The ending of The Wheel of Time’s first season brought a small taste of the Seanchan and the immense power they wield. The new enemy arrived in the finale’s last moments, sailing towards a beach in massive ships, bringing a One-Power-made tsunami with them. As the show’s gone on, we’ve seen more of the Seanchan and their lack of mercy. The Seanchan demand fealty. Period. And they have the strongest of the Forsaken, Ishamael, at their side. If you’d like to know more context about the Seanchan from The Wheel of Time books without any plot spoilers, keep reading.
Who Are The Wheel of Time‘s Seanchan?
In season one of The Wheel of Time, characters mentioned something happening with ships in the west. Mysterious occurrences in the west come up in season two, as well. The Seanchan (pronounced SHAWN-chan) have arrived from that direction. But just who are the Seanchan? Well, they have an extensive history in The Wheel of Time books, but we’ll summarize.
The Seanchan empire calls a continent of the same name home in the world of The Wheel of Time. It sits thousands of miles west of the main continent, across the Aryth Ocean. After the Trolloc Wars (the same war that saw the fall of Manetheren), Artur Hawkwing sent a fleet across the ocean. Luthair Paendrag, Artur’s son, led the fleet and started a nearly 800-year process to unite the native nations, a.k.a. the Consolidation. This Consolidation formed the Seanchan Empire, ruled by an Empress or an Emperor with a very rigid class structure.
And now the Seanchan want to retake the continent their ancestors came from. They call it the Return. The Seanchan have been planning and gathering forces and supplies for the Return for decades in The Wheel of Time‘s universe. They’ve made their move thanks to Ishamael’s encouragement. And they’ve arrived in Falme with incredible numbers and formidable warriors, including a number of enslaved channelers. We see all of that in play when the Seanchan attack an unsuspecting village, Atuan’s Mill, and capture the Shienarans and Loial in The Wheel of Time‘s second season.
Alwhin tells the captives, “When the fleet of Luthair Paendrag crossed the Aryth Ocean, the return was promised.” She promises that those who swear fealty “will share in the prosperity of the Seanchan’s return, from Atuan’s Mill to Falme, to our great empire across the sea.”
Later, High Lord Turak explains the Seanchan’s purpose while scolding High Lady Suroth. They want to unite all the people of the world under their Empress to fight the shadow.
Who Rules the Seanchan?
The Seanchan have an Empress or Emperor, but their ruler doesn’t participate in the first wave of the invasion. Instead, we meet High Lady Suroth; she appears to be leading the Seanchan forces. She’s the one taking oaths of fealty in Atuan’s Mill. This The Wheel of Time season two character is part of Seanchan nobility, also known as the Blood. Originally, Seanchan nobles were strictly descendants of Paendrag, hence the name the Blood. However, as a reward for service to the Seanchan, non-descendants are occasionally raised into nobility.
The High Lady Suroth is a member of the High Blood, which sits below only the Seanchan’s Imperial family. The High Blood have the most significant leadership roles. Members of the High Blood shave the sides of their heads and grow two fingernails long and lacquer them. The color of the lacquer is connected to the wearer’s house. As we saw in The Wheel of Time TV series, when the Blood fail in some way, punishment involves cutting their nails, which they hold as a symbol of status. High Lord Turak inflicts this punishment upon Suroth.
Members of the Low Blood are still Seanchan nobility in The Wheel of Time, but they don’t hold positions of great importance.
The Seanchan Threat to Women Who Channel in The Wheel of Time
One of the primary reasons the Seanchan are such threatening conquerors is because they enslave female channelers. As we see in Atuan’s Mill, the Seanchan can identify women who channel. Soldiers then take the channelers into captivity. Women called sul’dam control the enslaved’s every moment of channeling. They call the enslaved channelers damane, which means “leashed one” in the Old Tongue. Seanchan use a ter’angreal, an object made from the One Power, to control women who have the ability to channel. It’s called an a’dam and depicted as a collar with a literal leash to a bracelet the sul-dam wear. Sul’dam means “leash holders” in the Old Tongue. When the sul’dam captured Egwene, we saw the leash. It also demonstrated sul’dam will take damane from wherever they find them and absolutely kidnap Aes Sedai. Damane are forced to enslave other damane.
As we’ve seen from the sul’dam “training” Egwene until she breaks, damane cannot ignore commands from sul’dam. They cannot remove their bonds without experiencing great pain. Damane cannot even think about harming a sul’dam. The connection the a’dam maintains damane and sul’dam prevents it. Escaping from a sul’dam is near impossible. It’s why Ryma has been trying to understand how to work the a’dam she shows Nynaeve and Egwene. She wants to set her captured sisters free.
The Seanchan sul’dam train damane to use the One Power as a weapon—something Aes Sedai make an oath not to do in The Wheel of Time. It’s a horrific use of the One Power, unlike anything we’ve seen in the TV series so far. You can only imagine how this might affect our characters as the series continues. The Seanchan aren’t going away anytime soon.
Originally published on September 1, 2023.