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Five Thoughts on The Wheel of Time‘s “Damane”

By | September 22nd, 2023
Posted in Television | % Comments

The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past, a wind rose above the great recap pages of Multiversity Comics. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.

Today, we will look into episode five of season 2, “Damane.”

As may have been clear before, the series uses italics to indicate not only emphasis, but also words in the language known as the “Old Tongue,” including the title of this episode.

1. Seanchan Politics

High Lady Suroth has a lot to answer for as she is presented before High Lord Turak, the military leader of the Seanchan invasion (or rather, “Return,” as they would call it). She went against Seanchan military policy by taking Atuan’s Mill, a town outside of their current reach, one that they cannot hold (as is proven by it being conquered by another force in this very episode offscreen). As Turak says, the aim of these invaders is aligned with the Light, hoping to conquer the various peoples of the world to fight the Shadow under the Empress of Seanchan (unnamed in the show out of respect, but likely Radhanan Paendrag). Given she is working with a Forsaken herself, Suroth probably could not care less if she tried, apparently only interested in power.

As punishment, she has her extremely long nails cut with a sword in a manner not unlike the Japanese practice of yubitsume, with the explanation that she cannot seek the counsel of the court until she is “presentable” again, implicitly once her nails grow back, which could take months if not years.

On the other hand, Ishamael gains favor with the High Lord by way of having Padan Fain, who has been traveling with them, hand the Horn of Valere to the Seanchan commander. He also is noted as something of a prophet by the High Lord in their audience later, seeing omens leading to their initiation of the Return (implying the empire is highly superstitious about such things even beyond the One Power). Judging from how old he is, Ishamael likely was in similar positions of great worth and power for centuries at least, manipulating courts to bring forth the Dark One. How far could we say he reaches? To Luthair himself? To his father, Artur Hawkwing? Further still?

In private, Suroth makes clear that she is a Darkfriend. She notes that attacking Atuan’s Mill was Ishamael’s idea, one she is paying the price for we ith out knowing why he wanted to go about that assault in the first place. She complains about Turak, saying they “should just kill [him] and be done with it.” Ishamael disagrees, but his wording is odd. He claims that it would send the Seanchan Empire into civil war… but Turak is not the leader of the Empire, as he himself admits by saying they are spreading the rule of their Empress back on the Seanchan continent. Perhaps Ishamael means the contingent of the Seanchan forces abroad would be against each other, but he does not clarify.

He also claims that the Last Battle will be fought in the skies above Falme, the city they are located in, which is both a) laughable given we went through a nigh identical deception last season with the Eye, and b) likely entirely false for no reason other than that he felt like lying.

2. Leashed Ones: Channeler Slaves of the Seanchan

Nynaeve, Elayne, and Egwene are brought to Suroth in Falme by Liandrin to be made into damane, which translates to “leashed one”. The word and ones around it are central to the presentation of the Seanchan in the series, with terminology that tends to use the Old Tongue (as implied by the damane in the initial attack on Atuan’s Mill speaking it as they attacked). Other prominent words related are sul’dam (“leash holder”), their trainers der’sul’dam (“master leash holder”), and the slur marath’damane (“those who must be leashed”). In general, it is a practice of brutal slavery that we will go into further in subsequent episodes.

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Despite being of the Black Ajah (as mentioned below), Liandrin seems to be at least somewhat remorseful for her actions, and holds the Seanchan in contempt for their practices.

Due to what is implied to be Liandrin willingly awakening them with the One Power just before retreating back through a Waygate, Nynaeve and Elayne are able to escape initial capture. With the help of the undercover Ryma Sedai and her Warder Basan (who is unique to the television series). However, Egwene is not so lucky, being brought before Turak and leashed by Suroth in front of him.

The look of the a’dam (the leash on damane) is different from the source material, and is far more overtly magical in nature. In the books, the collar was just that; a collar with a leash attached that could be connected to a sul’dam‘s wrist as well as a channeler’s neck. It had a seemingly normal physical latch to open it, though the damane could not remove it themselves. In this series, it seems to be donned akin to liquid metal and form a kind of armor around the shoulders and neck, the leash itself summoned forth rather than being a physical part. The result is odd, but not necessarily bad. However, it implies even the holder using magic, which seems a bit of an oversight.

