Owner of a lonely heart: how The Wheel of Time season 2 tackles alienation in a high fantasy setting

 A hooded Rand looks up at something off screen in The Wheel of Time season 2
A hooded Rand looks up at something off screen in The Wheel of Time season 2

Editor’s note: these interviews took place before the actors’ strike, which began on July 14.

The Wheel of Time’s heroes thought it was over. The Dark One, the high fantasy series’ primary villain, was seemingly defeated by Rand al’Thor – aka the Dragon Reborn – at the Eye of the World in the season 1 finale; his Trolloc forces beaten by a combination of Aes Sedai and the kingdom of Fal Dara. So, the world was safe once more, right?

As anyone who’s read The Wheel of Time 18-strong book series, answering that question with ‘not exactly’ would be an understatement. Those ‘victories’ over The Dark One and his forces were mere decoys that bought time for the Prime Video show’s antagonist and his powerful allies to enact their real plan for world domination. As The Wheel of Time season 2’s dramatic opening clip reveals, that spells danger for Rand and those affiliated with him.

“Rand thought it was mission accomplished,” Josha Stradowski, who plays the reluctant hero, tells TechRadar. “But, we find out evil hasn’t gone anywhere, it knows who Rand and his allies are, and that makes them targets. It becomes a real struggle for our heroes this season.”

Divided we fall

Moiraine walks through a town street in The Wheel of Time season 2
Moiraine walks through a town street in The Wheel of Time season 2

The Wheel of Time season 2 finds those heroes on very different paths. Moiraine (Rosamund Pike) can no longer tap into the One Power after The Dark One severed her connection to it. Struggling to adapt to the loss of her magical abilities, Moiraine closes herself off from everyone, including long-serving companion and protector Lan (Daniel Henney).

At the White Tower, the Aes Sedai’s stronghold in Tar Valon, Egwene (Madeleine Madden) and Nynaeve (Zoe Robins) toil over their One Power training. Mat (Donal Finn) also finds himself at Tar Valon but, for reasons we can’t spoil, can’t reunite with the aforementioned pair. Meanwhile, Perrin (Marcus Rutherford) travels with Fal Dara’s remaining Shienar forces to locate the stolen Horn of Valere, all the while refusing to accept his own One Power-based Wolfbrother abilities.

As for Rand, who, as the Dragon Reborn, has the ability to save or destroy the world, he’s in hiding. Fearing his abilities would put his friends in danger he asked Moiraine to tell them he died fighting the Dark One before going into self-imposed exile.

There’s a beautiful narrative within that juxtaposition

Like The Two Towers, the second Lord of the Rings book, The Wheel of Time season 2 finds its previously unified group of heroes divided. For those hailing from the Two Rivers – essentially, everyone mentioned above except Moiraine and Lan – it’s the first time they’ve been split up. With each character, including Nynaeve and Egwene, who can still support one another at the White Tower, grappling with separation anxiety, it’s unsurprising that loneliness becomes one of this season’s central themes.

Lan stands near a tree in a vineyard in The Wheel of Time season 2
Lan stands near a tree in a vineyard in The Wheel of Time season 2

“Rand is completely cut off from his roots,” Stradowski explains. “Suddenly, he’s dealing with these dangerous powers and the sole responsibility for the whole world by himself. He sees beauty and pain where others can’t, feels things other people don’t, and he can’t talk about it to anyone. The One Power is all-consuming, so it becomes a very lonely, overwhelming, and confusing existence.”

While Rand’s isolation is a heady mix of physical and emotional, it’s the latter that’s the overriding sensation for Lan. Moiraine’s sword-wielding bodyguard is unable to connect with his Aes Sedai in the absence of her powers. With Moiraine shutting Lan out, the duo’s usually tight, saidar-created bond becomes fraught, resulting in a drawn-out estrangement that eventually comes to a head.

“It’s a highly intimate relationship akin to a marriage,” Henney says. “They know each other very well and have become heavily reliant on their bond. With Moiraine losing her abilities, it’s like watching your significant other become unexpectedly altered in some way. Something’s changed and you’re left to figure it out alone. Lan is an orphan, and Moiraine has become a surrogate female in his life. Suddenly, part of her is gone, so you see Lan become overly emotional and jump to conclusions. The first half of this season is a journey for their relationship and seeing whether they can salvage it.”

