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2.3.19: What's the Deal with Bonding and Compulsion? Can the Warder bond be released?

[Jeff Dougan, Leigh Butler, Duncan Macdonald]

What is bonding?

Bonding is a psychic link of sorts between a channeler and another person, forged by the One Power. The weave for forming the bond is made entirely of Spirit [TFOH: 35, Ripped Away, 400], and it was unknown in the Age of Legends. There is no apparent limit to either the number of people one channeler can bond, or to the number of channelers one person can be bound to. The bond can be partially or completely masked by the channeler, but not by the bondee.

What are the effects/benefits of the bond?

In the "Traditional" Aes Sedai/Warder bond, the AS and her Warder(s) can sense the direction and approximate distance to each other. There's also some degree of attunement to the other's emotional state, and each will know the moment and manner of the other's death no matter how far the distance that separates them.

Warders receive several benefits from the bond: the ability to survive wounds that would kill an ordinary man, and to recover from the same more quickly than would seem possible, even without being Healed. In addition, their overall stamina is greatly increased, and they can go for very long periods of time without food, water, or rest. Early glossaries indicate the ability to sense Shadowspawn or the Dark One's taint, although this ability is not mentioned in more recent glossaries. On the downside, a Warder whose AS is killed rarely survives her death for long; he not only loses the will to live, but usually seeks death in fruitless attempts to avenge his AS.

We've never been told specifically what if anything the AS gets out of the bond, besides a fanatically devoted protector. In any case, we do know that the effects of losing the bond are much less devastating on the AS than on her Warder or Warders; since she apparently receives fewer disadvantages from the bond than her Warder, perhaps it's logical to assume she also gets less advantages, as well. The various glossaries only say that what the Aes Sedai gets out of the bond is "a closely held secret."

The last and most interesting aspect of the bond is the "obedience" aspect: it is possible for an AS to coerce her Warder to obey her wishes, apparently without his knowledge that he is being coerced. This will be discussed further below.

How many types of bonds have we seen?

A bunch, by now:

The inclusion of the last is probably rather controversial, as it is not really a "standard" bonding or any variant thereof, but it is the sister-bond ceremony that allows Elayne to figure out how to create the three-way bond with herself, Aviendha, and Min to Rand. Which, we should mention, includes a case of a female non-channeler bonding a male channeler. And since that's not quite crazy enough by itself, for fun one can additionally toss in the question of how Elayne's separate bond with Birgitte, Rand's separate bond with Alanna, and Elayne and Aviendha's sister-bond with each other factor in to the three-way bond.

(In the interests of sanity, though, the tangled mess that is Rand's bonding situation will be mostly ignored unless and until it becomes an issue.)

How do they differ from each other?

Elayne used the same bond as used for traditional Warder bonds on Birgitte; the difference seems to be that the emotional awareness is heightened to the point that each woman's mental state echoes from one to the other and back. There is also some physical resonance; Elayne mentions that she and Birgitte "mirror" each other so much that even their menstruation cycles are in sync [WH: Prologue, Snow, 27]. Birgitte theorizes this is because they are "too much alike", being of the same gender. But in general, other than intensified effects there doesn't seem to be any difference between Elayne's bond and the traditional Warder bond. As far as we know, Elayne has never tried to force Birgitte to obey her through the bond, possibly because she doesn't know such a thing can be done.

Jur Grady tells Perrin a little bit about how the "Wife" bond works, mentioning he can tell that his wife's knee hurts, and that she's missing him [ACOS: 27, To Be Alone, 444]. We don't have much more specific information than that, but since the effects seem to be basically the same as with the AS/Warder bond, it can probably be assumed that the Warder bond and the Wife bond are the same, or near enough as to make no difference (just as while the way a woman Travels and the way a man Travels are different in execution, the result is the same).

The one exception to this seems to be the "obedience" aspect, which unlike the Warder bond, doesn't seem to be present in the Wife bond unless it is specifically added; the Asha'man call it "the extra bit", and so far have only used it to bond Toveine's 50 AS that were to attack the Black Tower. This is discussed further below.

And what about the Asha'Warders? The three surviving Asha'man whose loyalty to Rand is (probably) beyond question have all been bonded as Warders by Aes Sedai in Cadsuane's posse. As far as we can tell, these three obey their Aes Sedai as unhesitatingly as any Warders, while Alanna couldn't control Rand at all. What's going on here?

