For the first time in the many tellings of Robin Hood since the medieval ballads, we do not have the stereotypical Will Scarlet as Robins merry sidekick, all dressed in red. Richard Carpenter, the creator of the series, Robin of Sherwood has given us a tougher, bleaker, more passionate character. This Scarlet is an ex-soldier, who has fought in the wars in France. He has seen his wife and later his close friend (Robin) murdered. He is an angry person, quick to violence, with a burning hatred of authority from whatever source. This makes for an awkward relationship with both Robin of Loxley [Are you threatening me?] and Robert of Huntingdon.
We meet Will Scarlet for the first time in the pilot episode Robin Hood and the Sorcerer. Robin is captured by Sir Guy of Gisburne and thrown into the dark prison pit of Nottingham Castle:
In the faint light filtering down from above, Robin could just see the figure of a man: his face was gaunt and his eyes glittered fiercely. Whats your name? he asked Robin. Robin of Loxley.
Loxley! Theres no such place.
Robin nodded. Thats what they tell us; but nothings forgotten.
No. Nothing. The man stared at them for a moment and then turned away. My - my wifes folk died at Loxley. I wish to God shed died with them.
Why do you say that? asked Robin quietly.
The man turned back to him, his face wet with tears. You said nothings forgotten. Sometimes I wish it wasnt true. Sometimes I wish I could forget. But I cant. I can't forget that cold November day and the road to Nottingham. And the soldiers. His voice shook and he paused to control his grief. They were drunk. Mercenaries. They took her from me and when theyd done they trampled her under the horses and they laughed. They laughed. I can still hear them.He broke off, unable to continue his story. My name was Will Scathlock, he said finally. But its Scarlet now!
excerpt from the novelisation Robin of Sherwood © Richard Carpenter [1984 Puffin Books]
[To see a short AVI video clip of this scene, click here to download. It will take several minutes, depending on the speed of your connection.]
Later we learn that Will has killed three of the mercenaries who murdered his wife and is due to hang. But he escapes with Robin and joins his band of outlaws, cautiously giving his trust to Robin and what he is fighting for. Its important for Will to have people around him that he can trust, especially in a combat situation, and he makes it plain on several occasions that the outlaws are the only people in the world he really trusts [There are very few people that I trust - and Im looking at all of them - from The Kings Fool]. This informs many of his actions and decisions throughout the series.
In the second episode, The Witch of Elsdon, Will becomes smitten by another blonde woman, Jennet, who is to be hanged for witchcraft. She is being blackmailed by the Sheriff on the life of her husband to drug the outlaws. Will saves her from the soldiers hunting her (although this is a set-up) and obviously wants to protect her. At the end of the episode, when Marion inadvertently lets slip that Jennet has a husband, Will is immediately angry. He grabs Jennet by the chin and tells her they would all be dead if it hadn't been for Marion. And it is Marion who has to protect Jennet, knocking Will's hand away saying "Stop it, Will!". When Jennet is reunited with her husband Thomas at the end of the episode, the camera lingers for a long while on Will as he walks away into the forest and sits on his own, brooding.
In The Kings Fool it is Will who refuses to go and join the King, when Robin is deceived into thinking everything will be alright. His distrust of authority will not let him trust King Richard, and Wills instinct turns out to be right. And it is to Will, sitting alone in Sherwood, the only one of the outlaw band not drawn to the Kings Court, that Herne the Hunter appears during this episode, to bring warning that things are not what they seem.
In Lord of the Trees Will once again encounters mercenaries like those who killed his wife. His violence and need for revenge is almost overwhelming. But Robin and Marion insist that he does not give vent to it during the peaceful time of The Blessing. What do you mean, cant? he snarls.
It is always Will who asks the awkward questions - he does not romanticise the ideology of Robins crusade. Will knows that they kill numerous, nameless Norman men-at-arms on a regular basis.
However, Will also has a dry, black sense of humour. This is well illustrated in The Prophecy on two occasions. The outlaws take Abbot Hugo hostage and demand to know the identity of a prisoner in Nottingham Castle. The Abbot is disdainful, until Will gets out his knife. Will leers into the Abbots face with his dagger in his teeth, then removes it and asks Which is your favourite ear?. The Abbot is so appalled he immediately tells the outlaws what they need to know. [To see a short AVI video clip of this scene, click here to download. It will take several minutes, depending on the speed of your connection.] Later in that episode a dusk raid is made on Nottingham Castle to rescue the prisoner. Will is disguised as a Norman soldier - he strides purposefully towards one of the guards on the battlements. The guard cries Who goes there? to which Will replies Friend. Seconds later Will tips the guard over the battlements. Not your friend he mutters.
After Loxleys death, in Hernes Son, Will goes to his brothers inn in Lichfield, and declines into a drunken stupor, trying to forget another painful loss in his life: Wheres the ale? When Robert of Huntingdon is reforming the band of outlaws a year later, the drunken Will forces Robert to fight him into submission before he will rejoin the band and accept Robert as leader.
The only time that we ever see Will afraid of anything is in The Cross of St Ciricus. He and Much stop to eat at a deserted camp in the forest, only to discover it apparently belongs to some lepers. This disease is an enemy that Will cannot challenge with his sword, and so his reaction is hysterical fear. He throws of all his clothes, jumps into the river, and screams over and over again, Why me? Why me? It is not death so much he fears, he has faced death many times, but the nature of it. He is convinced he will die a horrible, slow death. At the end of the episode it is revealed that the lepers were in fact Gisburne and two of his henchmen in disguise and Wills fear turns to fury.
In Cromm Cruac, the tormented Will is allowed a few more hours of brief happiness with his wife - or with a doppelganger of his wife created by the evil Gulnar. The beautiful Elena approaches Will at a dance in the cursed village of Cromm Cruac, and although he knows it cannot be her, Will darent question the situation, he just wants to hold on to a few more precious moments with her. He moves into a little house with Elena, down by the river, and begins to fish. She begs him not to leave her, to which he gladly agrees.
But then Little John arrives, confronting Will with the truth that this is not his wife, but an evil manifestation. In fulfilment of the prophecy, the village of Cromm Cruac begins to burn, and while a sobbing Will is restrained by John, the village and the little house containing Elena is burnt to the ground. Will is forced to stand by and watch his wife die - for a second time.
Towards the end of the third series we are given a glimpse of the family man that Will might have been, had life been kinder to him. In the episode Time of The Wolf we see Will spending time with young Matthew of Wickham, teaching him how to handle a longbow. When Matthew has to go home, he runs off into Sherwood calling Goodbye, Uncle Will. The look on Wills face encompasses embarrassment, pride, yearning, confusion.