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Wheel of Time Episode 7 analysis

[pretty big spoilers for Episode 7 and previous episodes follow]

Sorry for the gap in my series of cutting edge critiques here. Had holiday plans cancelled, then got COVID, then had some family events, then watched better TV than this. But we’re back, with two episodes to go.

D&D Theme for this episode: I can’t even. No D&D game I’ve ever played has been this bad, not even when I was ten and didn’t understand how to play. Nor have any players wanted to be like these people, ever.

In this episode, one thing happened of consequence, and it was barely of any consequence. This was:

— The party came out of a hole.

Most of the rest of it was taken up with emo whining about petty shit.

Like past episodes, we started in a completely different biome with people we’ve never met. If there were a WOT drinking game, this would have to be a sip of beer, not a shot, because otherwise players would be in the emergency room in no time. I fully expect episode eight to begin in the Sahara with a couple of accountants named Ed and Merle.

However, the start of this episode was totally badass, with well-choreographed fights, really cool action and camera angles, and emotional stakes as a pregnant woman fights off many attackers during labor. If they can make a scene this good, why does the rest of the show suck? This is a tantalizing glimpse of what the show could have been.

Then things go downhill.

There is whining about Mat being gone.
There is whining about Moiraine’s leadership.
There is whining about who cares about Mat more.
There is whining about the other people’s whining.

This accomplishes nothing other than the relentless crushing of my will to live. The group is admonished not to use magic for fear of summoning the Machin Shin, which would be REALLY BAD. Of course, they don’t say what the Machin Shin is, because telling vitally important potential Dragons valuable information about the risks you just described would be, you know, strategic.

Loial talks about how the Ways (or is it Waze?) used to be covered with grass and rather pleasant. I had several problems with this:
(1) they’re underground, where grass isn’t, and it’s dark, which grass can’t hack
(2) the Ways are composed of fresh columnar basalt conveniently and improbably arranged into walking paths, and grass doesn’t grow on that
(3) even if somehow the underground volcanic hellscape did have grass, it would still have the bottomless pits, which would tend to ruin any bucolic charm and make picnicking and frisbee hard, although it might make for an interesting golf course

They’re attacked by a Waze Trolloc, which somebody should have flagged on the app for them, and despite being warned not to use magic, they do, and as promised, the Machin Shin, which is not, in fact, a mechanical tibia, arrives. The way this was played up, I expected some disemboweling or plague of boils or fireballs descending from the sky, but instead the Machin Shin seems only to be a combination of a mild affliction of Mean Girls mixed with Impostor Syndrome. Given that the Dragon candidates are all, themselves, petulant teenagers trapped in 20-something bodies, maybe this is the worst opponent they could face, but it’s a bit anticlimactic.

Despite being told not to use magic so as not to empower the Machin Shin, they use magic to defeat the Machin Shin. Despite being lost in the Ways and needing at least a day to figure out where they are due to Trolloc vandalism, they emerge very close to where they wanted to be and completely unscathed. Someone is seriously overselling the perils of the Ways. I think it might be Loial, given that he’s also hawking his invaluable guide services that apparently nobody actually needs.

They emerge to a weird walled town on a desert ridge with no apparent industry or agriculture. Unlike other cities in this series, though, this place seems to have actual people living there and a variety of places to explore, although it’s a little hallway-heavy, and the throne room has the standard Monarch Brooding Balcony (Basic Model) installed. The people here also have their own custom salute which looks like they are giving themselves the Heimlich maneuver. Culture!

Nothing happens in this town. Nothing that advances the plot even one tiny little bit. The only thing of any interest that might matter later is that somebody comes out of the Ways behind them complete with ominous boot tracking shot, but that is just dropped completely, and we never learn who he was or what he was doing.

Otherwise, we just have a ton of brooding.

There is whining about Mat.
There is whining about the whining about Mat.
There is whining about who loves Mat, and who just like doesn’t get Mat and never gave him a chance, man.
There is whining about Egwene dumping Rand (who is eminently dumpable), even though she’s now actively hooking up with him again.
There is whining about the quest.
There is whining about some heretofore completely unhinted romance between Egwene and Perrin, which is put forward by Nynaeve, who didn’t even live in @&$#&$& Two Rivers at the start of the show and would not have any basis to know, and which there’s been no sign of up to now.
There is whining about not apologizing.
There is whining about the manner of apologizing.
There is whine-apologizing.
There is whining about the Amyrlin Barcalounger and the Aes Sedai.
There is whining about how harrrrd saving the world is.
There is whining about the gift of foresight.

Ugh. So bad. Watching Rand try not to cry while firing emo arrows in the torchlight was about the most pukeworthy this series has ever gotten, and that’s a high bar.

There’s a surprise clumsy and lifeless romance between Nynaeve and Lan, because what this show obviously needs is another passion-free lackluster love storyline. The only thing I kept wondering is if Lan keeps his headband on while getting it on, but the jury is still out on that, because we did a fade to black before anything even happened other than gratuitous Lan pectorals. (Dude is ripped – you go, Lan).

We learn shit that I don’t care about that has no bearing on the plot, and what we learn isn’t even spelled out very well. Lan is some kind of king of a dead land (grumble stolen from Aragorn grumble). There’s a seer here in this weird town who’s in some kind of witness protection program as a bartender. (Note: this is the second bartender-with-a-secret-identity, if you’re working on the drinking game.) We learn that Rand will be holding a baby someday, which is terrifying, because I was really hoping he never reproduces or tries to parent anyone.

We also learn that Rand was the baby born at the beginning of this episode, which is disheartening, because his rancid petulance is so far removed from his mom’s utter badassery. I would so much rather watch his mom do stuff for eight hours. This is the strongest presentation of nurture over nature I think modern media has produced.

Then, despite the seer not telling Rand he’s the dragon, he goes and tells Moiraine he is, and she believes him, and they leave without telling anybody, to the consternation of everybody else, who is now stuck in BFE with the self-Heimlich posse. In their final scene, we see Rand and Moiraine heading into an abandoned lot next to Fal Dora, where the HOA should get the landowner to cut back the weeds already. A little RoundUp would work wonders.

My working hypothesis is that Moiraine knows Rand’s not the dragon, and she’s taking him to the Eye of the World where he will be squeezed to a powder by the forces of nature and magic (that’s close to literally what they said would happen, and it is no small comfort to imagine Rand being popped like an Earth-zit). Then she’ll come back and get the others, and nobody will have to deal with his incel bullshit anymore.

Or, maybe, we can just have more flashbacks of his mom killing people. Please.

To wrap up, rating the would-be Dragons (in order of how much I want them to die):

RAND: Another week as the worst of the worst. I really hate this guy.
EGWENE: Pledged never to dump Rand again, which almost makes her worse than Rand. Except Rand is like the absolute zero of suck, and you can’t suck any more than he does.
PERRIN: He had barely anything to do, other than see stuff in the dark that nobody else could and deny scurrilous accusations that he didn’t love his wife.
MAT: Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Film, yet gains some points for not accompanying this sorry set of saviors on this trip. Wise move, my evil-dagger-loving friend.
NYNAEVE: Still my favorite, but this was a weird stalkery episode for her, and PlayDoh has more chemistry going on than her love scene.

