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A Fantastic The Wheel of Time Season 1 Episode 1 Review & Recap

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After several rewatches and rewrites, this is my final account of the Season 1 premiere, Leavetaking. It’s a fantastic The Wheel of Time Season 1, Episode 1 review and recap, so I hope you enjoy it.

Egwene al'Vere (Madeleine Madden) speaks with Tam al'Thor (Michael McElhatton) at a wooden table in the village. There are clay pots and plated cheese on the table.
Egwene al’Vere (Madeleine Madden) with Tam al’Thor (Michael McElhatton).

Does the show surpass its hype and expectations? No, it doesn’t. It would always be an impossible task in that respect, certainly in my case. Is it enjoyable, watchable, and worthy? Yes, it certainly is. The show delights and delivers despite the production’s pitfalls during the Covid pandemic.

In fairness, my criticisms in this and later reviews can often be attributed to that terrible virus, though I try hard not to let it show.

Fire dragons biting at each other’s tails. Season 1: The Wheel of Time Episode 1 Review feature image.

This review & recap has spoilers for The Wheel of Time Season 1, Episode 1.

The Wheel of Time Season 1 Episode 1

“Leavetaking” – a strange noblewoman arrives in a remote mountain village, claiming one of five youths is the reincarnation of an ancient power who once destroyed the world – and will do so again if she cannot discover which of them it is. But they all have less time than they think.

Lan Mandragoran (Daniel Henney) and Moiraine Damodred (Rosamund Pike) walk purposefully outside the Winespring Inn.
Lan Mandragoran (Daniel Henney) and Moiraine Damodred (Rosamund Pike) outside the Winespring Inn.

Leavetaking Cold Open

The episode begins with a tremulous voiceover as Moiraine (Rosamund Pike) sets the scene. She explains how the world was destroyed “many, many” years ago by arrogant men and that the female Aes Sedai act as the world’s protectors now. She tells us about the man who led his male companions on a doomed mission to seal the Dark One’s prison. He was named “Dragon.”

We cut to two bedraggled men running from red-dressed women who pursue on horseback. The fleeing men are caught, but in a quick revelation, we discover that one is a figment of the other man’s madness. The leading rider scoffs at the man for using his corrupted power and asserts that it’s only meant for women.

Liandrin Guirale (Kate Fleetwood) stands ahead of her mounted Red Sisters.
Liandrin Guirale (Kate Fleetwood) and her Red Sisters.

This is Liandrin Guirale (Kate Fleetwood), a stern sister of the Red Ajah. Although we don’t see it, it’s the One Power she uses to contain the young man. She wears an Aes Sedai ring (a serpent eating its own tail) embedded with a deep-red jewel. The ruby darkens as Liandrin tightens her fist in contempt.

Moiraine and her Warder, Lan (Daniel Henney), look on from above. “It’s not him,” Moiraine affirms before resolving to go to the Two Rivers, where the Old Blood runs deep, in pursuit of “the Dragon Reborn.”

My Opinion

Firstly, the location shooting here is magical. The landscapes and backdrops are dripping with color, so the show is pleasing to the eye.

I think, controversially, that this cold open does well to introduce newcomers to the show. Only some people who watch The Wheel of Time have read the books.

Both scenes create a backstory and a sense of mystery without overdoing it. We see nuggets of world-building in action and dialogue rather than exposition.

Unfortunately, from a book-reader perspective, the immediacy of changes to the source material is a red flag. It alerts us how far the show may go in altering book canon. So, those two anxious men running in terror? You never know. They may be book zealots!

The first novel opens with an explosive prologue, but the show decides not to use it. I understand this way was chosen instead, and despite a pre-show yearning to see that prologue on screen, I support the decision. This is far less overwhelming for anyone new to the story.

At the end of the two sequences, there’s a feeling that the story is about to start. And so, it does.

Leavetaking Review and Recap

“Whoop! Awesome!” is my first and instinctive reaction. I’ve been waiting for this – a quality The Wheel of Time production – for a long time, so please forgive my early exuberance.

Rand al’Thor (Josha Stradowski), Perrin Aybara (Marcus Rutherford), and Mat Cauthon (Barney Harris) raise mugs of ale at a table in the village.
Rand al’Thor (Josha Stradowski), Perrin Aybara (Marcus Rutherford), and Mat Cauthon (Barney Harris).

Besides, the acting is on-point, the soundtrack is mesmerizing, and the landscapes continue to delight the senses. I don’t have quibbles about the set or costuming either – both are great – so in many ways, the first episode is awesome.

Sadly, flaws soon become apparent in the pace and editing of the premiere, and I can’t ignore them. I’ll start with characterization, as Leavetaking sets up our main protagonists well.

