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(Below are spoilers for all fourteen Wheel of Time books, do not read if you do not want the series spoiled).
The characters of the Wheel of Time are seriously flawed, even the best Jordan characters do things that readers don’t like. However, for all these moments where the characters make readers want to claw their eyes out, they also have great moments where readers want to root and cheer for them. Below is a ranking of the best characters that should be considered the heroes of this series.
Determining how these characters rank is based off of how significant their contributions to the plot were, how well they interacted with the other characters, how many great likeable moments the character had, and how many terrible cringe worthy moments the character had. Like the ranking of the books that we did, the significance of good character moments minus the significance of bad character moments is the simplest way to judge the Wheel of Time heroes.
(Artwork below was done by John Seamus Gallagher)
From his introduction in The Eye of the World as Moiraine’s companion to his charging at Demandred in A Memory of Light, Lan is the Wheel of Time’s embodiment of the loyal bad-ass protector. As Moiraine’s Warder he protectors her at all costs, no matter what, and this includes putting his romantic feelings on hold in order to allow her the time to find and guide the Dragon Reborn.
His tragic back-story as the last king of Malkier makes him a lot more sympathetic and adds purpose to his beliefs. Lan accomplishes a lot in the series: Along with Moiraine he discovers the Dragon Reborn, he is present at the Eye of the World and aids in defeating the Forsaken there, he helps with taking the Stone in Tear, he rescues Nynaeve from drowning, he leads the last coalition of
Boarderlanders to fight in The Last Battle, and perhaps most significantly, he kills Demandred.
However, negatively effecting Lan’s status as a bad-ass stern man you don’t want to mess with, is his relationship to Nynaeve. Nynaeve frequently emasculates him, and unfortunately readers have to put up with scenes where Lan ends up looking like a submissive child. No romantic relationship seems to do more damage to two likeable characters than the Nynaeve and Lan relationship in the Wheel of Time.
Aviendha has an introduction to readers in The Dragon Reborn that makes them think this may be another insignificant secondary character, but isn’t until The Shadow Rising that she starts to become a lot more important. Her background as being a Spear Maiden already makes her a deadly warrior, and the fact that she can channel and become a Wise One only increases her potential for being a fearsome fighter.
Aviendha is perhaps most important because she is largely the person who explains the Aiel culture to Rand (and subsequently the readers). Although Aviendha considers her tutelage of Rand to be a failure, her romantic relationship that develops with him is actually one of the few romantic relationships in this series that actually comes across as somewhat genuine.
Aviendha’s accomplishments include: becoming a Wise One, being able to read ter’angreal by touching them, discovering the future fate of the Aiel, and defeating Graendal. At times Aviendha can be completely irrational, and this can hurt the readers perception of her. Despite this, Aviendha is one of the characters with fewer flaws in the series. However she plays more of a secondary role to either Rand or Elayne as the series progresses which is why she is further down on this list.
The idea of Faile being a visual metaphor for a falcon was good example of visual imagery, however naming her Faile was a fail. Despite her naming issue, the Perrin/Faile relationship that is the dominate plot line involving Faile can be a complete toss up. Every time the two characters are together Jordan stands a pretty good chance of completely irritating his readers with a pointless argument that’s usually started by Faile (there are too many of these).
Faile’s devotion to Perrin is what really makes her do interesting things as a character. This devotion is best explored when she is not with him. Her seduction of one of the Shaido Aiel to keep her safe in Knife of Dreams, her personal discussions with Berelain about Perrin, and her aid in the Two Rivers battle are important in developing her character. I wasn’t completely sold on Faile though until the prologue of The Gathering Storm where she brutally stabs Masema to death with a dagger. After books of teasing Faile as the wife you don’t want to mess with, she finally delivers on her promised potential.
Besides constantly guarding Perrin’s back, Faile also proves she has a deft hand in politics. She successfully negotiates with Elayne about the future of the Two Rivers and she is able to successfully get Perrin to become a lord. Ironically, she concludes the series the way she started it, by collecting the Horn of Valere and making sure it arrives at the Last Battle.
For the first ten books Egwene always felt like the underachiever in her friendship circle with Elayne and Nynaeve. Not only that, it always felt like someone was always holding Egwene’s hand as she claimed her accomplishments. Egwene was safely guided to Tar Valon by Moiraine, she had to be rescued at Falme and at Tear, she was taught traveling and how to use Tel’aran’rhiod by the Wise One’s who readily gave the information to her, and she became Amyrlin which was cleverly given to her by Siuan. The accomplishments she didn’t truly earn by herself, plus her self righteous and privileged attitude made her easy to dislike.
