Netflix is bringing to life one of the fantasy genres most cherished properties, The Witcher. Born as a series of books from Andrzej Sapkowski, The Witcher follows characters on fantastical journeys of self-discovery, power, love, and justice. The series specifically follows Geralt of Rivia, the titular Witcher, a monster hunter who developed supernatural powers at a young age. He is feared, hated, and needed. The books have been adapted to a very successful role-playing game, video games, comic books, a Polish TV series and movie adaptation, and now a Netflix series from creator Lauren Schmidt Hissrich (The Umbrella Academy).
Netflix was kind enough to provide me the chance to watch the first five episodes of The Witcher, which was devoured in one sitting. Thank you Netflix for indulging my bingeing habits.
The series stars Henry Cavill (Man of Steel, The Tudors) as the Geralt, Anya Charlotra (Sherwood) as the powerful sorceress and love-interest Yennefer of Vengerberg, and Freya Allan (The Third Day) as the young princess destined for greatness, Ciri of Cintra. Sapkowski’s books are the main source of this adaptation, with some influence from the popular video game. Fans of the series will be tickled to see their favourite characters and the world come to life, and those unfamiliar with The Witcher will be introduced to an exciting new fantasy world.
The show’s structure in the first season is very much a crash course into the world of The Witcher. The first five episodes are set up for the characters we are to follow on this perilous journey, the world they inhabit, and how they fit into said world. Geralt, Yennefer, and Ciri actually do not encounter each other for quite some time as they are separated by time and distance. The show is focused on getting us to understand who they are now, and how they become the people they are once they unite.
Fans of the source material may feel slightly bogged down by this hand-holding approach, but there is enough in the show to keep their interest and carry them through to the end, and eventually season 2. However, that isn’t to say that the world-building does not have some faults when it comes to introducing this world to new fans. The geography of The Continent (made up of several nations that are constantly at war with each other) is not very clear or distinct, and some of the environments these characters are in are unique and vibrant, but the “where” will still elude you. Although Geralt travels from town to town, the settings rarely seem to change. The geography of a fantasy world is incredibly vital, as this is a space we don’t know anything about. Basic fantasy tropes may help viewers fill in the gaps and come up with safe conclusions as to where our heroes are, but it sucks the enjoyment out of it when you can’t quite tell.
The geography is also vital in understanding the dynamic between humans, monsters, sorceresses, and other magical beings that exist. Without a clear understanding of where the lines are drawn makes for some convoluted situations, especially when it comes to the elves. Luckily, the time difference is easy to understand, as our characters are on their individual journeys during the past, present, and near future.
*For those who may be a little confused about the “when” I will add a little breakdown at the end of this review.*
Now, for our stars. Henry Cavill is very passionate about The Witcher, and it is very evident as his performance is taking cues from everything that has ever been said about Geralt. He even takes cues from the video game, matching his voice with Doug Cockle’s voice work. He fully embodies all that he clearly loves about the character — he is charming, stoic, and gives us all the smoulder we can handle. As good as Cavill is as Geralt, the show truly belongs to Anya Charlotra as Yennefer. Many were hesitant to see her take on the role for various reasons, many of which don’t deserve much attention, but she is absolutely explosive on-screen. From Yennefer’s most vulnerable moments to the most kickass ones, Charlotra is a wonder to behold. Yennefer has been described and depicted as being a very cold and calculating woman —an approach that would have worked in this adaptation— but Charlotra runs in the other direction with a volcanic performance instead. Freya Allan as Ciri is a darling, but doesn’t have much to do just yet. It is hard to say much about her performance other than she plays the naive and innocent princess very well, and I am looking forward to seeing what Ciri will become.
The Witcher is a welcome surprise for fantasy fans. As another well-known massive fantasy property came to a close earlier this year, another rises to take its place in the hearts of fantasy fans everywhere. Despite stumbling with the world-building, so much is done to create vibrant and dynamic characters. They are three-dimensional characters that have fears, desires, and monsters they are seeking to run away from, embrace or challenge. As the series goes on you see how much potential there is to make a truly spectacular TV series, and season 1 lays the groundwork for it. Netflix has a winner on their hands, hopefully, they don’t squander it too soon.
The Witcher premieres worldwide on Netflix December 20th.
**In The Witcher, we follow Geralt, Yennefer, and Ciri who are dealing with their own stories until they collide. Geralt and Yennefer’s stories take place in the past, while Ciri is in the present. Yennefer is several decades old and we meet her when she is a young woman in her late teens/early 20’s. Her story follows her as she becomes a mage and then jumps ahead about three decades, at this point she meets Geralt. Ciri has yet to be born as her grandmother and mother are the Queen and Princess of Cintra during this time. It will be about another decade until Geralt and Yennefer meet up with Ciri.**
by Ferdosa Abdi
Ferdosa Abdi is a lifelong film student and aspiring film festival programmer. Her favourite genres are science-fiction, fantasy, and horror and her favourite director is Guillermo del Toro. She is madly in love with Eva Green and believes she should be cast in everything. You can follow Ferdosa on Twitter @atomicwick