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Adam's Wheel of Television: Mat's Departure


Werthead
  • Barney Harris has left the role of Mat Cauthon following the sixth episode of The Wheel of Time. How was the transition handled?


Adam Whitehead is Dragonmount's TV blogger. Adam has been writing about film and television, The Wheel of Time, and other genre fiction for over fifteen years, and was a finalist for the Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer in 2020. Be sure to check out his websites, The Wertzone and Atlas of Ice and Fire (including The Wheel of Time Atlas!) as well as his Patreon.

 

As discussed previously, it’s been known for some time that the role of Mat Cauthon had been recast for the Wheel of Time TV show. Actor Barney Harris played the role in six episodes of the first season before departing, and actor Dónal Finn has been hired to replace him for the second season.

 

The reasons for Barney’s departure have not been given, and given that NDAs and legal agreements are presumably in place, are not likely to be revealed in the near future. As such, we should note in discussing this topic that no negative connotations to the situation should be implied. What is interesting is how the show had to adapt on the fly to the news.

 

To recap, the first season of The Wheel of Time started shooting on 19 November 2019. On 15 March 2020, production of the first season was halted during the initial stages of the COVID19 pandemic. Fortuitously, 15 March was the Sunday at the end of the third block of shooting, with filming concluded for the bulk of Episodes 1-6. The only material missing from these episodes was pickup shots in Spain, for the scenes of Logain in Ghealdan at the start of Episode 4. This allowed the post-production team to put together edits of the first six episodes and for the vfx team to get to work on them.

 

Filming resumed on the final block of shooting, comprising Episodes 7 and 8, in early September 2020. Most of the material for those two episodes was shot before filming was suspended a second time in early November 2020, due to a huge outbreak of coronavirus in the Czech Republic. The pickup shots in Spain were able to go ahead, as Spain was handling the pandemic better at that point in time. Shooting for the outstanding material resumed in April 2021 and wrapped on or around Friday 14 May 2021. Filming on Season 2 began two months later, on 19 July. Amazon confirmed the recasting of Mat on 21 September.

 

Based on what happened in Episode 6, The Flame of Tar Valon, it now appears that Barney Harris did not return to the role of Mat Cauthon after the initial COVID outbreak and resulting shutdown in March-September 2020. This left the production in a somewhat awkward place, as they did not want to necessarily recast Mat immediately (going from one actor playing Mat in Episodes 1-6 and a different one in Episodes 7-8 would be jarring, at best) but they had to find a way of removing Mat from the narrative in a way that made sense and did not involve any new filming with Harris, who presumably was not available at all.

 

I strongly suspect that in the initial shoot, Mat entered the Ways with the rest of the characters and the episode ended perhaps on a foreboding note with the Waygate closing behind them. This left the writers with a difficult job of trying to explain Mat’s absence. Opening Episode 7, The Dark Along the Ways, ten minutes later with the characters saying, “I can’t believe we somehow lost Mat. Weird, huh? Anyway, let’s move on,” was clearly unappealing, and the cost of producing a CG replica of Barney Harris to walk along with the team before being written out was likely regarded as massively cost-prohibitive, not to mention weird.

 

The best option, or at least the best of a poor choice of options, was to remove Mat using the footage they already had in the can, and the fact that although they could not shoot new Mat material, they could shoot new reaction shots from the other actors.

 

Amazon, it turns out, had form for this kind of on-the-fly adaptation. Cas Anvar played the character of Alex Kamal on the first five seasons of The Expanse, but after work on Season 5 was completed but before it aired, allegations of improper conduct surfaced against Anvar (we note, again, that no information has been given about why Harris was replaced and it should not be suggested this was down to any kind of improper behaviour to our knowledge). Anvar was removed from the cast and the production team were left with how to handle this in the edit. The solution they chose was that ace pilot Alex should die from a brain haemorrhage brought about by high-gravity spacecraft manoeuvres, an ongoing and frequently-mentioned risk in the setting. Fortunately, this was even discussed in material filmed for the Season 5 finale, which they could re-emphasise in the edit. They had Alex die off-camera between shots, and then froze a shot of Alex in the cockpit, making it look like he’d expired, and added some CG blood floating in the air to sell the illusion.

 

Also fortunately, the team were shooting the start of Season 6 a week before Season 5 aired. This allowed them to re-shoot material from the end of the Season 5 finale to reflect on the character’s death. The only major technical obstacle was that Alex was present at a reception scene following his character’s newly-created death, which required the CG team to paint him out of every shot after the editors re-edited the sequence to use angles and shots avoiding his presence wherever possible. Although slightly awkward, the edit was broadly successful.

