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      Game dev says contract barring “subjective negative reviews” was a mistake

      news.movim.eu / ArsTechnica · Monday, 13 May - 15:59 · 1 minute

    Artist's conception of NetEase using a legal contract to try to stop a wave of negative reviews of its closed alpha.

    Enlarge / Artist's conception of NetEase using a legal contract to try to stop a wave of negative reviews of its closed alpha. (credit: NetEase)

    The developers of team-based shooter Marvel Rivals have apologized for a contract clause that made creators promise not to provide "subjective negative reviews of the game" in exchange for early access to a closed alpha test .

    The controversial early access contract gained widespread attention over the weekend when streamer Brandon Larned shared a portion on social media . In the "non-disparagement" clause shared by Larned, creators who are provided with an early download code are asked not to "make any public statements or engage in discussions that are detrimental to the reputation of the game." In addition to the "subjective negative review" example above, the clause also specifically prohibits "making disparaging or satirical comments about any game-related material" and "engaging in malicious comparisons with competitors or belittling the gameplay or differences of Marvel Rivals ."

    In a Discord post noticed by PCGamesN over the weekend, Chinese developer NetEase apologized for what it called "inappropriate and misleading terms" in the contract. "Our stand is absolutely open for both suggestions and criticisms to improve our games, and... our mission is to make Marvel Rivals better [and] satisfy players by those constructive suggestions."

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      Masters of the Air: Imagine a bunch of people throwing up, including me

      news.movim.eu / ArsTechnica · Monday, 29 January - 18:10 · 1 minute

    Photograph showing two stars of the show standing in front of a B-17

    Enlarge / Our two main heroes so far, Buck and Bucky. Or possibly Bucky and Buck. I forget which is which. (credit: Apple )

    I'm writing this article under duress because it's not going to create anything new or try to make the world a better place—instead, I'm going to do the thing where a critic tears down the work of others rather than offering up their own creation to balance the scales. So here we go: I didn't like the first two episodes of Masters of the Air , and I don't think I'll be back for episode three.

    The feeling that the show might not turn out to be what I was hoping for has been growing in my dark heart since catching the first trailer a month or so ago—it looked both distressingly digital and also maunderingly maudlin, with Austin Butler's color-graded babyface peering out through a hazy, desaturated cloud of cigarette smoke and 1940s World War II pilot tropes. Unfortunately, the show at release made me feel exactly how I feared it might—rather than recapturing the magic of Band of Brothers or the horror of The Pacific, Masters so far has the depth and maturity of a Call of Duty cutscene.

    World War Blech

    After two episodes, I feel I've seen everything Masters has to offer: a dead-serious window into the world of B-17 Flying Fortress pilots, wholly lacking any irony or sense of self-awareness. There's no winking and nodding to the audience, no joking around, no historic interviews with salt-and-pepper veterans to humanize the cast. The only thing allowed here is wall-to-wall jingoistic patriotism—the kind where there's no room for anything except God, the United States of America, and bombing the crap out of the enemy. And pining wistfully for that special girl waiting at home.

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      The Heybike Tyson e-bike is janky, fun, and sometimes dangerous

      news.movim.eu / ArsTechnica · Friday, 6 October, 2023 - 18:28 · 1 minute

    picture of Heybike Tyson

    Enlarge / If green isn't your thing, the Tyson comes in black and blue. (credit: Eric Bangeman)

    This time, I'll lead with the conclusion. The Heybike Tyson is loaded with all of the e-bike features I could ever want, is a blast to ride, and can become unsafe to operate at a moment's notice. The unit I reviewed had more than one build-quality issue that cannot be overlooked, which is a shame, because this is also one of the most fun electric bikes I've ever ridden. If you just wanted to know if the Heybike Tyson is worth buying, you've got your answer and can close this tab. If you want the details, read on.

    Priced at $1,699, the Class 3 Tyson is Heybike's folding e-bike. Built with a magnesium frame and painted bright green, the Tyson's scooter-like handlebars, mountain-bike-like suspension, and fat knobby tires result in a ride that looks equal parts goofy, charming, and rugged. Capable of carrying up to 400 lbs (163 kg) of rider and cargo, the Tyson sports a dual hydraulic suspension to smooth out the rough spots on the pavement. It has the same Shimano seven-speed groupset and hydraulic disc brakes you'll see on most e-bikes.

    The Tyson looks more like an electric moped than anything else. It has a headlight, taillight, turn signals, and even a horn that does a passable imitation of the Roadrunner right before he's about to clown the coyote. It's powered by a 750 W motor and a 48V 15 Ah battery that can charge fully in four to five hours. Unfortunately, you'll never quite know how much battery life you actually have once you start riding—more on that, later.

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      It’s time to toss the dice as The Wheel of Time’s second season concludes

      news.movim.eu / ArsTechnica · Friday, 6 October, 2023 - 18:00 · 20 minutes

    Screenshot of Mat Cauthon shouting his signature phrase

    Enlarge / "Dovie'andi se tovya sagain!" Yes, Mat, it finally is. (credit: Amazon Studios)

    Andrew Cunningham and Lee Hutchinson have spent decades of their lives with Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson's Wheel of Time books, and they previously brought that knowledge to bear as they recapped each first season episode of Amazon's new WoT TV series. Now they're doing it again for season two—along with insights, jokes, and the occasional wild theory. These recaps won't cover every element of every episode, but they will contain major spoilers for the show and the book series. We're going to do our best to not spoil major future events from the books, but there's always the danger that something might slip out. If you want to stay completely unspoiled and haven't read the books, these recaps aren't for you .

    New episodes of The Wheel of Time season two will be posted for Amazon Prime subscribers every Friday. This write-up covers episode eight, the season finale, which was released on October 6.

    Andrew : The Wheel of Time turns and delivers us another overpacked season finale that needs to wrap up a dozen character arcs while also setting us up for next season.

    I found this year's finale more followable and satisfying than last year's, though I suspect it may be a breaking point for people who are earnestly upset about how different the show is from the works that are being adapted. Most of the episode is actually focused on Ishamael, our main Forsaken—we get a short Age of Legends prologue where he tries to convince former friend and original Dragon Lews Therin Telamon to help him break the Wheel and end the continuous cycle of birth and death and rebirth. He's still after that goal thousands of years later, and this episode explains a bit more about what he's been doing all season and why.

    Lee : Many of the Aes Sedai with Lews Therin—and Lews Therin himself—have those little three-finger ring things that Ishamael and Lanfear have been wearing. I was thinking maybe they were some artifact tied to the True Power, but clearly not if Lews Therin has one. I suppose they're either some kind of focus, or perhaps a kind of angreal issued to all Aes Sedai, like a police officer being issued a service weapon. Or maybe they're just the Age of Legends version of Aes Sedai rings. (Though if so, I wouldn't think Ishy or Lanfear would still be wearing them, given how eager the Forsaken all seemed to be to cast off any associations with the Aes Sedai.)

    We're shown this scene for a few reasons, but I think one of them is to emphasize that the Forsaken were all sealed away in individual prisons, which take the form of giant disks of unbreakable Cuendillar . This is definitely a different tack than the books, but it definitely simplifies things. I did find it a little weird that Ishamael had all six of the remaining seals propped up in his room, like he was hanging out with them or something—but I guess "weird" doesn't really apply when we're talking about the behavior of millennia-dead superhuman wizard people.

    Andrew : Yeah, for book readers who haven't been back in a while, there was never any kind of 1:1 seal-to-Forsaken relationship. The seals were just different locks on a single door, and the Forsaken gradually freed themselves and started running around because they were sealed up near the door but not behind it. The way the show handles it makes it more narratively manageable: to just have a pair of Forsaken running around in the first couple seasons and then unleashing the free-for-all once we know a little more about these people and what they're capable of.

    Having eight Forsaken instead of 13 (plus various reincarnated clones, territory the show may or may not decide to cover) is part of the show's modus operandi for making Jordan's world more manageable. How many scary villains do we really need running around at once, especially when quite a few of them are basically just Generic Bad Guys? Why does Rand need a pair of unhealable holes in his gut, when one hole that has properties of both will do?

    Based on how Mat's arc this season wraps up, it also seems pretty likely that we end up skipping or condensing at least some of the Rhuidean-Aiel-testing-ground stuff from book four. All of these tweaks have major narrative implications, but so many of these things pay off so far down the line in the book version of the story that it's simply not possible to guess how the show might handle them. The show doesn't seem to feel like it "needs" to hit any given plot point from the books—sometimes, as in one scene this episode, it seems to relish subverting book readers' expectations. And while I'm having fun with the show's increasingly unique riff on this story, I can see why people hoping for "an adaptation of The Wheel of Time " might be frustrated with it.

    Lee : Indeed—I think in order to stick with the show after this season, one has to simply accept that things will be different. We're not going to stop talking about how different, but accepting that this is an adaptation and that those differences do not in and of themselves automatically mean the show sucks is just kind of a mental block that stragglers are going to have to get over.

    Right, so, this episode brings us to kind of the fruition of Lanfear's plan, to the detriment of poor Ishamael. Ishy has—had!—a formal plan to bind the Dragon and his ta'veren friends. It involved moving them around on the chessboard of Randland, manipulating them into falling into the shadow, and then getting Rand to choose darkness to save them. (This also puts some more context around Mat's tea-driven vision quest last episode.)

    Lanfear gives no effs. Lanfear's like a honey badger, and Lews Therin Telamon is the honey. She cares about Ishamael's plan only inasmuch as it gives her the opportunity to force Rand to proclaim himself, embrace his destiny, recall his past lives, fall back in love with her, and live evilly ever after. Anything else can burn.

    You'd mentioned previously that the Forsaken often work at cross-purposes, and hoo boy, were they ever here. Classic Lanfear.

    Andrew : Classic Lanfear! And also, classic Ishamael, because he realizes he's being played and breaks the other six seals before his confrontation with Rand. The only one we meet is Moghedien (Laia Costa), whose nickname ("the spider") originally came from her penchant for spinning figurative webs of deceit. Perhaps predictably, the show makes these webs literal; Moghedien is definitely the Forsaken with the most Hot Topic Nightmare Before Christmas merch in her bedroom.


    From Moghedien, one gets the sense that the other Forsaken don't like Lanfear much, because they (completely understandably and justifiably!) think she's just a bit too close to the goody-goody Dragon to be trustworthy. The show has gotten a lot of mileage out of Lanfear-as-frenemy this season, and it seems like we can expect that to continue for at least a while longer.

    Early in the episode, Lanfear puts the "enemy" in "frenemy" by separating Moiraine and Lan from Rand in the Ways, dumping them out on a beach some distance from Falme so that they can't get directly involved in most of the fighting. This also gives the two of them the space to Talk It Out, re-forming the Warder bond Moiraine broke at the beginning of the season (still fuzzy on the mechanics of that) and rededicating themselves to the support of the Dragon Reborn. What's everyone else doing?

    Lee : I wish Moiraine and Lan had used their words a little earlier, but honestly, having two characters do drastic dumb things when they could in fact have talked things out is a running theme in the books. Verisimilitude!

    Everyone else is running around in Falme, and the Whitecloaks show up and kick off the giant battle. Geofram Bornhald (Stuart Graham) isn't necessarily a bad fellow—as he points out, the Children of the Light are in Falme to save people from the Seanchan invaders, and they proceed along that track with alacrity. But Bornhald is the classic Paladin archetype—he and his Children are incapable of bending the rules. See evil, must kill. And "evil" is whatever they say it is.

    Aviendha, Bain, and Chiad roll up with Perrin and Hopper in tow, so they get added into the mix of battle. After that, we variously get a bunch of happy (if rushed) reunions between our prime characters, some of whom haven't seen each other in months. The episode is an absolute symphony of reunions, all over the place.

    One of those reunions is Mat and village peddler/ultra-darkfriend Padan Fain—and, hey, there's the Shadar Logoth dagger! I don't think Mat is aware that Fain is a darkfriend at first, but him showing up and producing the dagger probably goes a long way to getting that message across.