That whole situation seems rather bizarre. Cadsuane indicated that none of the Asha'man were forced into the bonding, and none of them seem to be under duress, but bond-compelling could remedy the latter, so it probably doesn't count for much. COT indicates that the rules over who is in charge seem to be changing for Merise and the rest [COT: 23, Ornaments, 537-538], but if they were/are not being compelled in some way, what would have been their motivation for accepting such a fundamentally unequal partnership in the first place?

Rich Boyé theorizes that perhaps the Warder bond provides some protection from the taint (which may be irrelevant now, but certainly wasn't at the time), and this is why the Asha'man accepted the idea: "It also strikes me as connected to the fact that it is Cadsuane's loyal coterie that bonds them, and that Cadsuane has a history of assisting channeling men (resist the taint and help gentled men live longer), so originally Eben, Damer and Jahar were happy to accept the bond."

Although, the (backhanded) explanation we got for the whole state of affairs is that Flinn et al were afraid to go back to the BT, since Taim had branded them as traitors, and Rand was nowhere to be found at the time, so Cadsuane took advantage of the situation. After all, Cadsuane has shown herself to be a consummate maniuplatrix, managing to hit just the right notes with, among others, Rand, Alanna, and the First Counsel of Far Madding. It is entirely possible that the Asha'Warders are not being compelled, but are instead just being manipulated by their Aes Sedai. Narishma, at least, appears to be treating his bonding like the honor that almost any other man would take it to be. Perhaps the fierce loyalty most if not all Warders show toward their AS is actually another effect of the bond, and not merely training and/or cultural.

What is Compulsion?

Compulsion is exactly what it sounds like: a weave that forces the one upon whom it is being used to do whatever the channeler wants them to do. Modern AS only knew that the weave existed in the AOL, and only recently has anyone besides the Forsaken learned how to actually use it. We get a specific description of the weave during Nynaeve and Moggy's showdown in Tanchico:
She staggered under the whiplash recoil, like a physical blow, and the Forsaken struck with a complex weave of Spirit streaked by Water and Air. Nynaeve had no idea what it meant to do; frantically she tried to cut it as she had seen the other woman do, with a keen-edged weave of Spirit. For a heartbeat she felt love, devotion, worship for the magnificent woman who would deign to allow her...
[TSR: 54, Into the Palace, 628]
This is the same emotional state Moggy inspires in Nynaeve and Elayne when she first meets them in Tanchico, and Compels them to tell her what they were doing in the city. It's not initially clear whether the Compulsion weave has to be re-applied every time (as is implied by Moggy with the Wondergirls in TSR), or whether there are ways to weave Compulsion so that it becomes essentially permanent (as seems to be the case with Graendal's pets), but Rahvin ruminates that "repeated use of Compulsion made obedience easier even when it was not in use" [TFOH: Prologue, The First Sparks Fall, 24]. So, the permanence of the weave entirely depends on how often and how heavily it is used on the subject.

Is there any defense against Compulsion? Yes, but it seems to require that the would-be victim be able to channel. The obvious defense is to not get Compelled in the first place, by cutting the weave before it falls into place. Sammael appears to believe that holding the Source provides some degree of protection all by itself:

[Graendal] used Compulsion so often like a hammer that one might forget that she could wield the weaker forms of it with a great delicacy, twisting a mind's path so subtly that even the closest examination might miss every trace of her. In fact, she might have been the best at that who ever lived.

[Sammael] let the gateway vanish but held on to saidin; those tricks did not work on someone wrapped in the Source.
[LOC: 6, Threads Woven of Shadow, 132]

So given all that, of course, the big question is:

Is the "obedience" aspect of the bond the same thing as Compulsion?

Certainly the Aes Sedai don't think so. They consider the use of Compulsion to be abhorrent, and would be horrified at the suggestion. Nevertheless, there's quite a bit of evidence in favor of the idea.

