*The following will contain spoilers for the first season of The Wheel of Time, as well as the first book in the series, ‘The Eye of the World’, with some minor spoilers for the second book, ‘The Great Hunt’. It will not cover anything beyond those. Newcomers, read with caution.*
One thing I will praise the Wheel of Time show is its changes. Some of them are pretty weird, yes. But I think it’s an excellent sign when an adaptation is willing to try and be its own thing through its unique creative decisions.
Especially when those improve characters that direly needed improving. Such as the subject of today’s article: Mat Cawthon.
From what I’ve seen, the show version of Mat has been pretty popular. Understandably so. While he is definitely the comic relief character, that is balanced with a healthy serving of depth. Along with a dash of horror in there. He’s a fairly interesting character that plays well with the rest of the cast.
Unlike the book version of Mat. Who, at this point in the story, had two different modes of personality: whiny or rebellious. Often the two went hand in hand. Like a little kid who yells, “You can’t tell me what to do,” while doing the very dangerous and stupid thing you told them not to do.
Not that there aren’t similarities between the two. Mat’s gambling habits on point in both versions. And TV show Mat certainly does his fare share of whining and makes more than a few stupid decisions. And the journey does leave him fairly bitter and angry in both versions. Well, the journey and- well, I won’t spoil that.
That’s pretty much where the similarities end. These two are fairly different characters.
The biggest change boils down to their family. Book Mat has a pretty happy family. His father is a capable trader and runs a solid farm. His sisters are fairly mature and responsible, often sighing and complaining about their older brother’s antics. In the books, he was very much the child, despite being the eldest.
This lead to him being a pretty obnoxious brat through the first two books. It wasn’t until books three and four that Robert Jordan really figured out what he wanted to do with that particular character. Afterwards, he became a much more realized and interesting member of the cast.
Unlike in the show. In that version, his parents kinda… suck. They’re kinda the worst. So Mat has to be the adult of the family and take care of his little sisters. Unfortunately, because of his parents, the family isn’t well-off. So Mat has to get by through gambling and, if push comes to shove: stealing.
This has given Mat a rather interesting weakness. His greed is much more justified because he’s always stolen for the sake of his family. His instincts as an older brother have lead him into some… troubling situations. All he wants to do is go back home for his family, but the more he travels, the more he understands that that isn’t an option.
These changes could play really well into his later arc in the series. Add an extra bit of conflict later on. But again: I won’t spoil that.
It’s interesting to me to see how the show has so dramatically changed this character. Book Mat was easily one of the most unlikable members of the cast at this point. To turn him into such a real and fleshed-out character shows just how well the showrunners understand the material and the characters within it.
I hope the rest of the season doesn’t prove that statement to be false…