Wheel of Time’s showrunner wanted you to be ‘100% in love’ with those bad guys

As author Robert Jordan observed, the Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass. The same is true of prestige TV shows, including Amazon Studios’ Wheel of Time adaptation, which just wrapped up its second season. Ostensibly, the focus of season 2’s finale, “What Was Meant to Be,” is protagonist Rand al’Thor (Josha Stradowski) taking yet another step toward embracing his destiny as world messiah/destroyer the Dragon Reborn.

But let’s be real here: The episode — like the rest of this season — really belongs to The Wheel of Time’s baddies. With that in mind, we caught up with showrunner Rafe Judkins to take stock of where the Prime Video series’ major villains are at the end of season 2 and try to tease out where they might be headed in season 3.

[Ed. note: This post contains spoilers for The Wheel of Time season 2, episode 8.]

The Seanchan

A group of Seanchan guards guarding Turak (Daniel Francis); all of them are holding their weapons out Photo: Jan Thijs/Prime Video

First up, there’s the Seanchan. These would-be world conquerors suffered their first big setback in “What Was Meant to Be,” forced to retreat by the unlikely combination of Rand’s allies, religious fanatics the Whitecloaks, and a spectral squad best described as the Avengers meets The Lord of the Rings’ Army of the Dead.

Ordinarily, such a thrashing would be enough to rule out an immediate comeback, but the Seanchan aren’t ordinary opponents. Based on what we’ve seen across The Wheel of Time season 2’s eight installments (not to mention the wider narrative outlined in Jordan’s original novels), it’s safe to say that the insectoid-armored invaders will remain as much of a threat as ever when season 3 eventually rolls around.

In a Zoom call, Judkins hinted that the Seanchan will remain a thorn in our heroes’ collective side for the foreseeable future. “One thing you hear [the Seanchan] call themselves is the Forerunners. And I think that might be a word that people glance over the first couple of times they hear it, but it’s actually a really important word because it means that this is a small group of a much larger force that exists on the Seanchan continent,” Judkins said, also noting the Seanchan Empress is still a major character we haven’t met yet. “So, we have gotten really the tip of the spear of the Seanchan world and […] while they may have been met with defeat here, I think that it’s good to remember that it’s just the tip of the spear and the Seanchan can and will be a force that continues to make an impact in the world of Wheel of Time.”

The Seanchan invasion force will be under new management in Wheel of Time’s third season, after Rand casually wiped out their commander, High Lord Turak (Daniel Francis), at the end of season 2. High Lady Suroth (Karima McAdams) now holds the top job, and that spells trouble — and not just because Suroth is (as director Sanaa Hamri declared during Polygon’s late-August Wheel of Time set visit) a “rockstar.” The real concern here is Suroth’s connection to the Dark One’s right-hand man, Ishamael (Fares Fares) — more on him later — which means one of the deadliest fighting forces on the planet is now at the beck and call of a ruthless Darkfriend.

Suroth may not be calling the shots for long, though. Judkins’ reference to the Seanchan Empress hints at the introduction of not just one, but two people capable of pulling rank on every Seanchan character we’ve met so far, even the newly promoted Suroth, in season 3. The first of these individuals is the Empress herself, while the second is her daughter, Tuon, who plays a key supporting role in Jordan’s later books. Tuon’s drive to cement her claim to the throne — as well as her romantic entanglements with the roguish Mat Cauthon (Dònal Finn) — would certainly spice up the show’s third batch of episodes, although her inclusion in season 3 is speculative for now.

The Whitecloaks

Jay Duffy (Dain Bornhald) standing with an ax Photo: Jan Thijs/Prime Video

Regardless of whether Tuon does or doesn’t show up next season, it’s clear that Suroth stepping in to fill the void left by Turak will have serious repercussions going forward. The Seanchan aren’t the only ones left to deal with a power vacuum at the end of “What Was Meant to Be,” either. The Whitecloaks also lose one of their big guns, Lord Captain Geofram Bornhald (Stuart Graham), who runs afoul of a frenzied, ax-wielding Perrin Aybara (Marcus Rutherford). The likely candidate to replace Bornhald is the decidedly less even-keeled Eamon Valda (Abdul Salis), which could mean an even more extremist direction for the self-styled Children of the Light when The Wheel of Time finally returns to screens.

And speaking of dark turns, Bornhald’s son, Dain (Jay Duffy), will almost certainly be out for revenge on Perrin in The Wheel of Time season 3. Comments by Judkins all but confirm this assumption is on the money, albeit tempered by Dain’s innately upstanding nature. “[Dain’s] sort of born into the Whitecloaks, and I don’t think he believes everything that the Whitecloaks believe,” Judkins explained. “He certainly, clearly, has a lot of problems with the Questioners. And I think what’s interesting about him is he’s someone his whole life who’s kind of said, I don’t think things are so black and white. I don’t think everyone’s a Darkfriend like you do.

“And you know someone like Perrin, who he has a good relationship with earlier in the season, he has been told by Valda this guy’s a Darkfriend: Look at his eyes. What is he? He’s a devil, basically. And then he sees this man that he tried to trust, and tried to give the benefit of the doubt, put an ax into his father’s chest. And so, I think that Dain coming out of that is starting to question everything that he has believed and started to wonder if Valda was right. And I think we get to see Dain be the center of a struggle of the good and the bad within the Whitecloaks.”

