The Flame of Tar Valon – The Mats We Leave Behind

Episode six stars with an unlabelled flashback and I’m not actually sure whether they’ve previously named Siuan and not just called her Amyrlin. It’s a sort of significant thing in the books that they all call her ‘Mother’ and basically nobody calls her Siuan or refers to her as Siuan but they do it a lot more easily in the show.

This preface is also really just…not necessary at all. That she’s previously from a poor fishing family is an easy single sentence of exposition. That she uses foul language and bad fishing puns is evident in the dialogue they basically didn’t give her in the show at all.

Also…this scene was extremely confusing to basically everybody I watched the show with. They are fishing close enough to the village that her father yells at her about channelling, but somehow they missed the part where their HOUSE WAS ON FIRE until it had burned down to ashes? They’re just out having a nice day of fishing, jump cut to burned down house, jump cut to “Alright random little girl time to send you off on a boat, alone, I guess.”

They’ve told us basically nothing about the countries of the world, so the viewers don’t know a) that this is Tear, b) that Tearians don’t generally approve of channelling, c) That the symbol on the door is ‘The Dragon’s Fang’ or what it symbolises, we just have their house go from normal to burned down in like…a couple minutes? Then we get a single line of ‘you can come home when it’s safe for girls like you in Tear’ to explain the whole thing, which of course explains almost nothing.

So perplexing to serve basically zero narrative purpose.

The episode proper starts, back in the present day, continuing with the massive story deviation that they are currently in Tar Valon, when NONE of the characters are in Tar Valon in all of book one. They’re going to leave from here and end up in Fal Dara and after some events there, the Amyrlin shows up at Fal Dara in the book to do…some…of the things that happen in this episode though basically none of them. 

Also, wondering why they opted to do away with the shawls that Aes Sedai wear in formal occasions like an audience before the Amyrlin, or why they ditched the seven-coloured striped stole the Amyrlin wears in favour of a much more subtle bit of colouring on the collar of her gown. But they’ve made plenty of questionable wardrobe decisions so far that are all outside my wheelhouse to comment on.

They scramble the names and roles of a bunch of Aes Sedai here, which is not really worth remarking on since the ones who aren’t Moiraine, Liandrin and Siuan are either doing what they’re supposed to or don’t really matter.

This is also part of the whole ‘We don’t see Logain AT ALL in the book outside the brief sighting by Rand in Caemlyn’ change so we have no idea if any of this happened, except that we know there was no attack, no deaths, no unauthorised gentling on the road for Siuan to get angry about. When Nynaeve and Egwene eventually get to the White Tower, Logain’s just chilling for the most part. 

This whole thing about imprisoning him for study until he gives in to the madness is also not a thing in the book. The madness comes from the taint on saidin and happens when you channel it, which he can’t do anymore. The thing that happens to gentled men is that they give up wanting to live and mostly kill themselves, but there’s no reason he should be at any additional risk of madness here.

They do a reasonable job setting up the ‘Siuan and Moiraine aren’t friends in public’ thing, but they take it -very- far. Bringing up Moiraine’s life before the tower is probably a bigger breach of protocol than Liandrin mentioning Siuan being Blue Ajah before she was raised, but it’s like they want to make sure we remember the prologue showing that she was poor and this ends up a lot more mean-spirited than they ever are with each other in public in the books. She also goes on a lot more of a ‘this is my world’ tear than she ever did in the story. Aes Sedai seek to influence and keep an eye on the world’s goings on, but having her sort of rave here about like…being queen of the world is…not in keeping with her character at all.

Now comes another change that I feel has some pretty dire consequences for the rest of the story. Though a smaller thing, the innkeeper here is credited as being ‘Basel Gill’ who has nothing to do with Tar Valon in the book, and is an innkeeper in Caemlyn who is plot-important to the development of the story there which has so far been completely excised from the show. 

The main problem here is that Moiraine cures Mat of his connection to the dagger from Shadar Logoth. That is not supposed to happen. In the book, she manages to undo some of the damage that the dagger has done to him, but isn’t powerful enough to break the connection entirely. Later in the season, when Padan Fain turns up in Fal Dara to steal the Horn of Valere, he also steals the dagger. This creates a much more urgent crisis for Rand, namely that without the dagger, Mat dies. The process of finding and catching Padan Fain to recover the dagger and then the mad rush to Tar Valon to try and cure Mat before he dies become like…central forces driving the plot of book 2. And now instead…they just don’t? 

