Many have been sceptical about the Netflix adaptation of The Witcher and rightly so. It’s not an adaptation of the insanely popular games but of the novels by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski but I fear fans of the books may be left in the dark as it doesn’t quite manage to capture the essence of Sapkowski’s books.
In The Witcher we follow three characters, Ciri, a princess in hiding; Yennefer, a witch in training, and of course Geralt of Rivia, the titular Witcher – a person who has been magically mutated so that they can slay monsters (in return of payment of course).
It’s through these three characters that we are introduced to the world of The Witcher and that’s when the writing is at its peak. Though at times the world building can be exposition-heavy, the writers still manage to carefully weave the universe and magic system into the story with easy explanation for the audience to understand but the most interesting part of the show is how it flows.
The first five episodes of the series has an interesting format as it as a traditional on-going story but also works-in a monster-of-the-week format with almost each episode featuring a different monster.
Henry Cavill as Geralt of Rivia (via Netflix)
Henry Cavil plays the always brooding Geralt of Rivia and while his performance was enough to make even a male writer like myself pregnant, his performance is still very stiff and uninteresting. Cavill’s acting style does fit the stone-faced Witcher but when the time calls for some actual emotion Cavill only appears capable of sneering his pearly-whites and looking impeccably handsome. He does however look like an expert when it comes to the fight scenes – which I will speak about later.
For the first five episodes I was able to watch ahead of time, I could not shake the fact that Cavil was being upstaged but ninety-nine percent of the cast – even those who appear in single episodes but it’s Freya Allan’s Ciri and more-so, Anya Chalotra’s Yennefer that hold-up the show for without them it would just be Henry Cavil strutting around looking sexy while slaying monsters, something which sounds good on paper but would eventually become tedious.
Allan plays Ciri as innocent as innocent can be without being overtly irritating while Chalotra effectively plays two different Yennefer’s, one meek and humble, and the other honest and calculating. Both Allan and Chalotra deliver magnificent performances but even they fall victim to a superior supporting cast, of which there are far too many to name.
The casting of show is sublime and team behind the show has done a wonderful job in turning The Witcher into a diverse world unlike the video games and the books. Yennefer is played by a British-Indian actress and for what I think may be the first time in a mainstream show or film – Black elves! As a Black writer who loves the Lord of the Rings elves I was particularly thrilled to see Black elves pop-up, and they’re fully-fleshed out characters not blink-and-you-miss-it performances.
The biggest issue plaguing The Witcher is the similarities between it and Game of Thrones which is something we all knew would be a hot topic issue, even the makers who refused to hire anyone who worked on Game of Thrones. Even the theme has a whiff of Thrones as it plays but the biggest and occasionally most brazen similarity to Game of Thrones is the first episode which features similar war-talks which are set-up in ways that almost mirror Game of Thrones. While the Witcher does start to shake-off a lot of these comparisons as the series plods-on it does not find its own footing until around episode four.
In my opinion, critics who have also seen these episodes have over-played the fight scenes. Yes – the fight scenes are fantastic and well-choreographed but they are not as good as some of the epic Game of Thrones fight scenes like some have been saying, at least not in the first five episodes. They are occasional a lot gorier than those of Thrones.
I’m not going to mention any specific monsters featured in the series but it’s quite unfortunate to see that they take a back-seat to all the human drama but when they’re the focus of an episode it can be so fun to watch and occasionally frightening. They’re designs differ between traditional makeup and CGI depending on what the creature is and how the characters interact with them but either way they look great.
Even though The Witcher has a rocky-start it still managed to pull me in, thanks to the world, the characters and their stories but it took a good three episodes before I considered myself engrossed in the series. That being said I still can’t help but feel slightly let down as it had such huge expectations, I do not feel they have yet been met but whose to say how I feel once I get to watch the final three episodes on Friday 20th December.
The Witcher: Season One – 7/10