This story contains spoilers from the first six episodes of The Wheel of Time.
One of television's most epic fantasy series is now centered on a queer woman.
In the latest episode of The Wheel of Time -- the Amazon Prime Video adaptation of Robert Jordan's groundbreaking fantasy books -- the lead character, Moiraine (Rosamund Pike), is revealed to be in a relationship with another woman.
And not just any woman, either. She's in a relationship with Siuan (Sophie Okonedo), the Amyrlin Seat, who is WoT's equivalent to the pope. Moiraine is one of the Aes Sedai (a sorceress/priestess) who falls under her jurisdiction, making their love "the most dangerous" office romance one could imagine, Pike confirmed to Out.
"It's surprising. It's dangerous. It just adds so so many layers to Moiraine's character. And you realize what the stakes are for her," Pike shared after the episode aired Friday.
The twist was also a surprising one for the WoT world. Moiraine had never been explicitly queer in the book series, although a prequel, New Spring, had hinted that Siuan and Moiraine had been "pillow friends" for decades.
Siuan as the Amyrlin Seat (Sophie Okonedo)
This means that WoT has made herstory: TV's heir apparent to Game of Thrones, a sprawling fantasy epic, stars a queer woman in an interracial relationship who is setting out to save the world; Moiraine leads a group of young people, one of whom may be the Dragon Reborn savior figure, in defeating the forces of darkness. "That's very exciting, now [that] you put it like that," remarked Pike, who had not considered the impact of this LGBTQ+ representation beforehand.
"I think you don't always realize, when you're in a film or a TV show, what its cultural import is until much later. It can take an outside viewer to see it sometimes because you're just inhabiting the world," she said.
Many queer couples -- particularly from older generations -- will also resonate with the relationship between Siuan and Moiraine, who must keep their love a secret at all cost or risk being "stilled," a process in which an Aes Sedai is cut off from her magic, a terrifying fate. "If anyone got a glimmer, it would be just death," Pike said of the punishment. She called theirs a "forbidden love, something that cannot be spoken."
However, this "forbidden love" is not due to the reality that both are women. The Wheel of Time is progressively unique in that same-sex attraction has no stigma. In one campfire scene, for example, one character, Nynaeve, realizes that "people might be sleeping with many people at once and they might be both genders," Pike summed up. In this world, "it's just all accepted, right? Very much like the diversity is just accepted." Indeed, characters even from the same small village, Two Rivers, come from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds and these differences are never commented upon.
"I hadn't actually sort of picked up on the fact of how unusual it is if there is indeed no stigma," Pike marveled. "That's interesting."
However, Pike had always been clear about who she had wanted to portray her love interest: Sophie Okonedo, known for her Oscar-nominated performance in Hotel Rwanda and her Tony-winning role in A Raisin in the Sun. "I definitely will confess to writing her an impassioned letter," said Pike, adding, "She's an actress who can just take the throne."
Pike also praised the intensity of their scenes together. First, the pair have a heated confrontation in front of the Aes Sedai leadership. At night, they have a steamy bedroom encounter, when Moiraine uses a phrase Siuan had used earlier, "on your knees," to comic and erotic effect. (Pike said the phrase was uttered "in the spur of the moment" between the actors.)
For an actor, it was fertile ground for drama. "I think there's this tremendous tension when something that should be deeply private...has to play out in public," said Pike of the game the couple had to play in front of a palace teeming with intrigue.
Moiraine is not Pike's only queer role. Recently, she portrayed Marla Grayson, a queer con artist in Netflix's I Care a Lot. Before portraying this part, Pike watched a lot of productions centered on queer women, including the classic Bound, which "I just loved so much. I just found it so exhilarating," she said of the 1996 film directed by the Wachowskis. She had also sent the script to queer friends and "checked it out with them and said, you know, 'Is this, do you think this is OK? Is this a good representation?'"
Both passed the smell test. "Neither of those things are coming-out stories are they?" Pike remarked. "They're just...it's just a fact. It's just as naturally inserted as if, you know, in the old Hollywood movies, we'd have the male hero and he'd come through the door and his wife would be making tea for the kids."
And similarly defying tropes, in the new WoT revelation, "the shock should be Moiraine is in a relationship with the Amyrlin Seat, not Moiraine is in a relationship with a woman."
For LGBTQ+ viewers, it will come as no surprise that it takes a queer woman to lead the charge in world-saving. "I think it will inform Moiraine going forward," Pike said on the impact of her character's queerness. "Certainly, you'll have more understanding of her with that in the background."
And Moiraine has changed Pike as well. "It's been a joy. It's opened up the world in new ways for me," said Pike, who once thought she was playing a simple "serene sorceress," only to discover so much more.
"I was drawn to her serenity. And then I find that once more, I'm playing a much more complicated woman than I anticipated -- on a crusade to save the world, at tremendous personal cost."
New episodes of The Wheel of Time are released Fridays on Amazon Prime Video.
Related | Netflix's I Care a Lot Was Almost a Perfect Lesbian Movie