‘The Wheel Of Time’ Episode 3 Review: Gleemen, Darkfriends And Tuatha’an

The Wheel Of Time is one of those shows that starts out a bit slow and shaky but gets better over time.

That’s not to say that by episodes 3 and 4 the show is perfect. There are still some things that rub me wrong, like a general sense that everything inexplicably feels low-budget largely thanks to the way the show is shot.

But there’s no denying that things get better with each episode, and that really episodes 2 – 4 are all pretty strong and engaging. It’s a shame the first episode is a bit of a clunker, but once you get past it the show is much more enjoyable.

Episode 2, which saw our heroes flee into a terrifying haunted city, was also when the show “clicked” for me, during the Aes Sedai sorceress Moiraine’s Manatheren speech, which was outstanding. Rosamund Pike is proving to be perfect in the role, though I always pictured her as quite a lot shorter in The Eye Of The World.

In any case, let’s talk about episode 3—‘A Place Of Safety.’

A Place Of Safety

At the end of episode 2, our heroes have been split up. They were forced to flee Shadar Logoth as a strange and deadly darkness pursued them. During their escape, the fellowship was split asunder. Three pairs fled the city in three different directions.


Let’s see where each one ended up.

Mat and Rand

Mat (Barney Harris) was the reason the darkness attacked them in the first place. He found a mysterious, bejeweled dagger in the abandoned city and despite being warned by the warder, Lan (Daniel Henney) he took it for himself. (P.S. I really wish Mat hadn’t been recast. Barney Harris is one of my favorites on this show. It’s really a damn shame).

The dagger is bad news, carrying with it a piece of the city’s evil. We begin to see its effect on Mat quite soon after their escape.

The two young men make their way to a mining town that’s a far cry from their own village of Emond’s Field. Here, the people are not so friendly, the clothes are not so nice and the view—well if you like looking at quarry walls, it’s terrific. I prefer the Two Rivers with its green fields and rushing rivers.

The first thing they encounter here is a gibbeted corpse stuck through with arrows. We learn later that the poor man was killed not for any crime, but because he was an outsider.

The two make their way to an inn and find themselves in a crowded common area when a gleeman makes his way to the center of the room. This, we learn, is Thom Merrilin (Alexandre Willaume).

Merrilin is a man of hidden depths. Outwardly a songsmith and a rogue, he is far more dangerous and cunning than anyone suspects. He sings a song, The Man Who Can’t Forget, which—if you listen carefully—reveals a bunch of backstory and lore about the breaking of the world.

After he’s done singing, Thom approaches Mat and Rand (Josha Stradowski) and asks for a donation for the gleeman, which Mat at first refuses. When he finally goes for his money pouch he discovers it’s gone. A pickpocket had stolen it, and Thom had stolen it back. But he doesn’t give it to Mat. Instead he grins and walks away, much to Mat’s dismay and anger. Rand is forced to intervene, preventing Mat from doing something stupid.

Penniless, they barter for room and board with the friendly innkeeper, a dark-skinned woman not much older than they are named Dana (Izuka Hoyle). She sets them to chopping wood, but Mat—mysteriously sullen and disagreeable—leaves Rand to do all the work and heads back inside to flirt with the innkeeper.

She sets him to waiting tables, a job which he takes to fairly naturally—if grudgingly. Later, Dana shows Rand to the room which she says is private and sound-proof. He and Mat can go about their business without having to worry about making noise. The implication is clear, and Rand quickly assures her that he and Mat are merely friends, not lovers.

Mat, meanwhile, heads back to the gibbet. He’s spotted a gemstone on the corpse that he wants to take for himself (though how such an obvious piece of treasure wasn’t taken by his killers remains a mystery). Just then Thom appears and asks him what he’s doing. Mat confesses and Thom asks him to help get the man down from the cage.

He gives Mat a moment to rob the dead and then asks him to help bury the man. The least you can do when you rob the dead is bury them after, he tells Mat.