    And then, Mat makes a…well, it's not exactly an ashandarei , but it is kind of a, like, knifey-stick. And it cuts through things like a lightsaber! Does he keep it? Does he trade it in? … is it time to talk about Mat? There's so much Mat to talk about.

    This freaking guy.

    This freaking guy. (credit: Amazon Studios)

    Andrew : The thing that bothers me the most about the Mat storyline is that "a knife tied to the end of a stick" is not going to stay tied to the stick securely enough to withstand being waved around and shoved through multiple heavily armored torsos. I don't care how magical your knife is.

    In terms of the Mat storyline, the character currently seems to be somewhere toward the middle of book four as far as his development goes. He has found and blown the Horn of Valere, which (as in the books) summons a bunch of dead heroes to fight alongside the blower. But for Mat, it also seems to give him the memory of his past lives that Ishamael's weird tea promised last episode. So he kind of has his Signature Weapon, and he has picked up most of his character's Signature Traits. It's just Not The Way It Is In The Books.

    You seem to have more Mat feelings you want to dig into, how are you feeling about all of this?

    Lee : Yeah, Mat has gotten a significant early upgrade on his power level, if that is indeed what is going on—including a jump up to actual Hero of the Horn status, which is not from the books.

    Though before I go on about Mat, I want to gush just a moment about seeing Guy Roberts back as Uno, who apparently kicked so much ass in life that upon death he was instantly upgraded to Hero of the Horn. Given that Guy Roberts is a self-professed fan who first read the series in the ‘90s , it gave me a lot of joy to see him get to inhabit the role of Uno with such obvious scene-stealing relish, and to know that he's living the actor's dream of bringing to life a character that he loves.

    Artur Hawkwing (Adrian Bouchet) delivers some lines to Mat that he originally delivered to Rand in the book, which—well, I suppose it's all part of the new path the showrunners have put Mat on. The destination is getting a little clearer, but I'm still wondering if he's going to keep his knifey-stick, or if it's going to get upgraded at one point—after all, fully separating him from the dagger and its influence is a major deal in the first few books, and keeping it will have consequences.

    We have our first on-screen utterance of Mat's "it's time to toss the dice" in the Old Tongue, and it's great. Show-Mat deserves it. After two seasons of grim purposelessness, he's finally given something good—and it's so good .

    The Sounding of the Horn leaves book readers with more questions about Mat than answers—but my guess is these are questions that will be tackled in the front half of the next season. For non-readers, leading the charge of the Heroes of the Horn is a wonderful bow to tie around his two-season journey through crap. Hell, if I have a complaint about Mat's sounding of the Horn, it's that budget and cost of production necessarily limits what should be a Helms Deep-scale routing of the bad guys by a horde of legendary warriors whose deeds have elevated them to immortal demigod status.

    Whew, okay. Any more Mat feelings from you?

    Andrew : No, I'm just glad to have more characters back in the same place again. Though I'm sure the show will be enough like the books that this reunion doesn't last long.

    Egwene's capture and torment by the Seanchan is transformational for her in the books as in the show—it massively increases her strength and aptitude with the One Power, and it gives her a deep hatred of the Seanchan and everything about them. That hatred occasionally gets a little dark, as it does when Egwene collars, briefly torments, and then kills her sul'dam , making good on her promise from last week. And despite continuing to resist her sul'dam earlier in the battle while still being used as a damane , she quite willingly takes a shot at her former Whitecloak captor Eamon Valda when she spots him from the ramparts.

    The White Tower women have all followed their book arcs to this point a bit more closely than our Two Rivers boys, but I expect this dark (vengeful, even!) streak in Egwene could distinguish her a bit from book-Egwene.

    If Nynaeve gets some of the best and most substantial plotlines early in the season, she and Elayne continue to feel underutilized in these last couple episodes; Nynaeve is still having trouble channeling, and despite their work with the a'dam collars neither of them get anywhere near close enough to Egwene or any of the other captive Aes Sedai to free any of them. Not that it matters, because in the show it sure seems like the only surefire way to get the collar off is to die while you're wearing it.

    Nynaeve and Elayne spend most of the episode huddled in an alley after Elayne takes an arrow to the knee, but they get to the top of the tower in Falme in time to help Rand, whose first glimpse of Elayne is very dreamy and romantic (probably doesn't hurt that she's saving him from bleeding out). So it seems like that relationship is going to become an element of the third season, for sure.

    Lee : I thought that Nynaeve had figured out her block by this point in the show, but apparently not—she's still flailing around with frustration but without the necessary anger to bust through it. To fix Elayne's knee, she has to fall back on her Wisdom skills (though even I know that you're supposed to break the arrow's shaft off before pulling it through, so you don't drag the fletching through your gaping puncture wound—get your head in the game, Nynaeve!).

    Definitely agree with Elayne being underutilized—though as you say, healing Rand was a nice way to facilitate an introduction. The only problem is that Elayne is crap at healing. Don't expect her patch job to hold very long or very well. Moiraine will likely have harsh words for her later.

    Okay, so—I greatly enjoyed almost everything about this episode, but there were two major book events we didn't get. The first was the blademaster fight with High Lord Turak, which in the books is used to shove Rand further along the path of getting used to channeling and embracing the One Power. However, given the Raiders of the Lost Ark fashion in which Rand sidesteps the fight, I just can't be mad. I literally laughed out loud.

    But the other thing we're missing is much harder to overlook: the oft-teased proclamation of the Dragon in the sky above Falme. In the books, this is a giant epic flaming sword fight between Ishamael and Rand, projected like a Pink Floyd laser light show onto the clouds above Falme. In the show, Moiraine does a Final Fantasy VII -style summoning and calls up a large fiery dragon, which curls around the tower and makes some dragon noises and disappears.

    I'm disappointed. It's fine, I guess, but it's not what I was hoping for.

    Andrew : And the thing about how it happens in the books is you don't really understand how or why it's happening, as a reader, in a way that does make it seem like it has been divinely inspired. Channeling a huge dragon seems more like something anyone could have done, under the right circumstances, to set up any false Dragon. The show has been teasing a sky-vision for a while now, and I agree that I wanted more.

    There is also a lot of hand-waviness going on here with respect to how strong Moiraine is, since she can't take on Lanfear directly but can single-handedly sink an entire Seanchan fleet and have enough leftover to make a big fire dragon besides.

    The show downplaying Rand's sword skills and amping up his channeling skill is the same kind of early power-up that Mat is getting (to borrow your phrasing). You get all the way to book four or five before you see Rand doing anything that resembles enthusiastic or competent channeling, but show Rand is already casually raining fire bullets down on his enemies.

    The only one of our three boys who is still kind of muddling through with respect to his new Chosen One Abilities is Perrin, who gets very mad when his wolf friend goes down in battle but still hasn't manifested much by way of superpowers.

    If season three is being set up as an adaptation of book three and/or four, we'll hopefully see Perrin get a little more attention, since both books are Perrin-heavy.

    Lee : If there's anything positive to be found in the oh-my-God-what-did-I-just-watch death of Hopper, it's—well, it's that those things are spoilers about the World of Dreams, and we'll learn more about them as Perrin figures out a little more about what it means to be a Wolfbrother. As you correctly point out, we should be getting a whole lot of him in the next season.

    Oh, and speaking of people to keep an eye on—book readers know this, but non-readers may not: shortly before Mat sounds the Horn, during the little reunion on the streets of Falme between our main characters, Perrin makes it a point to give a quick hug to the other Shienaran present—a gentleman he calls Masema (Arnas Fedaravicius). We then see Masema again near the end, staring at the Dragon atop the tower.

    Remember Masema. He was introduced at the end of season one, and this will not be the last time we see him.

    Alright, we're down to the last little bits here. Season two ends with Lanfear encountering Moghedien, spinner of webs and plots. She seems… creepy.

    Andrew : Creepy vibes! We have met three of the eight: Ishamael, Lanfear, and Moghedien. Two more have been mentioned by name: the vain sex-obsessed Graendal, and Sammael (who I vaguely recall as being humorless and uptight, but they do kind of run together). In an earlier conversation with Ishamael, Lanfear mentions Moghedien, Graendal, and "the boys," suggesting but not decisively confirming that the other five are male.

    I have guesses about who's left, but am I missing other dropped hints?

    Lee : Time to play Forsaken bingo, I suppose!

    Out of the original book list, there are eight remaining Forsaken that have yet to appear or be mentioned in the show. If "the boys" can be taken to mean that all the remaining unnamed Forsaken are male, we can drop the two remaining Forsaken who are female. That leaves us with six candidates for our last three spots: Aginor, Asmodean, Balthamel, Be'lal, Demandred, and Rahvin.

    We can dump Aginor and Balthamel immediately, as they were killed in the book version of The Eye of the World and didn't appear in the show. I'd also propose we can drop Demandred, given what he's doing in the books and how it works out—I think the show is going to nix his entire plot.

    And that neatly leaves us with three dudes left, and my picks for the remaining Forsaken: Rahvin, Asmodean, and Be'lal. And out of those three, my guess is that we meet Asmodean first, in a manner similar to how he shows up in the books.

    What do you think?

    Andrew : I am on the record as thinking Asmodean is toast because Logain is taking his main story-function as Rand's channeling teacher, now that the show is focusing more on people learning weaves and growing more powerful. People can just kind of toss up giant shields and shoot fire bullets when they need to do it for story reasons.

    Of the men who are left, Rahvin seems like the most obvious choice, since his activities also impact Elayne pretty directly.

    I agree Aginor and Balthamel can be discounted. They are part of a group of three or four Nothing Forsaken who exist mostly as canon fodder. And it does seem like Demandred is pretty far away from the action the show is focusing on, though this read does assume that the show will stick with the books' version of events, and the show has been hard to predict on that score.

    I'd tend to include Be'lal among the Nothing Forsaken, too, since "ruler of [redacted city] who gets smoked by Rand at their first encounter" doesn't leave the show much personality to work with. Maybe cannon fodder is what the show needs , though, especially if we're still doing the Callandor storyline next year.

    I do wonder if "the boys" thing isn't a red herring; Lanfear is disparaging the Forsaken she mentions in that conversation, and maybe there's one woman in the group she respects enough not to insult. Eight Forsaken also gives the show a chance to harp on some thematic One Power symmetry (also: casting symmetry!) by keeping four men and four women (remember, there are only two genders in the world of The Wheel of Time , and the books' only arguably trans character was basically created by the Dark One as a joke).

    Anyway, I think my list is Rahvin, Be'lal, and the sadistic Semirhage. But you're the most sure about seeing the character I think we're least likely to see, so clearly there's lots of room for interpretation here.

    Lee : There is room for all eventualities in the turning of the Wheel.

    And so, dear readers, we arrive at the end of our time together—but fear not, because we'll be back here doing this again for season three . Will Perrin come to terms with the wolves? Will Egwene be able to deal with her trauma? Will Mat avoid accidentally poking anyone with his evil toxic dagger-on-a-stick? Will Nynaeve ever figure out how the hell to channel properly? And what will the fallout be of the Dragon Reborn's public proclamation at Falme? How will Randland react, knowing that the Dragon is foretold to save the world—but also to break it anew?

    We know the book answers to these questions, but folks, we are heading into uncharted territory with our Two Rivers TV show crew and their rapidly expanding list of friends. Unexpected things no doubt await us in season three.

    Any final thoughts, Andrew?

    Andrew : Is this a great show? Not usually. But it continues to be better than it has any right to be, given its un-adaptable source material. See you next season!
    Lee : There are no endings, and never will be endings, to the turning of the Wheel of Time—but this is an ending. Life is a dream from which we must all wake, and we wish you a pleasant dreaming until next season!

    (credit: WoT Wiki )

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      Knots are untied as The Wheel of Time season two approaches its end

      news.movim.eu / ArsTechnica · Friday, 29 September, 2023 - 16:00 · 17 minutes

    Screenshot of Egwene al'Vere wearing a'dam

    Enlarge / Egwene abides. (credit: Amazon Studios)

    Andrew Cunningham and Lee Hutchinson have spent decades of their lives with Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson's Wheel of Time books, and they previously brought that knowledge to bear as they recapped each first season episode of Amazon's new WoT TV series. Now they're doing it again for season two—along with insights, jokes, and the occasional wild theory. These recaps won't cover every element of every episode, but they will contain major spoilers for the show and the book series. We're going to do our best to not spoil major future events from the books, but there's always the danger that something might slip out. If you want to stay completely unspoiled and haven't read the books, these recaps aren't for you .