Wheel of Time Episode 6 analysis:

[pretty big spoilers for Episode 6 and previous episodes follow]

D&D Theme for this episode: This feels like the first ten minutes of campaign backstory where you assemble all the characters to go on the quest, except we’ve already somehow blown six hours on that.

Scene 1:
In consistent WoT show fashion, we start off with:
— Two characters we’ve never seen before and have no idea who they are or what their importance is
— Doing this in yet another biome (this time riparian)
They are happy fisherpeople going about fisherperson business. One of them is minus a hand, which is never explained or commented upon, although that level of ambiguity and unremarkableness is actually pretty disability-friendly, and I’m cool with it. The girl has an extensive set of expertly-inked tattoos all over her body, something that my kids definitely would not have sat still for at that age.
We see that the young girl can do magic, which she uses to mend a net. It seems like it might be of more direct benefit to use magic to, you know, just catch a fish, or make food, or short-sell Tar Valonian stocks so that they could afford a better riverside shack.
We are led to believe that the girl would be persecuted for using magic. This is perhaps the shortest-duration foreshadowing ever, because when they get back to the dock, their house is totally burned, and a glowing red symbol is left in the wreckage. This signifies four truths about whoever is persecuting them. This person (or persons):
a) has the time to come and thoroughly burn a riverside shack and then burn a rune into the wreckage
b) has the motivation to come and thoroughly burn a riverside shack and then burn a rune into the wreckage
c) despite (a) and (b), does not stick around to actually kill the people they hate, who are a one-handed dude with a fishing knife and a girl whose magical power is net-mending, i.e., not very fearsome.
d) wildly overestimates the difficulty of rebuilding an open-air riverside shack post-burning
This leads me to believe that perhaps the Westlands bus system has both a limited operating schedule, requiring an early departure by the persecutors, but also a liberal policy on the transport of flammable materials by riders.
The father and daughter seem also to subscribe to (d) above, and he puts her on a boat with a seriously over-the-top number of tearful fishing references, only some of which relate to river fishing rather than coastal fishing (e.g. the tides), suggesting that this guy is not the sharpest fishing knife in the basket. It is not entirely clear whether the reference to “pike” is the fish or Rosamund.

Scene 2:
Next, we fast-forward to Tar Valon and the White Tower, where we see that, when the council is assembled, despite being powerful feminist icons, all of the Aes Sedai get makeovers, have their hair done in new ways, and put on fancy dresses to stand in a very tall CGI room sneering at each other. One of them gets a bronze staff to pound on the floor, which she only does when she thinks there are moments of dramatic tension going on. It would be funny if she blew it once or twice.
The surprise reveal here is that fishing girl is actually the Amyrlin Seat. This title, despite being furniture, is what they call the Chief Executive Officer of the Aes Sedai. This seems remarkably stupid until you realize that our president has a cabinet and oversees bureaucracy. Her Royal Seating is dressed to the nines, including a very cool filigree hair ornament (bonus points) and an unfortunate massive bowtie that looks like an overgrown butterfly (points off).
We also see that there are some other colors of Aes Sedai. We finally meet a Laa Laa Aes Sedai and learn that they are gifted in healing, even though nearly every other color of Aes Sedai has already healed people, and we’ve never seen a yellow one do that. In a problematic development, there are three colors of earth-tone Aes Sedai which don’t match Teletubbies, namely, gray, brown, and white. I submit to you that Teletubby Ajah theory still applies: the White Aes Sedai clearly represent the SunBaby, the Gray the elephantine vacuum Noo Noo, and the Brown the ubiquitous bunnies of the Teletubby ecosystem. There is no description of what liberal arts major is represented by these Earth Toners. I’m guessing accounting, literature, and community justice studies, but I could well be wrong.
We see False Dragon Tim Curry guy again. He starts off on a good rant, claiming that even though he lost, the Aes Sedai still suck, and he gloats about killing one. The penal system in Tar Valon obviously has no freaking idea what they’re doing, because they have the guy in really fancy clothing but also in chains. Can’t a guy get an orange jumpsuit there? They have all the other colors of clothing. The chains are silly, too, because he melts steel things. But then we find out he’s “gentled,” which apparently doesn’t include making him unable to mouth off but does cancel his magic, which means chaining him up doesn’t do anything but stop him from writing “False Dragonz Rool, Bench Lady Droolz” on the walls of the White Tower restrooms.
In further evidence of a penal system gone awry, this dude threatens the court and gleefully confesses to murdering one of its members. They condemn him to execution by being drawn and quartered and fed to dogs in a bloody example of feudal power in the central square of Tar Valon. Ha ha, just kidding. His sentence is to be fed and housed for the rest of his life in the most luxurious setting in all the land and occasionally studied by the Aes Sedai, even though they just took all his magic away, which makes him about as interesting as a roll of paper towels. Despite this non-punishment, False Dragon guy immediately loses his shit at the thought of being a pampered and well-fed research subject and screams KILL ME! repeatedly as he’s hauled away, suggesting that the Aes Sedai do not have a well-functioning Institutional Review Board governing their investigative programs.
A hard-to-follow legal and moral argument follows, the upshot of which is that the Amyrlin Garden Bench then chastizes Liandrin for getting somebody killed and not following protocol. Liandrin, who I am now sure is just biding her time before revealing to nobody’s surprise that she’s actually an evil person working for the Dark Lord, pulls a standard 3rd-grade-bully move and tries to get Moiraine in trouble too, pointing out that Nynaeve is the most powerful weaver in 1,000 years and Moiraine, like, didn’t tell anybody. Everybody accepts this assessment of Nynaeve at face value, which is weird, because Nynaeve basically cast nothing more badass than Cure Moderate Wounds, and everybody else was, like, making the ground explode, launching people into trees, and chemically castrating the False Dragon. Also, Liandrin is maybe 40, so her assessment of the Top 10 Greatest Weavers of the previous millenium is suspect. My kids don’t even know many TV shows from the 90’s, people.
At this point, something weird happens, and it becomes far weirder in retrospect later on. The weird thing is that the Amyrlin Barstool asks Moiraine what she was doing for two years, and Moiraine refuses to tell her. Even though everybody knows there’s a prophecy about the return of the dragon, and everybody’s been out hunting for returned dragons, including the 30+ Aes Sedai who found Tim Curry, and Moiraine has already told lots of people that that is what she was doing. Her refusal to say what she was doing is profoundly stupid, because even though the Aes Sedai “always speak truth,” she’s already pointed out that you can say true stuff without saying all the true stuff, and later on, she basically lies to the five potentially chosen ones about what happens to the four not chosen at the end of the show to get them to walk into a magical subway cave. The Amyrlin Adirondack gets all pissy about this, as you’d expect a monarch to do, but THEN WE FIND OUT THEY’RE SECRETLY LOVERS, which makes this public question-asking and fighting and obstinacy profoundly pointless and easily avoided.
The Amyrlin Davenport then goes on an I-Am-The-State despotic rant about how she cannot be disobeyed and will destroy anybody who challenges her, which is massively inconsistent here because (1) she’s threatening her bae, and (2) she literally just said that the people need to be protected from abuse of Aes Sedai power by laws. Apparently the Amyrlin Sofa did not major in political science or philosophy. Elevating assistant fisherpeople to the presidency has predictable drawbacks.