Characters

Moiraine Sedai is earnest in her quest but keeps a commanding presence during her stay in the Two Rivers. The villagers are not accustomed to strangers and none so powerful as an Aes Sedai, so their immediate distrust is only modestly veiled.

Lan Mandragoran’s entrance to the Winespring Inn reveals his stoic strength without any call to action. His firm character is softened later in the hot tub scene (bare-bottom alert, people!).

Nynaeve al’Meara (Zoë Robins) is instinctively protective and demands Lan’s name. Just moments later, though, there’s a flicker of insecurity as she watches Moiraine fleet past her. Nynaeve shows her resolve throughout the episode, and Zoë Robins’ performance is wholesome.

Nynaeve al’Meara (Zoë Robins) looks suspicious in the Winespring Inn, seated patrons behind her.
Nynaeve al’Meara (Zoë Robins) in the Winespring Inn.

While casually warming her hands at the fireplace, Moiraine scans the inn. The reactions from Rand, Perrin, Mat, Nynaeve, and Egwene amuse me.

Egwene al’Vere (Madeleine Madden) is an ambitious young lady who wants to better herself. Now a member of the Women’s Circle and a wannabe Wisdom, she shows only a little hesitancy to sacrifice her childhood sweetheart.

Said sweetheart Rand al’Thor (Josha Stradowski) is not as ready to relinquish his dreams of a simple future in the Two Rivers. He prefers to remember the days he used to pick berries for Egwene on his way to the village.

As for the others, we see Perrin Aybara (Marcus Rutherford) fly into a rage when the Trollocs attack, only to slump in trauma, blood soaking his face, when he inadvertently swings his axe into his wife’s belly.

Mat Cauthon (Barney Harris) is the light and shade of this episode. The one with jokes and cajoling. But he is also the poor son of dysfunctional parents. He assumes responsibility for his sisters, even stealing a bracelet so he can buy them lanterns for the coming festivities. A rogue and a rascal, but pleasant and humorous, nonetheless.

Mat Cauthon (Barney Harris) buys lanterns from Padan Fain (Johann Myers) at his wagon.
Mat Cauthon (Barney Harris) buys lanterns from Padan Fain (Johann Myers).

The Two Rivers

Three women seated on a clifftop. Egwene al’Vere (Madeleine Madden) has her hair braided as Nynaeve al'Meara (Zoë Robins) speaks to her.
Egwene al’Vere (Madeleine Madden) has her hair braided with Nynaeve al’Meara (Zoë Robins), left.

Some erratic editing makes the Winespring Inn scenes feel jerky – characters hop around the place as if they all possess the One Power! Honestly, it’s an observation of mine that only grates if you actively look for inconsistencies.

I enjoy the Moiraine and Nynaeve scene by the cave pool. Moiraine uses wordsmithing, a trait of the Aes Sedai, to steer the conversation and establish Nynaeve’s approximate age. She rules the Wisdom out of “Dragon Reborn” candidacy by doing so. For now, at least.

Tam al’Thor’s (Michael McElhatton’s) monologue to Rand, as they light a candle for his late wife Kari, is another moment I love. McElhatton’s eloquent delivery gives me a nostalgic glow, which I trust is the intention. The use of a match here is interesting as, in the books, they’re not in the fire-lighting toolkit of the Two Rivers, or anywhere else for that matter.

As the Two Rivers folk push their candles into the pool, reflecting on rebirth while nursing the pain of their losses, my heartstrings feel the pull. I find myself drawn in, floating with the lanterns. Happy Bel Tine, everyone!

Trollocs

Poor Tom at the dance. Just as he gets into the swing of things, a Trolloc spear takes him through the chest. He’s the first of many fatalities as another Trolloc bursts into the fray, and all hell breaks loose on the village green.

The peddler, Padan Fain (Johann Myers), seems dismissive of the unfolding horror. He watches nonchalantly before turning his back on the Two Rivers people running for their lives.

In the smithy, the tragedy that befalls Perrin’s wife, Laila (Helena Westerman), unfolds while, at the al’Thor farmhouse, Tam unboxes his heron-embossed blade and fends off a wild Trolloc’s attack. He takes a poisonous wound before Rand puts an end to the creature.

Madeleine Madden (Egwene al’Vere) and Zoë Robins (Nynaeve al’Meara) are horrified as they hide from marauding Trollocs.
Egwene al’Vere (Madeleine Madden) and Nynaeve al’Meara (Zoë Robins) hide from marauding Trollocs.

Nynaeve’s efforts to heal the wounded are cut short when a Trolloc snatches her braid. A distraught Egwene watches her mentor being dragged away by the muzzled beast. However, the other Two Rivers women bravely stand up to the Trollocs, supplying a feel-good moment amidst the carnage.