I’ll keep a closer eye out on the rewatch of episode 7 and 8 but I don’t believe there’s any implication they bring the dagger with them at all when they leave Tar Valon, meaning it’s probably just in a vault somewhere. The dagger continues to be important in the books even after Mat is cured of his connection to it, and it seems like that entire throughline might be lost.

Now we have some more random taking clothes off Aes Sedai because why not. Maigan isn’t the head of the Blue Ajah in the books, but that barely matters. There was no drive to try and make her stay permanently either.

Now we come to Egwene and Perrin and more random manipulation by Moiraine that never happened. She has no reason to tell each group that the other group hasn’t arrived in the city. In the book, they’re basically all reunited as soon as it was possible for them to be without anybody on their side trying to prevent it in any way.

More annoyance at their removing Elyas Machera from the story because we’re so far into the book now to have both Perrin and Egwene have no idea at all what is going on with the process of being a Wolfbrother. 

It’s such a weird choice having all of these events be in Tar Valon because there’s just no way Egwene and Nynaeve meet ANY Aes Sedai let alone the Amyrlin and then be allowed to just…leave the tower without signing the novice book.

Now we move on to the Moiraine/Siuan sexy times. As choices for queer relationships to add into the show go, it’s got some grounding. They were ‘pillow friends’ as novices which means exactly what you might suspect given this context, but it’s also never implied even once that they had a romantic or sexual relationship at all after they stopped being teenagers. I appreciate the callback to the ‘on your knees’ and the role reversal, but this relationship really did not need to be in the story at all. 

If they wanted to add some queer rep into the story there are choices that could definitely have worked better. Min is a woman who confuses Rand’s feelings because she has short hair and wears pants instead of skirts. It could have been great to have had her be trans, or if not that, to reverse the relationship and have her be a man who confuses Rand’s feelings because he has long hair and wears skirts instead of pants. Either way, given how Rand’s relationships go, that relationship being queer would have worked a lot better with the story. Mat’s first relationship in a couple books could have also been delightful gender-swapped. He essentially ends up the ‘pretty little pet’ of an older woman which could also have been a great gay relationship. 

Anyways, enjoy the sex that was never in the book.

We get a little more background on Moiraine’s whole plan here, including a reference to Gitara Moroso’s Foretelling about the moment of the Dragon’s birth (which means yes, Moiriaine you DO need to discount Nynaeve’s power because she’s too old to be the Dragon. But also, Egwene is a year or two YOUNGER than the boys so she’s -also- not even potentially the Dragon). But because if the weird insistence on the idea that the Dragon could be a woman (which makes zero sense for a multitude of reasons) and I guess some idea that the mystery being between five possible people with one obvious choice was better than being three possible people with one obvious choice forced this needless overcomplication.

Now we also get the first mention of the Eye of the World which is…NOT where the Dark One is imprisoned, and NOT where he is and weak, and NOT where anybody thinks there is any chance for the Dragon to win the Last Battle, except in the show it is somehow all of those things. In the book, there are two mentions of there being a threat to the Eye, one via the Aiel and one via the Ogier. Siuan has nothing to do with it whatsoever. They go there, as a group, to just make sure it’s safe and try to see what the threat is and if they can stop it. There is never even a suggestion that the Dark One’s prison is there or that 4 out of 5 of them will die.

More consequences of choosing to have Mat be cured of his connection to the dagger so easily, Lan reports he’s just chilling in the bar, when in the later book where he’s finally cured, he spends days bedbound and ravenously hungry trying to recover energy from how draining the combined efforts of a whole group of Aes Sedai curing him were. Instead the fact that he goes from ‘fine’ to ‘grumpy’ to ‘flu’ to ‘better just completely remove all the stakes from his experience with the dagger which is super important to several elements of the later plot.

Also this weird oblique reference to the man that Liandrin sees in town? This is just made up for absolutely no reason I can discern. There are a million ways to have this ‘Moiraine, as a Blue, knows shit about you so don’t mess with her’ conversation that doesn’t include suggesting either that she’s somehow protecting a man who can channel (which Liandrin would NEVER) or just…what? Suggesting it’s a man she sleeps with? Nobody would care. And the red sisters don’t do anything to random dudes who can’t channel?