Scene 3:
We then return to the one street in Tar Valon. I do not know how big the city is supposed to be, but it has only one street where anybody hangs out. In the matte paintings, it looks bigger, but we’ve only ever seen maybe 20 people here, and the White Tower only has maybe four rooms, all of which look like CGI-decorated soundstages. I suspect Tar Valon may be just a glorified strip mall or truck stop.
Moirane demonstrates some very unorthodox tea pouring and then goes to deal with Mat. At this point, Rand is comically idiotic, asserting that Mat has had the death curse for over a month, maybe more, but it’s not serious, and then he gets all whiny and tries to stand in front of the Aes Sedai trying to heal Mat, waving his sword, at which point he gets his ass handed to him by Lan, which was remarkably satisfying.
Moiraine sucks the evil magic out of Mat and puts it back into the dagger. The unexpected and unexplained part is the middle of this process, when the Shattered City Curse Mold swims over to her face and makes a silly beard-looking thing, like those old magnetic toys with the iron filings, and then retreats back to the dagger. Then, in a fit of brilliance, Moiraine drops the dagger on the floor. Note: this dagger is cursed and would twist anyone who touches it to unspeakable evil, but she doesn’t even pick it up, even though she says Mat would succumb if he touched it again, which you know he would do. If he doesn’t, apparently the maid service for the Tar Valon Red Roof Inn is in for a major surprise when they make up the room, not to mention a good deal of hissing and sweating and growling.

Scene 4:
The Blue Tinky Winky Aes Sedai are apparently related to the Russian mob, because they hold their meetings in saunas. Moiraine is castigated for sinking a ferry in the river. Thank you. Finally some accountability. However, Moiraine’s boss says they sent money to compensate. That money must be sitting on the ferry dock, because Moiraine drowned the ferryman, and his son got eaten by Trollocs. Moiraine’s boss says Moirane is now in time out in the White Tower.

Scene 5:
Moiraine puts her clothes back on and goes to see our other two Chosen Ones. Perrin seems to be in need of lots of healing for the seriously half-assed flaying inflicted on him by White Robe dude. Egwene says that this guy is no threat now, even though she stabbed him in the shoulder of his muscle tunic and didn’t at all check to see if he was dead. I would bet a lot of money that White Robe Arsenio Guy is not in the least dead. We find out that apparently werewolves are not popular, which is, like, duh, because they eat people.

Scene 6:
Lan complains that Moiraine has “masked their bond,” which seems like the Aes Sedai version of not responding to my texts. Moiraine has this discussion while wearing what looks like an actual lab coat, which is a super weird costume choice. Then, with a wink and a nod, Moirane goes through the Sex Mirror to visit the Amyrlin La-Z-Boy for some snu snu. They share one of the more awkward kisses I’ve seen in film and then fade to black.
When they return, we learn an unexpected Westlands custom: You go into snu snu wearing white, but you come out of it wearing red. That must make wearing red clothing out and about remarkably awkward, and it puts a whole different spin on the Po Aes Sedai branch. We hear yet another piscine reference from the Chair, when she calls her main squeeze a pufferfish. Note to the potentially romantically oriented: I would recommend extreme caution in using this as a term of endearment.
They reveal their master plan of the Aes Sedai to defeat the Dark Lord, which is basically to throw all the Chosen Ones they have at it until one sticks. Moiraine asks for exile as her punishiment for not answering the question everybody knew the answer to which her girlfriend-slash-royal-recliner should never have asked.

Scene 7:
Liandrin acts out a scene from Mean Girls, and Moiraine threatens her with slut-shaming. The female Chosen Ones have an audience with the Amyrlin Pew which is meant to be cordial but ends up sort of dysfunctional, and then Nynaeve cusses with an awkward late 20th-century idiom derived from smoke enemas. However, we do see developing a significant badassness differential between the male and female chosen ones:
Female (badass):
— Egwene: Defeats White Robe guy, returns rings of the fallen Aes Sedai
— Nynaeve: More powerful than you can imagine (I don’t know, I can imagine quite a bit)
Male (weaselly):
— Perrin: Gets tied to furniture and flayed, lets wolves lick his wounds.
— Mat: Picks up cursed daggers even when everyone tells him the city is cursed and not to touch anything. Predictably contracts evil tongue herpes.
— Rand: Embarassingly forced to suck blanket by Lan after petulant misguided sword move. Will chop wood for food.

Scene 8:
Moiraine gets exiled for no earthly reason. This scene had three standout moments for me:
— Moment 1: Everything in this world has a stupid made-up name. Everything. Yet instead of being the Mighty Token of Zar’eth’al’al’al, the glowstick that Moiraine has to swear on is called… The Sacred Oath Rod. My gratitude for one tiny discordant moment of utilitarian nomenclature.
— Moment 2: Moiraine and the Amyrlin Beanbag have tears rolling down their cheeks. To me, this suggests that everybody knows they go through the Sex Mirror and wear red with each other. Like, everybody. All y’all Aes Sedai are just pretending it’s a secret to be polite, and so as not to be vaporized or exiled or gentled.
— Moment 3: When Moiraine turns around and everybody turns their back on her, she blows a major opportunity to flip off the entire rest of the Aes Sedai sit-in-circles-in-threes Council. I mean, nobody’s watching. She could have hopped from foot to foot displaying the bird to everybody.
Also, the exile lasts until you’re not exiled, which, if the exiler is your red-robe Sex Mirror partner, could reasonably be next Wednesday’s booty call, Glowstick of Truth or no.

Scene 9:
Everybody rides to a well-mown grassland, which is odd, unless the Brown Aes Sedai are the mystical school of landscaping. Rand and Egwene are reunited, at which point my gorge rises and Rand utters the cringeworthy line “It feels good to see you.” Like, what does that mean? Who says that? Ugh. Everybody hugs. They even hug the horses.
Loial the Ogier, who seemed like a minor throw-away character in Tar Valon (albeit one of the very few residents of the strip mall), is now revealed to be incredibly important, because he’s apparently the Uber driver to the Eye of the World, which place name does not make any anatomical sense whatsoever.
They arrive at a set of stairs leading up to a platform with walls, which seems like a misguided 1960’s garden sculpture meant to exemplify the futility of the Cold War. They spend a lot of time explaining what this is, but everybody who’s played a video game knows the players have discovered their first fast-travel point on the map. Why they didn’t use one of these to skip the 30+ days of eastwalking before, I don’t know. Maybe the Uber Ogiers were on peak pricing or something.
Moiraine describes the fate of the world if the Dark Lord wins, which is apparently:
(a) Trollocs and Fade eat everybody, and then
(b) Everything burns.
It seems to me that (b) pretty much makes (a) moot, and that the Dark Lord must be playing up (a) and not be telling the Trollocs and Fade about (b). Messaging is very important when you are Dark Lording.
They then send eight perfectly good horses away to wander the wilderness in full saddle. Apparently, the 20 people in Tar Valon do not include stablehands or ostlers. This seems tremendously wasteful and not that cool to the horses.
Mat asks what happens to the Chosen Ones who get voted off the island. Moirane gives him a weaselly half-answer, even though she knows they die. He sees through her bullshit. The party departs into the Ways, which look basically like the Ogier’s basement. However, Mat stays behind. Without any knowledge or precedent, Rand tells him the portal is closing, before it closes, which he’d have no reason to know, but whatever. Moiraine just watches Mat sit there. Maybe she asked him to deal with the horses after all.