It wasn’t until Knife of Dreams that Egwene finally started to become a character you could get behind. Her capture by the White Tower and the grueling beatings she endured so she could bring the Tower down from the inside finally showed she was a character capable of foresight. Standing up for her beliefs against Elaida made her look courageous, and her defense of the Tower during the Seanchan invasion was the capstone that sold people on her ability to handle leadership.
Tragically Egwene dies in A Memory of Light after making her greatest discovery, The Flame of Tar Valon, a weave that undoes the effects of balefire. She uses this to help kill Mazrim Taim and hundreds of other enemy channelers. Egwene’s sacrifice could be the single most memorable moment in all fourteen books. Her place isn’t higher for the simple reason that four great Egwene books don’t completely make up for ten dull Egwene books.
As far as accomplishments go, Perrin is the most versatile. He is able to successfully general armies which he does against the Whitecloaks, Shaido Aiel, and Trollocs, he is able to talk with and summon wolves to fight for him, he is able to build weapons infused with the one power, and he is a master of Tel’aran’rhiod.
His defining character trait though may have to be his love for his wife. Perrin’s love for Faile is what ultimately saves him and keeps him fighting throughout the series. It also saves the world, as he is able to resist Lanfear’s compulsion on him and break her neck, which allows Rand, Nynaeve, and Moiraine to defeat the Dark One and Morodin.
Perrin’s battle with Slayer in Tel’aran’rhiod is epic, and it’s arguably his greatest contribution in the war against the Dark One. However these sequences go on for a long time and Slayer is not a well developed villain, which unfortunately makes the battle feel less significant. Also, mentioned earlier are the arguments Perrin has with his wife Faile, and that also diminish Perrin’s ranking on this list.
Nynaeve is the biggest hit or miss character. She has delivered some of the most memorable moments in the series, but she has also at times embodied everything that is wrong with it.
Lets start with the negatives. Nynaeve is a bully. She is mean, and her insults are tedious, boring, and uninspired. She also has a tendency to emasculate many of the male characters, especially Lan. The lack of respect she presumably received for being a young Wisdom in the Two Rivers is what readers are supposed to buy into for why she can be so mean, but this really isn’t a good enough reason, and her character suffers for it.
Nynaeve’s biggest weakness may be her back-story. She really doesn’t have much of one. Her dad taught her some tracking and farming skills, and other than that she never thinks about her parents. Nynaeve’s relationship with them is reduced to some sort of unknown significance, and it could have been something that was potentially significant like Rand’s relationship to his father turned out to be. This was a missed opportunity to explain her volatile temper.
And now the positives. Nynaeve is kind of the embodiment of altruism. She will go to great lengths to help the people she cares about, and this is her greatest redeeming quality. She accomplishes many great feats in the story and these include defeating Moghedien twice, rescuing Egwene from the Seanchan, securing one of the Dark One’s seals and male a’dam, curing stilled male and female channelers, acquiring the Bowl of Winds and fixing the Dark One’s taint on the weather, cleansing saidin with Rand, and helping Rand defeat the Dark One and Morodin. Nynaeve is one the greatest female characters in this story, but her cringe worthy moments occur far too often, and that’s why she is where she is in the rankings.
Why is Elayne so high amongst the Aes Sedai women in training? Because during the best books of this series (1-6) she is one of the least irritating characters. Other than joining a circus (not her idea) and her hitting on Thom, Elayne doesn’t really bother me in these early books. Her character suffers in later books, but not enough to overturn her accomplishments earlier in the series.
These really aren’t good reasons for her being so high, so here are some reasons why she is: she secures the Throne of Andor by herself, she teaches Rand al’Thor most of what he knows about playing politics, she becomes the first Aes Sedai in thousands of years to successfully build ter’angreal, she helps acquire the Bowl of Winds and fixes the Dark One’s taint on the weather, she manages to save Birgitte Silverbow’s life by bonding her as a Warder, and she is selected by all the rulers of the world to lead the armies at the Last Battle.
Elayne is one of the most unique characters on this list. She is one of the few characters that readily embraces her fate from the start, which is to be the future Queen of Andor and an Aes Sedai rather than resist it (Lan is the only other character like this on the list). She is also the only character here who doesn’t seem to completely disdain the nobility, and subsequently shows that they can contribute to society, too.
Elayne frequently acts as a social lubricant. Usually she is mending relationships between Nynaeve and whoever Nynaeve is bullying. Jordan struggles with creating believable relationships between men and women, but Elayne’s largely relaxed attitude allows her to create believable relationships with other men. Her best relationship in this department has to be with Mat, whom she develops a friendly rivalry with. At times the relationship can feel over the top, but it is still believable. Mat’s disdain for the nobility and his womanizing ways against Elayne’s lack of knowledge of men and her regal attitude make for some of the most humorous of Jordan’s character relationships.
