Ayoola Smart’s Aviendha Brings a Dune Energy to The Wheel of Time

The Wheel of Time has introduced Aiel warrior Aviendha, and Ayoola Smart commands the screen like a fierce Fremen from Dune.

Ayoola Smart as Aviendha in The Wheel of Time
Photo: Jan Thijs | Prime Video

This article contains The Wheel of Time spoilers.

Readers of The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan may already know that the author was heavily influenced by the Dune books of Frank Herbert, but even for those who only know these sci-fi/fantasy classics from their screen adaptations, one parallel became very clear in the latest episode: the character of Aviendha played impressively by Ayoola Smart (Killing Eve). The Aiel prisoner immediately evoked all the desert warrior vibes of a Fremen, making her one of the most compelling new characters of the season.

The Aiel people hail from an arid land to the east of a barrier mountain range, separating them from the kingdoms of the west, just as an ocean separates the Seanchan from the known world of The Wheel of Time. The show has made clear that Aiel are mistrusted in this land because of a great war a generation ago and that Rand himself displays the red hair that distinguishes the race to others. His Aiel parentage was even revealed in a breathtaking flashback to his mother fighting in the Aiel War in season 1.

But Aviendha, whom Perrin encounters caged in Atuan’s Mill, is an actual native of the Aiel Waste, or the Three-fold Land as her people call it. Right away, we can see three similarities to the Dune Fremen: they wear sand-colored hoods; they are skilled fighters; and they hail from a desert land. When Aviendha raises her mask, a sign that she’s about to kill her enemies, she brings more action than The Wheel of Time has seen since… well, the pregnant fight sequence mentioned above.

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The similarities don’t end there, however. Both the Fremen and the Aiel are on the hunt for a messiah. The Fremen’s Lisan al Gaib (literally Giver of Water) is of similar nature to the Aiel’s Car’a’carn, or chief-of-chiefs, a product of the outside world that will bring redemption. Both cultures also consider water to be not just of vital importance but of sacred significance as well. When Aviendha tells Perrin, “My water is yours,” it is a debt of honor, and she likely only heeds his insistence not to kill Dain Bornhold because the oddly kind White Cloak gave her water.

Aviendha also doesn’t seem all that off-put by Hopper’s presence, and the wolf appears to be okay with her as well. This new pairing of Aiel and wolf-brother should be well-equipped to hold their own as they head off to Falme to rescue Loial and the remaining Shienarans. Whether or not Aviendha is following some sort of sign that the Car’a’carn is coming into power, her journey far from home will no doubt soon lead to her meeting the Dragon Reborn, a likely candidate for the chief-of-chiefs.

There are some differences between Smart’s Aviendha and, say, Zendaya’s Dune character Chani. The Fremen want to escape their water-impoverished life and believe their messiah can deliver them from hardship, but the Aiel embrace the scarcities of the Three-fold Land, believing they will be strengthened by them. The trinity of the land’s name refers to “a shaping stone to make us, a testing ground to prove our worth, and a punishment for the sin,” Aviendha tells Perrin in The Wheel of Time.

It almost sounds like “the Sin” should be capitalized the way Smart delivers the line. As The Wheel of Time continues, viewers are sure to learn what that transgression is, but in the meantime, there could be no greater introduction to the Aiel culture than Aviendha, especially given Smart’s powerful performance. Fans will no doubt be anxious to see this character grow and become a part of the greater story in season 2 and beyond.