Rating the Chosen Ones:
— Nynaeve gets points for cussing out the Amyrlin Wingback. You go.
— Egwene gets points for not being totally annoying, but loses a couple for being still into Rand. Girl, please. You can do better. Find yourself a mirror and a red robe and leave this dude behind.
— Mat is giving off bad-guy vibes, although not going into a dark hole in the air with random cryptic strangers who don’t answer your questions and are abducting your friends is understandable. Commendable, even.
— Perrin just takes up space in this episode. I don’t think he even had a line.
— Rand, OMG. Everything about this guy is annoying, from his stupid hair, his petulance, his bonehead attempt to stop his friend from getting healed, his terrible high-school romance lines. I so hope he gets washed down the Tearduct of the Upper Mantle when they get to the Eye of the World.

Wheel of Time Episode 5 analysis:

[pretty big spoilers for Episode 5 and previous episodes follow]

[these are getting far longer but no funnier – sorry about that]

D&D Theme for this episode: I made up this cool adventure for y’all to play, but I see now you’re just going to spend the session talking to random NPCs insteadFive episodes in, the show is actually trying to be cooler than it has been so far. They’ve made up interesting cultural bits, have finally (!) gotten to where the real action might start, and are showing a little bit of character development.
However, they still blew an entire episode doing essentially nothing. The Dark Ones put up a Gone Fishin’ sign, the main Po (Red) Aes Sedai is reduced to commenting ominously about persimmons, and the preening alt-right literal pencil-mustache villain is reduced to wandering around in a muscle shirt making idle threats and half-heartedly flaying people.

Total accomplished by the good guys:
— Losing one (1) Warder because Lan got floor-drunk when he should have been helping

Total accomplished by the bad guys:
— Nothing

This episode, like the last one, focused intensely on a minor character we just met and then completely wrote him out of the show. Last time, it was False Dragon Tim Curry dude, although he got to make an appearance here doing a slow-mo evil laugh. It was interesting that they had a spare iron cage to carry him around in, because he melted the last one, so that means they brought two bulky iron cages. At least two. Also, he melted the last one, so maybe putting him in another one is contraindicated.

In this case, the minor character was Stepin. (Side note: are his siblings named Jumpup and Walkout?) We lost Kerene last time, a Dipsy Aes Sedai we didn’t even know, to the Grand False Dragon Miscalculation, and even though Warders “feel all the wounds of their Aes Sedai” and “rarely outlive their Aes Sedai,” Stepin seems immune to this. We get some half-hearted backstory about his abusive father and belligerent past along with a story of Kerene’s seriously dubious human resources recruiting plan. We discover he’s maybe bi-curious, he hits up Nynaeve for Lunestra, and he gets to huff some incense. But it’s all for totally nothing. He’s a nobody we met last time, and now he’s gone, and no story purpose was served by spending an episode on him. We didn’t know him well enough for it to be tragic. And it’s all told in dialogue, no action, broken up by other people talking about moderately ominous characters we’ve never met in poorly realized castle rooms. There’s even a little Aes Sedai sleepover party thing.

Continuing struggles with physical geography:
— The scene opens with a snowstorm, which is poetically spot-on for a funeral, but a literal week ago we were all dark and ferny in the nearby temperate forest. Now we’re amidst boreal pine with snow. Nearby, people walked from grassland to temperate forest.
— And “a month later” winter’s not worse, and people are just wandering around in woven frat-boy hooded shirts or muscle shirts. Is it spring? Is it fall? Is it winter? Does it snow in the summer here?
— The Tar Valonians founding council apparently found the only volcano around and then built a massive city next to it. And that volcano has sides with slopes of about 45 degrees, which isn’t how volcanos work, unless you’re five and have been asked to draw a mountain.

Continuing struggles with continuity:
— Where’s the gleeman? We last saw him being screeched at by round-mouthed needle-toothed Dark One middle management. Now the gleeman is absent, Mat is saying he’s “lost,” and there’s no other follow up or explanation. Did his tour T-shirt not include Tar Valon? He had to go do a one-song gig in Cleveland instead?
— Speaking of that, where’s the round-mouth needle-teeth guy? Did he kill the farming family so that he could use their place as an AirBNB for a month, taking his four weeks of accumulated leave? “Screech, this is Jenna from HR. You need to use your leave or you’ll just lose it.”
— What have the Trollocs been doing? Scratch that, I know what they’ve been doing. They visited a peninsula and then somebody hauled a shattered city in to the ithsmus behind them, so they were trapped by their own rules.
— “A night at this inn costs the same as a month in Two Rivers.” Sure, buddy. You were totally broke in the mining town, so much so that you had to split wood for a homicidal barmaid for a dirty cot. How are you paying for this? I note you’ve sold your sheepskin coat, but nobody’s paying much for that shit. Also, this city has wicked expensive hotels, but it gives out free bread to anybody who walks by? Is Tar Valon run by Costco?

Cultural insights gained:Each of these had a cool part and also a part that didn’t bear up to further thought.
— Cool: They indicate somebody’s dead by putting their boot backwards in the stirrup. Very cool visual symbolism. Huh?: They do this for an entire month post-mortem. At least. Maybe the horse just goes around like that forever.
— Cool: When there’s a mass fatality event, they bury people in radial spoke graves. Huh?: The graves are five inches deep, plus their cemeteries must be extremely confusing.
— Cool: They have a miniature office-accessory-size Mount Doom with RealLavaTM in case anybody needs to dispose of magic rings. Think how much easier Frodo’s job would have been. Huh?: Lava is hot, and you don’t want to be by it. For more lava bullshit, see the Mandalorian. Also, the Aes Sedai must not have an OSHA.
— Cool: They wear white for funerals. At first, I thought they had just all stolen the bathrobes from the Tar Valon Courtyard by Marriot executive suites, but then everybody had funeral-wear-slash-karate-uniforms. Huh?: Except they don’t wear white for radial funerals in the woods. Instead, while desperately trying to save the known world, they carry along a large supply of bulky funerary candles just in case 20 of them get whacked by a False Dragon. These people do not travel light, but they are prepared for many contingencies. Which they precipitate themselves.
— Cool: They hire Mongolian throat singers for funerals, too, and make them wear bathrobes also. Huh?: The highlight of the funeral is when the best friend gets to scream several times and pull open his shirt, at which point you know it’s thump your chest time. This is weird, but it must be far easier on the grieving parties than writing a damn eulogy. Ritual is comforting.
— Cool: Badass Aes Sedai escort False Dragons through town on an exhibition cart with imperious chairs. Huh?: At which point they get pelted by vegetables by the villagers. This means (1) somebody didn’t think this out all the way, and (2) Aes Sedai are much less scary than they think if people are willing to hit them with an onion, and (3) this will likley create a headache for the Tar Valonian Bureau of Tourism.
— Cool: The Tinkers’ grand strategy when confronted by domineering alt-right thugs is to link arms and get punched, which is noble, if ineffective. Huh?: They are like the worst dog owners ever, letting their dogs just up and kill anything that walks by. It’s like they’re some kind of weird Mennonite Michael Vicks.

