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In the new 'Willow' series, Val Kilmer's Madmartigan plays a big role, but maybe not how you expect

How does Val Kilmer's Willow character factor into the new Disney+ series?

By Tara Bennett
Joanne Whalley and Val Kilmer in Willow (1988)

While the eponymously titled Willow (1988), directed by Ron Howard and executive produced by George Lucas, only references one character, it was a really a trio that carried the epic fantasy film into classic territory. Supporting Warwick Davis' Willow Ufgood, in his quest to save the baby Elora Danan, was the warrior Sorsha (Joanne Whalley) and the sellsword/thirst trap of his day, Madmartigan (Val Kilmer). An agent of chaos initially only looking out for himself, the swordsman eventually grows a conscience and a purpose while hanging out with principled heroes like Willow and Sorsha.

As such, Madmartigan became a beloved part of Willow's success, so when the mythology was revived for the upcoming Disney+ series, also titled Willow, and included the return of Davis as Willow and Whalley as now Queen Sorsha, fans wanted to know if Kilmer would participate too. Unfortunately, in the interim decades, Kilmer was diagnosed with throat cancer, which he fortunately beat. But he continues to deal with lingering health issues and a reliance on a voice box to speak. Which begs the question: Where does Kilmer's Madmartigan fit into the narrative continuation of Willow, if at all?

In a press conference today attended by SYFY WIRE, executive producer Jon Kasdan said Madmartigan is stitched into to the very spine of Season 1. The series begins 200 moons after the fall of the evil sorceress Bavmorda (Jean Marsh), and finds Queen Sorsha the mother of the almost adult-aged twins, Kit (Ruby Cruz) and Airk (Dempsey Bryk), whom she had with Madmartigan. However, the man himself is MIA. 

Knowing the physicality of the series, and its focus on a younger generation of heroes fighting evil returning to their lands, Kasdan said there was never any question that Madmartigan would feature heavily in the story, if not in person. 

"Because we were telling a story that had so many young characters, and that they were all searching for their identity, the search for Madmartigan and the question of what had happened to him was right at the heart of the story we were telling," Kasdan explained. "We knew that it would be woven into this [new] quest in a fundamental way, to see where he was and what had become him and what he'd given up, particularly for Ruby's character, Kit, and for Dempsey's character, Airk, in order to do good. That question follows the whole season."

With the fate and location of a now grown Elora Danan core to staving off that impending evil, Kasdan said he put together a company of young heroes who would learn more about Madmartigan after the timeline of the film via Willow and other close associates he fought alongside that they'll meet along the way. 

As far as figuring out just how much to layer Madmartigan into the season's quest, Kasdan said, "We had a lot of ideas about ways to pay it off and ways to leave it open. One thing that happened, because Val himself wasn't able to come out to Wales and work with us, was that we added this texture of a friend of Madmartigan's who could give us some clues about his whereabouts and deepen the mystery around what happened to him in a way that actually extended the story we were already telling. It was very satisfying and it provided an opportunity for us to add a whole new element that we didn't expect to the show."

Considering that Kilmer was able to cameo in this year's blockbuster hit, Top Gun: Maverick, Kasdan was asked if the team behind Willow might eventually figure out a way to bring the actor back into their fold too. "Madmartigan is still out there," Kasdan said without any hesitation. "I've had many conversations with everyone involved and our feeling is he is out there to be found, should the day arrive. I think Warwick and I would both love to see him pick up that sword again."

Willow the series debuts with two episodes Nov. 30 on Disney+.

Looking for some fantasy content to tide you over? Click here for our list of the best fantasy films available on Peacock.