This review contains full spoilers for season two, episode seven of The Wheel of Time, now available to watch on Prime Video.
Though full of magical spectacle and unexpected twists of fate, episode 7 of The Wheel of Time season 2 is most memorable for a smaller moment between characters. After consistently finding themselves at odds with each other, Moiraine (Rosamund Pike) and Lan (Daniel Henney) exchange a look near the end of “Daes Dae’mar” that provides an example of where this fantasy series is at its best. All of the machinations and maneuvering would be nothing without essential emotional grounding like this. While such elements can get lost in the shuffle, they still shine through when it counts.
Book readers will know that the title of the episode translates to the “Great Game” in the Old Tongue, though it is also known as the Game of House (totally different from Game of Thrones). It’s built around the various players trying to maintain a control that may be slipping away. Caught in the middle of this is the prophesied bald boy Rand (Josha Stradowski) who just can’t seem to catch a break despite being the potential savior of the world. He intended to go find Egwene (Madeleine Madden) in the Falme only to be intercepted and brought to Mother Siuan (Sophie Okonedo). The Amyrlin Seat then flexes her authority as leader of the Aes Sedai in the White Tower to shield Rand so he cannot channel the One Power.
However, it is a short introductory flashback to 20 years prior that proves to be most engaging scene. In it, we see Moiraine and Siuan together in what was a simpler time for both. They’re each blissfully unaware of the heavy burden that will define their futures and the schism it will create. As written by Justine Juel Gillmer and directed by Sanaa Hamri, this small peek into the past feels natural yet unavoidably tragic in how it is intercut with the rest of “Daes Dae’mar.” Both Pike and Okonedo draw us in just enough to let us see what their characters’ lives could’ve been before bringing us crashing back down to the present.
This is where we then run into some hang-ups as we traverse what can feel like a bit of a creaky bridge between two points. Such is often the difficult task of a penultimate episode: Left with a lot to do to set us on the right course for the finale. There are moments of “Daes Dae’mar” where exposition is ungracefully delivered and threatens to swallow up the emotional notes. Indeed, much of what takes place with Egwene – training under duress far away from the rest of the main characters – feels like a setup for what’s next rather than a successful storyline in its own right. That she is literally gagged for most of the episode is part of the mythology of the series, but it provides an unintentionally revealing visual metaphor for how her character is being held back. After the torture sequences that defined episode 6, this one is more shallow for Egwene. Thankfully, one line at the end where she makes a promise closes it out on a high note.
The rest of the episode’s conversations are bound up in the mental states of The Wheel of Time’s evolving characters. This and strong performances all around ensures it finds its footing. A series of one-on-one scenes that give the actors room to work; some of these involve Moiraine talking with Lan, who confronts her with a painful question about the loss of her power that’s quite rattling, whereas others see Moiraine sparring with Siuan. Each is linked by how she has grown distant from the two people she was once closest with. Though their disagreements are strategic, they are also profoundly emotional in a way that gives them real weight. Each of these characters believes what they are doing is right to save the realm from falling into the hands of the Forsaken, but this only makes the coming deceptions all the more devastating.
Said ne’er-do-wells are mostly in the background in the episode – with Ishmael (Fares Fares) delivering some delightfully menacing musings now and again – but that doesn’t last for long. Making an explosive entrance, Lanfear (Natasha O’Keeffe) comes for Rand after he’d been calling out for her. The way this is captured is a spectacularly kinetic disruption to the way the rest of “Daes Dae’mar” was shot. The camera is briefly sent hurtling through the fire she conjures, providing ajolt that also helps to make the combination of visual and practical effects hit harder. The Wheel of Time’s smaller scale is one of the most significant differences between it and other fantasy epics, but this moment of flair manages to give it more of a punch.
This brings us back to that moment between Moiraine and Lan. Forget all the spectacle: These two are the beating heart of this episode (and, most likely, the next). When Lan informs Moiraine that she’s merely been shielded rather than stilled, the disbelief that turns to joy on Pike’s face strikes a chord. Rand is the only one with the ability to restore Moiraine’s powers, and with his assistance she’s freed from this shield and able to be her full self once more. But the triumph is short-lived as both Siuan and Lanfear join in on the party. The scene is most effective in how it tears apart what was already a fraying relationship between Siuan and Moiraine when the former takes over the body of the latter. It is quick, but this is a stunning betrayal that all works because of the little details. Unsettling sound design where we hear Moiraine’s body being used against her as well as Pike’s silent expression of shock speak volumes about what has just happened.
That Moiraine then leaves Siuan behind when she is tossed aside by Lanfear makes clear whatever bond they once had may now be damaged beyond repair. Several pointed cuts to the initial flashbacks twist the knife even further. It is as if we’re seeing the final happy memories Moiraine had be subsumed by the pains of the present where she and Siuan are now more enemies than lovers. As she turns away and crosses a new threshold, there is no going back.