Musings:
— If this is Tar Valon, is this like the first city you can build in a computer RPG? Next will be Bronze Valon, once they save enough coins for an upgrade, then Steel Valon, then Diamond Valon, and then in the expansion pack, Uranium Valon?
— Breakbone fever sounds cool, except that Two Rivers folks must have a severe calcium deficiency for that to actually work that way.
— They may have spent ten million dollars per episode, but it was not on CGI. Holy shit. This was the most basic-ass fantasy city I think I’ve ever seen since The Beastmaster (1982). The entire Aes Sedai castle is maybe four textures and ten models and three rooms, most of which don’t even have furniture. Tar Valon is one street with a single polygon and tiled stone texture as the road surface, with a crappy lighting model thrown in for the weird dawn sequence.
— Moiraine fail: “I have eyes and ears watching every gate.” Even if you spot her the idea that ears can watch things, she didn’t spot two obvious magic-infused and demonically-cursed rubes wandering into town scarfing up free bread, renting a room, and then (weirdly) going to the library for no apparent reason. Even after False Dragon guy looked at them for a solid minute cackle-laughing in slo mo. Maybe Moiraine should hire him instead of the earwatchers.
— With all the warnings Nynaeve got, the Aes Sedai internship program is starting to sound a lot like Bob Packwood’s office in Congress.
— The Red (Po) Aes Sedai don’t take Warders, hate all men, and love persimmons. They seem kind of like what Paul Gosar imagines lesbians are like.
— In a castle that houses probably thousands, Lan knew right where to go to find Stepin. There’s apparently an official Stabbing Corner in the White Tower. They should maybe rope that area off.

Ranking the chosen ones from most cool to ones I most wish were dead:
— Egwene – Cool this week. Gets better the more she doesn’t talk about Rand. I liked her resistance to Arsenio. It was actually really funny seeing what happens when you roll a crit fail on your magic attack on a high-level NPC – a great moment. I hope she continues to move the needle away from whiny douche-lover toward badass. She’s got potential.
— Perrin – Still maybe the coolest overall, although points off this week for the crisis of confidence. Confessing about killing your wife to your friend came maybe 29 days too late here, and it was also awkwardly written and acted. You’ve had all this time on the road with the Tinkers eating curry, and this never came up before now?
— Nynaeve – Bonus points for distrusting Aes Sedai, no-nonsense attitude, and general badassery. Points off for completely ignoring the “don’t talk to anybody” warning. If she’d been in the shattered city, she’d have been picking up cursed daggers too. “Show me your tongue” is apparently step three in the Wisdom patient intake protocol, which is weird.
— Rand – Pulling a sword on a racial minority in a library is exactly what I would have expected him to do. Apparently Rand’s an Aielman, because wise minority characters are always insightful and accurate in schlocky movies, but I don’t know what that means, nor do I care. It might be the homicidal red-haired mask-wearing people that the suddenly-absent gleeman was talking about, but I’m too uninspired to try to connect those dots.
— Mat – OMG, I thought you were cool, but now I just want you to hurry up and die already.

Wheel of Time Review and Self-Indulgent Complaining – Episode 4

Wheel of Time Episode 4 analysis:

[pretty big spoilers for Episode 4 and previous episodes follow]

D&D Theme for this episode: OMG, DM, we understand you wrote all this backstory, we just don’t need to hear about it

Our heroes return to the job of walking eastward following cryptic strangers. We found out that even the mystic Siberian gypsies are just walking east. That’s what everybody does here. Just eastwalking.

Very little was accomplished. This series was billed as “an epic adventure that cannot be contained.” However, in this episode, we can sum it up as follows:

Net total things accomplished by the good guys this episode:
— One (1) barn cleaned
— One (1) wagon wheel fixed
— One (1) Trolloc disease cured [remarkably quickly and without comment, considering this had been a major plot point for 3 episodes]

Net total things accomplished by the bad guys this episode:
— One (1) rustic family killed

The rest of the episode was either wasted effort, swirly-power mongering, philosophical discussions, fighting people who aren’t actually important at all, random conversations that went nowhere, and walking east.

Places we spent time:

— A random farm, where everybody has a bow and knows how to use it. This is the Westlands version of Texas, I guess.

— A Siberian gypsy caravan. I thought I heard them referred to as Tinkers in the recap at the beginning, but then there was a lot of talk about the people of the Leaf, by which I do not think they mean they all drive Nissans when not in their caravan. They are referred to as Tuatha’an at some point, because what this show needs is more weird words with superfluous apostrophes.

— A LARP community, where everybody has their own mismatched period costume and hairstyle, and there are campfires with ale, lots of synchronized dance-like weapons training, a fully-equipped cell cave, and a place where you can pray to rocks. You get bonus points for spouting backstory lore that we’ve never heard before nor will likely ever hear again. If you have a confusing name we probably don’t need to keep track of, and a confusing place name for where you’re from, all the better. More apostrophe-bearing words are obviously worth bonus points.

— In the pre-credits flashback, we also spent time at a castle under siege. It was one of those sieges that looks kind of serious, but when you get down to it, there are really only four people in the entire walled citadel, and there’s plenty of time to just sit and talk by a well while the city burns. Note to bad guy: If you’re just going to convert the king to your side, do not burn the city first. That way, you get a king on your side and also a perfectly fine city.

Major plot focus:

— Much of our time was spent with a low-rent Tim Curry dude who called himself both “The Dragon Reborn” and also “Logain” (rhymes with Rogaine, of which he had no need). We saw this dude at the end of Episode 3 being carried around in a cage. Much of the screen time with him this episode was spent talking about how much power he had, and what ratio his power had to other power, even though all of the power in question seemed just to be making little white lines in the air. His power was assessed to be supposedly extremely high (~2 Aes Sedai Sister Units), but later on in the episode, he surprised them, and it rose to about 15 ASSU, but then was inexplicably reduced to maybe 4 ASSU, and then, when the Aes Sedai begain their United Colors of Benetton synchronized dance routine, it was reduced to zero. Also, unlike jet fuel, ASSU apparently can melt steel beams. Later in the episode, it is asserted that 6 ASSUs is more than enough to defeat an army, although when they test that hypothesis, it is not supported at a 95% confidence level.

— I was never clear why you need to keep a Dragon Reborn in a cage, AND ensorceled by Aes Sedai, AND defended by the LARP community, AND in a cave. The cave part was the least clear of all of these. They’re on a journey that is supposed to be over 100 miles to the east. Are they only going to stop at locations with cell caves? And, beyond that, do they ever actually move? I mean, they showed no urgency or sign of moving at all. Putting up and taking down the pavillions must take most of the day, so they probably only get about a quarter mile between takedown and setup.

Times when the show was a metaphor for itself:

— A terribly confusing bad dream sequence where a glowy-eyed Jeff-Bezos-ish character is holding everybody hostage

Things we learned:

— Magic power is mostly just smoke, meaning the 1940’s must have been a time of great sorcery. It is hardly ever used to any significant effect, although at least this time, they used it to stop arrows and rain them down on the attackers. Safety tip for fake-dragon-reborn followers – if somebody has suspended a bunch of your arrows in the sky, do not run under them. They also used it to blow up dirt near the attackers in little fountains, although this did not seem to harm anybody but the local soil fauna.

— Gleemen are seriously overrated. This guy’s one, single, master plan was to wait until dark and then sleep in a barn, and he couldn’t even accomplish that.

