Wheel of Time: That Isn’t the Dark One in Their Dreams It’s [SPOILER]
Mark Millien
The Forsaken in Perrin's dreams from The Wheel of Time
The Forsaken in Perrin's dreams from The Wheel of Time
WARNING: The following contains spoilers for The Wheel of Time Episodes 1-3, available now on Prime Video, and for the books by Robert Jordan.   
The first three episodes of The Wheel of Time have been wildly successful with audiences and brutally displayed the lengths the forces of evil will go to in accomplishing their foremost goal, which at the moment is determining the location of the Dragon Reborn. The Dark One has been banished from the world for three millennia, but his influence is growing everyday as the seals that keep him bound are weakening. Unable to touch the world directly, he uses agents to subvert the forces of Light that oppose him.
One of these agents is Ishamael, who has been an instrumental figure in shaping history and the Dark One's first and most loyal disciple. He has carried out blasphemous deeds in the name of nihilism and as the events of The Wheel of Time unfold  he has even used the World of Dreams as an access point towards his master's dark ambitions, but his immense legacy requires a degree of context.
The Forsaken in Rands dreams from The Wheel of Time
The Forsaken in Rands dreams from The Wheel of Time
In the last days of the Age of Legends lands that had always been bountiful were besieged by blight, houses of healing were overwhelmed by a pestilence they could not cure and a historic peace was shattered by creeping anarchy. A summit was held to discuss solutions to these uniquely bleak disruptions as the Dark One's encroaching influence on the world wreaked misery and despair. The world's great leaders convened and first among them was a man named Elan Morin Tedronai. Morin was an author of inscrutable theories concerning the intersection of logic and the spiritual. He was considered a honey tongued and skilled orator capable of transforming the moods of crowds and persuading adversaries through sheer eloquence. Elan Morin was also the most powerful Aes Sedai in the One Power with the sole exception of the Dragon himself, Lews Therin Telamon, though most channelers would not have been able to distinguish the distinction in their might.
On the day of the summit, Elan Morin took to the dais and addressed the assemblage of disheveled and frightened teeming masses and told them the truth that he had come to understand. The Dark One was coming, and even if he was stopped now, from a purely probabilistic standpoint he would eventually prevail and once he had won there would be no way to achieve any subsequent victory, so the only course of action, fueled entirely by reason, was to succumb to the Shadow and become thralls to the Dark One's whims. The stunned crowd stood silent for a series of unbelievable breaths, each one more shaken than the last, until they erupted as one in fury and betrayal. They named him Ishamael from that day forward, Betrayer of Hope in the Old Tongue, and as he left the dais, though there were those that would fight him, there were others who followed.
Thirteen fallen Aes Sedai, who came to be known as The Forsaken, were the generals, spies and facilitators of the Dark One's will and Ishamael was first among them. After the Hundred Companions, a collection of the most powerful male Aes Sedai remaining, sealed away the Dark One most of the Forsaken were sealed along with him. Ishamael, however was only partially exiled from the world and was re-introduced into the fabric of reality at precise intervals in the coming millennia.
Ishamael from Rand's dreams in The Wheel of Time
Ishamael from Rand's dreams in The Wheel of Time
The first time he was released, a thousand years after the sealing, he successfully founded the Black Ajah, a collection of Aes Sedai Darkfriends who he united into collective action, equipping them with powerful artifacts to break the Three Oaths and resources to serve the Shadow more effectively, which precipitated the events that would lead to the Trollloc Wars. One thousand years later he magnified existing distrust between Artur Hawkwing, the Charlemagne of his time, who conquered various countries underneath one flag and the Aes Sedai, which led to a permanent and ongoing weakening of their institutional power and bounties on their heads. The third release was another thousand years after that when Ishamael realized that the Dragon Reborn would soon emerge and set about the task of finding them.
He created Hounds that would surveil the land seeking signs of Ta'veren, people who had a disproportionate influence on the Pattern and served as a nexus for events tied to destiny. Padan Fain was one such Hound, and once he reported back to Ishamael about the things he had seen in the world beyond the Forsaken lord was able to see the subtle hints surrounding a group of youths in the Two Rivers, which is when he sent a host of Trollocs led by a Fade into their midst. Once they escaped he then infiltrated their dreams in an effort to determine which of them was the true Dragon Reb0rn, so he could potentially turn them to the Darkness.
During the current age he is known by other names as well, including Ba'alzamon, which translates into the Heart of the Dark. It is under this guise that he will seek to manipulate the company of Emond's Field to serve his imprisoned master. As a male who channels, Ishamael has succumbed to a madness that has lasted 3,000 years. Though he taps into other sources of power that protect him in part from its most deleterious affects, he has found that abuse of those powers have had their own significant cost and has not saved him from insanity. Ishamael's mental anguish has taken on a unique affect, his eyes and mouth burning with eternal flames. His fate is still inextricably linked to Lews Therin and the new vessel that will shelter his soul and as the Last Battle looms he and the Dragon Reborn will face each other many times before the Pattern is done with either of them.
The Wheel of Time is now streaming on Prime Video, with new episodes releasing on Fridays.