    New episodes of The Wheel of Time season two will be posted for Amazon Prime subscribers every Friday. This write-up covers episode seven, which was released on September 29.

    Lee : We're rounding the bend to the end of the season with episode seven of eight here, and there's a lot of ground to cover before we get to that giant battle in the sky that nobody seems to be able to shut up about. (It's not spoilers if all the characters on screen are talking about it!) This episode involved a lot of moving pieces around on the board—a big chunk of the scenes exist in order to get all of our characters in Falme for next week, including and especially whatever the hell is going on with Mat right now.

    But before we get to any of that, we have to talk about the opening for at least just a moment. Last season, we got to see Rand's birth on the slopes of Dragonmount as the Aiel War stumbled to a close, but now we're given a peek into the other important event that happened at the same time: the Aes Sedai Gitara Moroso (Hayley Mills) and her “Foretelling.”

    Foretelling is apparently a rare talent that does not show up in Aes Sedai very often, and Gitara Sedai was apparently one of the strongest at it—or at least one of the most accurate. Proving that prophecy often comes at the most inconvenient of times, we're shown a flashback where a much younger Moiraine and Siuan enter Gitara's rooms in the White Tower, and Gitara almost immediately collapses under the weight of her vision of the Dragon's return to the world. The Aes Sedai seems to feel what Rand's mother is feeling during her battle, and we're led to believe that both Gitara Sedai and Rand's mother expire at the same time.

    We know from the books that this is the moment that kick-starts Moiraine's and Siuan's secret-squirrel club—the reason why they're actively hunting the Dragon Reborn. The inconvenient bit, of course, is that no one else was there—no one else witnessed Gitara's Foretelling. Would certainly have been nicer if she'd collapsed in the middle of the Hall of the Tower with more witnesses, but so goes history, I guess.

    Andrew : In the books and kind of, sort of in the show, Moiraine and Siuan take the relative privacy of the Foretelling as an opportunity to do things the way they want to do them, making sure that the Dragon Reborn wasn't captured or stilled so that he's available to save the world the way he's supposed to. Show-Siuan doesn't seem to be on board with that plan anymore as of this episode, just one of many liberties the show has taken. She views Moiraine's independent meddling as a failure and is now determined to do things by the book, though Moiraine has other ideas.

    If there's one thing that is kind of bugging me about this episode it's that we have a lot of characters just asking for or accepting help or counsel from various Forsaken, especially Lanfear. You definitely do get little snippets of this kind of thing in the books, as different Forsaken plotted against each other, but both Lanfear and Ishamael have an awful lot of our protagonists directly under their control and/or in their debt, and I'm beginning to wonder why they aren't killing more heroes when they get the chance.

    Lee : Yeah—I suppose it's a side-effect of having the Forsaken be such major characters on-screen, rather than doing most of their movement in the shadows. And they're just so damn likable—Fares Fares as Ishamael feels downright fatherly at times, and so far all Natasha O'Keeffe's Lanfear has done is wear revealing outfits, have crazy sex with Rand, kill an old guy, and blow up the Foregate. She's not exactly flaying children alive or defenestrating widows or anything.

    Which I think is kind of doing the supposedly legendary status of the Forsaken no favors. Near the end of the episode, when Lanfear walks into the courtyard with Moiraine and Siuan and friends, no one freaks out at an actual living non-bound member of the Forsaken strolling into the courtyard—Moiraine is just like, “Oh damn, it's Lanfear.” My impression is that Lanfear walking up into your meeting, even if you're a supposedly all-powerful Aes Sedai, would be like actual-for-real Jason Voorhees unexpectedly shambling through the door to your house. The correct reaction is some kind of mix of “Oh my God wait Jason is real?!” and Scooby Doo-style cartoon panic-running in multiple directions simultaneously. Possibly with some pants-wetting tossed into the mix for good measure.

    I also kind of want to talk about whatever the hell it is that Ishy was doing with Mat. I was kind of left feeling clueless by the scene with the tea, but my wife has kind of a theory.

    Andrew : Yes, people are very much not acting like these people are monsters so brutal that their names have endured for millennia, or even like they're people who aren't to be trusted. They seem to think they can work with the Forsaken now and figure the rest out later. I suspect they'll be unpleasantly surprised by whatever happens next.

    The Mat storyline continues to flail about a bit. The show has to do a lot to make interior character development happen in ways that are visible onscreen, and to translate things that a character thinks and feels into things that the character can show. Mat is probably the character it's hardest to do this with, because his "superpower" doesn't involve slinging fireballs or communicating with wolves.

    So are we just taking a weird roundabout path to Book-Mat, who has the memories of 1,000 years' worth of wars and battles in his head, or is the show still off doing its own thing? It's hard to tell based on the brief, trippy sequence that Ishamael treats Mat to this week, though if I had to guess I'd think that what Ishamael tells him about "seeing the people who you used to be" means we're working in that direction.

    Lee : I was a little let down by Ishy's promise that he was brewing up some tea to let Mat see past lives—I thought the same thing as you, that we might be about to give Mat the shove he needs to start doing the things he does in the book, but instead of actual past lives, we just got more weird stuff with Mat's (show-only) abusive mother and his (show-only) issues with his (show-only) abusive father. I'm genuinely not sure where it's supposed to be going, other than to just abuse Mat some more on screen and get him to the point where he's even more in thrall to the Forsaken.

    My wife's quick-n-dirty theory is that the tea was just a sleeping brew, and that the sequence was actually Ishamael screwing with Mat in the World of Dreams. I'd class that as a definite “maybe”—the thing that keeps me from fully agreeing with it is I just don't see what the scene is for , whether it's Magic Spirit Journey Tea or just plain sleeping tea and the Magic Spirit Journey is in Tel'Aran'Rhiod.

    Okay, I've got like… paragraphs to drop in here about Moiraine, but only if you're ready to turn to her, and to the resolution of one of this season's biggest mysteries.

    Andrew : Oh yeah, lots to say. Some more book-vs-show, internal-vs-external stuff going on here; in the books, channelers can definitely, 100% for sure, tell the difference between being shielded (temporary) and being stilled (permanent, with an asterisk). Being shielded is a bit like having a thick layer of bulletproof glass in your brain between you and the One Power, but you still have your sense of it, you can still see other channelers at work, and there are even little mental acrobatics you can do to bust through a shield if you're strong enough, or if the shield is "tied off" and left unattended.

    In the show, it turns out that there's no difference! Being shielded feels more like being stilled, in that you feel totally cut off from the One Power. We can't have learned this fact any earlier than we do, I suppose, because it would take what little tension there was out of the season-long "what's going on with Moiraine" mystery.

    Lee : Exactly so. We learn that Moiraine was shielded this entire time, with the shield weaves tied off into knots and left to sit. But your point about the further-changed nature of shielding feels like it's part of the larger set of changes that have been made to how the One Power works with men and women in the show.

    It's been kind of a mystery why Moiraine herself hasn't done some more extensive troubleshooting to find the extent of her issue. When a certain set of characters (to remain nameless, to spare non-book readers) eventually figures out how to remove the Aes Sedai Three Oaths in a future book, one of the VERY FIRST things those temporarily-oathless characters do is start lying and giggling—because, let's face it, being able to say “THE SKY IS GREEN!” for the first time in years is probably pretty exhilarating. Why wouldn't Moiraine have simply started busting out with the lies, if for nothing else than to test whether or not she's TRULY stilled?

    There are two answers that I can think of. The first is the more in-universe one: few Aes Sedai have ever bothered studying the effects of being stilled. Stilling is simply too viscerally horrifying to confront, even for the knowledge-minded Browns. Stilled women tend to leave the White Tower so as not to be surrounded by reminders of their past and are thought to quickly die (as Lan makes evident when he asks Moiraine if she thought about ending her own life in the past few months). There are simply no records of what happens, other than that the women who DO survive the process tend to do so by thoroughly occupying themselves with important tasks that take the place of the One Power in their lives. Moiraine might simply have not known that stilling unbinds the Oaths, and having lived her life by them for decades, kept up the habits of living by them purely because she doesn't know any other way to be.

    (Though, I guess the REAL answer is even more obvious: "Son, the reason the good cowboys don't just shoot the bad cowboys' horses is that if they did, there'd be no movie.")

    Andrew : There are all kinds of little nuances to the way the One Power and Aes Sedai work, doled out in bits and pieces over like seven books, that the show wades right into and needs to resolve pretty early by even introducing the concepts of stilling and shielding at this point in the story.

    This show has no time to waste, and several of our heroes (particularly Mat, also Perrin a little) have been mostly sidelined all season so that this whole Moiraine/House Damodred arc could play out, and maybe it pays dividends, but we're headed toward a climactic confrontation in an entirely different location for our next episode. The stilling subplot is entirely an invention of the show's. The conflict it introduces between Moiraine/Lan and Moiraine/Siuan is an invention of the show's. Unlike most of the changes and additions the show has made, I'm still not exactly sure what the point of it was.

    Compare that to another change from the end of last season—Rand faking his death and going off on his own into the wilderness, to protect his friends from who and what he is. It's another big change from the books! But it's certainly in character, and in that isolated state he's more susceptible to Lanfear's overtures. I get why they did it that way. The Moiraine thing isn't as easy for me to read. This show definitely doesn't have a "there wouldn't be any movie if X contrivance didn't exist" problem! There is plenty of story to get through without introducing extra obstacles.

    Lee : Agreed—and there are even more of those contrivances popping up around how the One Power seems to function, especially around stilling and gentling and shielding. As you correctly point out, being shielded in the show does indeed seem to do more or less what being stilled does in the books—for women, at least. Male channelers, on the other hand, seem to have gotten some upgrades. Logain—gentled and definitely not-screwing-around cut off from the Source by Liandrin—apparently retains the ability to both judge another man's strength with the One Power, and also to actually see weaves . The books make it very clear that being stilled or gentled is a permanent and total thing that transforms the channeler into a normal human with no more than normal human abilities, so this is a major swerve.

    And why did they do it? So that Logain can teach Rand a few things, which has happened, and also so that Logain can do exactly what he did and tell someone that he sees Moiraine surrounded by weaves. That particular Chekov's gun has now been fired.

    Why couldn't Rand see the weaves around Moiraine earlier? Horses, movie, etc, I suppose. It's not how I would have done it, at least.

    But! On the positive side of things, we actually get a scene that I think every single reader has been waiting for—Lan gives Rand a crash course on how to appear confident before the Amyrlin, and Rand then takes that knowledge and makes a good showing in front of Siuan.

    Andrew : On the Rand front, he does clearly have to concentrate to be able to see the weaves on Moiraine at all. I'm willing to chalk it up to some combination of Forsaken ingenuity and Rand being a total channeling noob. Book-Rand is still in pretty serious denial about his channeling ability at this point, where show-Rand has been more accepting of it. But either way, he still doesn't know much.

    So far the show has been way less into gender essentialism than the books are, but we get a hint of it from Lan here: a man accepts his fate and faces it on his feet. And he does face down the Amyrlin, and if Siuan is impressed by his assuredness, she is not impressed by how little he knows and by how weak his nascent channeling abilities are. In this sequence, the show makes some tweaks that quickly and smartly plant seeds of Rand's all-consuming savior complex and his strong distrust of the White Tower and most Aes Sedai.

    Siuan decides Rand needs to be caged in the White Tower after all, but at this point Moiraine's Dragon Reborn Circle of Trust has extended to Alanna and Verin and their Warders, who all conspire to help Rand escape with Moiraine and Lan. He's got to go to Falme, because the prophecies say it's where the Dragon will be introduced to the world. (My book memory of this is that the sky-battle just kind of happens and people find prophecies that fit the facts later; usually when characters try to fulfill or not fulfill a specific prophecy in the books they end up doing a whole bunch of other things by accident.)

