The Wheel of Time, Episode Five: Blood Calls Blood
Reviewed by Steven Poore
As we pass the halfway mark in this first season of The Wheel of Time, it becomes a little difficult to avoid spoilers for what has gone before. Plotwise we’re still roughly following the main events of The Eye of the World, but the divergences from the source material become more pronounced in this episode in particular as the Aes Sedai and their Warders deal with the loss of one of their own.
All roads have led, at last, to Tar Valon. However, the city of women bears a striking resemblance in the maps included in the books to a certain anatomical feature. Sensibly, the show chooses to avoid one of its trademark overhead shots and focuses on the White Tower from different angles. And Tar Valon doesn’t disappoint: bright and airy, and festive, never looking cheap. The Tower interiors are less flashy, and for some reason, the statues of long-dead Warders made me think of VI Lenin more than dogged bodyguards, but the sparks between Rosamund Pike’s Moiraine and Kate Fleetwood (Liandrin Sedai) help distract from that inevitable effect of working on sets.
This episode is more muted and character-driven, and all the better for it. Rafe Judkins’ team are roping in minor characters from elsewhere with the specific intent of using them to explore the dynamics of the world and the people within it. Kerene Sedai and her Warder Stepin are the focus for this episode, bookended by a pair of very evocative overhead shots. Daniel Henney does a lot with studied silence before the final scene allows him to really tear into emotions in a way that neither Lan nor Moiraine are usually allowed to. This is all well-plotted and well-constructed and again shows that Judkins isn’t just in this for quick battles and spotted highlights.
Other parts of the ensemble do get some development of their own, too, most notably Perrin (Marcus Rutherford) and Egwene (Madeleine Madden), who have fallen into the hands of the Whitecloaks. Abdul Salis’s Eamon Valda walks in the Light but is heavy on the knife, a smooth-talking and extremely nasty character. Mat Cauthon’s mental state is explored further – he’s deteriorating fast and is leagues away from the chance-happy character of the books. Yet again, both Mat and Perrin are more interesting characters than Rand al’Thor, and I can only hope that the script makes good use of this momentum.
Alongside all the things that this series is doing well, the introduction of the Ogier Loial (Hammed Animashaun) presents one of the few flat notes. It isn’t necessarily Animashaun’s performance that’s at fault, more likely that the fact that the Ogier themselves were always something of an ill-fitting presence in Robert Jordan’s world, a sort of book-loving, oversized mash-up of dwarves and Ents. This episode gives us an Ent interpreted by a Klingon, which… doesn’t quite work, and looks like a TV monster-of-the-week.
That misstep aside, episode five of this first season is great TV, trying hard and mostly succeeding in escaping the bounds of the audience’s expectations.