EXCLUSIVE: The Wheel of Time boss Rafe Judkins has revealed how the Amazon drama series will handle the recasting of core character Mat Cauthon from Barney Harris to Dónal Finn in Season 2. Deadline confirmed in September that Harris was departing after the first season of the series, which scored a Season 2 renewal ahead of its November 19 premiere.
Judkins, in the midst of shooting the new season, declined comment on the reason for the swap.
“It’s always hard but we’re really lucky that Barney is so great in the first season; I love him in the show,” Judkins told Deadline. “And Dónal Finn, who is playing Mat in Season 2, is amazing. I have seen him up on set doing his scenes now and they’re incredible and they fully capture the character. I think it’s a testament to this character and how great the character of Mat is that it really feels seamless between the two actors.”
Judkins took on the massive project because of his love of the Robert Jordan book series on which the show is based, which he read fervidly growing up. It’s that love of the world that drove him to stay as true to the original stories as possible while treating the characters with respect.
“The pressure is unbelievable from all sides at all times,” he said. “I feel the personal pressure because I love this series. I fought to get it made for TV and that fight was so hard. It’s a success we’re getting it made but now I face the additional pressure to do everyone proud. So many people love these books so much. And nobody is a tougher critic than my mom. I send the scripts to her to get an opinion and she always tells me the truth. ‘You screwed up on this and you gotta fix it.’ I tell her, ‘Ok, mom. I’m going to fix it.’ My mom should get a consulting fee.”
He continued, “I think that’s the thing we do, above all else is respect the characters. I love these characters, even the bad guys. So every change that we make in the show, the thing we try never to change is these characters in the core of who they are and the actors captured that so perfectly. If that’s the thing that fans are really looking for, I think they will like this show. If they’re looking for us to stick to every single detail of the machinations of the plot or the places that they go or the people that they’ve talked to, they will more likely be disappointed. But if they’re looking for us to get these characters to screen, the heart of who they are alive, then I think we’re doing that.”
Judkins understands fans were hoping Season 1 would focus more on the Dragon Reborn storyline, but he’s hoping fans will understand his plans to keep that a mystery. But he does promise the answer will be revealed before the end of the first season.
“One thing we’re trying to hide from the audience is who the Dragon Reborn is, it’s the mystery of the show as we start to unravel this story,” he said. “People who have read the books will know, of course. The first book is told from the Dragon Reborn’s perspective but the whole book series is an ensemble piece. One of the defining things about the book series is the different POV characters, [which we leaned into]. This show is the first fantasy series to have half of those POVs from women, so this is a really incredible ensemble piece in the way the book series does in its entirety.”
He added, “For me, I always have to approach it as if we’re going to get to tell the whole story that’s in the books. If we don’t approach it that way, then we’d set ourselves up to not stick the landing and these books have such a good ending. I really need to set us up to get there if we’re able to. That’s not up to me ultimately. If people watch it and Amazon wants to keep doing more, I’d love to continue to expand this world further.”
Judkins is also aware that fans of the book series are a bit disappointed that the Amazon series has probably halted plans for the story to be adapted for the big screen. But he believes the books will work better as a series, one he imagines could run for about eight seasons.
“I think that’s probably true. I think Wheel of Time lends itself better to a television series,” he said. “That’s why I think now is the right moment for it to finally exist because people who know that books know it’s just a story about the characters and the journeys each of them is on. The amount you’d have to compress it to turn it into a series of movies is too much. It would take away the heart of what’s good about it.”