The Amyrlin, when she arrives in Fal Dara in the book, has an audience with Rand, Mat and Perrin, but not with either of the women. It’s already just established that they’re going to become novices and that they’re both quite powerful and it’s not really a big deal as such. Also there’s no way in hell she says ‘you can call me Siuan’ either. Standing in the room with her, she also wouldn’t need to ‘have been told’ that she’s so powerful. Women who can channel have a sort of automatic sense of the relative strength of other women who can channel who are near them. It’s basically the way by which they figure out who is in charge if everybody in a group is the same rank as one another. Also, while it’s still a nice touch to see Egwene get all puffed up at the idea that Siuan’s talking about her and then find out it’s Nynaeve, you also have to remember that in the book they both already knew about each other’s ability to channel, and also that they are -both- extremely strong. It’s like if the Aes Sedai were a college basketball team and Egwene and Nynaeve were peak-of-their-power Michael Jordan and Lebron James. Say what you want about which one is better, they’re still both dramatically better than everybody on your team, and they don’t make much of a point of that here and they should have.

Now we come to Moiraine’s exile, an event which doesn’t happen because she’s not back at Tar Valon to get in trouble for the arbitrary gentling of Logain which didn’t happen, and even if it had, she wasn’t with the procession with Logain anyway.

This scene is great from a general emotional standpoint but it also super undercuts the whole point of their relationship which is that it is a SECRET. I don’t know if Moiraine spoke loud enough for us the viewers to hear with the idea that the rest of the room couldn’t, but she sure said it loud enough into the silence of the room for everybody to hear her talk to Siuan in extremely intimate terms.

Cracking out the Oath Rod is also an interesting choice given that the exile never happened. Oaths sworn on the Oath Rod are absolutely binding. It’s how they swear the oath to speak no word that is not true, or to not use the One Power as a weapon etc. They do occasionally ‘exile’ sisters for screwing up, but it’s more like ‘to a farm to do some manual labour and remember that they’re not such big shit’ not ‘swear an oath on this magical artefact of unfathomable power that can literally compel you to the point of absolute adherence to the oath’ and calling her Siuan, and putting in all those very endearing terms would have absolutely ruined the whole 20 year long scheme in five seconds. The Red Ajah Sitters are like, five feet away. 

Nice touch adding in the Klingon ritual of dishonour to the end though. But the penance of exile certainly never included this whole ‘you are dead to us’ thing. It was just a punishment, and you took your punishment and then that was it.

Now we finally assemble the whole gang and get ready to go into the Ways. Now…in the book, this happens in Caemlyn, the city that was removed from the show, and they are specifically going to the Waygate near Fal Dara. Also horses absolutely survive the Ways, and they travel in the book on horseback through them. They do it again with horses in Book 3. Horses in the Ways are fine. Another odd choice.

Then we get another nice continuity issue where opening the Waygate is a function of the One Power that needs Moiraine to open which is just not true. Anybody who knows what to do can open it, and indeed there’s Waygate travel done in the books with no Aes Sedai involved at all, so connecting them is going to make some future plot issues tough. 

Of course, there’s also the part where nothing about the Eye was connected to being the Dark One’s prison at all. What’s actually at the Eye is a reservoir of Saidin that isn’t tainted by the Dark One, which was created shortly after the original sealing of the prison accomplished by Lews Therin the last Dragon so there’d be some Saidin free of the taint in case the seal ever needed repairing.

And also, what the crap is this ending with Mat not going into the Waygate? I know they’re recasting him for season 2 so maybe this was aimed at like…helping us forget what he looks like or something? Fal Dara is hundreds of miles over land away from Tar Valon, and even further from Caemlyn where they’re supposed to be leaving from. He’s been cured of his connection to the dagger, and we have no evidence that he knows where it is, so it’s going to be pretty sketchy to use this as a way to make him pick it up again. In the book, losing the dagger to Padan Fain is supposed to drive the plot forward, but he’ll be nowhere near them. He has nowhere really to go, and nothing much to do all the way in Tar Valon.

Sigh. The Wheel Weaves as the Wheel Wills I guess. Nearly done. Hang in there.

Next Episode
Episode 7 – The Dark Along The Ways – Going Way Off Course

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Author: Dan Ruffolo

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