    This city also happens to be the one that Perrin and Aviendha have headed toward, the one where Mat has been whisked to, and the one where Egwene and Nynaeve and Elayne have all been for a few episodes now.

    Lee : Yes—and let's cut over to Nynaeve and Elayne, doing their thing. They still have the a'dam snatched by Ryma (formerly of the Yellow Ajah, and now wearing a collar herself), and after some discussion with Loial, they ambush a lone sul'dam in an alleyway and snap the thing around her neck.

    It's a big moment in the show, since it's the first real indication that the Seanchan are actually vulnerable in any meaningful way—their weapons can be used against them! But we lack the extra context—so far, at least—that the books are able to provide when the event happens. After all, an a'dam only works as a leash on a woman who can channel. So why does it work on a sul'dam?

    Needless to say, there are potential implications for, oh, the entirety of Seanchan society—implications we'll likely learn more about next week during the finale. (And if not, look to season three!)

    The last bit I'd love to talk about is Perrin and Aviendha, who are also converging on Falme with fan-favorites Bain and Chiad in tow. I was a little confused about the geography—for a minute, it looked like the scene was starting off in the Aiel Waste (as evidenced by the Vince Gilligan-esque yellow color grading), but apparently there's a desert surrounding Toman Head and Falme?

    Andrew : Yeah, it's kind of visible on some of the color maps of Randland, if you squint, though, yeah, if we spend much time in the Aiel Waste next season the show is going to want to save its good desert-y filming locations for that.

    We get a little more Aiel world-building in this episode, further explaining elements of the ji'e'toh honor system to Perrin (who is mostly here as a spectator this week, sorry Perrin). You can incur toh (obligation) for all kinds of reasons, and it can be fulfilled in all kinds of ways, too. In the book it usually just meant doing weird chores, though in the show Aviendha's friends just end up beating the tar out of her until they feel better. Physical punishment is sometimes used in the books (Jordan loved spankings), but I don't recall a scene where anyone is just whaled on until they can't stand up.

    There's not much else to say about the scene because there's not much to it; Aviendha explains ji'e'toh to Perrin as they walk through an aggressively day-for-night-filmed desert, and they arrive at Falme in time for our grand reunion/confrontation.

    Lee : And, with a final scene of Egwene calmly informing her sul'dam that Egwene is definitely going to kill her at some point, we finish this week's recap. The board is set, the pieces are moving, and we come to it at last—the battle in the sky where the Dragon is going to proclaim himself. I mean, I assume we come to it. We haven't seen the last episode yet, but you'd need to go back in time and get yourself an actual-for-real telegraph to telegraph the finale any harder.

    There are a few things unsettled, though—what about that Horn of Valere? The thing that all those hunters have been getting branded for in earlier episodes? And—and lots of other things I can't really articulate because of potential spoilers!

    Andrew : What's the deal with Mat? Will we see Min again? Will Loial get a chance to be in the show for longer than 90 seconds per episode? And what traps will the Forsaken spring on our heroes? The Wheel of Time turns—and we will re- turn next week after we've seen how the season wraps up.

    (credit: WoT Wiki )

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      Depredations and depravities reign in this week’s Wheel of Time

      news.movim.eu / ArsTechnica · Friday, 22 September, 2023 - 19:25 · 14 minutes

    Still no safeword in Tel'aran'rhiod, Rand.

    Enlarge / Still no safeword in Tel'aran'rhiod, Rand. (credit: Amazon Studios)

    Andrew Cunningham and Lee Hutchinson have spent decades of their lives with Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson's Wheel of Time books, and they previously brought that knowledge to bear as they recapped each first season episode of Amazon's new WoT TV series. Now they're doing it again for season two—along with insights, jokes, and the occasional wild theory. These recaps won't cover every element of every episode, but they will contain major spoilers for the show and the book series. We're going to do our best to not spoil major future events from the books, but there's always the danger that something might slip out. If you want to stay completely unspoiled and haven't read the books, these recaps aren't for you .

    New episodes of The Wheel of Time season two will be posted for Amazon Prime subscribers every Friday. This write-up covers episode six, which was released on September 22.

    Andrew : As usual for an episode of Wheel of Time, this one does a bunch of things and goes a bunch of places, but the episode's centerpiece will be very familiar to book readers: Egwene's capture by the Seanchan.

    The Seanchan believe that channelers are too dangerous to be left to their own devices. They're captured and leashed and generally treated as beloved pets at best or monsters at worst. Egwene's capture and torment in the books is a cornerstone of her character, and this episode is tough to watch in places. It’s also one of the first times that the show's version of events is clearly more effective and impactful for me than the version in the books—the benefit of doing things in a visual medium.

    Lee : Oh yeah, absolutely—this episode definitely ratchets things up a notch or five. No more Bel Tine presents for Egwene or dancing with Aram—it's straight-up torture time, courtesy of our friends from beyond the western sea. We will likely (eventually) learn at least the broad outlines of Seanchan culture, but the important bit is the one we're being shown right off the bat: to the Seanchan, channelers are sub-human. "You are not a woman," Egwene is told. "You are a damane."

    Egwene spends the episode trapped in a cell—in "the kennels," as they're called—learning about all the quirks and features of the Seanchan a'dam. It would be fascinating if it weren't so gruesome and awful. The a'dam's creator (an Aes Sedai, though we hear much more about her in the books) seems to have put considerable effort into thinking of all the potential ways a damane might fight back and then programmed around them. The a'dam can't be removed by the damane. The damane cannot touch the wristband control leash, even if it's not being held by anyone. The device even prevents the damane from touching other objects that the damane perceives to be weapons—which is just downright insidious, because it turns new damane into active participants in their own breaking. Egwene cannot even pick up a water pitcher to drink, because she can't stop thinking about smashing the sul'dam's head with it. She only gets to drink water after she has convinced herself that she won't attack the Seanchan.

    It's rough. It's really rough. In between the put on the glasses pour the water scenes, we get to see Egwene convulsing repeatedly as she fights with the a’dam—so much so that she ruptures blood vessels in both eyes. And this takes up about half the episode.

    As you point out, though, this is an absolute cornerstone of Egwene's character. It's the honing that will shape her into—well, into what she eventually becomes. (It's not a spoiler, I don't think, to say that the POV characters of an epic fantasy series all have Important Destinies ™ laid on them, and Egwene wouldn't be able to inhabit the role—roles, even—she ends up having to inhabit without this shaping.)

    Andrew : My "this is true to the books" brain appreciates these scenes a lot but there is a fine line to walk; Game of Thrones became infamous for how frequently it brutalized its female characters . This almost always took the form of sexual assault, perpetrated by men in positions of power against women who lacked it. Wheel of Time hasn't gone to that well, and if it stays in any way true to the events and themes of the books, it won't. But it's something I hope the show is conscious of.

    Moving on to other characters, we get a good bit of Mat and Min for the first time in a couple of episodes. Show-Min has made a deal with the devil (one of them, anyway) to bring Mat back into Rand's orbit, because Min has had a vision that Mat will kill Rand, and Ishamael has a vested interest in Rand being dead. Mat and Rand meet and have a genuinely touching reunion here, and I'll say I also think the show is handling their relationship a bit better than the books here. Book-Mat, especially at this stage in the story before we had ever entered his perspective, is honestly just kind of a dick?

    Maybe it's because he picked up a dagger that makes him permanently suspicious of everyone around him, but his response to finding out what is going on with Rand is not to help him but to be a distant jerk. Of all the things not to like about the books, you almost never get a good sense of Rand and Mat and Perrin as actual friends rather than People Whose Fates Are Intertwined By Destiny. We're told that they're friends. Their actions usually imply some degree of loyalty to one another. But very rarely do you just get to see two dudes have a hug and a beer because they're genuinely happy to see one another.

    Lee : We do indeed have yet to hear any one of the Two Rivers Bros lament that the other Two Rivers Bros are so much better with the ladies, if nothing else. I do wish that the show had time to let that friendship breathe a little more, but alas. And where is that dagger, anyway? I know where it's supposed to be in the books at this point—I don't want to say, in case it spoils something for someone, but it's addressed early on in The Great Hunt and in fact is one of the things that is being hunted for by our main characters—but I can't recall if we've seen where it currently is in the show.

    I want to spend a moment on Rand and Logain, too—if for nothing else than to call out the first on-screen image of someone playing "stones," the in-universe name for what we'd recognize as Go . Stones is a game played in Randland by intellectuals and generals, and it's a given that if you see a character playing stones, that character is supposed to be super smart and brilliant and possibly an authorial self-insert. ("Take a shot every time someone is playing stones" is almost as popular a casual WoT drinking game as "Take a shot every time Nynaeve tugs her braid" or—my personal favorite—"Take a shot every time someone says something about the Dark One's taint.")

    Logain is once again brought in to teach Rand—but really, to teach us —how channeling works for men. (I hope we still get you-know-who teaching Rand later, but Logain is definitely stepping into that other fellow's shoes here.) In a nice little compact scene, the false Dragon manages to teach the true Dragon three important facts about the One Power: women "surrender" to saidar, but men "seize" saidin; if you take too much in, you'll burn yourself out; and that Rand is incredibly powerful, capable of doing "anything" and fighting "anyone."

    Upon releasing the source, Rand then learns a bonus #4 fact: the Dark One's corruption suffuses saidin. The book makes it sound like channeling the corrupted male half of the power is sort of like railing ultra-heroin while simultaneously chugging down raw sewage, and when Rand releases the source, he also releases his lunch. Ew.


    "UNLIMITED POWER!!!!" (credit: Amazon Studios)

    Andrew : Yeah, the show has visually referenced the Dark One's taint (on saidin! His taint on saidin! ) before, back when Logain could still channel. Women get to weave sparkly strands of light and men have to channel this inky black stuff. But now Rand is getting a big dose of it for the first time and it doesn't go great for him. Rand's sanity and the degree to which he is still "himself" will become major concerns.

    The show's treatment of what happens to channelers after they can no longer channel is still pretty inconsistent with the books; former channelers in the books are no more capable of seeing weaves or teaching a channeler than a non-channeler would be, but Logain is still fully aware of what Rand is doing and what he can do.

    On that topic, let's talk about something I am less enthusiastic about: we're at episode six, and I'm still not really sure where Moiraine or Lan's plotlines are going, and the decision to take Moiraine's channeling ability away and have her spend half the season sniping with her sister in their big stuffy house just feels like it was done so both Moiraine and Lan could mark time while things happened to the other characters. Maybe something stunningly explosive will come from it, and I am glad to see that Siuan Sanche is back in the action, but give me "scenes of Rand bargaining with Lanfear in the dream world" or "scenes of Nynaeve and Elayne trying to save their friend while doing some true-to-the-book bickering" over "scenes of a woman trying to write a letter while her nephew gives her a sandwich."

    Lee : But Barthanes Damodred makes the best sandwiches. Moiraine said so and Aes Sedai cannot lie.

    Yeah, I agree that parts of the season feel kind of interminable, in spite of how bloody short it is. I too could have done with maybe a bit less Moiraine-arguing-with-her-sister and also a bit less of whatever the hell it is Lan has been doing with Alanna and the Funky Bunch, but I've been pretty happy with the World of Dreams bits.

    Speaking of: I want to ask a question that my wife and I both feel pretty unified on, and I'll give you my answer after I hear yours, but: when Lanfear banished Ishamael from Rand's dreams, was she really banishing him? Because it seems much more Lanfear-like for that entire bit to have simply been Lanfear conjuring and then de-conjuring an imaginary Dream Ishy. It seems like the kind of thing she'd do.


    Perfection. (credit: Amazon Studios)

    Andrew : OK, so, hear me out—I think it's really Ishamael, and it's because of a super subtle but-obviously-meant-to-be-noticed thing about how he appears in the World of Dreams.

    Look at scenes early in the episode where Ishamael is communicating with Min in her dreams. Occasionally he "freezes," like you would on a Zoom call where Your Internet Connection Is Unstable. In the scene where he's tormenting Rand before Lanfear sends him away, he's doing the same thing. The visions Rand is getting from Ishamael occasionally freeze-and-jump in the same kind of way, something I thought was just a way to creep out the viewer until you made me start thinking about it.