 

For The Wheel of Time, a similar process seems to have been followed. The original material for the episode included lines of Mat being reluctant to enter the Ways, presumably just as character banter before being encouraged to join the rest of the team. By focusing on this line more than was originally intended, the editors could make it appear that this was Mat genuinely feeling unable to carry on with the mission. The shots of the other characters entering the Ways and then reacting to Mat staying behind were likely re-filmed when shooting on Episode 7 resumed, and dropped into the end of Episode 6. Different shots of Mat outside the Ways were then used and dropped into the back of the shot to show him staying back as everyone else entered the Waygate.

 

It is, unavoidably, an awkward change to Mat’s story, although it is helped by the fact that Mat is not thinking clearly due to his association with the cursed dagger from Shadar Logoth. How well the recasting is handled will depend on the other characters' reactions to Mat’s departure in the next two episodes, and how his return in early Season 2 is handled. It is a good reminder that shooting a TV show is an uncertain business, and creatively responding to unforeseen events is a key part of the job of the production team.

 

EDIT: I've seen unpleasant rumours spreading that Barney Harris did not return to the project due to allegedly not being in favour of COVID vaccinations, which were required for filming to resume. This story is false and malicious. Production on The Wheel of Time resumed in September 2020, three months before the first COVID vaccines were available in the UK and EU and more like seven or eight months before they were readily available to people in their 20s. To our knowledge, Harris did not return to the shoot in September 2020 when the vaccines were still unavailable and nobody was vaccinated. Whatever his reason for not returning, it was completely unrelated to vaccinations.

 

As usual, please continue to follow developments on our casting and news pages and the forum and stay tuned for more info as we get it.




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Considering Mat has a history of running from his fate and being sucked back in by the Pattern, I think this will work in the big picture, though I'm certain many people are having a problem appreciating that picture right now. It certainly isn't the ending for the season I would have preferred. 

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Guest Wolfbrother31

Posted

It's a shame to have Barney gone, I really liked his Matt & performance. Hope he's ok & wish him the best. 

 

Also hope the writers really find some cleverness to work this out & do a better job in S2. I think they will. Most of the writing issues this season would have been fixed if they hadn't been trying to play up "Who is the Dragon?" ... "It could be any of them! We don't know."

It's the information age ... We ALL know 😅

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At least in this instance a couple of the show's biggest mistakes work in their favor.  They wrote Mat to be significantly less fun and appealing than in the book, and then went on to spend very little time with him (and Rand) for most of the season.  If the new actor is introduced well, and hopefully written better, than I'm sure he'll be acceptable fairly quickly to most viewers.  Would be interesting to know if they cut some scenes of Mat and Rand's story in earlier episodes to soften the viewer investment in him.

 

As far as plot goes, Moraine already indicated that she isn't really thinking Mat is the Dragon, and she already knows she can't trust his judgement if he is, so him not going seems like something she would reasonably accept.

 

 

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I would rather the disconnect of a new actor in the role than a weakening of the story caused by the character not being present at a potential pivotal moment. They will need a very clever work around to make this work.

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if that speculation is correct, it means we won't see mat again for the rest of season 1.

not an ideal outcome, but we can live with it. after all, mat disappeared for an entire book after having a wall fall over him...

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The fact that there has not even been a thank you and wish you all the best from anyone - in particular at the premier does not bode well for the reason

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15 hours ago, sw0mp_d0nk3y said:

At least in this instance a couple of the show's biggest mistakes work in their favor.  They wrote Mat to be significantly less fun and appealing than in the book, and then went on to spend very little time with him (and Rand) for most of the season.  

 

I don't know if it was the acting or the writing, but Mat to me, resembles very little from the original storied version of himself.  Matt is a fun loving trickster with a twinkle in his eye, getting himself continuously into trouble and deserved ire from his community.  His coming of age story its one about having to grow up but still retaining that spirit and mischievous humour that makes him accessible, friendly yet world warry to prepare him to be what eventually has to shoulder.  

 

That is totally lost on him so far in the TV series. When I read the books was always hyped to read a new Mat or Rand chapter. These episodes feel so rushed and tend to stray from pivotal story elements or bend them to fit into modern culture - which IMHO a shame.  This modern attempt to polymorph gender is creeping into a story that does nothing but create clear delinations. Sad.

 

 

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Thank you, Adam, for a very even-handed and comprehensive summary of the way things went down (and/or might have gone down behind the scenes). This is the definitive piece I'll come back to in the future when I rewatch the series and scratch the back of my brain about what happened. COVID is quite a wild card. 

 

I echo NightFlight above on how I *feel* about the transition - there's a certain humor / goofiness about Dónal Finn's face, that I hope will bring the 'twinkle in the eye' back to the character going forward. In Harris' defense, he *did* have to play the 'dark' Mat under the deathly sway of the dagger, and he did that well enough; the scene with the Fade was creepy-good. But, I have high hopes moving forward as the character grows into his skin as, not just a fun-loving gambler. but a high-stakes, brilliant tactician and General.

