Based on the best-selling fantasy series of books, THE WITCHER is an epic tale of fate and family. The story of the intertwined destinies of three individuals in the vast world of The Continent, where humans, elves, witchers, gnomes, and monsters battle to survive and thrive, and where good and evil is not easily identified.
Format: 8 episodes streaming on Netflix simultaneously.
Cast: Henry Cavill, Freya Allan, Anya Chalotra, Joey Batey, MyAnna Buring, Tom Canton, Eamon Farren, Adam Levy, Björn Hlynur Haraldsson, Jodhi May, Lars Mikkelsen, Shaun Dooley,
Directors: Alik Sakharov (1,2,7), Charlotte Brändström (5,6), Alex Garcia Lopez (3,4), Marc Jobst (8)
Writers: Lauren Schmidt (creator), Andrzej Sapkowski (based upon the novels by), Declan De Barra (4), Beau DeMayo (3), Haily Hall (6), Jenny Klein (2), Sneha Koorse (5), Mike Ostrowski (7)
In a post Game of Thrones world, Netflix’s The Witcher is bound to draw many comparisons. The show is set in an inspired medieval-European world and features, at its core, a raging war between different factions and characters spread across a large continent. There’s also a fair amount of sex, but that’s about as far the comparisons go.
Based on the popular Polish book series by Andrzej Sapkowski and not the award-winning video game series by developers CD Projekt Red, The Witcher’s first season focuses primarily on the events in the first book in the series, The Last Wish which is a collection of short stories. Something that is important towards the structuring of this first season and the storytelling.
The series stars the usually handsome charmer Henry Cavill as the morally ambiguous and gruff Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher. A Witcher’s job is to roam the lands and take jobs to kill monsters, with his life being one continuous slaughter for coin until the day he finally dies. Witchers are enhanced beings, and often ridiculed by humans as monsters and mutants which makes the road a lonely one, aside from the company of their horses, and Geralt calls his Roach.
Although some will argue that Henry Cavill is simply too good looking to play the part of the Witcher, he perfectly brings to life the character I’ve read in the books, but mostly known from the games. In fact, although the show is an adaptation of the books, Cavill’s performance seems heavily inspired by the performance of Doug Cockle in the video game series. Several scenes just made me smile because of how much they just felt like little moments from the game like Geralt talking to Roach, or one scene in particular where Cavill‘s muttered expletive was perfectly nonchalant towards an unfolding situation of peril. He also speaks less with his words and more with his grunts, another thing that is very prevalent in the game and I appreciated every single gruff grunt that Cavill delivered in the perfect tone.
The Witcher sees Geralt’s journey mostly made up of vignettes primarily taken for The Last Wish. While they are stand-alone Witcher tales, they serve, much as the book does, to introduce you to the world of The Witcher and Geralt himself along with some of his to-be longtime companions like Jaskier (video game fans would know as him as Dandelion), a bard who’s played with utmost charm by Joey Batey and also Yennefer (Anya Chalotra), who serves as one of the three main characters in the show.
Yennefer of Vandenberg and her rise to a powerful Mage is one of courage and willpower. Although much like Geralt, Yennifer’s morality is often ambiguous on her path to power.
Born a hunchback, Yennefer has a torturous upbringing with her father filled with a hatred for her and the locals riddling her with jokes and tease. One day, however, powers awaken within her and she’s sold off to The Lodge of Sorceress where she is to attempt to learn to control her growing abilities. Anya Chalotra gives a breakthrough performance and fans of her and Geralt’s romance in the books and games don’t need to wait too long before we start to see sparks fly.
One important aspect from the books and games is the romance and the chemistry between Chalotra and Cavill is fire. It can also be like a midday movie, but it’s all part of the charm.
What serves in moving the world around Geralt forward is what’s happening around him, not to him – well at least not straight away. In the northern kingdom of Cintra, which is led with the power of Queen Calanthe — played by Jodhi May in a fierce and strong performance — but just south approaches the forces of Nilfgaard looking to take control of Cintra with their massive army. When the night approaches the Princess of Cintra, Cirilla (Freya Allan) is whipped away in the night and so begins her long and dangerous journey with only several words to guide her: “find Geralt of Rivia.”
Freya Allan gives a wonderful performance as Cirilla or Ciri for short, who is the centrepiece of which everything in the show moves around. The war happening around her as she attempts to make her way to safety with Nilfgaardian soldiers not far behind makes her journey one of tension and intrigue. Every character she meets is a possible foe or friend, and the wide-open world in front of her is obviously daunting. The intrigue of what makes Ciri so important is the question of what makes her so important to those chasing her? But also why must she seek out Geralt? A character audiences will quickly realise isn’t one for protecting Princess in distress.
The Witcher is shot wonderfully against mythical forests, sand-torn landscapes and war-torn battlefields. There is a lot of character to its world which always feels lived in as Geralt passes through. Although we may be used to eight years of Games of Thrones’ opening laying out the lay-of-the-land, The Witcher instead has you piecing together its geography in your head. This will be more true for newcomers to the franchise obviously, but it’s part of the fun.
All of the costumes look fantastic as well with Geralt’s and Yennefer’s in particular sure to please fans.
The CGI is where The Witcher can be hit-and-miss and makes me worry about the potentially bigger creatures as the show moves forward. It’s particularly souring because the show opens with Geralt battling a creature in a lake, but it very obviously looks like someone just emerging from water against a green screen. Hopefully if the show is a massive success Netflix bumps up the allocated funds for special effects.