Back at the inn, Rand and Dana are talking when she tries to kiss him. When he dodges the kiss she reveals that she was trying to seduce him by doing her hair like Egwene’s and that this was her mistake. How does she know such a thing? It turns out that she’s a Darkfriend, a secret servant of the Dark One, and she’s turning him and Mat over to her Master. The room was a trap, its door not only sound-proof but impossible for a man to break down.

Rand tries anyways and, in the first reveal of his super-powers, manages to break out. He runs into Mat and tells him to run. Behind them, Dana pursues with her sword, looking rather more fiendish than before. She corners them and reveals that a Myddraal is on the way. She also reveals how she knew who they were. She’s had dreams of “all five of you” which confuses our heroes. They’re not aware, of course, that Nynaeve is alive.

In a flash, a dagger is protruding from Dana’s throat. Thom has come to the rescue and just in the nick of time. Gurgling blood, the Darkfriend collapses and Thom tells them to follow him, they have no time to lose. Rand seems suspicious (he always does) but Mat convinces him that Thom is on the level and they ride off into the night.

Perrin and Egwene

Not quite as much happens with or second pair. Perrin (Marcus Rutherford), wounded, hobbles along with Egwene (Madeleine Madden) over a chilly and mostly barren plain. Behind them, wolves howl. The pack seems to be herding them in a very specific direction, but they never attack or make any truly threatening moves.

Of course, Perrin has already encountered the wolves when they came right up to him, one of them licking his wounded leg almost affectionately. It seems clear to us, if not to Perrin and certainly not to Egwene, that the wolves mean no harm. That there is, perhaps, some special connection between Perrin and the beasts. Just as we discover Rand’s super-strength, we begin to get a glimpse of Perrin’s own special power.

It does look awfully cold and our heroes stop to light a fire. Perrin scrambles at the flint and tinder, increasingly frustrated by his inability to light a spark. And then Egwene taps into her own special power, the power of a fledgling Aes Sedai.

The fire springs magically to life. The two huddle together over the fire—the second time they’ve shared warmth. It’s not a romantic thing, but in some ways there’s more warmth between these two than between Egwene and Rand (who are lovers in the show, but only potential lovers at this point in the books).

Onward they travel, lost and alone, when suddenly the wolves let out ominous howls. There ahead, figures shrouded in mist. Bandits perhaps, or worse.

“What do you want?” Egwene calls out nervously. The figures begin walking toward them.

“Do you know the song?” one asks. Then another: “Do you know the song?”

They’re clearly not bandits. Dressed in colorful clothes and eccentric hairdos, they look more like gypsies than marauders.

“What?” Egwene asks, confused.

A young man steps forward, a look of humor on his face. “They don’t know it or they’d have answered,” he says wryly in a distinct Irish accent.

These are the Tuatha ‘an, also called Tinkers, a nomadic people and The Wheel Of Time’s analog for the Roma, or gypsies, of our own world.

“Your welcome warms our spirit as your fire warm the flesh, but we do not know the song,” the young man says. “That’s the important bit.” He has them repeat the phrase.

It’s a crash course in Tuatha’an culture. The woman introduces herself as Ila (Maria Doyle Kennedy who I last saw in Outlander). Her husband is Raen (nARINDER sAMRA) and the young man, their grandson, we learn is Aram (Daryl McCormack). Aram is instantly more likable than Rand—more confident, with a sparkle in his eyes. In another story, perhaps Egwene would stay with him, become a Tuatha’an herself and make beautiful babies.

“You both look awful,” Ila tells our heroes.

They welcome a wary Perrin and Egwene back to their wagon train, a merry place of laughing children and smoking cookfires, wrapping the two in blankets and sharing their food and hospitality. They tell the two that their peoples’ reputation as baby thieves and ne’er-do-wells couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s just bigotry and ignorance.

We welcome anyone to our fire, they tell the pair. And Perrin and Egwene need no convincing. They dig into their meals like ravenous wolves.