— You might be called a Wisdom, but you still don’t grok polyamory

— [Learned only because we had subtitles on] – The Old Tongue is composed of at least 30% apostrophes.

— “Nothing is more dangerous than a man who knows the past.” – This is obviously a gleeman who has not met many historians, very few of whom are, in my experience, say, homicidal ninjas.

— The Aes Sedai are apparently broken into colors, which are reflected in their dress and their attitude. This immediately brought to mind the Teletubbies. Dipsy Aes Sedai are some kind of warriors. Tinky Winky Aes Sedai are spies for justice, which doesn’t make a lot of sense. Po Aes Sedai go around taking away people’s birthright magic without due process, kind of like Republicans do with the voting franchise. I don’t think we’ve met a Laa Laa Aes Sedai yet.

— Even though Logain was supposed to be massively powerful and could smoke-murder people and melt cages, his power (between 2-15 ASSU), which the Aes Sedai had great difficulty containing, was a tiny fraction of the power of a random village mystic’s apprentice. Everybody seemed to think this was normal except Tim Curry guy. In his case, it sapped him of all will to conquer, although he retains his great hair and intriguing accent.

— Circle-mouthed needle-tooth bad guys get frustrated every once in a while, leave their Trolloc hordes behind, and just go murder agrarian families. If the family has a little girl with a doll-slash-painful-over-the-top-symbol-of-loss to bludgeon the viewers with, all the better. It doesn’t help their cause at all to kill the farmers, especially when Chosen Ones are right nearby and available to be killed, so it must just be a feel-good, time-for-me kind of thing.

— If you pick up a cursed dagger in a cursed city, do not be surprised if you end up wandering around with haunted eyes and barfing up black goo that unbarfs itself when people approach. You were stupid. This is the price.

— We learned a lot about the Tuawhatever gypsy people. They are pacifists. There was a leaf metaphor that suggested that they think that their corpses will eventually produce living people, which is not how either human reproduction or fertilizer works. They are looking for a lost Song that will produce peace in the world, which may or may not be “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” They have a Rumspringa thing they do when they’re young, where they sometimes go kill people to see what it’s like. The center of their culture is a lot like Amway, Herbalife, or Tupperware, or other multi-level-marketing chain-letter scams. If you buy my pacifism package and then sell it to two of your friends, and they sell it to their friends, you can create a steady pacifism income for yourself! “Lose wars now! Ask me how!” They also clang pots together when it’s time to leave, which seems silly, because they could just pack the pots up ahead of time and tell everybody that it was time to leave, and then they wouldn’t have everybody walking along carrying pots the whole way.

— If smoke people are telling you to kill monarchs and mention that you’ve lived a thousand lives, it’s time to discontinue your medication and consult a physician.

— The word “army” must mean something different in this culture than it does in ours. Here, “army” seems to mean like ten guys. A “battle” is ten guys fighting ten other guys. “Tactics” are apparently running one at a time through a forest waving your weapons. How the Aes Sedai are such a fearsome force in the world when all they do is wander around with frustrated dude companions and make smoke swirlies and dirt fountains, I don’t know.

Ranking the four chosen ones (now five!) –

— Perrin didn’t do squat but fix a wagon, for which he received far too much praise. However, he wasn’t annoying, and watching him get mic-dropped by old lady who pointed out that his record with axes was kinda bad was fun.

— Egwene is apparently into drum-only raves, which for me is points off. Apparently “she would know” if Rand didn’t love her anymore, which doensn’t make any sense unless the Westlands have Facebook and Rand changed his relationship status from “it’s complicated” to “single.”

— Rand is still a douche, but he didn’t do anything bad this time other than continue to do manual labor and let his lazy-ass pals not do any work.

— Mat was my favorite early on, but he’s now deep in the bad-decision weeds and dropping fast.

— Nynaeve, the newcomer on the scene, spent a lot of time being surly, then one campfire and she’s all like, y’all cool now. Apparently all you needed to do to get her to like you (and raise you from the dead, later) is pray to a rock, make up some shit that ancient phrases mean, and pour out a cat bowl worth of water. But she at least used magic for something cool, and she’s not buying into this whole Aes Sedai thing yet.

Favorite subtitle:

— When a Dipsy Aes Sedai was smoke-murdered by low-rent Tim Curry, she fell to the ground. The subtitle for that event was “[THUD]”

Wheel of Time Review and Self-Indulgent Complaining – Episode 3

Wheel of Time Episode 3 analysis:

Note: pretty big spoilers for Episode 3 follow

D&D Theme for this episode: Don’t split the party. It’s confusing, hard to DM, and nobody gets a good story.

More ways that trollocs are a bad candidate for violent minions of the dark:

— When a fellow trolloc is wounded, they will drop everything, literally, including a perfectly edible unsullied human Wisdom, to eat a fellow trolloc’s entrails. I mean, having an army that encourages self-cannibalism is just a terrible liability.

— Trollocs apparently have terrible vision. We are given a shot of Trolloc-Cam™, which, given that we never see a deliberate first-person view from anybody else, is clearly an homage to the Doom movie starring the Rock. In this revealing insight into what it means to live as a trolloc, we learn that, unlike actual cows, who have a tremendously wide field of view, due to their role as, you know, prey, Trollocs apparently have hyperfocused forward-looking vision that gets dark and fuzzy around the edges. Hiring a faux-bovine murderous horde that can’t see their own elbows is just terrible Dark Lording, I tell you.

But maybe there’s just no other option:

— Apparently ravenous wolves aren’t a good backup evil horde, because just like Trollocs, they corner the Chosen Ones, and then, you know, just top moving and let them go. Unlike the trollocs, however, where there was always an excuse for the heavily-torched horde for stopping, in this case, the wolves were just like, nah, and nobody even tried to explain it.

Fun thing #2 – Times when the show was unintentionally a metaphor for itself:

— Metaphor #1: A sort of Czech Kenny Rogers gleeman gets up on stage in the bar, spends an inordinate amount of time preparing to play during extra-close camera shots, then gives a confusing and snarly performance that is like a verse and a half. Then he leaves, having played a set consisting of one song, and asks for money, which makes him just the laziest gig band ever. Here’s the metaphor part – his audience greets this overwrought performance with stunned silence and zero applause. Mining town dive bar patrons, you are me watching this show.

— Metaphor #2: Moiraine literally slept through the entire episode, not unlike some of its viewers

Speaking of this mining town:

— This is the kind of town where, when a stranger walks up, everyone gives them a five-second disgruntled stare. This happens a lot in fantasy movies, but I have only experienced it in real life when trying to order at a Taco Bell right before closing.

— This is apparently also the kind of town where half the people mine all day, and the other half day-drink and listen to melodramatic songs without applauding.

— The Chosen Douches are told, more or less verbatim, “If you steal, you will be run through our penal system, which consists of putting you in a cage, and afterward, shooting you with arrows.” (I know that is the sequence because the arrows stuck out of the bars). Just before this revelation, Czech Kenny has stolen money from Mat (AKA Douche #2), admits it to an audience of day drinkers, and is nonetheless not put in a cage and shot with arrows. Later on, Mat steals, twice, and he too is not cage-arrowed. That’s some bullshit.

