WARNING: The following contains spoilers for The Wheel of Time Episode 2, "Shadow's Waiting," streaming now on Prime Video.
The threats that the heroes of The Wheel of Time face in just the first few episodes range from men who might accidentally tear the world apart to a mysterious black mist that disintegrates living matter on contact. But the most frightening villains might just be the Children of the Light, an organization of humans who have no supernatural powers at all.
Derisively called the Whitecloaks by others in their world, the Children are instantly recognizable by their pure white clothes and tents and banners with a golden sunburst emblem. They make their first appearance in the cold open to the show's second episode, with Captain Eamon Valda being served a delicacy on a silver platter. He then goes into a smug monologue about the food before the camera pans out to reveal that he's speaking to an Aes Sedai, who's gagged and tied to a stake.
The power of the Aes Sedai has already been hammered in at this point, and the sight of one rendered so completely helpless is an immediate shock. Worse than that, though, is when the fire is lit beneath her and the Whitecloaks watch approvingly, almost as if this is justice being done. The audience may not yet have decided whether Aes Sedai can be trusted, but seeing one of them literally burned at the stake by people who believe she's a witch is uncomfortable from any perspective.
Even the white uniforms have a foreboding association in the real world. The Children of the Light don't wear hoods, but they do outfit their horses, giving them a dramatic visual effect when seen as a group. In the books that The Wheel of Time is based on, Whitecloaks play a significant role but are more likely to be seen as a nuisance than a true danger. The TV adaptation makes it clear from the beginning that the militant Light-fearing order is willing and able to murder Aes Sedai with no provocation, and Valda even keeps their rings as trophies.
Exactly how they can defeat Aes Sedai without having any equivalent power of their own is not yet entirely clear, but it may be due to a tweak in the mythology. The victim being burned at the stake had one of her hands severed, suggesting that she's unable to channel without it and thus vulnerable to physical attacks. Earlier examples of Moiraine's channeling did show varied and precise movements of her hands, which may be a necessary component of channeling the One Power. However, whatever their method of overpowering Aes Sedai, the real weapons of the Whitecloaks are their political influence and fanaticism. Their belief system is simple: any kind of channeling is evil, a sin against the Light, the universal God of their world.
Peculiar as that rejection of magic sounds in a fantasy setting, in a way it's just an extension of the belief that the Aes Sedai themselves have. The reason that all of them are women is that men who can channel are the ones who broke the world -- but from the Whitecloaks' perspective, it may seem completely logical to say that channeling broke the world, and instead of just stopping men from doing it again, it's safer to stop everyone.
All internal justifications aside, though, the unfortunate truth is that some people, both men and women, can't stop themselves from channeling. That these people will be feared is inevitable, and so are the factions formed around different cultural and individual beliefs about how to handle it. While fans can look back at historical tragedies for comparison, characters in The Wheel of Time may be just as likely to take the approach of the ferryman separated from his family by Moiraine's tactics to protect her people. "The Whitecloaks are right," he says to her. "You Aes Sedai, you're monsters."
To witness the Whitecloacks, The Wheel of Time is now streaming on Prime Video, with new episodes releasing on Fridays.
KEEP READING: The Wheel of Time: How Hiding the Dragon Reborn Will Help the Show Stick Its Landing
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