Fresh faces

A close up shot of Mat Cauthon in dirty looking clothes in The Wheel of Time season 2
A close up shot of Mat Cauthon in dirty looking clothes in The Wheel of Time season 2

It isn’t just returning faces who battle feelings of alienation and abandonment. Actors joining The Wheel of Time for season 2 confront similar themes through their characters, whether they’re new to the show or recast actors.

Dónal Finn sits in the latter camp. The Irish star replaces Barney Harris, who departed the series in mysterious circumstances in September 2021, as the troubled but lovable Mat Cauthon. Finn suggests fans will see an “exciting” and “clear continuation” of the character under his stewardship. It’s the second of those points that’s particularly relevant from a thematic perspective, with Mat dealing with the fallout of his experiences with the tainted ruby-hilted dagger and his decision not to join his friends on their quest to defeat The Dark One.

“Mat’s certainly feeling isolated,” Finn says. “But, naturally, through a period of isolation, you can’t help but reflect on your past behaviors, your morals, and what’s important to you. Season 2 becomes something of an introspective journey for him. There are things that will challenge his idea of predetermination, which is a popular theme in The Wheel of Time. Mat has the qualities of being a hero – selfless, brave, cunning, loyal – but he doesn’t endow himself with those. There’s a beautiful narrative within that juxtaposition, and part of his journey is liberating himself from his past.”

It becomes a very lonely, overwhelming, and confusing existence

Joining Finn as a season 2 newcomer is Ceara Coveney in her first major TV role. Hired to portray Elayne Trakand, a fan favorite and one of the most important characters in The Wheel of Time books, Coveney immediately felt the weight of responsibility in bringing the heir to the Andorran throne – and, eventually, one of the most powerful Aes Sedai of all time – to life.

Egwene, Nynaeve, and Elayne stand in a dark room holding lanterns in The Wheel of Time season 2
Egwene, Nynaeve, and Elayne stand in a dark room holding lanterns in The Wheel of Time season 2

In some ways, single-handedly carrying that pressure is its own real-world form of isolation. But, just as Elayne meets every challenge head on in Robert Jordan’s novels, Coveney was largely unfazed by the daunting task in front of her. She tapped into the power of The Wheel of Time’s global community – including the advice and support of showrunner and Wheel of Time expert Rafe Judkins – to do justice to the character.

“It’s quite easy to get overwhelmed by the responsibility and extent of the source material,” Coveney reveals. “Elayne’s an individual who’s loved by some [in The Wheel of Time’s universe] and hated by others, so it could’ve been hard to find that balance of someone who wrestles with those contrasting views at every turn. I asked myself ‘Am I going to make the fans proud? And ‘Can I bring the truth of this character to life?’ But, by trusting my own instincts, approaching Elayne with an open mind, and seeing her strengths and flaws, I really connected with her.”

Ultimately, The Wheel of Time season 2, which magically spins onto Prime Video on September 1, is about battling through solitude-fuelled adversity and using the experience to redefine your sense of self, discover an inner strength you never knew existed, or rail against the concept of predestiny. Sure, it’s a series entrenched in high fantasy,  but The Wheel of Time’s relatable themes and characters carry a powerful message about finding the courage to not let your past, and the subsequent isolation born out of your previous experiences, define you. It’s also one of the best Prime Video shows and will return for a third season – Stradowski and Henney confirmed filming was well underway ahead of the ongoing writers’ and actors’ strikes.

“Rand spends a lot of season 2 running from who he is,” Stradowski says. “But, at some point, he has to stop hiding behind physical and mental walls and re-enter society. You see he’s cut off his red hair to not only conceal who he is, but also sacrifice his old self and be reborn in some way. Obviously, cutting your hair isn’t enough. Eventually, he has to face what he is. It may seem impossible, but helping others and showing who he really is is what he needs to do, not only for himself, but for the fate of the world.”

“Season 2 is a very formative period for Lan,” Henney adds. “In fact, it's time for everyone to grow up, so to speak. This is the first time a lot of these characters, Lan included, have been on their own, and they need to be away from those closest to them to become the well-rounded figures we know in the books. As we proceed into season 3, things get even heavier. But the journeys everyone goes on this season help them get to where they need to be, and they are incredibly powerful evolutions for our characters to undergo.”

The Wheel of Time season 2’s first three episodes launch exclusively on Prime Video on Friday, September 1. New episodes air weekly.