Elayne is also very independent, and she doesn’t always have to rely on someone to guide her every step of the way like Siuan did for Egwene, like Amys and Bair did for Aviendha and Egwene, or like Moiraine did for Rand, Egwene, and Nynaeve. As a matter of fact she gets just the opposite from her supposed to be mentor Morgase, an Andor divided by her incompetent decisions as Queen. This may be Elayne’s strongest character attribute: she paves her own path.
Moiraine Damodred should occupy the number one spot on this list but she doesn’t. The simple answer to why she doesn’t is this: the Towers of Midnight. Moiraine’s death in The Fires of Heaven was the first major character death in the series, unfortunately she doesn’t stay dead and is resurrected at the end of The Towers of Midnight.
Resurrections can be alright, but the fact that after she is resurrected, she loses nearly all of her magical ability, and then immediately agrees to marry Thom Merrilin is just terrible. Further adding to the stupidity is the fact that she barely contributes in any special or significant way to the Last Battle in the final book. Rand could have asked Elayne, Aviendha, or Egwene to fill in Moiraine’s spot with Callandor, making her role absolutely pointless.
Moving past the horrible resurrection sequence, Moiraine provides a number of great moments throughout the series. She accomplishes many things which include: discovering the identity of the Dragon Reborn and guiding him through his early stages of his development, defeating Be’lal in the Stone of Tear, defeating Lanfear at the docks of Cairhien, and out-maneuvering the Aes Sedai attempts to put her on the Cairhien throne. Moiraine is frequently a guide for all of the people she led out of the Two Rivers, making her a mother/father like figure.
Whether you start reading the Wheel of Time through The Eye of the World or A New Spring the reader’s introduction to magic in this series is through the explanations of Moiraine, and so is the main prophecy. This is what makes Moiraine so special, she is the readers guide to the world this story is set in, and she is as excellent a guide as can be. Her knowledge is vast, yet she is also considered not trust worthy by the Two Rivers people because she is Aes Sedai. Ironically Moiraine and the White Tower trust each other as much as the Two Rivers companions trust her. Moiraine is in a class all by herself never fitting in with any particular institution or group of people.
Rand is a great leading hero for any fantasy story. He constantly makes mistakes and pays for them, his morality is usually spot on, but it is capable of being corrupted, and most importantly he is a character that readers want to see succeed.
How significant is Rand al’Thor to the story? Well consider this: books where Rand is reduced to a secondary character, books such as A Crown of Swords, The Path of Daggers, Crossroads of Twilight, and The Towers of Midnight and it’s easy to surmise when Rand is not the dominate character in the book or the central focus of the book, than that individual book struggles…greatly.
Rand has the greatest streak of accomplishments in this series: he defeats Morodin, Rahvin, Aginor, Balthamel, Sammael, Semirhage, Osan’gar, and Aran’gar, he cleanses saidin, he conquers Andor, Cairhien, and Illian, he unites the rest of the world under his banner, he gets the voices inside his head under control, and he defeats the Dark One.
Watching Rand overcome all of these odds is what makes him a very compelling character. His conflict with the voice inside his head is particularly fascinating. He is a character study on the toll it takes on an individual to be a leader or a great hero, and he does an excellent job exploring the story’s themes. Rand’s task is simply laid out before him, but everything about his life is not.
He is a complex character. Even his familial and romantic relationships are complex. He has three wives, and for all intents and purposes two mothers and two fathers. The complexity of his character has provided readers many things to discuss and appreciate which is why he has a high ranking.
Mat is like that friend you have… you know the one that makes all of those really bad choices, blundering their way through life, but somehow managing to successfully come out on top no matter what. A short synopsis of Mat is that he is the much needed comic relief of the story, but he is so much more than that.
Mat takes chances on life and that’s what makes him a great character to follow, you never really know what’s going to be thrown his way. The dice in his head and distant military memories make Mat’s quote-unquote condition one of the most unique set of abilities bestowed upon a fantasy character.
His womanizing ways and his pride lead him into several humorous encounters with the other major characters in this series, especially Elayne and Nynaeve. However he does seem capable of love, especially once he meets Tuon, which largely redeems him from some of his more off-putting antics.
Despite his numerous flaws Mat gets caught up in a number of events and helps in many ways to defeat evil from the world. Mat’s accomplishments include: killing Couladin and defeating a strong contingent of his forces, aiding in securing the Bowl of Winds, saving the Daughter of the Nine Moons, rescuing Moiraine, killing the Gholam, killing Padan Fain, and being the General for all of the united armies at the Last Battle.
Other than the first two books where Mat is pretty annoying, due to his soul being corrupted by the ruby dagger, Mat is a character that has a lot of likeable plots and few instances where he is a burden to the reader, and that is why Mat has the top honor.