Last Wednesday, Amazon released a teaser for the character of Thom Merrilin to be played by Alexandre Willaume, via their WoTonprime social media accounts as an early Christmas present for fans.
This was then followed up with a Q&A with Rafe Judkins, the showrunner.
Both WoTonPrime and Judkins seemed to think this reveal was the first time that we were seeing a departure from what's in the books, which is a bit strange as all the other official teasers have all shown something new.
The Emond's Field teaser showed us a village with only minor similarities to what's described in the books, the Egwene and Perrin audio teaser gave a new scene with a reversed Aes Sedai symbol in the visual, and they turned Tam's Heron-marked blade into a stock standard Katana with a Heron sticker. Is changing a harp to a guitar more controversial or a bigger change? Mileage will vary on that.
Judkins Q&A answers were perhaps more controversial, so lets get into them!
This ones a bit of a head scratcher. Lets break it down into bite size pieces and give it a chew.
Thom is a good example of changes made for the show. For one, I want characters to appear when we have the time to spend to properly introduce them and get enough scenes for them to attract a great actor for the role.
It has long been speculated, based on the Thom's apparent shooting schedule(believed to be only eps 3 and 4), that he was likely going to be introduced later than he is in the books. This seems to confirm that speculation.
You will never see scenes on this show where four random people appear, say two lines, and then disappear for seasons. It just won’t get you the caliber of actor you need and it doesn’t properly intro that character to the audience. So for Thom, we wanted to give him a proper introduction,
Huh? This makes no sense. If the speculation is correct about which episodes he is in, then they have cut Thom's screen time from four episodes down to two. They have basically done the opposite of what Judkins is saying. How is having Thom appear for two episodes instead of four, a better introduction than him appearing from the start and giving the audience time to get to know him and for them to form an attachment?
we also wanted him to have a strong masculine energy that made a counterpoint to Moiraine.
Book Thom was too effeminate for them? Speaking of the Moiraine Thom dynamic, if Thom appears after the group splits, then there will be no Thom Moraine dynamic in the first season. Fans already complain that Jordan didn't give that relationship enough of a build up. Seems like the show isn't doing anything to rectify that for now, assuming they even keep it.
When he stomps onto stage in the show, it’s a MOMENT, and that’s what we wanted for Thom.
So Thom has gone from someone light on his feet and acrobatic to a stomping masculine brute. Might be what "they" wanted, certainly wasn't what Jordan wanted. Really can't see this new Thom pulling off the court bard vibe, which was a part of Thom's characterisation.
Never fear, multi colored cloak is still in existence, but different than you imagine. Isis (our costume designer) nailed it.
If it's different to how we imagined, not sure "nailing it" is quite right expression. The whole point of a Gleeman's cloak is to draw attention and to loudly proclaim their profession. In the teaser, Thom is about to perform, so even if the cloak is reversible, he should be wearing it with the patchwork on the outside when performing. The script makes it seem like having the patches on the inside is how it's worn. The cloak when we see it in the show, might look great, and some might like it better than what's in the books, but Judkins certainly hasn't "nailed" the purpose of the cloak.
Donation for the Gleeman?
In Judkins last Q&A he said that they would be leaning away from certain things that have been done before as to make the show feel fresh.
Looks like the writers leaned right into the most popular thing to come out of the Witcher show. Not to mention it makes Thom sound like a beggar. Can't recall there being a time in the books where Thom asks for money.
Guitar vs Harp and flute. Take away from that, can't see Rand lugging around a guitar on his back until he runs into Thom again. That and it makes the comparison to The Witcher even stronger.
That said, predictably, almost all the dialogue in the show is not from the books so as to sound as natural as possible with our locations/actors/scenes as they’re played.
Words anyone hoping for a relatively faithful adaptation didn't want to hear. Yes, in any adaptation there was always going to be a lot of new dialogue to cover new scenes and to help express the inner monologues and as Judkins says, to make it sound natural, but to hear that there will be almost no book dialogue, well that's disheartening. Will we still get the great quotable lines from EotW? Tam's fever mutterings? The story of Manetheren? "Almost all" makes it sounds like we won't be. If we are, then Judkins could have phased that answer better regardless how technically accurate it may be.
As a thought exercise, just imagine we can only do four of the cities from EoTW. So from Emonds Field, Taren Ferry, Baerlon, Shadar Logoth, Whitebridge, Four Kings, Breen’s Spring, Caemlyn, Fal Dara, which do you choose? What are the knock-on effects for character and story from the ones you don’t go to?
It's only a thought exercise, but lets think it through based on what we know of filming. We know there have been sets for Emonds Field, Fal Dara, a castle in Ghealdan and The White Tower. The Taren Ferry set was just a Ferry and a couple of buildings, so not sure we can count that as a "city". Baerlon or Whitebridge could easily use an existing set that is on the Barrandov studio backlot in Prague to save on costs. (a couple of crew members were seen there, but it hasn't been confirmed they were there for WoT as a few other shows have been using the set)
But given Judkins went out of his way to single out Baerlon quite specifically in this answer:
It looks like Baerlon would get the chop between those two, unless Judkins is intentionally misdirecting us. He's no doubt aware of the speculation that many believe Baerlon would get cut and may have wanted to lean into that as a misdirect. Whitebridge could be cut, but the boys need to meet Thom somewhere and he could possibly travel with them as far has Four Kings before making his "exit".
Shadar Logoth and Caemlyn would probably require a fair bit of CGI, so one of those would likely get chopped and as there has only been one casting of a Caemlyn character and Mat needs his Dagger more than Rand needs to fall off a wall, Caemlyn is the city to get chopped for now. That leaves Breen Springs/Market Sharen/Carysford vs Four Kings, which is an easy pick, Four Kings wins.
Emonds Field, Taren Ferry, Shadar Logoth, Whitebridge, the Grinwell Farm(there've been cast), Four Kings, a Castle in Ghealdan, Tar Valon and Fal Dara seem like the best bet for the "few places".
A few of these characters I bet you already expect this for, and one, at least, I think will surprise you.
The major characters fans have speculated most about being pushed into later seasons, are the Andoran Royals. So seems likely they would be the one's people would likely "expect". The only other important characters from EotW not accounted for and likely to be a "surprise", are Ishamael/Ba'alzamon, Elaida and Elyas.
Elaida seems like the easiest push of the three and least surprising if people are expecting the Royals to also be pushed. Between Ishamael and Elyas, Ishamael would be the most surprising.
It's a cute answer and no doubt went over well with Twitter of Time, but for the casual follower who only tunes in for official announcements, this is something that can easily leave people thinking "WTF are these writers on?".
Easter eggs for book readers. Nice!
Heartening to hear they haven't completely made up a new character, but then again Sanderson's "Androl" wasn't a completely "new" character, but he had a significant impact on the story and some would say a detrimental one to Logain's plot.
If it only appears in the first episode, that rules it out of being part of the opening credits. Understandable, as that would be too similar to Game of Thrones. Good to hear that it will get a nod though.
The next bunch of answers seem like things most fans would be happy to hear.
So have the writers lost the plot and suffering from writer hubris or are they making necessary changes? We won't get a definitive answer to that until we WAFO. Whatever the case, some fans walked away happy with Judkins answers, some were horrified, some were cautiously optimistic and some became a little bit worried.