3. Black Magic Women: True Power, Dreadlords, and Black Ajah

While she is regenerating herself, Selene, or as we will call her from now on Lanfear, draws upon not the yellow or green threads of Air or Earth, nor the blue of Water or red of Fire, nor the brilliant white of Spirit, but rather a black strand. As she does, fleck of darkness run across her eyes (known as saa). It may not be immediately clear, but she is not drawing upon the True Source, nor the One Power. Instead, she is pulling from something far more dangerous, the reason for the change of Ages in the first place: the True Power, the essence of the Dark One. If holding true to the books, Lanfear was one of the first people to ever use this power in the current spin of the Wheel, as she was experimenting in the hopes of finding a power source that could be used by men and women equally. She did find it, but said discovery comes with a hefty price.

If saidin could eventually drive men mad just due to a faint touch on it by the Dark One eons ago, use of his power, corruption itself, does the same much more quickly. The flecks across her eyes would eventually consume them entirely if she overuses the True Power, at which point she will be irretrievably insane. In the case of Ishamael’s corpse-like appearance with blazing eyes from season one, it came from using it so much, to the exclusion of the One Power, that even other Forsaken would call him deranged. Even the most ardent supporters of the Dark One are frightened by the True Power, likely to use it only in the most extreme of circumstances, unless they become addicted to it as habitual users are wont to do.

She does use the One Power as well, such as what seems to be a Weave of Air to decapitated a man, so she is not too far gone in that regard, but it still bears watching out for, especially given Moiraine’s claim that of Ishamael sets all of the Forsaken free, the heroes have no hope in the Last Battle (perhaps assuming their strength from reputation, but the use of the True Power may be related as well). In unrelated news, she also seems to think a horse is a hopelessly slow form of travel, indicating she remembers when there were far more advanced forms as shown in our brief look at the Age of Legends.

Worth mentioning is Lanfear’s sheer power: even without augmentation, she is the most powerful female channeler in existence, or in the least on the upper ranks of said power along with others. If going according to the scale provided in supplementary material, she is still a ways below the likes of Ishamael or the Dragon and other male channelers (on a raw power scale in any case), but that does not mean much when compared to modern channelers, especially when the current Dragon has only the vaguest idea as to what he is doing as of yet.

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The conversation between Lanfear and Ishamael also reveals the identities of several other Forsaken, specifically some of the women. Lanfear calls Mogheidien (Spider) “insane” and Graendal (Vessel of Pleasure) a “vain idiot,” and does not really have higher opinions of the men. Ishamael knows she will betray him at some point, and she knows he does as well, but neither really seem to care, as they each have their own priorities. With this in mind, combined with the admitted lack of loyalty between Forsaken, it seems that the only reason the Forsaken are so formidable as leaders of the Dark is their power, rather than their ability or willingness to work together or even with the Dark One in the first place.

Ishamael, in particular, actually believes in the Dark on a philosophical level, instead of just using it for his own ends (which actually seems to tie more into his behavior from long before the series and much later in the book timeline, but we digress). While Lanfear may consider the likes of Mogheidien insane, she seems to pale in comparison to Ishamael’s own goal to stop the Wheel of Time itself to end all suffering caused by the turning of Ages and continued motion of all peoples. In his mind, if the Wheel’s continued motion and existence allows for repetitive suffering across the Ages, something a truly benevolent Creator in the Light would not, in his opinion, allow to persist. With that in mind, he thinks that the cycle of Ages should stop, the Wheel itself be destroyed, so as to end that suffering (or possibly just his own, and justifying it as applied to everyone else). On top of that, nothing he does matters except that aim if everything will repeat eventually anyway. This violent nihilism is enough that it is highly likely that other Forsaken would consider him quite mad, though telling him that to his face is likely to drive him back to his form with blazing eyes. How he can think that Mat was born already his remains uncertain, but perhaps has to do with the ruby-hilted dagger or Mat’s own dangerous tendencies.

In terms of more modern Darkfriend channelers, Verin arrives at the White Tower, investigating the disappearance of the Accepted and two novices, despite an apparent retiree (a status she does not have in the books) coming to do research. In so doing, she finds evidence of a secret sect of Aes Sedai, one that the many Ajahs claim does not exist: the Black Ajah, composed of Aes Sedai sworn to the Dark One. Unlike most, they have undone and replaced the Three Oaths, enabling them to be violent and to lie, though the wording of their own oaths remains unknown at this point.