    But Lanfear, someone known for her mastery of the World of Dreams, doesn't move like this. I think the show is trying to use this to communicate that Ishamael can operate in the world of dreams, but he's not particularly adept at controlling it, and he can easily be booted by someone more talented than he is.

    It does seem Lanfear-ish to try to earn Rand's trust this way, by constructing a scenario that makes her seem more trustworthy. But remember, book-Lanfear is the one who hooked Rand up with his book-channeling teacher. She's got her own motivations and delusions of grandeur, and the Forsaken often work at cross-purposes.

    Lee : Ahhh, that is an excellent catch—I'd noticed Ishy's freezing but hadn't made the link to it maybe being tied to his World of Dreams mastery level. And Ishamael & Lanfear are already colluding, as we saw last episode, so it's not like Lanfear having Ishamael stop by Rand's dream for a minute so she can "vanquish" him would be a difficult ask. Hell, having Ishamael in on the deal would fit pretty well with both his and Lanfear’s plans—at least for now. Good call.

    One way or another, though, Rand just can't catch a break. He finds Mat again, but rather than leaving town with Rand to escape, he chooses to heed Min's warning and stay away. Rand then decides to depart Cairhien on his own but gets stopped by Lan and Alanna. What are they going to do with him?

    Our answer lies in the arrival of the Amyrlin Seat and fourteen other Aes Sedai (including several familiar faces, like Liandrin and Verin). A similar situation plays out in the novel—Rand delays leaving Shienar for too long and gets stuck having to talk to the Amyrlin, recently arrived in the Borderlands with her retinue. Here, it looks like Rand delayed leaving Cairhien for too long and is stuck having to do the exact same thing. The Amyrlin and Moraine are old schemers when it comes to the subject of the Dragon Reborn, so the plots are all twisting back together. (As they should, since next week is the season's penultimate episode.)

    Andrew : I'd talk to someone for a long time about the process of adapting this season. Season one was, for all its departures, more or less a heavily compressed version of The Eye of the World with a bunch of stuff cut for time. For season two, it's like they wrote every single plot from book two (and parts of three) on a big whiteboard and then Tetris'd the story blocks around over and over again, shaving them down until they would fit in the amount of space that the show had to give. As different as the show seems to be, you're always running into recognizable bits, just moved around and recontextualized.

    It certainly seems like most of our heroes are converging on Cairhien, before what I'm assuming will be a cataclysmic season-ending confrontation in Falme.

    That's where Nynaeve and Elayne are still camped out, trying to figure out how to free Egwene and any of the other Ars Sedai-affiliated channelers who have been captured by the Seanchan. Nynaeve and Elayne are very true to their book-selves here as "powerful women who respect each other but would basically never hang out if they weren't both friends with the same person." Right now, it's on them to free Egwene and expose Liandrin, who just happens to be part of the Amyrlin's posse in Cairhien.

    It does seem like the show is going to be less patient than the books about resolving Nynaeve's "block," where she can only channel under specific emotionally heightened circumstances. Leave it to Ryma (Nyokabi Gethaiga), a member of the healing-focused Yellow Ajah, to break it down in terms Nynaeve can understand: when someone is hurt, you don't decide to help them, you just help them.

    Lee : That's a solid characterization of Nynaeve and Elayne's relationship. My wife said that Nynaeve calls Elayne "princess" with about the same level of contempt that Han uses with Leia in Empire Strikes Back . And poor Ryma—she'll now be joining Egwene and Maigan (the former Blue sitter, played by Sandy McDade) in the kennels.

    Your description of playing Tetris with the plots is also spot on—that feels exactly like what's happening. I like some of it, and I don't like some of it, but I don't think I'd be able to do any better as a writer if faced with the same length and episode count constraints as the show is having to operate under. If there is a villain here, it's not really the Seanchan, or the Forsaken, or even the Dark One himself—it's whatever bean counters in the programming department decided on those constraints. (There is an obvious "a'dam around the neck of the show" metaphor that I could draw here, but I won't. Though I guess I just did.) Regardless, we're reviewing the show we've been given to work with, rather than the longer show we perhaps wish we had.

    I have one additional note from my wife that I need to read into the record: "Ingtar has better smoky eye than Lanfear and Egwene's sul'dam put together." No argument from me there.

    Anything else from your notebook, Andrew, or have we reached the end for this week?

    Andrew : "Wheel of Time? More like Wheel of Prime!"
    Lee : Hah, yes, I suppose that does mean we are indeed done for this week. With only two episodes left, I'm expecting a lot of big things very soon. Big important things. Big important giant flaming things, in the sky. Because it would be silly to show us a horn in act one and not have someone blow it by act three, right?

    We'll see you back here next Friday. Until then, may you all find water and shade.


    (credit: WoT Wiki )

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      Things get serious this week in a really solid The Wheel of Time episode

      news.movim.eu / ArsTechnica · Friday, 15 September, 2023 - 18:45 · 16 minutes

    Photograph of Macrus Rutherford as Perrin Aybara

    Enlarge / Perrin Aybara, doing his wolfbrother thing. (credit: HBO)

    Andrew Cunningham and Lee Hutchinson have spent decades of their lives with Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson's Wheel of Time books, and they previously brought that knowledge to bear as they recapped each first season episode of Amazon's new WoT TV series. Now they're doing it again for season two—along with insights, jokes, and the occasional wild theory. These recaps won't cover every element of every episode, but they will contain major spoilers for the show and the book series. We're going to do our best to not spoil major future events from the books, but there's always the danger that something might slip out. If you want to stay completely unspoiled and haven't read the books, these recaps aren't for you .

    New episodes of The Wheel of Time season two will be posted for Amazon Prime subscribers every Friday. This write-up covers episode five, which was released on September 15.

    Lee : Whew, ok, that was a lot! A lot of things happened in this episode!

    We open on the Seanchan doing what they do—making imperious statements and talking about conquering things. And, hey, for anyone wondering when the Horn of Valere was actually going to turn up on screen, here it is, hand-delivered by Padan Fain (with the requisite bit of whistling). I liked the scene, I like the Seanchan in the show, and I thought it was a solid opening. It was also kind of fun to see Shienaran Lord Ingtar (Gregg Chilingirian) in eyeshadow and da'covale robes, which are nowhere near as sheer on-screen as they are in the books.

    The invaders from across the sea have their own look, their own accents, and their own theme music (which as near as I can tell includes a choir singing "DA-MA-NE!" over and over again). They're not just creepy and formidable—they're almost alien , which I suppose is the intention. How are they working for you so far?

    Andrew : Yes, I feel like this episode jumped us from the early-middle of book two to somewhere close to the endgame of book two (and Perrin's storyline is a weird melding of book one and book three stuff). It's moving quickly, which it has to do because of episode number limitations we have mentioned a bunch of times already. It's a bit manic, and I'm not sure how followable it is for non-book readers, but it is what it is!

    The Seanchan are more or less successfully fulfilling their Book Role, which is to be weird, obviously alien invaders who immediately threaten, like, half of our main characters by capturing and enslaving women who can channel. One thing that is a lot different in the show, though, is that it's much clearer much earlier that the Forsaken are pulling some of their strings. The books would show you someone was a Darkfriend by sneaking in a one-line reference in some kind of short epilogue POV section. In the show, these people show up and you just kind of see the show's main villain chilling with them on a palanquin.

    Again, how scannable is this for non-book readers who don't necessarily know that the Seanchan are their own unique society and that they aren't always working with the Forsaken? I don't know! But it's just another thing the show is doing to give the story's villains more depth (and maybe, hopefully, to cut down on some of the constant double-crossing and who-can-we-trust intrigue that bogs down the middle books).

    Lee : Before we leave the intro, I wanted to toss in a tiny little two-image side-by-side gallery of the location used by the show for the Seanchan meeting. If you're an avid fantasy viewer, this won't be the first time you've seen that particular castle—it's shown up before in a certain other show that also talks about dragons:

    Given that both Game of Thrones and Wheel of Time shot in Morocco, some location reuse was probably inevitable, but this one is particularly on the nose. Still, whether it was intended to be overtly obvious or not, I dig it. It definitely works, and also, now we know that Falme looks like Morocco!

    OK, so—you're absolutely right that the show has drop-kicked the plot way ahead with the way events are landing. There are several specific things I want to talk about, and the first one is the Forsaken. We're given more of a window into who and what they are in this episode—along with the understanding that alliances between different members of the Forsaken are somewhat, shall we say, ephemeral. But the thing that jumped out most was the mention by Lanfear about the rest of the Forsaken—and how many there may or may not be.

    Specifically, she mentions Moghedien, Graendal, and "the boys," and paints them all as incompetent. I can't remember if season one gave us the details on exactly how many of the Forsaken there are, but the show might have just told us that there are only six or seven—obviously less than the 13 named in the books. And if that is indeed what's happening, I don't necessarily think this is a bad thing, given how much of the series is taken up by Rand chasing after and collecting all the different Forsaken like Pokemon.

    Andrew : Listen, there are only so many big, old empty castles sitting around for fantasy shows to film in! Maybe the showrunners saw something on HGTV about how changing the banners and tapestries on your Moroccan keep can make it seem like an entirely new place.

    Lots of the 13 Forsaken were already sort of interchangeable as plot drivers and existed mostly to be melted by Rand and his pals in end-of-book battles. And the way the show is removing, combining, and repurposing characters definitely makes it seem like it could be planning to cut some of the other less-interchangeable figures out. (For example, is there a story need for Asmodean in the show universe? Maybe not, based on some of the changes!) We've already seen the show jettison the idea that the Forsaken need to be totally reincarnated as all-new people by the Dark One; in general the idea seems to be to have fewer villains who are better-drawn, and that's probably smart.

    Speaking of "book concepts that take about 15 hours to fully explain," I do like how this episode introduces us to the dream world of Tel'aran'rhiod by way of Lanfear, who is waiting for a fleeing Rand and Moiraine to fall asleep so she can track them down and Get Them. This dreamy stuff is a major element of the books, important to the story arcs of several major characters. I'm not sure how the show is going to employ it, but it seems like it's not getting cut.

    Lee : I did a little happy-clap when Moiraine name-dropped Tel'aran'rhiod—it winds up being such a big part of the books for so many of the characters, even if some of the Tel'aran'rhiod plots are a little abstruse. Or a lot abstruse. (What the hell was even up with that Slayer guy, anyway, and why did his dumb plot drag out over like six books?)

    And among all the Forsaken, Lanfear was supposed to be the most skilled within the World of Dreams (something that some of the other Forsaken take issue with, if I remember right). She shows off a bit of that skill in her cheeky meeting with Ishamael, and we see perhaps a bit more when she zaps Rand into her own little desert BDSM fantasy at the very end. Remember, Rand: there is no safe-word in the World of Dreams .

    We'll no doubt be spending a lot of time there, given how central Tel'aran'rhiod is to—well, to several characters (no spoilers from us about that yet—that'll likely be a season three or four thing), and it's great to know that it's not being cut. I have some hope that Asmodean also makes it, though as you say, he may not be necessary. We shall hopefully know more soon!

    Changing tack slightly, there are two things I wanted to bring up about Randlandian politics again, and I promise not to spend too much time here. First, interestingly, we learn a bit more about Cairhien—it does in fact have a queen, named Galldrian, and Moiraine's nephew Barthanes Damodred is marrying her. This plus Moiraine's decision to delay draws a pretty straight line for Rand to get involved in the shuffle for the Cairhienin throne. Book readers might be scratching their heads at this particular set of choices, given that in the books Galldrian was a king who is dead before the series starts and Barthanes is—well, Barthanes is and does some spoiler-y things. I am hoping that they keep his most spoiler-y aspects intact.

    Andrew : Barthanes is definitely a book character, but Moiraine's sister is an invention, so who knows where any of these characters end up relative to their bookish counterparts. I feel like it's book five or six before Rand really gets down into the depths of inter-Randlandian politicking, but the show does love to do things out of order!

