Netflix’s adaptation of the popular fantasy series of the same name by author Andrzej Sapkowski leans into unavoidable comparisons with Game of Thrones with its abundance of political machinations, violence and nudity. However, it’s far more straightforward in its plot and chock full of monsters and other such fantasy tropes. The Witcher is well-constructed, well-acted and a treat for fans of the genre.
Creator: Andrzej Sapkowski
Writers: Lauren Schmidt Hissrich
Cast: Henry Cavill, Anya Chalorta, Freya Allan
Seasons: 1 (2019)
Streaming on: Netflix
It’s a slick yet standard fantasy show
The show is set in a world known as The Continent. Like Game of Thrones‘ Westeros, it’s divided into kingdoms that are always on the brink of of war. There is also the fact that the world is inhabited by monsters that terrorise towns and villages. This is where the Witchers come in. Witchers are a guild of humans enhanced with magic such that they have superhuman abilities. Their job is to kill monsters. One such Witcher, Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill), makes his way across the land, minding his own business and making a living as badass pest control, when he gets dragged into human conflicts against his will. Geralt is the main character, but not in a traditional sense. The meat of the story is carried by the supporting characters, while he serves the purpose of tying these plots together.
Meanwhile, war breaks out between the powerful nations of Nilfgaard and Cintra, forcing Princess Ciri of Cintra (Freya Allan) to flee through The Continent’s magical forests to escape the Nilfgaardian Black Knight, who clearly has something sinister in mind for the Princess. In another part of The Continent, a physically deformed farmer’s daughter named Yennefer (Anya Chalorta) is taken in by a coven of mages and made to study magic under a somewhat sadistic mistress. It’s like a messed-up Hogwarts for women. These three plots converge make up the story. While The Witcher breaks no genre conventions or makes no serious comment on the human condition in the manner of Game of Thrones, it’s a well-executed display of fantasy tropes.
The series looks fantastic
Right from the first episode it’s clear that The Witcher is a labour of love. Every interior, from a random tavern to a magician’s lair is lavishly detailed and brilliantly staged. The battle scenes are spectacular and grand in scale. Shot mostly in Eastern Europe, the landscapes of The Continent look like illustrations from a fantasy novel.
The show uses a combination of computer-generated and practical effects to bring its creatures to life. The results look great on screen. Some of the monsters on this show are actually quite horrifying, for example the Striga, a cursed child born from a dead woman’s womb. Geralt fights this monster in a creepy abandoned castle.
Speaking of fights, the choreography in this series is spectacular. Henry Cavill definitely did the work to be convincing as superhuman monster killer, Geralt of Rivia. He puts some great sword training on display.
Though it can get a little confusing
The show’s major flaw is that the events taking place can sometimes be confusing for those unfamiliar with the books and video games, particularly when characters discuss the politics and relations between the different kingdoms of The Continent. There are also occasional jumps in time and location that are hard to follow. In one episode the show launches into events of the past without a clear indication that we are on a different timeline. Yet The Witcher is arguably the best adaptation of a video game out there, a rarity since video games have historically had lacklustre screen versions.