The Wheel of Time: How Lanfear Subverts the Robert Jordan Canon

Lanfear, the latest Forsaken unleashed in The Wheel of Time, debuts quite differently in the Jordan novels.

The Wheel of Time Season 2 - Rand al’Thor & Selene
Photo: Prime Video

This article contains spoilers for The Wheel of Time season 2 episode 4 and the book series.

It’s no secret that fans of the Robert Jordan novels upon which The Wheel of Time is based are not always pleased with the adaptation’s choice of modifications to the original narrative. But in the latest episode, “Daughter of the Night,” the introduction of Lanfear, a new general in the Dark One’s army, gives added agency to an important character. As interesting as she was in the books, Lanfear was initially introduced as a woman in need of rescue with an emotional attachment to the Dragon Reborn… or more specifically, the original Dragon, Lews Therin Telamon.

It’s a subtle but important distinction! When Lanfear first appears in the novels, she immediately targets Rand al’Thor using the alias Selene, just as she does in The Wheel of Time season 2. But instead of an innkeeper with a strange knowledge of high society, she’s a damsel in distress who transports Rand to another world simply so that she can be “rescued” and ingratiate herself with her savior. It immediately sets her up as a manipulative temptress and one of the most beautiful women in history, which undermines her status as one of the most powerful channelers ever known.

Even though she eventually uses her powers of disguise to become a much more complex villain in later books, the first impression she makes in The Wheel of Time season 2 feels much stronger. Concealing her identity and her past behind the agreement with Rand not to be too serious was a great way to introduce Lanfear’s mysterious past. Her insistence that “you’ll help me remember, and I’ll help you forget” is a nod to what Rand represents to her: the reincarnation of her former lover, Lews Therin.

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The Robert Jordan novels have the luxury of thousands of pages to explore the lore of the world before the Breaking, whereas The Wheel of Time has only had a few flashbacks to allow viewers to see the historical period that forged Aes Sedai like Lanfear and Lews Therin whose hubris led to the corruption of the Dark One she now serves as Forsaken. By encouraging Rand to channel, both Ishamael and Lanfear hope to awaken the Dragon in service of evil rather than as a champion for good.

In that sense, The Wheel of Time is compelled to adhere to Lanfear’s core motivation in the books: to win over Rand for herself and for the Dark One. But the means she uses to accomplish that goal communicate a lot about her depth of character in the Prime Video series. The way she infiltrated Cairhien high society to get Rand the bottle of wine, for example, showed that there were hidden depths to this simple innkeeper.

The Forsaken are long-lived channelers from thousands of years in the past, and they were imprisoned behind supposedly indestructible seals made of ivory-colored cuendillar. Rand released Ishamael in the season 1 finale of The Wheel of Time, and Ishamael used his considerable power to release Lanfear in the latest episode. As each Forsaken is released, they’ll each need a level of complexity worthy of a good villain, and while Ishamael and Lanfear both have a long way to go in that regard, at least the latter’s introduction got what is arguably a storytelling upgrade from page to screen.