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Amazon's The Wheel Of Time Season 2 Needs To Fix One Major Problem If It Wants To Win Back Skeptical Readers

Amazon Studios' "The Wheel of Time" wasn't a bust. However, as is the case with most current fantasy adaptations, it wasn't a home run, either. Creative decisions and truncated storytelling left fans bickering over things like whether the show was faithful to the original story and how well it stood on its own merits. 

Truth be told, there are many things to criticize, so far. Deeper canonical issues aside, there are a few major sticking points that most viewers could spot from a mile away. For instance, eight hour-long episodes may feel like a lot of time to tell a story, but with a narrative as overwhelmingly massive as Robert Jordan's tale, it barely gives you time to scratch the surface ... let alone start a multi-faceted story with countless protagonists and villains. Things were bound to be rushed from the get-go. Other issues? Everything also feels too clean and tidy for a medieval-inspired setting. Everyone has smooth hands and perfect teeth. Bring on the filth and the dung! Do we need to keep going?

At the end of the day, though, the show did deliver a solid take on its vastly complicated source material. Nonetheless, there's one giant issue that the studio must fix if it wants Season 2 to build on its predecessor, keep fandom engaged, and attract new viewers — and we're talking about an inter-season hurdle that the creative team knew they'd be facing before the first episode of Season 1 even premiered. Namely, if Season 2 is going to succeed, the show needs to fix what it did with Mat Cauthon.

Mat's importance in the Wheel of Time narrative, explained

"The Wheel of Time" is a massive story. It has nearly three thousand distinctly named characters, of which 148 are "point of view" characters. Out of this overwhelming lot, three names stand out from the get-go: Rand al'Thor (Josha Stradowski), Perrin Aybara (Marcus Rutherford), and Mat Cauthon (Barney Harris). These three besties grow up together in an area called the Two Rivers in the village of Emond's Field, and it's there that fate finds them in the form of the Aes Sedai, Moiraine Damodred (Rosamund Pike).

The term "fate" is appropriate here since there are more mighty powers at work behind these three protagonists than one might guess at first glance. All three are "ta'veren," a term that implies they have been specially woven into "the Pattern" of life by the "Wheel of Time" with a distinct and deliberate purpose. For those who are relatively new to this world, this can be a lot to keep track of. Heck, even for those who've invested significant portions of time trudging through the 14-book-long primary timeline of the story, it can still get confusing.

Long story short? These three man-boys have a unique calling that makes them critically important — not just to the story from a reader's perspective but within their world, too. They're the movers and shakers. It's hard to go into too much more detail without giving away spoilers, but suffice it to say, in a massive cast within an even bigger world, Mat Cauthon is one of three characters who manage to hog a significant portion of the spotlight. He's an absolutely essential piece of the puzzle.

How did Season 1 of Wheel of Time tackle Mat?

In Amazon's adaptation, it didn't take long for Mat Cauthon to take on his central role in the story. Right from the beginning, the series starts developing the past and future hero. He initially shows trademark elements of his in-story carousing. He also gambles (a lot), is lazy, and generally comes across as uninterested.

However, in this case, the adaptors decided to beef up Mr. Cauthon's past and make him a more relatable character from the onset of the story. Rather than simply introducing a wayward young man driven by an unknown fate, we meet a desperate and caring eldest sibling. Mat's parents are negligent. His mother is a drunkard, and his father is a womanizer (both of which reflect behaviors he himself possesses right from the beginning of Jordan's books).

Along with the need to process this reality and care for himself, Mat is shown acting as a stand-in parent for his younger sisters. From there, he's whisked into the story. He finds his infamous dagger and reluctantly continues the journey until the evil bauble possesses him and is removed by force (i.e., through Moraine wielding the One Power). At that point, Mat seems set to continue on his epic upward trajectory along with the rest of the crew. But when they go to the Waygate outside of the city of Tar Valon to set up the climax of the show, Matt hangs back ... and doesn't enter. Yes, that's right: he just disappears out of the final quarter of the season.

What's the problem here? Why does this happen? Well, most likely, it's not about poor writing — but an issue with casting. 

The challenge of recasting Mat Cauthon on Wheel of Time

Barney Harris was originally cast as Mat Cauthon, presumably not just for Season 1 but for the entire trajectory of the show. He played the role throughout the first six episodes, and by most accounts, he delivered a remarkably entertaining and believable version of the character. And yet, when filming began for Season 2 (before Season 1 had even aired), news broke that Harris had already been replaced by Dónal Finn ("The Witcher"). For fans looking forward to the series, it was a bombshell to hear that, before they had even seen a second of the footage, a primary protagonist was already getting a new face. Judging from Mat's early withdrawal from the story, one could surmise that his exit from the show was quite abrupt, too.

And this, friends, is where the rubber hits the road. This is why fixing Mat is so important to the future of the show. The character isn't just a critical piece to the "Wheel of Time" puzzle. The show has actually made him more important than in the source material ... or at least, has helped audiences connect with him faster (this takes some time in the books) through Harris's solid performance and enhanced backstory. He's more relatable and pitiable. He's an underdog who was dealt a bad hand and is fighting to create his own ta'veren luck as he protects his sisters and guards his hurting family.

Now, "Wheel of Time" is already facing an uncomfortable dilemma. The series needs to stick the landing with a major recasting — which means more than simply finding an actor who can slip into the role and interact with the rest of the cast as if he's been there all along.

Wheel of Time also needs to believably reintregrate Mat 2.0 into the story

Notice that the original problem in the title wasn't the issue of "recasting" but of "fixing." Amazon must fix Mat Cauthon, which is a bigger issue than finding a replacement. 

Hopefully, Finn pans out as the new Mat. We've all got our fingers crossed. But to fix the Mat problem, the writers need to step up, too. So do the directors. They need to re-integrate Mat into the larger story as if he's been there all along, percolating and developing like the rest of the on-screen crew. They also need to reconnect the severed story threads that were damaged when Harris had to abruptly withdraw from the Season 1 narrative. Having Finn's iteration show up and randomly be like, "Sorry, what'd I miss?" is the kind of "rip off the Band-aid" humor that doesn't work in high fantasy, and definitely won't work there. The story is too big.

Don't forget, Moiraine has set the Red Ajah on Mat's track now, too. That's the group of Aes Sedai that conduct Inquisition-esque witch-hunts as they search for men who can channel the One Power. 

This all goes to show that the Mat storyline is already fearfully close to running off the rails. When Mat Cauthon 2.0 is introduced in Season 2, it will likely be the tipping point. Can the showrunner and creative team overcome this hurdle and use it to their advantage, or is it going to just add fuel to the haters and widen the cracks that Season 1 already revealed? Please, Amazon Studios, we're begging you. If you do one thing right in Season 2, make sure you create a believable Mat Cauthon continuum.