The Wheel of Time Season 1, Episode 6, "The Flame of Tar Valon" had one shocking scene that was most definitely not in the books, but it wasn't exactly a "change" either. The Amazon series took a big departure from its source material this week while staying true to its characters and its intricate worldbuilding. Fair warning: there are spoilers for both the show and the books ahead.
This week's new episode introduces Sophie Okonedo as Siuan Sanche, The Amyrlin Seat, leader of all the Aes Sedai and childhood best friend of Moiraine Damodred (Rosamund Pike). The show follows in the footsteps of the books by making us believe Siuan is disciplining Moiraine in front of the other Aes Sedai, only to reveal that they are extremely close behind closed doors, and have been working together to locate the Dragon Reborn. The "twist" here – such as it is – is that in the show, Moiraine and Siuan are secretly still lovers.
This both is and is not a change to the story from the books in a number of ways, but the bottom line is it will have ripple effects on the story as it goes on. In Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time novels, girls living in the White Tower as Novices and Accepted often become "pillow-friends" – or, lovers. The idea is that the girls are not allowed to leave the tower and are not allowed to interact with men, while many of them are in puberty or are young adults.
Over the years, Jordan explained further at the insistence of fans in blog posts, convention panels and Q&As. He wrote that pillow-friends are common and are even encouraged among aspiring Aes Sedai, but that "most of these relationships do not survive being raised to Accepted in large part because it is rare for both of a pair to be raised at the same time. The perceived gulf between an Accepted and Novice is fairly large – especially from the bottom end – and it is difficult for the relationship to endure, whether platonic friendship or a pillow friendship, when one girl is placed in a position above the other... It is generally considered proper for the one who is raised first to break it off, at least until the other is raised."
Elsewhere in the same notes, Jordan wrote that Aes Sedai often gravitate towards these relationships because their power gives them such a long life that they inevitably watch their mortal loved ones die off. Intimacy among the sisterhood is the only kind they can truly rely on. Over the centuries, this has made homosexuality less taboo in the White Tower than in other places – though it is not even as taboo in Jordan's fictional world as it is in our real one.
There are debatably some implications that Moiraine and Siuan were once intimate in the main 14 novels of The Wheel of Time, but it became truly canon in the prequel novel, New Spring. The book depicts both women being raised from Accepted to Aes Sedai, and explicitly states that they are pillow-friends. It also describes Moiraine thinking of that part of their relationship in the past tense and shows both women looking forward to relationships with men in the future. Finally, those who have finished all the books in the series will know that both women end up with monogamous male partners, never giving a second thought to their old pillow friendship.
With all that in mind, it's clear that The Wheel of Time TV show has made a change to their relationship, but perhaps a good one. Moiraine and Siuan are doomed to separate pursuits because they know the prophecy of the Dragon Reborn. They already long for each other's wisdom and companionship throughout the saga, so adding some romantic yearning to the mix isn't out of place. The bigger question is how that secretive tension between them will impact their character development, and what ripple effects it may have on the rest of the story.
The Wheel of Time has two episodes left to go in its first season, and it seems like there will be more big changes down the line. The next episode premieres on Friday, Dec. 17 only on Prime Video.