    There were at least a couple of extended sequences in season one that were just Moiraine and one or more characters on horseback, listening attentively while Moiraine delivered some worldbuilding info-dump. If you wanted to do a totally faithful rendering of every single little kingdom in Randland, you'd probably need a bunch more scenes like that. "OK, so this one is Cairhien, and they love politics, and 20 years ago their king cut down a tree..." and on and on.

    Attentive viewers will recognize little hints here and there in the dialogue that imply that at least some of this history remains intact—as it needs to, so that other Important Plot Things can happen later. But this show already has the Seanchan to set up, and the Aiel to set up (more on that in a minute), and probably a few other societies and subcultures besides. I think the subtle-ish difference between groups of minor nobles in Andor, Cairhien, Tear, and elsewhere are all just going to get flattened for expediency's sake. That will mostly be to the show's benefit, though here we are missing out on a kind of fun book sequence where a bunch of Cairhienin nobles assume Rand is a noble because they see him wearing a nice coat, he accidentally ignores them, and they work themselves up into a lather about him because only a very important noble would dare to ignore them.

    Lee : "And that man who cut down that tree? He was my uncle! " … have we learned that in the show yet? My recollection is that you're supposed to sort of gradually come to that realization in the books as you learn Moiraine's last name and connect the dots to Laman's last name, but I am genuinely not remembering if we've heard the details of the start of the Aiel War yet in the show. (It's not a spoiler! It's his last name! Don't @ me!)

    All right, Aiel time, because in an episode filled with important stuff, Perrin meeting Aviendha is one of the most important. We're re-using the whole "Aiel in a cage" bit that we only obliquely got to in season one, and we're mixing together a few different book bits, but the encounter came off satisfying to me. Aviendha dons a black veil and invites Perrin dancing—something she obviously excels at, being a Maiden of the Spear. Without revealing yet to show-watchers why she's important (you'll all find out soon enough!), it's nice to have one of the last of our main characters slotting into place.

    Though I'd feel better if Thom Merrilin would show back up. His single appearance in season one was absolutely arresting. Perhaps we'll find him somewhere in Cairhien with Rand.

    Andrew : Or maybe Thom is dead , because everyone keeps asking about him! Or maybe he'll bump into Mat, wherever Mat is, because Mat and Min aren't in this episode at all. We're about due for an episode centered on him, given that he's been a near-nonentity since late last season.

    I believe the "Perrin frees an Aiel from a cage and befriends them" thing is pulled back from The Dragon Reborn , the third book in the series, and the first where Rand really fades into the background so that we can get closer to some other POV characters (show-Perrin also briefly meets Dain Bornhald, another Whitecloak character who will become more important later). In the book, the Aiel that Perrin frees is a totally different person. But what's similar is that this encounter opens us up to learn more about Aiel society—they live in a desert, they're good at fighting, and they maintain a Klingon-esque understanding of honor and obligation (ji'e'toh, another of Robert Jordan's many heavily apostrophe'd creations) that we get a small glimpse of here.

    Aviendha is immediately charming in her deadly way, and I am in serious danger of shipping her and Perrin the same way I am currently shipping Mat and Min. My ships are going to wreck the entire storyline.

    Lee : I was also disappointed with the lack of Mat this time, and my wife gave some advice that apparently will apply to the show as well as it does to the books: "Become familiar with the particular feeling of disappointment where you want and expect more Mat but instead get more interminable scenes of Elayne playing travel guide, telling you what city she's in and what their major exports are—for you will be feeling this feeling a lot ."

    Which, speaking of—Elayne got a chance to basically do just that when she and Nynaeve ended up in Falme, after escaping from Liandrin and the Seanchan. I thought the Liandrin bits here were great, and I continue to love that they're actually allowing her character to be something other than just, like, vaguely misandrist and evil. Now she's got angst , and everybody knows that angst is the emotional equivalent of MSG—it makes everything more interesting.

    Andrew : Liandrin goes fully mask-off in this episode, though her motivations are still just unclear enough to leave the audience room to question what she's up to. She's taken The Girls away from the White Tower and delivered them to a Darkfriend Seanchan contingent via The Ways (to recap: a creepy fast-travel mechanism our heroes used toward the end of last season), but just as she's leaving she unties Nynaeve's hands to create a little chaos. Verin seems to be on Liandrin's trail back at the White Tower, but Liandrin does have some white asparagus on her that just so happens to grow in one part of the world at exactly this time of the year, establishing a perfect alibi (I love this, I have never encountered produce-season-as-alibi in fiction before).

    Nynaeve and Elayne manage to escape, but Egwene is captured by the Seanchan and stuck in one of their channeler-controlling collars (an a'dam, there's that apostrophe again). In the books these are described as a one-piece collar-and-leash combo, highlighting how dehumanizing it is. You still get the collar in the show, but once it's on, it morphs into a little breastplate thing that a chain is then attached to. I guess to make it more visually obvious when someone is wearing an a'dam? Though I know you wanted to talk more about the aesthetics of the show's damane (what the Seanchan call channelers they have collared, and where the episode's title comes from).

    Lee : Just a bit, yeah—I was thinking that the actual a'dam was the pacifier thing that all the damane seem to have jammed into their mouths, but as you say, we're shown that there's an actual collar involved, just as in the books. I get the morphing-into-breastplate bit, too—it's just flat-out easier to see on TV than a collar might be. Seems like a logical adjustment to the medium.

    The linked nature of the sul'dam ("leash holder" in the Old Tongue) and their damane is neatly demonstrated with the simultaneous call/response thing they do when channeling. My recollection is that the things utilize kind of a twisted version of the Aes Sedai/Warder bond to—well, to do all kinds of things , as poor Egwene is about to find out.

    And, then, to finish up with our wayward White Tower trainees for the week, Nynaeve and Elayne escape into the city of Falme, seeking sanctuary in a place where there's not much to be had. And are they safe with the Aes Sedai and Warder who snatch them up? Ishy had a very peculiar response when Lanfear asked him about "the girls"—he notes that he has "just collected" them, and that "one craves power and the other fears it."

    Mentioning two instead of three—or one—is odd. Does that mean that he's just collected Nynaeve and Elayne in Falme and that the Aes Sedai sitting on them is Black Ajah? Or am I misinterpreting?

    Andrew : Going off of what Verin was asking when she showed up at the White Tower—she wanted to see Egwene and Nynaeve, no mention of Elayne—it may be that no one has really registered that Elayne has been hanging out with our Two Rivers friends. Ishamael also just seems to be focused on the Two Rivers crew that he thinks he can use to manipulate Rand (Egwene would be the one eager to get stronger and prove herself, and Nynaeve the one who fears her own power). That is a subtle change from the books, where Elayne is lumped in with Egwene and Nynaeve pretty early on because they're all more powerful than most modern-day Aes Sedai have been. But I guess the vain, status-obsessed Forsaken wouldn't immediately assume that a princess and an innkeeper's daughter would become fast friends.

    To close: still sort of frustrated by what an eight-episode season does to pacing, but still digging the show a lot. Aviendha is great. I know or suspect a lot of what is going on based on my book knowledge, but the show has changed enough to keep me guessing. Bring on the next one!

    Lee : Indeed! And that does it for this week. The episode titles for the next few weeks shed some light on where we're probably going to end up, but you can look those up for yourselves because they are spoiler-y titles if you know what the words signify. And, of course, there's the huge ending of The Great Hunt to look forward to—going by the characters' dialogue, it's sounding like we will indeed end the season in a spectacular fashion—just keep your eyes on the sky.

    Courage to strengthen, fire to blind, spoilers to dazzle, iron to bind. We'll catch you all next week!


    (credit: WoT Wiki )

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      The Daughter of the Night walks the land in this week’s Wheel of Time

      news.movim.eu / ArsTechnica · Friday, 8 September, 2023 - 15:00 · 16 minutes

    Moiraine's on the hunt.

    Enlarge / Moiraine's on the hunt. (credit: Amazon Studios)

    Andrew Cunningham and Lee Hutchinson have spent decades of their lives with Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson's Wheel of Time books, and they previously brought that knowledge to bear as they recapped each first season episode of Amazon's new WoT TV series. Now they're doing it again for season two—along with insights, jokes, and the occasional wild theory. These recaps won't cover every element of every episode, but they will contain major spoilers for the show and the book series. We're going to do our best to not spoil major future events from the books, but there's always the danger that something might slip out. If you want to stay completely unspoiled and haven't read the books, these recaps aren't for you .

    New episodes of The Wheel of Time season two will be posted for Amazon Prime subscribers every Friday. This write-up covers episode four, which was released on September 7.

    Andrew : Before we talk about the specifics of episode 4, I want to ask something I meant to ask last week, which is: Are there people, book readers or otherwise, in your life who are watching and enjoying this show? Because I will say I know a surprising number of people who gave it a try and liked it. And the person I know who is most in the tank for it is a fellow book reader.

    I am trying to separate whether the show is "different" (which it unquestionably is) from whether it's objectively fun/enjoyable (which it seems to be for more people than I was expecting).

    Lee : I have a limited sample size and this is obviously anecdotal, but everyone I know in real life who's watching it is at least enjoying it. My token non-book reader friend who is encountering these characters for the first time is in love with the world and what she's being shown of it so far, and things like Thom Merrilin not showing back up yet or Min's aunts being horrible instead of kind like in the book really don't even register to her (and how could they?).

    The IRL book readers I've talked to have all brought up the substantial-and-growing deviations the show is making from the books, but I don't know anyone who's angry about it. I know this is difficult ground to tread, and everyone's going to have very strong feelings here, but at least for me, I believe that you're taking the right tack. I think we can call it objectively fun and enjoyable—at least as much as anything can be said to objectively contain those qualities. I'm rolling with the idea that this is a different turning of the Wheel.

    Speaking of fun and enjoyable: crazily enough, even though things just started, at the close of this episode we are at the halfway point of the eight-episode season. I definitely want to get to those specifics you mentioned, but I feel like it's worth bringing up again just how much that episode count must be contributing to the narrative re-swizzling. Do you think there's any chance that future seasons will be, ya know, an episode or two longer?

    Andrew : I don't know firsthand how the business end of this works, but from what I do know I think it's just cheaper for Amazon to say "let's do eight episodes" and then make them all run long than it would be to say "let's do 10 or 13 or 26 episodes." (For reference, every Game of Thrones season up through the 6th had 10 episodes). I'm positive everyone involved with making the show would like to be able to give things more room to breathe, but it does at least keep every episode moving at a steady clip. A "faithful" adaptation would also have something like 2,800 named characters in it, and I'm pretty sure no TV production wants to foot that bill.

    But, just to put a point on this, so far I don't think "different" means "bad," and this can be different without erasing the existence of the books. I'm honestly pretty into the show at this point, and one of the things I like most is teasing apart the differences and thinking about why the show has made the changes it has.

    All of this brings us around to the episode proper, because of all the plotlines the show is currently juggling, only the Egwene/Nynaeve/Elayne plot is really proceeding more or less the way it does in the books. With this episode I can kind of see the show pointing everyone toward the end of Book Two but the paths they're taking to get there have been wildly divergent.

    Lee : Indeed—though even that plot is heavily touched by changes, mostly around Red sister Liandrin (Kate Fleetwood). I can't say I'm mad at all about her character getting a son to take care of, or of the other changes they've given her. Most of all, though, I feel like they really are going to do away with the book character of Elaida, a sitter for the Red Ajah. Without elaborating too much about Elaida's role in the story—show watchers won't care and book readers already know—it seems like Elaida and Liandrin are being rolled up into a composite character, and Liandrin will follow a path that includes…well, the thing that Elaida eventually does.

    And wait—I had one more overall big thing I wanted to bring up. It's a very Jordan-esque thing. I want, just for a moment, to talk about the politics of Randland.

    (For non-book readers, the continent on which The Wheel of Time takes place is never really given a specific name. We know a bit about Shara, the mysterious lands to the east past the Aiel Waste; and we know a bit about Seanchan, the name of the continent to the west where the current set of insect-helmed invaders are coming from; but we never really learn if the densely-populated mess of city-states and countries where the majority of WoT happens has its own name. Book readers over the years came to simply refer to the home continent as "Randland," and I'm going to follow that convention.)