It was established early on that the Warder bond could be used to force the Gaidin to do something he wouldn't normally choose to do, when Lan tells Moiraine angrily that she has never once needed to use the bond to force him [TGH: 22, Watchers, 284]. Then there is the incident much later with Lan and Myrelle:

"Be quiet," Myrelle hissed [to Nisao]. In a louder voice, she called, "Come to me." The horse did not move. A wolfhound mourning his dead mistress did not come to a new mistress willingly. Delicately she wove Spirit and touched the part of him that contained her bond; it had to be delicate, or he would be aware of it, and only the Creator knew what sort of explosion might result. "Come to me." This time the horse came forward.
[LOC: 52, Weaves of the Power 652]
Eric Means sums up the arguments in favor of the theory that bond obedience and Compulsion are the same thing:
  1. Bond-compelling uses Spirit. Compulsion is primarily Spirit.
  2. Holding the Power is considered - by an AOL-trained channeler who should know - to be protection against Compulsion. When Alanna tries to control Rand immediately after bonding him, she cannot. At the time, Rand was holding saidin [LOC: 10, A Saying in the Borderlands, 204]
  3. Bond-compulsion is clearly capable of forcing someone to do something they very strongly do not want to do, in such a way that they may not even be aware of being forced. Obviously Compulsion can have the same effect.

In fact, the only glaringly obvious difference between bond-compelling and Compulsion seems to be that bond-compelling only works on whoever the channeler is bound to, while Compulsion works on anyone. (Perhaps this accounts for the two extra elements in Moggy's weave, where Myrelle only used Spirit.)

What's most interesting, though, is that the Asha'man seem to have discovered a way to make bond-compelling automatic. There is no evidence that Logain was actively manipulating his bond with either Toveine or Gabrelle when he gave them the permanent orders (not to run away, not to channel without permission, etc. [TPOD: 26, The Extra Bit, 516]), nor that he has had to do so when providing any additional orders. It seems that as long as the "extra bit" is incorporated in the bond when first formed, no additional channeling on the Asha'man's part is necessary. Also interesting is that apparently holding the Power is not helpful in resisting the extra bit, unlike Rand's experiences with Alanna (we know the bonded AS are allowed to channel at least on occasion - Logain made one of them Heal Toveine after the others were beating on her). If they could break away from the Compulsion aspect of the Asha'man bond while holding saidar they wouldn't be allowed to channel at all.

The bond-compelling used in the Asha'man bond, then, is different from whatever method the AS bond uses to compel Warders to obey. Perhaps because the AM bond "extra bit" was likely designed to be able to handle the possibility of a channeling bondee in the first place, while the AS bond isn't?

People have used this and a few other minor differences to quibble over whether bond-compelling and AOL-style Compulsion are the same thing, but again, in the end it's a question of results. Both bond-compelling and Compulsion accomplish the same essential thing - making someone do something you want them to do whether they want to or not. So does the difference in method really matter, from an ethical point of view?

Can the Warder bond be released?

This is a debate of long standing, and has yet to be satisfactorily resolved one way or the other. Oleg Ozerov observes: "I've been left with an impression that this issue is intentionally clouded (by RJ for us, by AS for Warders and others). That is, an impression is created that the Bond cannot be released. Yet, we have no statement that the Bond absolutely cannot be released [or] dissipated."

All true, and so this question has been batted back and forth for years now. While we have no definitive consensus on which answer is correct on this issue, in the interests of avoiding the flagellation of deceased equines I give you the major arguments for and against the idea:


  1. Mr. Ozerov further offers: "It may be that the dissipation is possible but, as with many other things, no AS remembers how to do it, or it is just one of those Things That Just Aren't Done. After all, the Bond is just a weave of some sort. There should be a way to undo it. It may be difficult, dangerous, or even lethal, but there should be a way."

    Counterargument: Johan Poppe disagrees: "The warder bond is not simply a weave; there is no permanent presence of saidar in it. (If there was, other channelers should be able to see a bond, and Elayne's bond to Birgitte would have been discovered.) There is no weave to 'let go' or unravel. So, the logic of 'it's just a weave, so there should be a way to undo it' is not really convincing."

    Rebuttal: It's still possible, though, that it can be undone and the AS just don't know how. It's been well-established that AS don't know nearly as much about channeling as they think they do.

  2. [TGH: 22, Watchers, 285]: Moiraine muses to herself about Lan falling in love with Nynaeve: "Moiraine wondered when he would ask her to release him from his bond. And what she would do when he did." Why wonder about this if it isn't possible?

    Counterargument: She could have been wondering about how she was going to dodge the question if he asked, because she knows that the bonds are irreversible, and this information is always kept from the Warder, to avoid psychological damage. More than one AS has reflected on whether the Warders ever really understood what it was they were agreeing to when they consented to the bond.