Lan, Moiraine and Nynaeve

Finally we come to Lan and Moiraine who, at the end of Episode 2, had fled Shadar Logoth and run into the Wisdom, Nynaeve (Zoe Robbins) who everyone thought was dead.

Nynaeve, we learn, was taken by the Trollocs but managed to escape to the caves. Her Trolloc captor followed her but she outwitted it, hiding in a pool and then taking the beast by surprise and killing it. This tells us a great deal about Nynaeve. She is smart, ferocious and an all around badass.

She’s also a little annoying at first. For all her badassery she comes across as kind of a one-note character, all bristling anger and suspicion. When she encounters Lan and Moiraine in the forest she demands to know where her friends are and, instead of being patient, makes some very unwise choices.

“We both know you won’t,” Lan tells her as she holds her sword to his throat. But he’s wrong. She lunges forward and he has to dodge out of the way, wrapping her in his arms to keep the blade away. “You actually tried to kill me,” he says, and he sounds more pissed off than surprised. She bites him and he knocks her unconcious.

When she wakes, she’s tied to a tree and gagged, not looking the least bit sorry. If looks could kill . . .

But Lan gives her water and asks if she’s willing to help Moiraine now. “She best give me the answers I want!” the Wisdom spits out. “Are you really in a position to make demands?” Lan replies. “It’s not a demand, it’s a threat!” Nynaeve says.

Ultimately she relents and tends to Moiraine’s wounds as best she can, but the wound is deep. Poison festers in it and there’s only so much Nynaeve can do (well, there’s lots more she can do but she doesn’t realize it yet). Lan rides off and comes back sometime later telling Nynaeve he’s found the help Moiraine needs.

They head off but not in the direction of Tar Valon. They eventually come to a narrow canyon in the woods. An Aes Sedai in red approaches. We recognize her from the opening of the very first episode. Liandrin Sedai of the Red Ajah—one of the women whose entire purpose is to stop false Dragons.

“If you’ve come to help, you’re too late,” Liandrin says smugly. “Oh didn’t you hear? We captured a man calling himself the Dragon Reborn.”

A cart rolls up behind Liandrin led by warders and other minions of the Aes Sedai. We get our first glimpse of Peter Franzén’s character, Stepin, a warder. Franzén played one of the best characters in Vikings, king Harald Finehair, and it’s fun to see him in The Wheel Of Time. Minus all the tattoos and scars and sporting wavy blond locks, he looks about ten years younger here.

In the cage is a swarthy, long-haired bearded fellow. The Dragon Reborn, or so he styles himself. This is Logain Ablar (Álvaro Morte), a powerful sorcerer / channeler, though as we know by now, men are not allowed to channel because tapping into the One Power drives all men mad ever since the Dark One tainted the saidin and the breaking of the world. (Lots of lore here to unpack but the long and short of it is that men cannot channel, but Moiraine believes that the true Dragon Reborn will be able to without going mad, thus bringing balance to the Force).


All told, another strong episode. Yes, there are plenty of changes from the books, but there are plenty of similarities as well. I love the Tuatha’an and how they’re portrayed here. I love Thom and his weird, gravelly singing voice. The casting all around is perfect, even if it doesn’t always match our minds’ eyes. Lan continues to be one of my favorite characters, though he really shines in Episode 4.

I did think that Dana was a bit silly as a Darkfriend. Not that her treachery was poorly handled. Just the bit with her racing after them with a sword and two grown men running away like frightened rabbits. But everything else here was really solid, from Thom’s introduction and the scene between him and Mat at the gibbet, to Nynaeve’s escape from the Trollocs and their meeting with Liandrin and the other Aes Sedai. If only they could get the cinematography right so that it didn’t look quite so low-budget I’d be fully onboard.

What did you think? Let me know on Twitter or Facebook.

P.S. My apologies for the tardiness of these reviews. The last week and a half have been pretty hectic on my end and I’m doing my best to get caught up. Thanks!

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