    When Moiraine is visiting her sister Anvaere Damodred (Lindsay Duncan), we learn from the dialogue that Anvaere's son is marrying "the Queen"—which made me pause. In the books, Cairhien has no queen—Cairhien is currently bereft of a ruler. And the last ruler Cairhien did have was a king, still smarting from the fallout around Cairhien's starring role in the Aiel War. So who is Moiraine's sister's kid marrying? Are we talking about the Queen of Andor —Elayne's mom?

    Andrew : That's a great question and I don't think we can say based just on that interaction. Moiraine's sister and her position in society are things the show invented wholesale (possibly to put a face on Cairhienin nobility? In the books they are usually depicted as a gaggle of back-stabbing ladder-climbing try-hards) so it's totally within the realm of possibility that there's some invented Queen of Cairhien out there somewhere too. More information needed at this time.

    Honestly, the thing I expect the show to lose the most of is the plodding, overstuffed political intrigue that grinds the series to a halt in its middle books. If we never, ever, ever get a hint of a story about the Andoran accession process, I won't shed a tear.

    Speaking of moving, this episode isn't quite as meaty as the first three plot-wise because a whole lot of it is about characters either moving around the map or learning new information that will propel them forward; Min and Mat set off from Tar Valon, Perrin learns more about his whole Wolf Deal from Elyas in the woods, Nynaeve recuperates after her ordeal during her Accepted test and seemingly bonds with Liandrin (who is being given extra shading and pathos in this adaptation but is simultaneously clearly in league with Bad People), and Egwene/Nynaeve/Elayne are set to leave the White Tower in pursuit of their Two Rivers friends.

    We'll get to Rand/Selene and Moiraine and Lan soon, because there's a lot to unpack there. But of these plots the most book-divergent and interesting one to me is Min trying to get rid of her future-vision, and being set up by Liandrin to come face-to-face with Ishamael, our Big Bad. It's not something that book-Min ever tried to do, and it has the potential to complicate all kinds of relationships later on. Anything else that stood out to you?

    Lee : I adore Hopper. Best boy in the books, best boy in the show. Perrin's adaptation to his ever-increasingly-lupine circumstances were one of my favorite bits early on in the books, and it's hard not to dig the idea of throwing off the shackles of society and living in the woods with your wolf bros, running around and hunting and stuff. It definitely beats going to meetings.

    Mat and Min were excellent in their brief bit of screen time in this episode, but yes—that scene existed to give us Min confronting Ishamael. We get to watch her dawning horror as she realizes that she hadn't fully understood the shape of the deal she was signing up for—yes, she wants to get rid of her visions, but nobody said anything about bargaining with the strongest and most dreaded member of the Forsaken.

    Still, I get the impression she's going to continue along the path Ishamael wants her on, and that she'll bring Mat to Cairhien. Considering Ishy reached directly into her dreams and met with her that way, it's not like running would do any good.

    All right, we've danced around it long enough. Let's tackle one of the big ones: Moiraine and Lan. I honestly cannot tell what the show wants us to think about their connection at this point. I think Moiraine is shielded, not severed, but I don't know if we're supposed to believe that Lan's bond has been severed, or if it's still there but masked. I know how the books go, of course, but we're way off script with how this is being presented and that knowledge may not apply. The dialog between Alanna's blonde warder Maksim (Taylor Napier) and Lan is annoyingly ambiguous. What do you think is actually going on?

    Andrew : Yeah, I wanted to talk about this because it's pretty ambiguous and weird. For non-book readers (or people for whom it has been a while), the Aes Sedai-Warder bond gives everyone involved a heightened awareness of each other, usually described as a little rubber band ball of emotions that lives in the back of your head. You can sense where the person you're bonded to is, roughly how far away they are, and how they're feeling. For Warders, it seems to buff their strength and stealth stats. Bonds can be passed from one Aes Sedai to another. They can be "masked," so that the person you're bonded to still has a vague sense of you but can't tell how you're feeling. They can also be broken, but the only way this happens in the books (as I recall) is when the Aes Sedai or the Warder dies. All of this is more or less common knowledge for anyone with a bond.

    The show has muddied this. Whether Moiraine has been temporarily shielded from the One Power or cut off from it entirely isn't clear, but she just dismisses Lan with a curt "our bond is broken" early in the season and they go their separate ways (for Moiraine's part, this scene had big Harry and the Hendersons energy). But then Alanna's Warder describes "masking" like it's a secret thing that not everyone knows how to do, and that Moiraine might just be doing that instead of cutting Lan out of her life entirely? I honestly am not even sure I'm explaining it properly. I think the point is "maybe Moiraine didn't get rid of Lan forever after all!" but it's hard to say, it's very hand-wavy.

    I hesitate to criticize the show too much on this front because for the first three books especially, Moiraine and Lan are mostly inseparable enigmas, whose POVs we enter infrequently-if-ever and whose reasoning and motivation are rarely explained. But that's boring TV. The show's first season, especially, was centered on Moiraine instead of Rand , so the show felt the need to introduce some emotional arcs and complications in their relationship. At least, I think that's what's going on. Of all the stuff the show is doing, this manufactured conflict between Moiraine and Lan is the change I like the least.

    Lee : Oh God. That scene from Harry and the Hendersons . Buried childhood trauma unlocked, damn.

    Definitely agree on the changed Moiraine/Lan dynamic. It also bugged me a bit that Lan seemed so flummoxed about Moiraine not thinking of him as an equal. Book-Lan seems to be very much cognizant of his role in their relationship, and I feel like Book-Lan's kingship and diverted destiny is brought up a lot more on the page than it has been on the screen (take a shot every time the phrase "Diademed Battle-Lord of the Malkieri" floats out of Jordan's word processor and assaults your eyes and you'll die of alcohol poisoning), and that even the older, darker, wiser, and prouder Lan of the books has made peace with the idea that he will never be more than a tool for Moiraine. (A favorite tool, and one not to be ill-used, but a tool nonetheless.)

    The show is dangling the plot thread of "Where will Lan end up?!" in front of us—will he be bonded to Alanna as her third, or will Nynaeve end up snagging him? This same question plays out in the books in a very different place and in a very different way—though if you kind of squint, I think the fog shrouding the path that the showrunners are laying for us is beginning to clear a bit. And, like in the books, it's possible the resolution is tied in with Selene.

    So, let's talk about the Daughter of the Night, shall we?

    Andrew : I do like how the show is handling the release of the Forsaken—in the book, it's a vague "the seals on the Dark One's prison are weakening, and the Forsaken just kind of slip out." In the show, Rand and Moiraine accidentally free Ishamael by breaking a seal, and now Ishamael is himself breaking open more seals to free the others. This episode opens with a pretty rad example.

    But yes it turns out that the beautiful and wise stranger who Rand has been staying with in his pseudo-exile is none other than Lanfear, probably the second-most powerful of the Forsaken. She's something of a frenemy to Rand, because he's the reincarnation of Lews Therin Telamon, the original Dragon, and she thinks she can both win his love again and tempt him over to the dark side. The circumstances of their being together are different (so far the show has been reluctant to wade into the whole World of Dreams thing), but her characterization and role in Rand's story are pretty spot-on. Gotta say, though, I think Rand should have been more skeptical of a woman who was immediately cool with him channeling, a Super Forbidden Thing that no one is supposed to do. Come on, Rand!

    Lee : "The hottest woman I have ever seen in my life is inexplicably interested in me, doesn't seem to mind it when I tell her I'm having violent intrusive thoughts, and her response to me channeling and blowing up a Fade with the One Power was to tie me up to the bed and get freaky-deaky. Clearly nothing unusual is going on and I am simply a lucky, attractive fellow!"

    I get it, though. Rand is supposed to be, what, 20-ish here? (I know we've gone over this before and the show has aged everyone up over the books, but I can't recall by how much.) He's just a kid. Kids make poor decisions. Kids dealing with traumatic stress and literally having the corrupting influence of the Dark One flow through you when you channel can perhaps be forgiven for latching on to someone showing them affection.

    Still, Moiraine showed up and kicked the anthill nicely, by planting a sword directly in Lanfear's torso and then slitting her throat. Which you think would do the job, but apparently not, since Lanfear is clearly still alive after. And there was something else, too—something I didn't notice on my first watch, because the screeners have a pretty low bitrate, but I caught the second time around. Something about Lanfear's eyes. Something… spotty . Did you catch it?

    Andrew : See, book readers?? There are plenty of little touches here for you to notice!

    Making the Forsaken unkillable Terminators (apparently) is another economical change that I dig; Forsaken can be reincarnated in the books, but usually in a different body (because the Dark One likes to mess around with people). This way you don't have to cast more people and you don't need to worry about your audience forgetting who any given character is supposed to be.

    I hope that next week's episode clears up a bit of the ambiguity around the Moiraine-Lan relationship, I hope it becomes clearer why Moiraine's sister exists, and I hope we see more of Logain, who is still hanging out in a robe in the convalescent home like some kind of half-mad Big Lebowski.

    Otherwise I'm still pretty much on board with the story here, though like you said I'm a bit worried about the amount of story they need to jam into the next four episodes. Season one's ending definitely felt too chaotic and too rushed, hopefully the pacing of this year's finale ends up feeling more even.

    Lee : The false Dragon abides, my friend. The false Dragon abides. And I don't know about you, but I take comfort in that. It's good knowin' he's in there. Waiting. Because it's like the old Russian playwright said: "One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn't going to go off. It's wrong to make promises you don't mean to keep . "

    I find myself hoping that we get back to Falme and see the Seanchan some more—they play a significant role in the rest of the story, and I'm looking forward to learning more about how the show presents the characters. Episode 4 was the last in our current chunk of screeners, though, so at least until Amazon gives us some more, we're just as much in the dark about what's next as the rest of y'all.

    That wraps it for now, folks. Life is a dream from which we all must wake, but we wish you a peaceful slumber until next week!


    (credit: WoT Wiki )

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      Two book readers recap a very non-book-ish Wheel of Time season 2 premiere

      news.movim.eu / ArsTechnica · Friday, 1 September, 2023 - 21:40 · 15 minutes

    Photograph of a Trolloc

    Enlarge / A face only a darkfriend could love. (credit: Amazon Studios)

    Andrew Cunningham and Lee Hutchinson have spent decades of their lives with Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson's Wheel of Time books, and they previously brought that knowledge to bear as they recapped each first season episode of Amazon's new WoT TV series. Now they're doing it again for season two—along with insights, jokes, and the occasional wild theory. These recaps won't cover every element of every episode, but they will contain major spoilers for the show and the book series. We're going to do our best to not spoil major future events from the books, but there's always the danger that something might slip out. If you want to stay completely unspoiled and haven't read the books, these recaps aren't for you .

    New episodes of The Wheel of Time season two will be posted for Amazon Prime subscribers every Friday. This write-up covers the first three episodes, which were released on September 1.

    Lee : All right, everybody, bring yourselves back online... Wait, wrong show.
    Andrew : The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills, and this month the Wheel has woven us another season of Amazon's Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time adaptation! It's another eight-episode season, kicking off with a big three-episode drop for what Amazon tells us is technically an adaptation of The Great Hunt , Wheel of Time book two.

    I say "technically" not to be disparaging but to set expectations: by the standards of, say, Game of Thrones , we are miles away from the events of the book on this one, basically right from the jump.

    Lee : It's been a while, too. We left off in November of 2021, and I feel like we've lived through several subjective centuries since then. Where WoT season one's production was very much impacted by the complexity of shooting during COVID lockdowns—and doing post-production during COVID lockdowns—season two gives us the opportunity to see some real gloves-off prestige TV from Amazon, without having to make excuses like "the trollocs looked bad because our VFX crews were all working from laptops at their houses." But before we get into that, we absolutely have to take a moment and acknowledge what you just said. This is not your dad's Wheel of Time .

    Like, there is a LOT going on here that isn't in the books, and honestly, I'm here for it.

