This article contains The Wheel of Time spoilers.
However fans may feel about The Wheel of Time’s accuracy as an adaptation, there’s one character moment that the series simply had to get right from the Robert Jordan books, and that was Egwene’s time as damane, one of the Seanchan’s enslaved channelers controlled by handlers known as sul’dam. The breaking of Egwene’s will by Renna in the latest episode was not only a brilliant interpretation of a very important arc from the novels; it also was teased as a favorite scene of showrunner Rafe Judkins more than a year before it aired.
Judkins took to Twitter during some downtime at San Diego Comic-Con 2022 to answer fan questions about the second season, which was then still fourteen months away from airing on Prime Video. One follower asked the showrunner to share his favorite upcoming two-person scene by just naming the characters in question. Judkins’ response, “Egwene Renna,” now resonates with legions of viewers of the most recent The Wheel of Time episode.
He didn’t choose a close friendship, a romantic interest, or dramatic family dynamic. He chose the brutal and abusive relationship between Egwene and Renna, which unfolded in painful-to-watch but brilliant-to-behold fashion between Madeleine Madden and newcomer to The Wheel of Time, Xelia Mendes-Jones. It was not an easy task to elucidate the Seanchan method of slavery while also establishing the character of Renna and reinforcing the mental fortitude of Egwene.
Particularly important to depicting the breaking of Egwene was establishing the rules of the collar and a’dam, the leash that connects a sul’dam to her damane. First, we are told that any harm to the handler is felt twofold by the one leashed. Second, the damane may not attempt to remove the collar, which prevents her from channeling except at the direction of her sul’dam. And finally, nothing that is perceived as a weapon may be handled by a damane.
But those are just the bare, horrifying facts of Seanchan slavery and its physical trappings. The brilliance of The Wheel of Time’s on-screen depiction lies in Mendes-Jones’ portrayal of Renna as a self-perceived compassionate owner acclimating their pet to its new home and in Madden’s powerful performance as Egwene refusing to submit and finally succumbing to defeat. These opposing worldviews clash spectacularly when Renna shows Egwene how powerful they are together by forcing the damane to use the One Power to destroy a tree that gave her hope of freedom.
And that’s not even taking into account the sacrifice of Ryma of the Yellow Ajah, who gave herself to the Seanchan after Nynaeve’s channeling was detected. The healer expected her warder Basan to kill her before she could be collared, but instead she was made to submit just as her sisters before her were, including the Sitter of the Blue Ajah who praises Egwene’s endurance through the wall between them in the final moments of the episode.
The whole sequence had all of the emotional impact that book readers hoped for but did not necessarily anticipate, and non-reader viewers of The Wheel of Time discovered a whole new level of enjoyment in a series that gets better with each new installment. In an episode filled with plenty of compelling subplots, the heart-wrenching tale of Egwene undeniably upstaged them all. No wonder Judkins considered these scenes his favorite part of season 2!