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On 12/12/2021 at 3:51 PM, Delrik said:

Considering Mat has a history of running from his fate and being sucked back in by the Pattern, I think this will work in the big picture

 

12 hours ago, king of nowhere said:

if that speculation is correct, it means we won't see mat again for the rest of season 1.

not an ideal outcome, but we can live with it. after all, mat disappeared for an entire book after having a wall fall over him...

 

I like both of these points, taken together. It's true - RJ had a maddening way of leaving key characters (even Rand!) off-stage for huge parts of entire books; so, this tracks. And, Mat does tend to fight his destiny - so, good calls, both.

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... and, as a final thought on this topic: well, the production team had multiple huge delays from COVID, as well as coordination across continents ... and, the dice were rolling in their head. So ... they chose. 

 

And, that's true to the way those chapters usually ended 😉 

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I have come up with a possible Storyline for Mat.

He returns to Tar Valon, where he runs into Padan Fain and Fain talks Mat into helping him steal the Dagger from wherever Morraine left it. After they have it Mat finds out what Fain really is, narrowly avoiding being killed by Fain who taunts Mat and tells him he is going to find the others from the 2 Rivers and kill them. Mat ends up following Fain all the way to Fal Dara by road where Fain is captured and Mat is re-united with the others. 

I would love to have Mat meet up with Thom along the way and possibly Verin as well. 

Unlikely i have come up with the correct plotline but it puts Mat, Fain and Verin in Fal Dara after the EOTW and Tarwins Gap.

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Adam, you summed this up pretty well, and it explains some of the things that we saw. I read the books from start to finish over a year, around 4 years ago and I had to go over the synopsis online to see how closely they followed the books - which they have not. 

 

I find this new look into the world of WoT to be interesting and fun, it's brings in a new light to the story, a different interpretation and most crucially expanding the fan base. I'm enjoying every minute of it and excited to see what they keep in and what they reimagine.

 

It makes me think back to another favorite of mine, Babylon 5 - when the creator was writing the characters, he rightly made the decision that any character can be removed from the series at any point, and in doing so made the characters have even more developed characteristics.  In doing so, the series became a beloved TV series, and gave a sense that anything can happen. In the days past GoT, we come to expect this, as a dramatic effect, and I feel that with WoT excluding a few main characters, RJ never gave us this dramatic effect of never knowing what was around the corner, but for me, i loved the stories even more.  

 

All in all, RJ created some interesting characters, which we came to love throughout the books, the TV series are expanding these and bringing them into the current world. I think that's a good thing 🙂.

 

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Barney loved the Books and just could not anymore. he also can't say anything.  loved the Books and just could not anymore. he also can not say anything. 

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On 12/12/2021 at 9:17 PM, sw0mp_d0nk3y said:

"At least in this instance a couple of the show's biggest mistakes work in their favor.  They wrote Mat to be significantly less fun and appealing than in the book, and then went on to spend very little time with him (and Rand) for most of the season.  If the new actor is introduced well, and hopefully written better, than I'm sure he'll be acceptable fairly quickly to most viewers."

I don't understand this take. Barney Harris' Matt has been one of the most dynamically interesting points in the series' favor, and I'm frankly devastated I won't get to see him develop. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I can understand the decision, but IMO it would have been better to to go back to the dagger scene and have Mat left so weak that he couldn't get out of bed and would need to recover in the White Tower.   He did have that lengthy recovery in the books and it would have been a better explanation for the drastic change in his appearance.       

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20 hours ago, CallMeShmae said:

 

I think Barney Harris was a fine actor in the role, I just think they never developed the fun aspects of Mat as a character.  He was a bit of prick and then caught the dagger curse in the 2nd episode.  Not much time for fun in the show for my favorite character from the books.

 

That being said, I did enjoy the little time they did devote to him and Rand's journey.

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On 12/15/2021 at 7:23 PM, MsDinosaur said:

I can understand the decision, but IMO it would have been better to to go back to the dagger scene and have Mat left so weak that he couldn't get out of bed and would need to recover in the White Tower.   He did have that lengthy recovery in the books and it would have been a better explanation for the drastic change in his appearance.       

I think this would have worked better, but they did not have the budget to reshoot the entry into the Ways scene, nor to digitally paint Harris out of all the shots there.

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On 12/14/2021 at 10:12 AM, CRJarvis said:

Barney loved the Books and just could not anymore. he also can't say anything.  loved the Books and just could not anymore. he also can not say anything. 

Barney is that you? 

Edited by John Matthews

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This is actually the best place to replace Mat. Mat with the dagger and Mat after the dagger are like 2 different characters

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