Wheel of Time season 1’s finale introduced a terrifying new threat, the Seanchans – but who are these new villains, and what will season 2 bring?
The dramatic Wheel of Time season 1 finale ended with the introduction of a terrifying new threat – the Seanchan. Moiraine Sedai believed she had brought the current cycle of history to a premature end when she brought Rand al’Thor to the Eye of the World. But by the end of Wheel of Time season 1, episode 8, she realized she was wrong; the confrontation between Rand and the Dark One was their first battle, not the Last One that would end the ages.
But another threat looms on the horizon. Wheel of Time season 1, episode 8 ended with a glimpse of the continent’s western shores, where an invasion fleet of vessels arrived from over the sea. Worse still, they possessed Channelers – who combined their powers to destructive effect, summoning a terrible wave that would sweep inland and devastate coastal towns and village. These are the Seanchan, a group ostensibly separate from the age-old conflict between the Aes Sedai and the Dark One, a major complication in the fantasy world created by legendary author Robert Jordan.
Jordan envisioned a world where magic was real, and he was determined to avoid simplistic portrayals of such a world. As a result, he deliberately chose to establish the Seanchan as another response to magic – a civilization that has chosen to view Channelers who tap into the One Power as weapons, enslaving them and removing their freedom to act. They call their Channelers damane, which means “Leashed One,” and they place a magical leash called an a’dam upon them. These women are leashed by a controller who is called a sul’dam, and they have no choice but to obey their commands. The a’dams are visible in the Wheel of Time season 1 finale, and the damanes who unleash the great wave upon the western shores move in disturbing concert precisely because they are being controlled by sul’dams.
The Seanchans are descendants of a great hero named Artur Hawkwing, a powerful ta’veren who ruled most of the known world – but whose empire splintered after his death. The Seanchans believe they have the right to reclaim Hawking’s old empire, and have come to the continent in order to do just that. They are ruled by an empress named Tuon, who – in the books – becomes a major character, strongly tied to Mat Cauthon. Visually, Wheel of Time has redesigned the Seanchan to stress the fact their approach to magic and technology has diverged over the centuries. “The insect armor is in there, there’s all of these pieces of what’s described in the books for them but we really wanted them to look incredibly distinct. Almost like aliens arriving on our shores,” showrunner Rafe Judkins told Decider.
In the books, the Seanchans invaded in The Great Hunt, the second book in the series. Although they were a force to be reckoned with, they soon learned their power was limited over Aes Sedai; the Three Oaths binding an Aes Sedai meant even a sul’dam could not command an enslaved Aes Sedai to use the One Power as a weapon. The experience of slavery was still a shocking one, though, with Egwene – one of the most powerful Aes Sedai initiates – captured by them for a time.
Wheel of Time season 1 has set up a basic good versus evil dynamic, but the addition of the Seanchans complicates matters significantly. They are most certainly antagonists, and many aspects of their civilization are deeply disturbing – most notably their dependence upon slavery. But the Seanchans have a crucial role in the narrative, and their existence must be accepted if Rand is to triumph in the Last Battle against the Dark One in Wheel of Time.
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