Let's be honest, this season's been a bit of a slog. Five episodes have gone by without much legitimate story progression. My two favorite characters from last season – Mat (Donal Finn) and Lan (Daniel Henney) – have all but disappeared from the story. The tone has felt inconsistent. The acting… meh. I could go on and on with my gripes, but right now, I'm just gonna shut my mouth and say "thank you" to the cast and crew of The Wheel of Time, because however I feel about the last five episodes is now irrelevant. However they chose to get here is now 100 percent fine with me…
Because this is one of the best episodes of television I've seen in years.
We open with the main storyline of the episode and the primary source of my tears and my future nightmares – the enslavement of Egwene (Madeleine Madden) by the Seanchan. Egwene is dragged by a chain and thrown into a cell by Renna (Xelia Mendes-Jones), who is dead-set on breaking Egwene's body, mind, and spirit.
Amazon Prime Madeleine Madden as Egwene
Renna leaves a jug of water in Egwene's cell, hoping Egwene will make this process easy and that they can become good friends. Uhh, sure… Egwene, naturally, plans to grab the jug next time Renna enters and strike her with it so she can escape. But when Renna enters and Egwene reaches for the jug… she's frozen inches from the jug and blasted with a torrent of pain. Turns out Egwene can't even touch the water jug until she no longer views it as a weapon.
That means even if Egwene decided to pretend to acquiesce, it won't work. Egwene's collar can read her thoughts, her intentions… and until she's truly surrendered and accepted her role as not a woman, not a human being, but a damane, she will continue to be beaten and starved.
There's obviously a comparison to be made here to Reek and Ramsay Bolton, but I have to say… I think WoT just outdid Game of Thrones. This isn't just about inflicting physical pain – the way they use magic to craft this truly horrifying psychological crucible is really quite brilliant, albeit sick.
But Egwene's not the only one in chains… we find Rand (Josha Stradowsi) tied to his weird sex wheel thingy before an eager Lanfear (Natasha O'Keeffe). This scene is, if you remember, just a dream of Rand's. Nonetheless, their conversation has a real impact on the world outside of Rand's head.
Quick refresher: Rand's plan here is to convince Lanfear that he's open to trusting her again. So he offers her the chance to win back his trust – by giving him a lead on Ishamael (Fares Fares). Lanfear agrees to help – if he agrees to stay away from Moiraine (Rosamund Pike). It's not really an offer as much as it a demand, though… she tells Rand that if she sees them together again, Moiraine is dead.
So Rand bails on Moiraine and we check in on another Aes Sedai… my girl Liandrin (Kate Fleetwood), who's visiting her dying son when she's paid a friendly visit from Lanfear. Well… friendly might not be the right word for it, 'cause Lanfear susses out the sad situation and decides to end both Liandrin and her son's suffering by sucking the soul out of his body. Here, we also get some backstory on Liandrin, who we learn was abused as a child and sold off before she hit puberty to marry a man of… presumably not her choosing.
Meanwhile, Nynaeve (Zoë Robins) and Elayne (Ceara Coveney) are holed up with Ryma (Yokabi Gethaiga), the Aes Sedai helping them hide from the Seanchan. Nynaeve wants to save Egwene from captivity, but Ryma explains why that's not possible because of the collar around Egwene's neck. Until they figure out how to get it off, they can't save her. Luckily, Ryma got her hands on one of the collars, and she wants to work with Nynaeve and Elayne to figure out how they work.
Back in Egwene's cell, the fun continues. Sanna enters, instructing Egwene to pour her a cup of water. Egwene tries… but she still can't touch the jug, 'cause she's still got hope of escaping. Over and over, Sanna repeats: "Pour the water. Pour the water. Pour the water." But as many times as Egwene tries, she just can't do it, holding onto hope tighter than the collar clinging to her neck. And each time she fails, pain surges through her body.
And understandably, Egwene's doing… pretty f–ing terrible. She's been beaten, tortured, starved… and it shows. Popped blood vessels in her eyes, bruises on her face… but even so, she's still got a fire in her. A fury that drives her to resist Sanna's attempts to break her. It's incredibly difficult to watch, but Madeleine Madden gives a fantastic performance, easily her best of the series. Strength, anger, fear, hope, despair… it's all there. Bravo, Mads!
Elsewhere in the world (ahem, still waiting on that map, Mr. Judkins), we find Lan continuing his mopey streak sans Moiraine. But now he's actually decided to do something about it! Finally, he comes clean to Alanna (Priyanka Rose) and her warder f— buddies about what Rand is. And he's tired of waiting around to see what happens to Moiraine (welcome to the party!), so he decides to go to the Amyrlin Seat herself, Siuan (Sophie Okonedo) to tell her everything.
Back in Rand-land, we find the real Dragon Reborn visiting the fake Dragon Reborn, Logain (Álvaro Morte), for some magic lessons. After some convincing, Logain gives him some advice that helps Rand access a level of power that, according to Logain, would allow him to defeat anyone that tries to come his way. Satisfied and also a little terrified, Rand heads out…
And runs into Mat (Dónal Finn). That's right, Mat's back, baby! It's a lovely reunion between the two old friends, but a pall hangs over it… because this reunion is exactly what Ishamael wants. He'd tasked Min (Kae Alexander) with escorting Mat to Cairhien in exchange for taking away her powers. And now he wants Min to make sure Mat accompanies Rand out of the city. If you remember a few episodes back, Min had a vision of Mat killing Rand. Ishamael wants it to happen. Or at least he wants Mat to try, to push Rand towards the dark side.
Luckily, Min's guilty conscience wins out, and she comes clean to Mat, so he bails on Rand, who leaves alone. Or… tries to leave. But before he can jet, he's stopped by Lan, Siuan, Liandrin, Alanna, and an army of Aes Sedai. Dragon Reborn's in troouuuubbbleeee…
Nynaeve and Elayne, meanwhile, are in some trouble of their own. Because as they tap into the weave to try figuring out what the hell is up with these collars… the patrolling Seanchan sense the magic and move to attack. Ryma, however, decides to sacrifice herself by exposing herself to the Seanchan. Along with her warder, she tries to fight them off…
And as this goes down, we intercut with Renna pushing Egwene to the brink of death in a final attempt to break her. "Pour the water. Pour the water. Pour the water." And as Ryma fights the Seanchan with everything she's got, getting collared in the process…
Egwene surrenders to them. She pours the water.
Really appreciate this show for ruining the simple act of pouring a glass of water. Now everytime I grab a drink I'm also gonna need to grab a tissue.
Less explosive, but just as emotionally resonant, is Moiraine's storyline this week. She's continued to push away everyone close to her, but when her sister Anvaere dresses her down, she finally starts to let her guard down, sharing a tender moment with her nephew. Slowly, she's starting to heal from the trauma Ishamael inflicted upon her, and it's a powerful arc to see play out.
Shout out to Xelia Mendes-Jones for giving a hell of a performance this week as Senna. It's not easy to stand out in a cast that includes Rosamund Pike, but Mendes-Jones really crushed it. It's a cake walk for an actor to smirk and scowl their way to a rote depiction of a sociopathic torturer, but Mendes-Jones made Renna way more than that. She portrayed Renna as not just an abuser, but a victim of the same twisted Seanchan system that's now threatening to swallow Egwene. That's the kind of complexity that makes this episode an epic feat of storytelling.
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