    Andrew : It's not your dad's Wheel of Time , but it might be your friend's ship-heavy AO3 Wheel of Time fanfic .
    Lee : Oh man. Yes. That's—well, people are certainly doing the sexing like they would be in my friend's ship-heavy AO3 WoT fanfic. Though, okay—we've got three episodes to get through, and I think we should start with the when and the where . We've done another time skip, and our heroes seem to have been scattered to the winds. Will you catch us up on where a few of our key players have landed, following our season one finale? And what about that Mat Cauthon boy? He's looking a little different these days.
    Andrew : Yes, whew, we will probably not cover every event in these three episodes with the same depth we would in a one-episode writeup, because this is over three hours of television and our time on this Earth is finite. But! This is our first big departure point from The Great Hunt , which launched with at least a few chapters where all our faves from The Two Rivers were briefly reunited in the same place.

    The biggest change at, like, a production level is that the original Mat, played by Barney Harris, has been recast. The circumstances of Harris' departure have never been fully spelled out anywhere that I can find—"something something COVID" is usually the gist—but Harris didn't even make it to the end of the first season, leaving one of our main characters mostly sidelined for the season's climax. Mat is now played by Dónal Finn, who can't grow as good a beard but does manage to capture Mat's charm and charisma pretty much instantly. He's stuck in the White Tower with Liandrin (Kate Fleetwood), a vaguely menacing Aes Sedai.

    Narratively, the bigger changes are that most people think Rand al'Thor (Josha Stradowski) is dead, and Moiraine (Rosamund Pike) has been cut off from the One Power, following their confrontations with what they believed to be the Dark One at the end of the season. Rand is alone(ish!) in the city of Cairhien, trying to hide from everyone he loves following the revelation that he's a Man Who Can Channel, Doomed To Madness. Moiraine and Lan (Daniel Henney) are off regrouping with other Aes Sedai, including newcomer Verin (Meera Syal).

    Lee : In the space of five months, everyone's shifted around. Rather than following their paths from the books, everyone—except possibly Rand's hometown love interest Egwene al'Vere (Madeleine Madden)—is spun off in directions that follow their season one trajectories and take them further from the events depicted on the page in The Great Hunt .

    For book readers, Rand's fate might be most jarring: his friends all think he's dead, and he seems to have moved in with a girlfriend in Cairhien's Foregate (sort of a shantytown built outside the gates of Cairhien) and gotten himself a job in the local sanitarium, caring for madmen. It seems odd at first, but Rand isn't just attempting some charity service—he knows that as a man who can touch the True Source and channel the One Power, he's cursed to inevitably go as mad as the people he's taking care of.

    We find out by the third episode what Rand's goal truly is, because this is not just any sanitarium—it's a sanitarium that houses Logain Ablar, former self-proclaimed Dragon Reborn and now a trembling shell of a man suffering from being cut off from the Power. Rand wants Logain to tell him how to get himself out of this channeling mess—how to avoid going mad. Logain, of course, has some bad news for Rand on that front: he tells Rand that he won't be able to stop channeling, and he won't be able to avoid madness. Sucks for Rand.

    (I also really do appreciate that there are finally characters on screen saying "Cairhien" out loud. I've been struggling with that city's name since 1997.)

    Andrew : Yeah, a big recurring theme in the early WoT books especially is that you cannot run from your fate. But damned if these Two Rivers boys aren't all going to try. Egwene and Nynaeve (Zoë Robins) are actually both hewing fairly closely to their book-selves, tending to their studies in the White Tower. Nynaeve's strength in the One Power has made her a particular person of interest to Liandrin and other Aes Sedai, despite the fact that she can't channel at all unless she's upset (in the books this was just "angry," but the show has expanded it a bit to encompass other heightened emotional states). Egwene is dealing with some low-key jealousy and also wants to be learning faster, but she does make a fast friend in Elayne Trakand (Ceara Coveney), someone else that book readers will know well. Elayne is the Daughter-Heir (read: princess) of Andor and thus, technically, Egwene is her subject, but Egwene is unimpressed by this.

    Nynaeve's arc, and one of the strongest arcs across these three episodes, is that Liandrin is pushing her to take the test to become an Accepted, the middle tier in the White Tower hierarchy between novice and full Aes Sedai. Liandrin seems to have an ulterior motive that is only hinted at, but headstrong Nynaeve never met an obstacle that she didn't think she could bypass by sheer force of will. The deal, basically unchanged from the books, is that you walk through an arch that spits you out into a holodeck where every simulation is out to seriously mess with your head; at some point during this test, the arch reappears within the simulation, and you need to walk back through it, away from whatever is happening. If you don't go back through, you fail the test (and also you are probably dead).

    I don't want to get too far into the details of these tests because I would like to keep this spoiler-light, but suffice it to say that Nynaeve is still a standout character and Robins is still giving a standout performance. She was one of the better parts of the first season and that continues to be the case here.

    Lee : The transition from season one to season two still feels very rough for me—I'm not a huge time skip fan, and it feels like this is the second time the show has used a multi-month skip to paper over a mess of plot spaghetti that no one had the inclination (or, more likely, the time) to properly un-tangle. I can't say I dig the idea of just wiping the board clean and setting the pieces back up in different locations, but it's done, and it's a serviceable kludge that gets us into season two.

    In the look-and-feel department, season two feels vastly improved. (I'm sure relaxed COVID restrictions on production played a huge role!) I'd complained multiple times last season about the show's odd composition, the flat "digital" feel to the shots, the styrofoam sets, and the camera that refused to hold still no matter what the scene; this time around, none of those things are jumping out at me at all. The lighting feels organic and natural. The cinematography feels much more like proper prestige TV (which is to say, it looks like a movie). I don't know if the problem was me or the production, but whatever it was, it's fine now!

    And I wanted to also make sure to call out the music—though, again, I'm not sure if it's the production or just me. It feels like there's a more unified musical "language" being employed in season two. The palette with which the music is painted feels much more focused and consistent. I feel like I'm beginning to know what the music in the show is going to feel like, much like how GoT or Westworld or other shows have their distinct musical language and colors.

    Andrew : I am glad you said something about that! Because I minded a bit less about how season one looked but I know exactly what you mean. Scoring is near the bottom of the list of things my brain really grabs on to (unless it's outstanding or obnoxious). But hearing you comment on it backs up my general impression that this show is quite a bit more comfortable with itself in season two than it was in season one. It helps that you can just dive right into plot stuff, instead of starting (as season one did) with three solid hours of character introductions and world-building exposition.

    Through the first season, the show gradually rose to the level of "this is working better than I expected it to." The second season, so far, still has a ton of stuff going on, and (personally) I would take a larger number of shorter episodes rather than eight that all seem to run an hour-plus. But I was just straightforwardly enjoying myself with this pretty much the entire time? Which is never a place I got to with season one, or with the Amazon Lord of the Rings show.

    Speaking of big exposition dumps, what else do we really need to make sure we address? There's the onscreen revelation that "the Dark One" from last season was just one of the Dark One's top guys, a Forsaken by the name of Ishamael who has been fully freed from a weakened prison by Rand and Moiraine. There's the introduction of Elyas Machera (Gary Beadle), a character from the book (though a composite character in the show) who will be important for Perrin's (Marcus Rutherford) story. And then there's the Seanchan, the big baddies from book two who show up for real in the show's second episode.

    Lee : Ahhh, yes, the Seanchan—they're here in force, though sadly bereft of their book-canonical, Jordan-confirmed Texas accents. I love that they sound so blandly American. In a world seemingly populated by all the varieties of lilts and brogues the British Isles has to offer, the flat, near-toneless Midwestern newscaster voice of Seanchan so'jhin Alwhin (Jessica Boone) instructing the townspeople to kneel and pledge actually hit pretty hard. It's a neat way to slap the audience with just how different these folks are. (Though I suppose the scary helmets and pacifier-sporting channelers also make that point.)

    I loved watching our Shienaran squad dance the blades with the Seanchan—in fact, heck, every single bit of swordplay we got in these first three episodes was excellent . (My wife's notes for this watch-through included the phrase, "UNO IS A STONE COLD BADASS," in all caps). Lan squaring off against the Fades was also excellent, and it shows just how far Rand has to go if he wants to actually be worthy of that heron-mark sword.

    There was another really interesting bit my wife caught that I didn't: There's a moment in episode three where Egwene channels to stop another character from leaving the room, and Egwene does so without any of the crowd-pleasing gestures that the other Aes Sedai use. We know from the books that channeling has nothing to do with physical movements, but many channelers learn the motions with the weaves and can't do one without the other. She seems to have learned a valuable lesson from her time tied to a chair in Eamon Valda's tent.

    Andrew : Yes, I think another character comments on Egwene not doing the hand motions at some point. Early books often depict the White Tower as an ivory tower, an ossified and insular institution weakened over time by closed-minded adherence to old rules and traditions. I'm not sure how much time the show will have to set that up. (Already there's a possible alternate explanation for Egwene, Elayne, and Nynaeve's power: "The pattern is giving us weapons for the Last Battle" rather than "We're not finding these people because we're not looking properly.")

    Two things about being a book reader who didn't go back and watch the first season before jumping into the second: First, it's easy to lose track of who has been introduced and who hasn't, who is a composite character, and who has been invented to elide some of the book's convoluted plotting. Second, let's just say that there is a shortage of plot armor for secondary and tertiary characters.

    Jordan was known for introducing reams and reams of named characters to help flesh out each of the book's locations and to give PoV characters someone to talk to once they had been flung to opposite edges of the map. An improbable number of these characters survive right up until the series-ending confrontation at the Last Battle. Bad news, book readers—I can basically guarantee that this show will end up killing one or more of your faves before you're ready.

    Lee : Speaking of killing your faves—how about that spike at the bottom of the giant Seanchan pyramid? My wife and I both noticed it in the close-ups and started guessing what it might be for. I was thinking decoration, and she was thinking it was for maybe cleaning mud off of one's boots before genuflecting to the High Lady. Yeah. Nope. We both missed the mark on that one.
    Andrew : For my closing thought, I would like to circle back to the topic of how horny this show is, because I feel like it's something some book readers might struggle with. ("They're just sexing it up for TV," etc). While it's true that the characters in Randland are all pretty puritanical about premarital physical touching, these books contain a vast ocean of subtextual horniness. Don't blame Rafe Lee Judkins and Amazon for sexing the show up, blame Robert Jordan for creating a world where like a third of the characters are polyamorous magicians. This is all to say, the events have been changed dramatically, but I actually think the vibe of season two is pretty close to being right.
    Lee : Right, yeah—the cinematography might have changed, but the amount of boot-knocking present in the show has not. Folks in the WoT TV universe aren't terribly bothered by the idea that adults have sex (well, Egwene is maybe a little put off when she walks in on Alanna Sedai of the Green making the beast with three backs with her warders, but that's admittedly not something you see every day). Rand, on the other hand, seems perfectly content to have freaky-deaky One Power-infused sex with Selene—though maybe we should come back to Selene another day. Show watchers who haven't read the book have likely picked up on the fact that there's something odd about her (what might she have meant when she said Rand "can't" hurt her?), while book readers—well, like I said, another day.

    I'll end my own side of this with the observation that so far, with these three episodes, it feels to me like the scenes the show does best are the wholly original ones. I wasn't super thrilled with how the gathering of evil (referred to by book readers as "the Darkfriend Social") played out, and the twist to Nynaeve's Accepted testing and how long that situation draws out compared to the books felt cheap and unnecessary. On the other hand, Min hanging out with Mat in their cells was fun—far more fun than the brief meeting between Min and Rand in the first season. Most of the other places where we've swerved from the text—especially Rand talking with Logain in the sanitarium—also felt solidly done. When the show is free to find its own way, it stops being so self-conscious and actually becomes enjoyable.

    Maybe that's just the nature of adapted works. If so, I'm not a book purist—the show needs to stand on its own, just like any other adaptation. Changes are to be expected. It's a good thing.

    Andrew : I do like the Mat/Min dynamic a lot. I ship it, despite the Complications this would have introduced in the book. OK, that's far from comprehensive, but I think that just about catches us up! We'll be back with weekly episode recaps, starting next week with episode four. Happy (great) hunting, everyone!

    (credit: WoT Wiki )

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