— Also, putting somebody in a cage and then shooting them with arrows is redundant and a waste of both effort and arrows. Either penal solution will do nicely. Just pick one. And for the love of god, in a town with zero economy other than homicidal barmaiding or hard labor, take the valuable stuff off your ciminals either before or after cage-arrowing them.

— The Dark One’s plan apparently consists of hiring enough lovelorn barmaids with needlessly reinforced inn room doors, ensuring they receive intense A-level training in sword fighting, and then… leaving them as barmaids. Here’s a thought. If you have a massively lethal barmaid, just have her attack the Chosen Ones immediately, injure them, and tie them up. Do not go through an extended sequence of wood chopping, flirting, and drink service before doing this. Another idea: Use said massively lethal barmaids instead of Trollocs. At least it is likely that the barmaids can swim.

— Apparently, we are going to meet a race of violent gingers who are only violent when wearing black face bandanas and at no other times. Kind of a Westlands version of the Crips, but with a kerchief-related off switch. I would imagine this society gets very confusing whenever it gets dusty out.

Weird thing – The part with confusing physical geography:

— All of the Chosen Ones and their escorts leave the shattered city being slo-mo chased by creeping death mold.

— These escorts are the same ones who previously wanted only to find and escort the CO’s, and now are inexplicably quite content to have left them behind. Perhaps they know that whatever chases the CO’s will stop just before eviscerating them, because the water is deep, because my friend’s entrails look tasty, because I need a new torch, or just because.

— Physical geography observation: The way into the shattered city was a dense forest, like, with ferns and shit.

— Physical geography conundrum #1: One pair of Chosen Ones (the ones who thought riding a log to safety was a good idea) inexplicably emerges like an hour later onto a heavily weathered seacost-looking-place full of freeze-thaw weathered white boulders.

— Physical geography conundrum #2: Another pair of Chosen Ones (the ones who thought cliffdiving to safety in full heavy clothing was a good idea) end up like an hour later somehow in Siberia in autumn on a grassy plain, one that nonetheless has massive flint stones exposed at the surface.

— Physical geography conundrum #3: The escorts (the ones who just rode horses out of the city) end up like an hour later in a sort of forest/meadow biome.

— This last part is where we learn that bare-butt warrior guy feels all of Moiraine’s pain. This is asserted despite the fact that she’s been stabbed and poisoned by trollocs and is near death, and he’s just peachy and hasn’t even grimaced once. He leaves the Aes Sedai he is sworn to defend and maybe in love with LYING UNCONSCIOUS BY A TREE IN TROLLOC- AND WOLF-INFESTED WOODS while he goes and watches somebody pick flowers. Then the Wisdom tells him “this is going to hurt,” and it, like, totally doesn’t hurt. Not at all. And it’s over super quick. She’s like the opposite of the nurse who gives you shots, who says “just a quick little poke” and MOTHERF*$&ER that stuff hurts. Also, the Wisdom fled the trolloc horde, but apparently brought an entire home chemistry kit with her from her Fortress Of Solitude glowing geyser cave. Sure.

— In the Siberian autumn biome, where the wolves just give up, is a random band of benevolent jolly gypsies, who nonetheless surround their guests threateningly, demand answers to mysterious questions, and then tell them the answers. This is just obnoxious, and totally not how inquiry-based pedagogy works. And one of them totally looks like Sideshow Bob and I just couldn’t stop seeing that the whole time and thinking he had a tattoo that said DIE PERRIN, DIE.

As for ranking the Chosen ones, they all were kind of equally weaselly this time, which was disappointing. Mat, my main man from episodes #1 and #2, turned lazy and whiny, because I guess Rand is contagious or something. Rand wasn’t as bad, but I think that’s just because he couldn’t keep the Whine dial set at 11 the whole time. But his blue shirt was still totally annoying, as was his banter with the homicidal barmaid. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Chosen One with less game than he had, and yet homicidal barmaid was throwing herself at him.

We’re off until the next episode drops. This episode was actually marginally better than the first two, although I had to laugh when the Chosen Ones who had left Two Rivers following a cryptic person to the east and then ditched her finished the episode following a different cryptic person to the east. They must just station eastward-facing cryptic people all over the area here, like some kind of Aes Sedai WPA program.

Wheel of Time Review and Self-Indulgent Complaining – Episodes 1 & 2

My take on Amazon’s The Wheel of Time after two episodes:

(mild spoilers below, but nearly nothing has happened in two hours, so there’s not much to spoil)

Some observations:

If you ever find yourself a bone-faced needle-toothed oval-mouthed scream-enthusiast mid-level manager for a Dark Lord, do not employ Trollocs. They might look fierce, be OK at taking down a small village, and be too stupid to request dental benefits, sure, but consider the following:

— Your torch budget will break the bank. Seriously. Nearly every one of these dudes seems to need their own torch, even when just running through the woods. What do they do with them when the fighting starts? Is this a union rule?

— Every time they seem poised to capture the Chosen Ones, some technicality stops them. They can’t cross deep water. They won’t enter the shattered city. Tuesday is team-building day. Are these war axes fair trade? For beast-men, these guys are remarkably ineffective.

— They take bellowing breaks with alarming frequency. This time could much better be spent killing Chosen Ones, or even running through the well-illuminated woods.

— They have no situational awareness. They nearly exclusively target hapless villagers, not Chosen Ones, even in a town that’s like half Chosen Ones and their enablers.

Speaking of shattered cities, here are some observations:

— The build-up for the evil that overtook the city kind of oversold the reality, which ended up being creeping death mold that conveniently waits long enough to attack to build dramatic tension and allow for more brooding. A little Lysol would save your Chosen Ones and also spruce up the place.

— When your horse is being consumed by death mold, maybe start running then. The death mold can apparently ony move as fast as you can, which is admittedly pretty good for mold, but not really a threat. If you leave early, you’ll avoid many potential dangers.

— Mysterious sword-wielding gratuitous-naked-butt warrior dude told you to stay together and not eat anything you didn’t bring (although this sounds more like a Noom weight-loss strategy than a shattered city thing). That means if you find a glowing hissing dagger in a chest next to a dead guy, you should probably leave it there. Even in non-shattered-city situations, this is good policy.

Along those lines, if you have a deep trolloc-poisoned wound in your leg, and you’re traveling with an Aes Sedai, you should ask her to suck out the black goo. That’s literally all she can do that’s effective, compared to disassembling taverns, drowning ferrymen, speaking in riddles, and providing cool light displays for any needed raves. Having a wolf lick your wound in the woods is absolutely counterindicated, not FDA approved, and the wrong kind of homeopathy, even.

Also, I’m not clear on why the scenery-chewing bigot cult (1) has so many adherents, since they seem to kinda suck, (2) wears white in the woods, because that’s just stupid, and (3) thinks that the only armor you need is left-arm armor.

The main event: Here’s my ranking of the four Chosen Ones, in order of how much I hope they are not the actual Chosen One, which is also the order of how much I want them to die.

4) Mat (D&D Class: Thief) – bonus points for being funny, sort of smart about the situation they’re in, and actually seeming human through effective acting. Points off for being a total moron in the shattered city (see above), and for being Mat with one T.

3) Perrin (D&D Class: Fighter) – bonus points for tragic story and moments of quiet sorrow, and for being generally cool. Points off for not getting that leg thing looked at, and for ill-advised lupine alternative medicine.