  3. [WH: 25, Bonds, 488]: Rand thinks to himself about how Lan had told him the Warder bond could be released, and demands it of Alanna, who refuses - not because she can't, but because she won't.

    Counterargument: Both Rand's demand and Alanna's refusal are made in the context of passing the bond to another - Lan had told Rand about his bond being passed to Myrelle, and Alanna tells Rand she won't "release him" to anyone unless she knows the new bond-holder can handle him properly. The scene in general makes both Rand and Alanna's use of the word "release" extremely ambiguous.

    Rebuttal: But, Alanna's statement doesn't even make sense in that context. Rand's other bond-holder(s) already have a bond with Rand - what are they going to do with Alanna's? It's not the same situation as with Lan, Moiraine, and Myrelle; doesn't it seem logical to suppose that somewhere in there, either one bond or the other has to be eliminated?

  4. [TPOD: 10, Changes, 223]: Elyas specifically tells Perrin that "Most Aes Sedai will free a man who really wants to go."

    Counterargument: Again, the AS have obviously been rather vague about this issue, to their Warders as well as to everyone else. Elyas could be wrong. Stefan Gelow also points out that the full quote is "Most Aes Sedai will free a man who really wants to go - most will - and anyway, she can track you down however far you run if she decides to hunt." So, despite freeing a Warder who really wants to go, if the sister would decide to hunt him down, she can track him down wherever he goes. Which only would be possible if the bond is really still there.

    Rebuttal: It seems bizarre to suppose that an AS would let a guy bonded to her just waltz off into the wild blue yonder and maybe get himself killed, leaving her to suffer the consequences with no benefits of having had a Warder at her side. Another way to phrase it could just as easily be something like: "There's no point in running away from your AS because she can track you down wherever you go - and besides, most AS will release you if you really want to go."

  5. In reference to the above three points: here we have three bonded men, none of whom are particularly stupid, who all believe the same thing - that the bond can be released. Even if you dismiss Rand's information as coming by proxy, is it reasonable to suppose that Lan and Elyas - and, by extension, all other Warders - are that gullible? That in all these centuries of AS bonding Warders, not one would-be Warder ever asked, flat-out, whether there was a way out?

    Counterargument: You can't have it both ways. If you posit that the AS may be wrong about bonding, then you must allow that the Warders can also be just as wrong.


  1. Elyas was a Warder before he ran off to be a Wolfbrother. That was probably around twenty years ago, and yet his Aes Sedai (Rina) has never released the bond, only masked it.

    Counterargument: Maybe she can't release the bond without having Elyas physically present. Or, the Aes Sedai have been trained to think that physical contact was required. Learning something one way tends to stick in their heads and can be tricky to overcome (cf. flinging a fireball without a throwing gesture) [Rich Boyé]. Or, she could release it but refuses to on general principle, either because she doesn't want to lose the only link to such an interesting specimen or out of sheer pique that he ran off without permission.

  2. [TFOH: 36, A New Name, 409]: When Elayne tells Birgitte she bonded her, Birgitte tells her the story of an Accepted who bonded a Warder before being raised to the shawl. She was caught and punished, but the interesting thing is, she was made to pass the bond to a full AS, instead of releasing the guy.

    Counterargument: This doesn't have to have anything to do with whether the bond can be released or not. What better punishment for the Accepted, than to see the guy she wanted go to someone else?

  3. Also, when Elayne tells Birgitte that she had bonded her, there is absolutely no mention of a release. If the bond cannot be released, Elayne's actions were extremely unethical.

    Counterargument: Clearly both Elayne and Birgitte considered the consequences of the bonding (whatever they believe those to be) preferable to letting Birgitte die. And anyway, the lack of mention of a release goes both ways; Birgitte has never given any indication that she wanted to get out of the bond.

  4. If the bond can be released why haven't we ever seen it done? In particular consider the scene with Rand and Alanna in WH. Alanna says that she had thought of being free of the bond, that she wanted to be free. She wanted it enough that she tried to pass the bond to someone else. But she never thought of simply getting rid of it. Stephen Ferguson remarks, "I can't recall a passage where any one promises to release a bond that doesn't mention some one else then holding the bond."

    Counterargument: As well ask why (up until recently) we didn't see someone Heal stilling or use the Traveling weave. And once again, Alanna's behavior regarding the bond only indicates what she thinks is possible and not possible.

And so forth.

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