The infiltration is quite subtle at this point, but still bears mentioning. For instance, Mistress of Novices Sheriam Bavanar’s memory loss around the missing women and distinctive writing style shows evidence of Compulsion, a rather insidious Weave that is akin to mind control that primarily utilized threads of Spirit, and thus is normally invisible to most. (As a side note, there is also mention of the rest of Elayne’s family and home city that draw from Arthurian legend at least in name, but that is irrelevant for the time being.)

It is clear that Liandrin is a member given her actions, though she claims that women only really join the Dark if they have something they need that only they could grant, such as a cure for her dying son. Her behavior is much more sympathetic than in the books, but still aids potentially apocalyptic forces. That each person has their own personal reasons for serving the Dark makes them similar to the Forsaken, implying this is how all people tend to serve that ancient enemy of reality. The general term (gender neutral in practice) for these people, for channelers, male or female, who serve the Dark is a “Dreadlord,” or at least it has been since the Trolloc Wars (a bit over two thousand years ago). However, said term is all-encompassing, so we will avoid using it except where it is the only accurate term.

It seems possible that Joiya Byir, the only other person who seemed to truly agree with her words on the threats around, may also be part.

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4. Wolves, Whitecloaks, and Aiel Representation

“Aren’t many things outside accent and dress that can tell you where a person’s from. But it is rare to see that color of hair outside the Aiel Waste.” – Them Merrilin, “A Place of Safety”

In the land of Arad Doman, Perrin learns from Elyas that his eyes will eventually turn golden permanently, granting him the enhanced senses on a full-time basis. He has a falling out over what is considered his “pack,” with Elyas apparently considering humans to not be one of them and not bothering to try saving anyone, whereas Perrin decides to go save his new friends, even if he has to do it alone. Luckily, Hopper decides to come along with him as he returns to Atuan’s Mill, the village where he had been attacked in the first place.

Said town has been seized by a group of Children of the Light. These Children are led by the soldier Lord Dain Bornhold (son of another Child his father who goes unnamed) and the surprisingly-still-alive Questioner Eamon Valda. The latter has his right arm in a sling, and has developed a quite rational fear of wolves after last encounter.

Despite not having many other people, Perrin finds a young Aiel woman named Aviendha, a “Maiden of the Spear” who is one of their infamous warrior women. Her people live in the desert to the east known commonly as the “Aiel Waste,” and are particularly concerned with their honor, in a system called “ji’e’toh” (honor and obligation). Notably, they are most dangerous when they pull their veil to cover their mouth, as that is an indication that they are going to fight and likely aim to kill.

Not wanting her imprisoned, he frees her, and while he gets into a fight (with her doing most of the fighting and doing excellently despite having no weapons), he spares Bornhold’s life. After being freed, Aviendha feels she has “toh” (obligation) to the “wetlander” for saving her. For that reason, she pledges to help him to rescue the Shienarans and Loial.

Perrin does not seem to be too alarmed to spend time with an Aiel woman, likely helped by them working together and his own lack of much knowledge outside of his own culture. While he calls her lands the Waste, she calls it the “Three-Fold Land”: “A shaping stone to make us, a testing ground to prove our worth, and a punishment for the sin.” She does not know what “the sin” is, as it was so long ago, but we should remember that part for later down the line.

Aviendha is searching for the “Car’a’carn,” a “chief of chiefs” who is essentially the Aiel chosen one much as the Dragon Reborn is for the Westlands. Judging from how Rand looks almost like an Aielman himself, it seems plausible that said figure is him.

With the emergence of an Aiel as a major character (and Aviendha is indeed very important going forward as our primary view into the ways of the Aiel), it seems time to finally bring up an issue that has been present from the very first episode of this season: hair color.

For many series, the idea of someone not looking exactly like how readers or other creators envisioned them would not be a big deal. These things happen after all, and being a purist is just going to push people away. However, there is some serious inconsistency at work.

When looking for Rand in the Foregate one episode ago, Moiraine mentioned he had red hair, and that said color would get a lot of attention there, adding to how the patient Rand was attending to in a prior episode, a veteran of the Aiel War, reacted with horror to seeing him and called him an Aielman. Back in “A Place of Safety,” Thom mentioned that red hair is exceedingly rare outside of the Aiel Waste.

Perhaps it is not as important that the normally redheaded Aviendha from the source is instead brown-haired, if it is merely “rare” to have red hair outside of the Waste, but not exclusive to them to the point of other colors being impossible (in fact, some characters among the Aiel are not red-haired, though it is rarer than those with it), but the issue comes from another place: Elayne Trakand.

