Netflix’s long awaited adaptation of the best-selling fantasy game Witcher, based on Andrzej Sapkowski’s series of novels, starring Henry freaking Cavill as Geralt of Rivia, is finally here! Now we all know the curse of game adaptations, but with such a rich World full of magic, mythical monsters and the supernatural to draw from, especially in the gaping wake left by Game of Thrones, can the streaming service really go wrong with this series? Well there’s definitely a lot to unpack in the eight episodes for the uninitiated, but for fans of the games and books it’s pure hammy, fantasy fun that they will surely adore!
The Witcher stars Henry Cavill as the titular mutant monster hunter for hire as he traverses the kingdom of Cintra slaying rogue beasts and spirits with bard Jaskier (Batey), saving townsfolk and Kings alike in exchange for coin. That’s until his fate becomes mysteriously intertwined with that of Princess Ciri (Freya Allan) and witch Yennefer of Vengerberg (Anya Chalotra), as their paths become destined to cross. Concurrently all three of their stories are directly affected from the raging war between human nations Nilfgaardian and the Northern Kingdoms.
The streaming service’s latest big budget outing is packed full of high fantasy, politics and a complex and often convoluted plot. Ciri and Yennefer’s secondary narratives are sparsely woven throughout the series, but they often sow the seeds for the larger story arc, resulting in a disjointed story. Meanwhile, showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich opts for more of a ‘monster of the week’ narrative as Geralt completes a number of self-contained quests for the majority of the eight episodes, as opposed to following a more clear, overarching plot. As someone who isn’t a book reader (I know, I know!), I found the narrative style and slow pacing of adapting Sapkowski’s short story collection, The Last Wish, to be frustrating and ultimately a little confusing, particularly as we’re thrown into the World without any context.
I did however love the showrunner’s dedication to the darker fantasy elements, with some impressive horror aspects thrown in, particularly in the atmospheric opening sequence as Geralt faces a giant multi-limbed swamp beast. The array of creatures, species and traditions/lore is notable, definitely excelling in an area where Game of Thrones disappointedly tried to shy away from. Unfortunately the quality in visual effects for the beasts does vary somewhat, leading me to question whether that budget was possibly spent securing Cavill. The fight sequences throughout also impress, most notably the wonderfully staged and particularly violent one-shot clash between Geralt and nine of Renfri’s men in the series opener. And yes there’s more magic, violence and boobs to rival that of Westeros, particularly in a bonkers magic orgy!
Those who had any doubts about the casting of Cavill as Geralt can breath a sigh of relief, as the former Man of Steel perfectly captures the physicality and mannerisms of The White Wolf. His gruff, monotone voice brilliantly complements his surprising comedic timing, particularly with his love of the word f***k when he finds himself in awkward situations (which happens in the majority of the time!). His chemistry with Chalotra’s Yennefer is electric, and I genuinely wish they had more scenes together. The powerful sorceress is equally as complex as the monster slayer, mirroring Geralt’s outwardly loner persona, but inside caring a hell of a lot when it comes down it. She truly comes alive in the season finale, and if there is a second series, I really do hope to see more of her. Perhaps most undeveloped though is Freya Allan’s Princess Ciri, who’s coming-of-age tale predominantly takes a back seat to the other two leads, only really ramping up again in the season finale.
The Witcher is a ridiculous but fun swords’n’sorcerers fantasy tale, which offers brief glimpses of brilliance, but due to the uneven pacing and quality, it never quite tops the standard set in the first and final episodes.