I’ve been holding off on writing about Prime Video’s Wheel of Time adaptation for several reasons. Firstly, I wanted to see if openly gay showrunner Rafe Judkins would make plain the queerness that Robert Jordan only hinted at in his sprawling fantasy series. Secondly, once that happened, I couldn’t figure out how to talk about The Wheel of Time; it’s seventeen books, total, really, and half of the books are explaining the books to the characters in the books! And that’s the same in the TV series. The world-building is so dense it requires endless exposition, even though it’s also basically Middle Earth. Finally, I didn’t know how much to say because I wasn’t sure how far into the book series the first season of the TV adaptation would go.
After last week’s episode, though, I just can’t stay buttoned up on it anymore! I’ll try to keep it brief and simple, and to spoil as little as possible — but some very mild spoilers are going to be necessary below.
The Wheel of Time is a high fantasy series that Robert Jordan started writing in the 80s, started publishing in the 90s, and wrote until his death in 2007. It tells the story of the literal Wheel which is rotated by the One Power. A very elite group of women, known as the Aes Sedai, can channel the One Power. The head of the Aes Sedai is known as the Amyrlin Seat. At the start of the series, an Aes Sedai named Moiraine Damodred lands in a backwoods little place called Two Rivers, convinced the Dragon — the Chosen One of the entire series — is one of the villagers who lives there. The Amyrlin Seat during Moiraine’s adventures is named Siuan Sanche. And these two, they know each other. Like know each other.
Jordan’s Wheel of Time prequel novel, New Spring, tells the story of Moiraine and Siuan arriving at the White Tower together, to be trained, decades before Moiraine sets out looking for the Dragon and Siuan rises to the top of Aes Sedai. They shared everything, including a bed, and so Jordan called them “heart-friends” or “pillow friends.” In a 2005 blog post, Jordan spelled it out: “Pillow friends are not just good friends. Oh, they are that, too, but they also get hot and sweaty together and muss up the sheets something fierce.” Or, as Moiraine herself said in New Spring: “They were going to be sharing that bed, and Moiraine knew exactly which ticklish spots could reduce her to helpless laughter and pleading.”
(Isn’t it truly amazing all these million fan boys fought and are still fighting about whether or not that makes them just good sisterly buddies???)
There’s not too much more than that in the books, really, but Judkins did his community proud. The first five episodes of The Wheel of Time only give us Rosamund Pike as Moiraine (lol “only”), but in episode six, “The Flame of Tar Valon,” we finally get to meet the Amyrlin Seat, played by Sophie Okonedo, and it is VERY CLEAR these two not only share their pillow pal past, but are still very much in love and in lust with each other. They’ve been sneaking off together these many years, and even though they’re both committed to training the Dragon and preventing the end of the world, the both mostly just want to be done with their duty so they can move off to some little cabin in the woods and lesbian away the rest of their lives together.
But first: You know, the apocalypse and all that.
A deep dive of The Wheel of Time and Moiraine’s relationship with Siuan is far outside of the scope of what I have the time to write. Fans have been chewing on and arguing about it for 20 years. But it’s the kind of high fantasy epic romance we hardly ever see on TV, or even in books really. (Except Priory of the Orange Tree. If you love Wheel of Time you HAVE TO read Priory of the Orange Tree.) It’s sexy and fraught and I hope it gets even more gay as the series goes on. Rafe Judkins won me over before the show even started. When attacked by homophobes, he said on Twitter, “I’ve dealt with them before and there’s truly only one way to respond — turn their favorite characters gay. Cause I can.”
And he did!
After episode six I’m all in on this show. Moiraine was already the best character and then they gave her a whole damn WIFE. There’s some great fanfic for them already too!
I’ve been reading Wheel of Time since elementary school and these books were seriously instrumental to helping me escape a shitty childhood and way into adulthood. At dark times I would tell myself I had to stay alive to know how the series ended (thankfully Brandon Sanderson did a great job and by the time it got to the ending my mental health had improved a lot). I have a lot of criticisms of the writing — especially the whole pillow friends nonsense and the whole “basically all the explicit lesbians are darkfriends” thing! — but to say they mean a lot of me is a massive understatement.
Needless to say, I was nervous about the TV show living up to my Feelings but have been so gratified to watch and to enjoy the amazing casting and changes made. And then last week I found myself weeping on the couch because ACTUAL. LESBIANS. in *my* high fantasy series. Especially those two, with their shared secrets and sacrifices.
In a similar fashion I got really weepy watching the Babysitters Club reboot. I’ve tried to pretend that a lack of representation did no lasting harm, that the media I consumed as a kid/young adult didn’t do harm because it didn’t represent me, but oh that’s a lie. It means so much to know younger generations have more opportunities to be validated and celebrated, imperfect as things are. It’s been a huge shift in just two decades.
And now to see Heather’s article on Autostraddle, that means a lot too! Thank you for writing this, Heather, I love your writing and have been really excited to read your Sex and the City reboot recaps.
Though I ended up so disappointed in the last half of Priory of the Orange Tree and I’m still so mad about it! Nonetheless, I truly enjoyed the Robert Jordan like worldbuilding and totally understand the recommendation for it.
…I love this series and was disappointed that there was no AS coverage. I’m sure you’re busy Heather and I appreciate you trying, but there are a lot of fundamental inaccuracies and mischaracterizations here. This is a very big deal for a lot of queer fans who grew up with the series, and I’m disappointed you all couldn’t commission someone who has the time and is familiar with the source material.
