In the lead up to episode six of The Wheel of Time, “The Flame of Tar Valon,” we hear some of the Aes Sedai speak with tones of deference and awe about the Amyrlin Seat. They talk about going in front of her like kids refer to going to the principal’s office at school. And could you call the Amyrlin Seat the principal of the Aes Sedai? Nah. As we saw in the episode, she’s so much more than an administrator. Siuan Sanche, the Amyrlin Seat of the Aes Sedai, is a woman who can shake the world.
Portrayed by Sophie Okonedo, Siuan commands the Hall of the Tower from the moment she walks in. The Wheel of Time showrunner Rafe Judkins tells Nerdist via email, “The Amyrlin Seat is one of, if not the, most powerful individual in the world in the books. So, to bring them to life, casting was everything for us. And bizarrely, the first person that both Rosamund [Pike] and I separately thought of was Sophie Okonedo.”
Judkins continues, “I remember standing in the Two Rivers with her when we first talked about it and had that almost kismet sense of ‘if that was both of our number ones, it simply must be her.’ Then, months later, to have Sophie walk in and take the Seat itself was one of my favorite days on set in my entire career. She is luminous and authoritative and kind and imperious and everything that the Amyrlin needs to be. “
Though, as the Amyrlin, Siuan must punish Moiraine for her secrecy and intractability, this episode reveals the pair have more going on. So much more. For non-book readers, “The Flame of Tar Valon” showed that Moiraine and Siuan have been working together in this secret quest to find the Dragon Reborn. None of the other sisters know. The White Tower does not simply let men who can channel mind their own business. So they violate the rules by actively searching for one that they do not plan to gentle. As Siuan mentions, the other Aes Sedai would still them if they found out. (Stilling is like gentling, but for female channelers.)
On top of the Dragon Reborn secret, Siuan and Moiraine have a relationship. One they’ve seemingly been in for quite some time. And one that makes Siuan’s necessary punishment of Moiraine all the more painful. The books don’t overtly explore Siuan and Moiraine’s adult relationship, but it’s not an unknown quantity.
Judkins says, “In the books, it’s made very clear that Moiraine and Siuan are ‘pillow friends’ at the White Tower, which is code for an intimate relationship. After that, the two of them were the only witnesses to Gitara Moroso’s foretelling of the birth of the Dragon Reborn. Since that moment, the two of them have lived their whole lives in tandem leading up to the moment we see them first meet ‘on screen’ in the books in Book Two (The Great Hunt), working from within and without of the Tower to bring the prophecy they witnessed to fruition.”
“In the show we’ve stuck exactly with that story,” Judkins explains. “And while it’s only hinted at in the books that Moiraine and Siuan continued their intimate relationship into adulthood, we’ve brought that to the forefront. As a gay person reading these books in the ‘90s and ‘00s, to see Moiraine being represented as having a relationship with another woman in New Spring was such a huge moment for me, and even still today to have a queer person as a lead in a fantasy series feels almost shocking. In the writing of this episode, we tried to bring in a lot of those first scenes they had together in Book Two to their relationship (Siuan pretending to upbraid Moiraine in front of other Aes Sedai before the reveal that they are secretly in cahoots, etc.).”