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Much like Aviendha here, Elayne’s actress keeps her natural color, despite it being explicitly noted as rare and indicative of the Aiel for other characters. If Aiel west of the Spine of the World are caged or otherwise treated poorly, including the note about having people bragging about killing one back in the first season, how is it that the Daughter-Heir to one of the most powerful nations in the entire world would have that appearance (as opposed to her blonde hair from the source) without any comment whatsoever? Even the argument about it being the natural color does not stand up to logic, as Anvaere wears a wig in-world without much of it noticeable, and Liandrin’s actress does not have the same color of hair as she does.

If the idea of the look is to show the representation of the Aiel, the writers should have put in place a means to see it as a hard-and-fast rule regarding prejudice or at least acknowledged it at all, instead of glossing over it whenever it is inconvenient for the actors who may need to wear a wig. With other actors Even if Egwene or Nynaeve did not have any negative reactions due to not being well versed in the world, there is no word from any of the other novices, Accepted, or Aes Sedai at all, as if people should just ignore it for her, but not for Rand. The fact that the Children of the Light could cage an Aiel woman for just being nearby, or that it is acceptable to kill an Aielman to the degree of bragging about it (in the prior season) makes it extremely hard to take the differences without a massive heaping of salt.

5. Tel’aran’rhiod and Inception Deception

Rand and Moiraine manage to escape Lanfear by using some misdirection on the latter’s part, though the truck costs a stablemaster her life. Despite worrying over Rand being “still so young,” Lanfear says that the two will need to sleep sometime, at which point she will get them.

To protect themselves, they hole up at the home of Moiraine’s nephew through her sister, a man named Barthanes who is betrothed to Queen Galldrian of Cairhien. This marriage is unique to the TV series, as not only is Galldrian a man in the books, but he and Barthanes are instead rivals. In the source, House Damodred has no real attempts to retake the throne after the foolishness of Moiraine’s uncle, King Laman, had led to the aforementioned Aiel War (likely what Anvaere meant about their uncle ruining them).

As Moiraine explains, going to sleep is one of the most dangerous things they could do, on account of Lanfear’s specialties. Aside from “casual cruelty,” she was infamous for her mastery of Tel’aran’rhiod, the world of dreams, which literally translates to “the Unseen World.” That realm works akin to some other dream walking scenarios in fiction, in that harm there can be just as dangerous as in the real world, perhaps moreso without proper training or proficiency in the talent of Dreaming (see below). It can be considered a kind of lucid dreaming, but in a way that is “real” and a parallel world to the normal reality.

Certain channelers can easily access it, those adepts being known as “Dreamers,” with Ishamael having been one shown before with his message to Min through her nightmare. There is more to the mechanics, which we will address further if they come up, but for the time being just consider it a parallel world. The most dangerous part of it is not just the fact that a proficient Dreamer can manipulate the world around them, but that they can appear to people from anywhere in the world, such as when Ishamael has an audience with Lanfear despite being several countries apart from one another.

Despite the dangers, Rand is forced to use Tel’aran’rhiod to try to learn what Ishamael is planning. Moiraine notes that Lanfear had two, perhaps three months she was with the Two Rivers man in which she could have hurt him, but she had not done so, so he was unlikely to be in too much danger. As such, he was quite useful as bait for the Forsaken woman who followed him. As Moiraine notes, records from before the Breaking indicate that Lanfear loved, and was loved by, the Dragon (which she still calls the Dragon Reborn, but whatever). She only became a Darkfriend in order to get him back after she lost him to his eventual wife. Everything she said about her heart being broken by a man was true. She just did not say who that man was, or that he technically was Rand.

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The plan is to have Rand convince Lanfear that he loves her, so that through her, he can learn about what Ishamael is planning. Moiraine promises to be awake to wake Rand up if it seems as though she is hurting him, as she does not have the option of going to sleep in times like this.

Unfortunately, as soon as he falls asleep, he “awakens” in a vast desert, tied to a wheel and shirtless before Lanfear, who sits upon a throne in dark clothing, made up in a way that no longer hides her evil, glad that she “finally” has him.

Until next the Wheel wills.

//TAGS | The Wheel of Time

Gregory Ellner

Greg Ellner hails from New York City. He can be found on Twitter as @GregoryEllner or over on his Tumblr.


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