“The Aes Sedai are tasked with finding the Dragon”
Absolutely, absolutely not. No living Aes Sedai besides Moiraine and Siuan know about the prophecy that the dragon has been reborn. Moiraine and Siuan are working together in complete secret to find them and are risking being stilled (a fate worse than death) if anyone finds out. Aes Sedai do not help male channelers and are supposed to bring them to the tower immediately.
That’s why their relationship is also a complete secret (something this article doesn’t mention for some reason?). Nothing to do with homophobia (and I think the show also deserves some commendation for doing an absolute brilliant job establishing that same sex relationships are completely chill in this world) – no one can know what they’re doing.
The quote from New Spring is said by Moiraine and says that “SIUAN knew exactly which ticklish spots…”
Moiraine and Siuan do not want to be done with their duty and move off together. Whoever stands between the dragon and the dark one will die. They know and have accepted that they are going to die. They never be able to run off to a cabin together. They’re blue ajah through and through and see their duty as more important than their personal happiness. This is all super important to their characterization in the books and the show.
And saying Rafe “turned the characters gay” kind of negates everything you said above about this relationship being canon in the books, no?
Yes, no living Aes Sedai know about Gitara’s foretelling.(I mean everyone know about “the prophecy”, but that’s just it, a prophecy)
Like you said homophobia has no place in The Wheel of Time universe. I remember how nonchalantly Merean called Siuan as Moiraine’s pillow-friend.
And yes they don’t want to move off together. They’re both Blue Ajahs to the bone, they found their cause 20 years ago and nothing will stand their way until they see Dragon Reborn ready to face the Last Battle. Moiraine truly believes she won’t return from her journey to the Eye of the World and made her peace with that. That’s why she left other three and Lan last episode.
You’re right, you’re right, I was writing in a bit of a fit and wasn’t careful with my phrasing – everyone knows about the prophecy that the dragon will be reborn, no one else knows about the foretelling that he has been reborn.
The scene where Merean is just openly talking about Moiraine’s sex life and she’s losing her Cairhienin mind is fantastic
The article has been edited to remove the quote about the mission of the Aes Sedai being to find the dragon. You all didn’t quite fix the New Spring quote though – as of my comment, it says, “as Moiraine herself said in New Spring: “They were going to be sharing that bed, and Moiraine knew exactly which ticklish spots could reduce her to helpless laughter and pleading.””
That second Moiraine should be Siuan…
I think that Moiraine and Siuan completely accepting that they will die and never be able to lesbian off together is pretty important too… Moiraine has the chance to stay in the tower and lesbian away in Episode 6. Instead she has Siuan exile her and heads off to the eye of the world where she expects to die
Can we talk about Sophie Okonedo’s amazing performance as Siuan Sanche and her amazing chemistry with Rosamund Pike in every tower scene?
And that oath scene and tenderness between them when she sweared her oath to Siuan specifically instead of the Amyrlin Seat
I never read “Wheel Of Time”, started watching almost only because of Rosamund Pike and was completely unspoiled because I wasn’t that much invested and didn’t read up on it beforehand. So I didn’t expect THE scene and there it was! “On your knees”, indeed. I still haven’t recovered from it. It’s a nice feeling.
Have you heard about how that line was improvised by Rosamund and Sophie just … went along with it? So blessed.
Also, in case anyone reads, “the kind of high fantasy epic romance we hardly ever see on TV,” and runs off to the books – do not get your hopes up. This also isn’t really true.
Pretty much all the Moiraine/Siuan action is in New Spring (action being a strong word). Most of the fandom *does* accept that they had a sexual relationship in their youth. The debate is whether or not it was a “lesbian until graduation” trope or continued into adulthood. Not being sure if they did continue their relationship as adults is a legitimate debate not inherently rooted in homophobia. The characters share only a handful of scenes together in one book besides New Spring. They end up with other people.
The show does seem to be making it into that type of romance but it’s hard to say at this point for sure. This was Siuan’s only episode this season and no one knows if she’s coming back next season.
Call me cynical, but between (1) Moiraine’s constant refrain that whoever comes between the Dragon Reborn and the Dark One will die; (2) Rafe Judkins saying that not all of the characters will survive the finale; (3) Moiraine’s goodbye to Lan; and (4) Rosamund Pike saying that Moiraine is “kinda” on a “suicide mission,” I have a feeling that Moiraine will not be making an appearance in season two and that episode 6 represents all that we’ll get to see of her relationship with Siuan. Hope I’m wrong and this is just a miscue of some sort to get everyone anxious, but the foreshadowing is in place.
Hopefully I’m wrong.
While the show can and will deviate from the books, Pike said in an interview that she’s moved her family to the Czech Republic where the show is filmed. So don’t worry. She’s going to be around for a while longer.
I’ve been an avid WOT book fan since I was middle school so I’ve been exactly this Scream Excited GIFfrom Scream GIFs since the show premiered. Seeing this relationship made explicit was THE queer rep I’ve always wanted. Like, I even cried, and I’m an aquarius. Now I trust Rafe to keep making the queer subtext into text and I have faith that there is a queer polycule coming in future seasons.
Yes! After the Showrunner’s comments that whole thing is going to be interpreted as a polycule, I want A and E explicitly in love and M as NB, please? Tbh that is my head canon anyway.