Let’s talk about the white coats.
Her ubiquitous presence, aggression, and most importantly, her effectiveness in killing Aes Sedai in The wheel of time was a divisive surprise among book readers. For some, it goes against logic; How can a military threaten a woman who causes lightning? But I think not only does it work, it improves the show by delivering a less obviously evil enemy than Trollocs and Myrrdraal.
When we first saw the Children of Light in Robert Jordans The eye of the world, They are an armed legion that has come into conflict with Egwene, Perrin, and a pack of wolves as they wander through the grasslands following the events in Shadar Logoth. Led by Geofram Bornhald, the father of a white coat they met briefly in Baerlon, the white coats mark Perrin for execution as soon as he kills several of them, angry at the death of Hopper the wolf. Subsequently freed by Moiraine, Lan, Nynaeve and an angry wolf pack, Perrin escapes, but is hunted by the children for most of the series.
This sets the tone for the further development of the white coats; they are dangerous to anyone who cannot channel, but otherwise an afterthought. It should be noted by the way that in their long history the children achieve only a few victories against individual Aes Sedai and are therefore regarded as little more than a nuisance outside their home kingdom of Amadicia. In this they are the most important political, military and religious force. Amadicia has a secular king, but in all respects it is the White Mantle Order that controls laws and customs, not unlike many real-life counterparts with religious councils and secular presidents. Within its limits, anyone suspected of being a darkfriend will be questioned and, in many cases, tortured until they make a false confession. White coats often cause trouble in the smaller villages, accusing people (especially women) of handling the shadow and marking their doors with the dragon’s tooth. They are book burners and destroy any dragon prophecy they encounter. They camp outside the town of Tar Valon for a while to show their confidence, although there is nothing they can do about the power of the Aes Sedai. They have considerable military ambitions, but their efforts are repeatedly thwarted due to alliances between neighboring countries and ultimately a foreign invasion. At the end of the series, the “rotten apples” are taken out of the barrel and the children fight in the final battle for the reborn dragon.
This is not the case with Amazon Wheel of time Series. From our first introduction to Eamon Valda, a sadistic inquisitor with the hand of light (i.e., the “questioners”), it is evident that this Whitecloak organization is very different from its original incarnation. Valda has found a way to kill Aes Sedai using methods as yet unknown. We meet him casually burning a yellow sister at the stake after amputating her hands. There are a number of theories about how he could do this without losing his head. Has he found a way to take advantage of the Three Oaths despite their “self-defense loophole”? Do the white coats know about fork root, an herb that inhibits channeling? Is he wearing one? ter’angreal (an ancient device created with the One Power) that protects it from tissues? Is he channeling? said a, maybe subconsciously, and defending yourself? The latter is very unlikely, but would go a long way towards explaining his sociopathy and the obvious joy he experiences from torture, although his fear of Perrin is a strong counter-argument. And it’s not that religious zeal requires madness. Regardless of how he manages to kill Aes Sedai, the fact that he can gives the Whitecloak activity an entirely different meaning. Geofram Bornhald, the “good white coat”, does nothing to hold Valda back despite Bornhald’s higher rank. While he technically has no authority over Valda, it is more likely that his fear of the questioner’s attention is keeping him from being useful. Roaming the lands of Andor and Tar Valon to “root out the shadow” is much more ominous when Aes Sedai himself are in danger. Valda’s misogyny, and thus that of the white coats as a whole, becomes clear. There is not a single woman in their ranks or even servants. Any woman could be a White Tower sewer or a spy. Valda’s monologue in the fifth episode, “Blood Calls Blood,” makes it clear that his suspicions are not just directed towards women who can channel, but women in general. We also see their willingness to beat even the most pacifist protesters, i.e. the Tuatha’an, if they defend Egwene and Perrin from arrest. And that’s a good thing, story-wise.
When The eye of the world First published in 1990, the dangers of militarized American fundamentalists were largely hypothetical. The Waco, Texas disaster was years away. It took the internet for all the weirdos across the country to get organized first in the tea party and then in the crowd of rabid mouth breathers we face today in the fight against LGBTQ and abortion rights, sensible gun control and Covid precautions. It’s not that they weren’t out there before; it is that they were more localized. Even cases of police brutality were local news until Rodney King in 1991. Jordan was mainly inspired by the Spanish Inquisition, given the obvious parallels. He was also a devout episcopalian who no doubt advised against drawing modern parallels with American Christianity. Jordan’s heroes were primarily Andorans, an obvious analog of Arthurian England and, more broadly, Western civilization.
It is clear that showrunner Rafe Judkins has no such illusions. Undoubtedly, this has something to do with growing up gay in a Mormon family originally from Utah. Judkins’ version of the Whitecloaks echoes the Christian fanaticism that infects the GOP, like the Covid that is killing all of their radio hosts. They have the same tendencies to burn books; just look at Texas Wisconsin, Florida and all other states where civil rights and equality education is viewed with suspicion and bans on books. The misogyny that the “Grab her by the pussy” party displays requires little elaboration when our Christian fundamentalist Supreme Court in 5./9. They share an obsessive desire for theocratic mob rule, in which religious or sexual deviations from the norm provoke a violent, perhaps even fatal, reaction from the state. It’s no wonder Judkins made homophobic death threats for his WoT Work since 2019.
They are all very nice. I’ve dealt with them before and there really is only one way to react – to make their favorite characters gay. Because I’m able to do it. This gentleman reaps what he sows – Perrin and Lan are now gay for each other. Next homophobic death threat? Egwene and Daise Congar;)
– Rafe Judkins (@rafejudkins) 29th June 2019
Some fans have a hard time with this interpretation of the Whitecloaks. Some simply resist any change in the original story, as if entertainment was static and what worked 31 years ago still works perfectly today. Others, probably the same people, who are upset with Kevin Smith because Masters of the Universe: Revelation hate any changes that increase the importance of female characters. Making the Whitecloaks necessarily more dangerous puts more emphasis on women’s stories and as the / rwhitecloaks page on Reddit shows, some people are very pissed off about it. And I suspect others are angry with Judkins and his writers for holding up a mirror to their beliefs and behavior, for not liking what they see.
Wheel of timeThe changes to the Whitecloaks are timely and, more importantly, logical. Religious fundamentalists never take half measures, and the updates reflect that. In addition, they shed light on the Christian fundamentalist movement that infects all levels of American life, from local school boards to Congress. The more fiction reflects our current reality, the better.
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Header image source: Prime Video screenshots