In the adaptation of Andrzej Sapkowski’s fantasy series, Henry Cavill trades in his red cape for a white wig, broadsword and the gift of hunting monsters – but does that make for a good series?
One of the first things we need to cover is that no, the show is not a 1:1 adaptation of the video game series. The Witcher 3 which saw a release on the Sony Playstation 4 and Nintendo Switch, is part of Sapkowski’s book series that has existed long before the games. Another disclaimer I’m going to put forward is that I have not yet read the books, but, this show has certainly turned me towards wanting to read them.
What this show does well is make you think for yourself. It does not hold your hand through the narrative. Characters come and go and you are tasked to remember who is who and their importance in the story. It may take some one episode and others will need the entire season (consisting of eight hour-long episodes).
The story takes an interesting turn in its narrative by not telling it linearly. I can’t say much more without spoiling the surprise as the timeline for the show comes together around episode 4 titled ‘Of Banquets, Bastards and Burials’, but when everything begins to click, it takes an interesting turn because what seems like separate storylines turns into a game of cat-and-mouse of sorts.
Sapkowski gave his blessing for showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich to take the characters of Geralt of Rivia, Ciri, Yennefer and others to the small screen, and Netflix didn’t spare the expense to help.
The battles and magic are not skimped on in terms of money which is surprising for fantasy shows in their first season. HBO even held back on financing large-scale battles for their now-hit show Game of Thrones until late into its second season.
The sword choreography is also on a different level. It’s brutal, fast and pulls no punches in going for the most gruesome kills it can. Every swing of Geralt’s broadsword is felt and every battle is filmed with enough breathing room to see what’s going on without being too far from the core of the action.
Henry Cavill was a bit of head-scratcher to play to Geralt initially, but after the first episode, he falls into place very quickly. Anya Chalotra, for me, was the breakout star of the first season as Yennefer of Vengerberg. Her story starts out very hard and emotional, but by the end of the first season, she is a force to be reckoned with.
Freya Allen plays Ciri, or Princess Cirilla of Cintra. She doesn’t get as much powerful material to work with as Cavill or Chalotra, but she’s far from underused and boring. Part of the charm of knowing she’s Ciri is it’s only a matter of time before her and Geralt come into contact with one another.
Sonya Belousova and Giona Ostinelli score the show and their accompaniments fit the gothic fantasy world of The Witcher, however it lacks any memorable themes or motifs that help bring the world and characters to life.
All in all, for a first season, the show came out swinging and kept me thoroughly engaged from start to finish. Where other studios may have played it a lot more safe and downplayed the magic, Netflix has delivered right out of the gate with spells, dragons, monsters and battles.
The Witcher has been renewed for second season which is expected for 2021.