Before we got to close off 2019, the last remaining highly anticipated series got released. Netflix pulled an enormous budget to make their dreamchild The Witcher come to life, as a contender to HBO’s Game of Thrones. Fans of the books and games went on hiatus for over half a year, hoping that this new adaptation lives up to the potential. A lot was riding on one season, and many felt that cramming in seven books might be a big problem, one that many succumbed to.
So does it finally live up to the hype it generated? As we enter 2020, we start off the year with our take on The Witcher series and give out opinion and review on the whole thing. Saddle up Roach, prepare your silver sword, and drink your last potion, it’s time we went hunting. Spoiler Warning in advance! Cue the music!
Toss A Coin To Your Story
Being adapted from a series of books can always prove to be a challenge, especially when the first two books are collections of small tales. However, The Witcher manages to take the books seriously, retaining the essential aspects, while adding some new ingredients. The plot follows the stories from The Last Wish and The Sword of Destiny. Each episode takes three tales, one from each of the main protagonists, and while mostly maintaining their independence, manages to connect them by the end of the season.
Geralt and Ciri never come in contact until the last episode. Yet there is always a feeling that they’re just at the tip of each other’s fingers. And while the main focus on the plot revolves around fortune and its defiance, in the end, the show makes it clear – you can’t outrun destiny. Each tale has its own unique pacing, and while some are arguably slower than others, they still manage to captivate with details. Geralt talking to Roach about his first kill comes to mind. The conversation between man and horse might be somber at first but still manages to entertain and humor.
The Witcher further focuses on one other theme – the greater and lesser evil. In truth, the world Geralt and the others find themselves in isn’t a delightful one. People get raped, murdered, persecuted for various reasons. The world is cruel and unfair, and each action has a consequence. Each of the main characters trying to find a place in this grand scheme. Stregobor perfectly demonstrates this, manipulating others for his own twisted and immoral ideas. In the end, Geralt, Yennefer and Ciri seem more like white knights in this grim world, than the actual aristocrats.
The Better Half of A Two-Edged Sword
One of the more polarising aspects of the series is its cast of characters. Both Henry Cavill (Geralt) and Anya Chalotra (Yennefer) never come off as one-dimensional. Their characters grow throughout the series and are fleshed out. Yennefer especially goes through one hell of a character arc, that sees her transform from a hunchback into a powerful mage.
I was also surprised at how some supporting actors managed to give an excellent performance. Adam Levy (Mousesack), Jodhi May (Queen Calanthe), Emma Appleton (Renfri), and Anna Shaffer (Triss) stand amongst the others as some absolutely memorable characters.
However, a particular spot has to be given to my top two favorites. MyAnna Buring (Tissaia) and Joey Batey (Jaskier). Even some characters like Stregobor, played by Lars Mikkelsen, manage to impress me, just for how much you’re meant to hate the character.
The Bleaker Half of A Two-Edged Sword
However, it can’t be said for all figures. Ciri’s arc is by far the weakest, and yet the entire story is evolving around her, as the child of destiny. Freya Allan, the actress, gave a solid performance, but her character wasn’t that well-integrated as the others. Linked with Dara, a persona that isn’t even in the novels, and you have a structure where the heroine is lost 90% of the time. A similar thing can be said about the other characters.
While most of them are iconic to the story, they all appear briefly. For some fans who invested themselves in the universe, these characters are important and is a let down when they get only five minutes of screentime. Foltest’s story about his toxic relationship with his dead sister never comes off as a big surprise because he doesn’t appear before episode 3 and past it. This is the biggest problem with adapting this particular series.
Many stories are focused mostly on Geralt, Yen, and Ciri, while others are just there till the end of the tale. In the books and games, characters like Yarpen Zigrin are often encountered. While here, they are only slightly mentioned or showed. And while there aren’t many, there are some really dull roles- Fringilla and Cahir.
Fan vs Newcomer
The biggest complaint I would give it is the timeline. Since we already touched upon the series structure, it’s safe to say that its timeline can get confusing. The simple gist of it is this: Yennefer’s plot takes place in the distant past, and is first, followed by Geralt’s, and Ciri’s being the present. They all manage to connect by the end, and all come to Ciri’s point of entry into the main plot. But by episode 4, I was left scratching my head about what was happening in which time zone.
Wrapping your head around it all may be hard, especially for newcomers. I, as a massive fan of the books and games, had a hard time figuring the time where each event took place. So I can only imagine how hard it is for people who are getting into it now.
On top of that, a big obstacle has to be pointed out. Many viewers, besides this timeline problem, have no idea about the lore of the universe. While it doesn’t break the series’ pacing, it certainly opens up a lot of questions. I’ve sat down with my friends, and one of them didn’t have a clue at one point what the series was talking about.
Some crucial things, like the famous Law of Surprise, was explained superbly. And then we have terms like The Conjunction of Spheres, which is for some reason important, but was never touched upon. Without any prior knowledge of the lore, the series leaves you with unanswered questions that should be in the following season.
One Final Spec of Amusement
One final praise for the adaptation goes to two particular things. The choreography for the fight scenes are impressive, and top quality. With this show, Henry convinced me even more that he was born to play Geralt of Rivia. The Butcher of Blaviken really steps up to his title and massacres everything with grace and ferocity.
The final confrontation in the seasons’ climax was also a praiseworthy moment. The Battle of Sodden Hill turns into a blood pool in a matter of seconds and intensifies with each passing scene. Whoever planed the choreography deserves a medal for this brutal, visceral action.
Another addition is one that is also polarising, but I find it charming. Jaskier was always a comedic relief in every form of The Witcher. He was always meant to be the bumbling sidekick to our brooding protagonist. And while some jokes may be off point, most of them land, with him being a perfect polar opposite to Geralt.
There is so much chemistry between these two actors that you actually feel it when they reunite as friends, and bitterly depart. The music Jaskier provides during each credit is iconic as this troublesome duo. And he gave us one hell of a ballad of the Blavakian butcher with “Toss A Coin To Your Witcher.”
In conclusion, the series is a great one, but not a must-watch. While I definitely recommend it to everyone, I can’t say that they will find as appealing as me. There is so much that it doesn’t cover, and to put it simply, it’s a show for the fans. Those who have a prior idea of the universe will find it a worthy adaptation and will find enjoyment. It is also a great starting point for newcomers to the series, but with the additional literature from which it is based. I certainly recommend it, it’s a worthwhile series that can be digested with pleasure rather than pain. Let’s just hope that some glaring issues will be resolved in the second season. And yes, it managed to dethrone GoT, so you should watch it for that alone.