fight to the Dark One at the Eye of the World, we should see a return to swords and sorcery next week.