Moiraine and Lan team up to forestall the ambush, and the One Power offensive is magnificent. The Aes Sedai throws firebolts and weapons at the Trolloc horde and draws lightning from the sky. She ducks as Lan launches his attacks, showing us the benefits of a Warder bond in battle.

Moiraine takes a wound but summons enough strength to hurl bricks from the inn as missiles against the Shadowspawn. In a great visual, the Winespring Inn crumbles, Moiraine falls to the dirt, and Lan swoops to protect her from the dust and ashes.

It all amounts to a very satisfying sequence, and Moiraine does enough to save the village. Thankfully, the prosthetic Trollocs look dangerous. Their murderous rampage is haphazard (though they do stop for dinner), and I feel gripped as the destruction intensifies.

Leavetaking

Rand brings his wounded father to the village green, and Moiraine heals him of Trolloc poison. It’s enough to save his life, but not all are so fortunate. Perrin lays his wife down, still in a daze from the shock of killing her.

Rand al’Thor (Josha Stradowski) is with Bela, a mare. The wounded Tam al'Thor (Michael McElhatton) is draped over the horse's back.
Rand al’Thor (Josha Stradowski) with a wounded Tam al’Thor (Michael McElhatton) on Bela.

The dead and debris are the scattered remnants of the attack, but we don’t linger long in the wreckage. A new horde of Trollocs descends in the distance, so Moiraine stresses the importance of our remaining protagonists leaving the Two Rivers in haste. There’s no semblance of a question or a choice in her tone.

The Aes Sedai explains her intent and mission. The Dragon Reborn is one of the four, and their village and its people will be overrun if they don’t leave.

I expect some resistance from Mat, Rand, Perrin, and Egwene (and from their loved ones), but they’re quick to take up Moiraine’s lead. They scarper to protect the Two Rivers folk as the episode rushes to its end.

Moiraine bookends the premiere with another voiceover, this time from the iconic and recurring opening to The Wheel of Time books. It creates a storybook ambiance that works nicely to bring Leavetaking to its end.

Yet, with the rapid departure, I can’t help but think there’s a big chunk of context on the cutting room floor, as empty of life now as the Two Rivers dead. Having said that, I can’t wait for the next episode after an eventful hour that replenishes my love for the world and all those in it.

Leavetaking Rating

Fire dragons biting at each other’s tails. Season 1: The Wheel of Time Episode 1 Rating. 6.5/10.

I scored Leavetaking a 6.5, as I think there’s room to improve when we dive deeper into the story.

The acting from our main cast is phenomenal, and they all get an opportunity to show us their characters’ personalities. The cinematography and landscapes are impressive, too, beginning with the cold open before we transition to the village and the Winespring Inn. All of this reassures me for the future.

The editing is clunky, and Leavetaking rushes to its end after the Trolloc sequence. A bit more time would have helped, but there’s much to like about the show already. The actors’ embodiment of their characters is lovely to watch. All in all, it’s a solid premiere.

Lan Mandragoran (Daniel Henney) and Rosamund Pike (Moiraine Damodred) look left through ashen air, the Winespring Inn behind them.
Lan Mandragoran (Daniel Henney) and Moiraine Damodred (Rosamund Pike) outside the Winespring Inn.

Best Actor

Rosamund Pike as Moiraine Damodred

In a word… brilliant! Rosamund Pike perfectly embodies Moiraine and leaves us with no doubt that she’s in charge. She delivers her opening and closing monologues with powerful intonation, and the movement as she dresses feels regal and deliberate. Just as it should be.

Rosamund presents Moiraine’s exposition enchantingly, shows urgency and doubt, wields her power with authority, and is unmoved by antagonism. I am sold.

A shout-out for Daniel Henney as Lan Mandragoran, too. He works well with Rosamund Pike, which is a good sign for future episodes.

Moiraine Damodred (Rosamund Pike) is weary from using the One Power, with Lan Mandragoran (Daniel Henney). They stand despondent with a crumbled building behind them.
Moiraine Damodred (Rosamund Pike) is weary after using magic. With Lan Mandragoran (Daniel Henney).

Behind the Scenes Video

Enjoy this behind-the-scenes footage, which Prime Video has shared on YouTube. It’s a look inside The Wheel of Time Episode 1, Leavetaking.

Watch “Leavetaking” Today!

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Let me know your thoughts on Leavetaking in the comments. Was The Wheel of Time Season 1, Episode 1 worth the wait? Do you agree with my rating and review? I always respond as soon as possible and answer any questions you have.

Clicking the image below takes you to my review of the second episode, but until next time, may the Light shine on you, my friends!

Russell

Fire dragons biting at each other’s tails. Season 1: The Wheel of Time Episode 2 Review forward link.
Link to The Wheel of Time Season 1 hub page. Fire dragons biting at each other’s tails on a black background.
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