2) Egwene (D&D Class: Magic-User, maybe? Still level 0) – bonus points for choosing career over loser boyfriend and for being smart in most non-romantic areas. Major points off for not actually dumping loser boyfriend after all and still caring what he thinks. Seriously, girl, just no.

[Huge step up in weaseliness goes here]

1) Rand (D&D Class: Rules lawyer. Rolled up bard, bought equipment for ranger, but wants to play barbarian regardless and wants everybody to deal with it) – No bonus points. Eesh. So horrible. No idea what the director said. Maybe “Remember Hayden Christensen in the Prequels? Go for that energy. People loved that.” This guy’s day planner is completely full, but all the entries are Brooding, Sulking, Whining, and Pouting. Seriously, even this guy’s lips make me angry, and I will never again think a sheepskin coat might look cool in the right situation. They should all just agree that there were actually only three Chosen Ones and find a convenient sucking river whirlpool to throw him in. If he’s the Chosen One, give me the Dark Lord instead.

And finally, if you are one of the snowflakes-who-call-people-snowflakes who are upset about the diverse casting, then you can bite the big one. It’s a fantasy world. Anybody can be there, and anybody should. If you’re not one of those snowflake people, but having a fantasy show without all white guys still seems wrong somehow, then congratulations, you’re feeling the faintest echo of what fantasy fans of color have been experiencing for decades, without the generous helping of actual discrimination and disempowerment that usually comes with it.

Looking forward to six more episodes of walking through the woods being emo while pursued by half-assed beast men, all while failing to deal with important own-goal issues like untreated wounds, taking the obviously cursed dagger, pouting so hard you dream of eating bats, and failed zero-chemistry teen romance.

Review: God King Rising, by Jeffrey Kohanek

I’m trying a new thing my May 15 newsletter, one that I’ll continue in future newsletters, and I’m also posting it here to my blog. I’ve read a fellow indie fantasy author’s book, and I’m offering a review of it here. The book is God King Rising by Jeff Kohanek. Full disclosure: I am doing a newsletter swap with Jeff this month, and because his mailing list is a lot bigger than mine, I offered to review the book he’s promoting this week in addition to just providing a link.

Jeff is a very successful indie author, at least as far as I can tell from his online presence. He’s got four separate fantasy series, including Fate of Wizardoms (6 books), Runes of Issalia (3 books), Wardens of Issalia (4 books), and Fall of Wizardoms (3 books out now, 3 more planned this year), plus some stories and companion pieces. If I’m reading the dates right, he started with all of these in 2018, which puts him at about four times my pace so far. So, prolific and successful, with all but one of the books north of four stars on GoodReads. He’s also an active presence on various indie fantasy sites.

God King Rising, the first book in Jeffrey’s latest series, was a fun read. It follows multiple storylines in a world shattered by the death of its gods, whose power used to support wizard kings (a wizardom is like a kingdom). The societies are reassessing their leadership, rearranging their power structures and governments, and some new factions and leaders are seeing opportunities to seize power following all the upheaval. As we shift from storyline to storyline, we see different perspectives on these events, from a pirate queen and her warrior companion fleeing a sinister plot, to the plotters themselves, to a thief-turned-administrator betrothed to a newly-crowned benevolent queen, to a haughty wizardess overseeing a cruel and stratified society, one threatened by those she oppresses. There is a lot going on here.

I got some sense of Jeff’s world as the characters traveled through it, although that impression left me realizing that there’s even more complexity beyond what I saw. The bulk of the action takes place in four main cities or towns, although there are other locations along the way. These towns each have a society, a culture, a government, trade goods, and industries. Even though they differ, they’re often tied up in the fading of the wizards’ power and the upheaval of the recent death of the gods. There’s a good bit of description of these cities, including clothes, architecture, military factions, and a bit of the society, but not so much it’s overwhelming. 

Much of the action in the book is cinematic. There are fights, tremendous feats of derring-do, magic spells, poisons, curses, disguises, escapes, schemes, even a carriage chase. The action is fast paced. The characters are clear about their goals and their limitations, and you can follow them as they pursue their goals (and as their circumstances change). There’s a little bit of the superhero in some of the characters, which is fine – they’re the heroes of the story, after all, and it’s fun that they’re quite capable (often seemingly the best in the world) at what they do. This quality and this pacing doesn’t always leave time for introspection or for getting to know the characters, although we do get deep into some of them, and I suspect it’s a deliberate tradeoff to elevate the action and adventure parts. Something is nearly always happening.

With those powerful characters and their skills, the story sometimes seems a little like a very solid RPG campaign, with a highlighted set of diverse heroes facing a series of challenges and quests along the way. In each section, the focus never shifts from the party – we’re always following what they’re doing and thinking and planning. Of course, with so many perspective characters, it’s more like a bunch of RPG campaigns blended into each other. 

This RPG impression I got was furthered by other RPG-style elements. The characters mostly seem to have a class they fall into – thief, sorcerer, wizard, warrior – with a related set of skills. There are multiple magic items of power that play a role in the story, with many characters relying on those items for their power, for protection, or to augment their fighting style. There are some familiar races from D&D – dark elves, regular elves, dwarfs (never dwarves, although either plural is fine, I now know). I’ve been playing D&D since 1980, so this all felt quite familiar and comfortable for me.

The separate storylines blend as the characters interact, and there are several exciting set-piece scenes along with some good climaxes. The storylines all come to resolutions, and while these resolutions are satisfying, it’s clear that many of them are not final, and the adventures will continue in the future books.

If you’d like to give the book a look, and you’re reading this in mid-May 2021, you’re in luck! It’s on sale for the next few days for $0.99 on Amazon.

This was a really interesting chance for me to get a look at a well-developed world and the start of a new series by an experienced and successful indie author, one with a fairly different style of writing and characterization from mine. I learned a lot, and the perspective will certainly help me as I continue. 

Good week for reviews

I’ve seen some increased activity in reviews on the major review sites since my free book promotion Sept. 4-9, where 3,725 people downloaded my book. Since then, I’m at +7 ratings/+3 reviews on GoodReads, +6 reviews on Amazon, and I got my first BookBub review. So, pretty happy about that. They’ve been good reviews, too, so I’m glad people are enjoying the book. Here are the last five from Amazon:

Review from M Dressler

I am so honored to have had my book reviewed by the award winning author Mylène Dressler. She’s a friend and colleague at Guilford College, and she’s achieved much, much more in the world of fiction than I have, but she was still willing and excited to help me with my writing and encourage me to persevere. Such a wonderful person.

I highly recommend her most recent book, The Last to See Me, a haunting tale of spirits, anger, and loss set on the rocky coast of northern California. I’ve loved everything of hers I’ve read, but this one is definitely something special. I reviewed it when it came out on Goodreads here.

Her review of Flames Over Frosthelm is here.

Amazonian praise

The book has received two new Amazon reviews – one from a user who doesn’t post too many reviews:

And another from a user who posts a lot:

I’m starting to get reviews like these organically, from people I’ve never met who’ve found the book in other ways. Some I’m guessing are from recommendations, others from my advertising, maybe others just from searches or random discovery. It’s still a slow process getting press (seven reviews on Amazon, ten ratings on GoodReads, one review on BookBub), but it’s moving along. These are very encouraging – I’ve been happy all day.

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