The Black Ajah

Liandrin (Kate Fleetwood) in close-up looking up Image: Prime Video

That’s the Seanchan and Whitecloaks covered — what about their mutual enemy, the Aes Sedai? The all-female order of channelers has as much to fear about what’s happening within the White Tower’s walls as without, if The Wheel of Time season 2 is anything to go by. That’s because this latest season’s eight-episode run cleared up any doubt around the sinister Liandrin’s (Kate Fleetwood) true allegiances, outing her as a member of the fabled Black Ajah: a secret society of Aes Sedai who serve the Dark One.

While we can assume that Egwene al’Vere (Madeleine Madden), Nynaeve al’Meara (Zoë Robins), and Elayne Trakand (Ceara Coveney) — whom Liandrin betrays midway through season 2 — will expose the Red Sister’s treachery to the wider community, that still leaves plenty more potential Black Ajah agents for Verin Mathwin (Meera Syal) to root out in season 3.

“As season 2 is ending, we know that an Aes Sedai is a Darkfriend. We know that Liandrin has sworn her oaths [to the Dark One],” Judkins said of the Black Ajah subplot. “We know that she is working for the Shadow, that she is a Darkfriend. What we don’t know is if it goes anywhere beyond her. I think it’s quite unthinkable for our characters that there could be an Aes Sedai of all people sworn to the Dark, and I think some of them are worried about the possibility that — what if there’s another one? What if there’s more than one? Is that possible? And I think that’s where it kind of sits in the headspace of our characters in our world, but also in the books.

“I think as they begin to see if there are any others […] it’s a real question for a lot of our leads going into it. Like, the idea that the Shadow has a toehold within the White Tower is unthinkable. And the danger of that to the world, because essentially, the Forsaken are just Aes Sedai who swore the Dark Oaths 3,000 years ago. So, the idea that there are Aes Sedai of today that could be Darkfriends as well — it’s one of the most dangerous things that exists in the world at the end of season 2. So, I think it’s something that will get a lot of focus from the characters moving forward.”

The Forsaken

Ishamael (Fares Fares) sitting and playing with a knife Photo: Jan Thijs/Prime Video

Yet, as Judkins rightly pointed out, even the specter of rogue Aes Sedai pales in comparison to the menace of The Wheel of Time’s real big bad: the Forsaken. Unmatched in their mastery of the One Power and utterly devoted to the Dark One, these folks are back on the scene after several millennia in hibernation. “What Was Meant to Be” ends with the apparent death of the Forsaken’s leader, Ishamael, at Rand’s hands, following the former’s unsuccessful attempt to lure the latter to his side. While Ishamael’s demise seems pretty final (as in, “crumbling to ash” final), anyone who’s read all of Jordan’s high fantasy doorstops knows that the charismatic nihilist has a knack for surviving seemingly fatal wounds.

What’s more, Rand’s ex, Lanfear (Natasha O’Keeffe), remains at large, although her plan to backstab Ishamael in the Wheel of Time season 2 finale yields mixed results. The Daughter of the Night does indeed succeed in taking her chief rival as the Dark One’s favorite follower off the board, but she fails to prevent the return of the remaining Forsaken — whose ranks are appreciably thinner so far than described by Jordan — as intended. This includes Moghedien (Laia Costa), who signals to Lanfear (and audiences) that she and her fellow recently released convicts will prove just as much of a headache for Rand and the gang as their late boss did once season 3 rolls around.

Still, even for the story’s ongoing big bads, Judkins is very aware of how the Forsaken are being presented in the narrative at any given time. “One of the things that’s so interesting about the Forsaken in the books is that they are the human face of evil, you know? They do everything they do for very human reasons, and they each have very different reasons for swearing themselves to the Shadow.”

Lanfear (Natasha O’Keeffe) strolling past something on fire in a village Photo: Jan Thijs/Prime Video

He pointed out that each of the Forsaken are just as interesting and complicated as Ishamael or Lanfear, in both their characterization and in their relationship to evil. But while most of that is in books beyond the second and third, Judkins and crew wanted to put “more of them up front” and “really infuse the show with what you feel like you learned about the Forsaken later in the books.”

“Coursing out of the Forsaken is something we think a lot about. […] Who do you meet when? How do they function in the story?” Judkins said. “When is it exactly the right amount of Forsaken for the audience to be totally 100% in love with each of them? And when is it too many Forsaken that are operational at the same time that it starts to get a little messy and confusing? It’s something that, for us, we pay a lot of attention to because […] any scene that any of the Forsaken are in should be impactful.

“And so, the reason we did that Moghedien scene was really that you feel the impact of the other Forsaken right at the end, even just feeling Lanfear’s fear — like, a character that you haven’t seen be afraid the entire season suddenly afraid of someone is a great way to be introduced to how the Forsaken function in the rest of the show.”

So all told, the forces of the Light will have a lot to contend with in The Wheel of Time season 3. Fortunately, they’re arguably as fighting fit as they’ve ever been at the close of season 2. Rand has finally embraced the power — and destiny — of the Dragon Reborn. Mat and Perrin have likewise unleashed their own previously untapped, supernaturally charged potential. Egwene has come out of her Seanchan slavery stronger and decidedly harder than ever. And then there’s Moiraine Damodred (Rosamund Pike), who’s restored both her connection to the One Power and partnership with her faithful Warder, Lan (Daniel Henney), just in time for their next skirmish with the Shadow.

As such, there’s a decent chance the next season of The Wheel of Time will belong to its heroes, not its villains. It’s a good thing, too — the world of the Wheel might not stand a chance otherwise.