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I’m not one of those viewers who enjoys angst. I recognize that some of it is useful for character development but, for me, it’s usually just something to get through until the good stuff. The Wheel of Time 2×03 is an example of how an episode can be emotionally draining but worth it. In fact, I think it may be one of the best episodes of the show so far.
So far in this new season, The Wheel of Time is, well, taking its time. The series is taking pains to develop emotional investment in the characters we care about while the struggle between good and evil slowly advances. Audiences have seen a lot of created worlds in the fantasy genre. Many of the general concepts within them can feel familiar. There is always magic and a powerful bad guy who must be defeated, for example. But distinguishing the characters is a good way to make a story stand out, and that is what this show is doing now. The benefits of this for the viewing experience will become clear with time but they certainly work for this episode.
For me, The Wheel of Time 2×03 is a stand-out episode. Whereas the previous episode made me excited for what might come next in the central “fate of the world” plot, this episode made me more eager than ever to see the future for these specific characters.
“A woman’s grief is her own.”
The core focus of this episode is Nynaeve (Zoe Robins) and her final step toward becoming an Aes Sedai. She may be the most powerful channeler of magic in 1000 years but even she must go through the Trial of the Arches. Without access to magic, she must go through three arches and face whatever is there. If she survives, she is an Aes Sedai.
The Arches seem to be divided into Past, Present, and Future. We heard Nynaeve describe losing her parents during season one and to see that dramatized here is effective. Nynaeve and the kids from the Two Rivers form a bit of a found family. So when the second Arch shows her a plague in their home village, we know how much that hurts her. As Wisdom, she was a leader and healer in the town. She is distraught at seeing this situation.
But the final Arch is the most traumatizing. Even if I could reveal what happens there, I wouldn’t, because the viewer needs to experience this without spoilers. What I will say is that you are going to want the good things to happen for real and the bad things to never happen at all. I can’t stress enough the feels that are provided by this sequence. It leaves a mark. And I can’t imagine anyone disliking Nynaeve after this, if anyone ever did.
“You have no idea what I’m capable of.”
Of course, Nynaeve’s ordeal is not the only thing that happens in this episode. Perrin (Marcus Rutherford) and his friends from Fal Dara are now captives of the invading army controlled by Lady Suroth (Karima McAdams). The ruthless soldiers and strong channelers of this force make for a scary combination. And some of the details about them, like the way the channelers wear metal plates over their mouths, are unsettling.
Meanwhile, Mat (Donal Finn) is still imprisoned by the Aes Sedai in the White Tower. He always had a touch of the tragic about him because he wanted to be good but also had self-sabotaging tendencies. Well, antagonistic Aes Sedai Liandrin (Kate Fleetwood) suddenly decides to let him go. As usual, she and her evil jawline have their own agenda. Mat met Min (Kae Alexander), the Seer from the first season, in the cell next to his. When Mat leaves, Min goes with him as part of Liandrin’s plan.
Mat’s future storyline is open to a lot of interesting possibilities. Rand (Josha Stradowski) is different. As the Dragon Reborn, Rand knows his fate is to face the Dark One and either save the world or break it. He is desperately trying to avoid the madness that afflicts men who can channel by trying to find out how to control his abilities. After this episode, he will have to begin to accept that the solution will not be that simple. There is so much that is impactful in The Wheel of Time 2×03 and it is one of the strongest episodes of the series so far.
The Wheel of Time is streaming on Prime Video.