The lazy take on The Witcher is it’s Netflix’s shot at creating a Game of Thrones level phenomenon. Yeah, there’s some familiar fantasy elements, but The Witcher is a totally different show that proves very rewarding for audiences willing to invest without preconceived notions on how it should play out.
Geralt (Henry Cavill, Mission: Impossible – Fallout) is a Witcher, a line of mutated monster hunters. He’s traveling the world in search of money, women and adventure — just not necessarily in that order. As a Witcher, Geralt is unable to tap into his emotions giving him a detached matter of fact outlook on life. Cavill immediately gets Geralt and while his white wig might take some time to get used to, he instantly comes off like the ideal choice for the character.
As the season progressed it’s clear that Cavill is a tremendous talent in these action drama roles with both the physicality and dramatic chops to pull off complex and interesting characters. He’s built enough of a resume now that it’s safe to say he’s been good in all of his roles — delivering exactly what’s been required. The shame of course is that Cavill has been able to showcase his skills while being handcuffed in the role best suited for him as the centerpiece of DC’s film universe as Superman.
After watching The Witcher, I’m convinced Warner Bros. needs to give a Superman film with Cavill in the lead playing the signature familiar take on The Man of Steel a real chance. It would take more work to mess up than to stumble onto getting it right especially if Geoff Johns was allowed the chance to write a script without benefit of the WB hero committee.
Yennefer (Anya Chalotra) is another of the main characters and arguably the one with the most compelling arc. Deformed at birth, Yennefer deals with cruelty through childhood and is sold to a mage, Tissaia (MyAnna Buring, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2), who teaches her sorcery.
Over the years, Yennefer grows in confidence in both her mage skills and willingness to go after what she wants. It doesn’t always work out for her and Yennefer deals with a new sense of heartache and longing. Chalotra has some of the season’s best dialogue and is in tuned with Yennfer’s evolution. Chalotra provides the right amount of bitterness and detachment as Yennfer faces various moral dilemmas providing the series’ best performance.
Ciri (Freya Allan) completes the series’ main three characters as the princess of an overthrown land desperately trying to find Geralt. Her grandmother, the disposed Queen Calanthe (Jodhi May, The Last of the Mohicans), sent her out before the tragic seize of the kingdom and Ciri spends most of the first season on the run armed only with a Hulk-like ability that’s triggered when she’s angry. Of the main three, Ciri has the weakest arc, but as the story plays out it makes sense.
Like any good fantasy show, The Witcher adds in mythical creatures like elves, dwarves, fairies and even dragons. Some of the effects are a little dicey, but overall it’s easy to buy in thanks to some impressive set designs, well-timed CGI sequences and overall world building.
The scope of the episodes is impressive. One of the latter episodes, Rare Species, has a decided Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit feel to it as Geralt joins a crew seeking a dragon.
There’s random nudity seemingly for the sake of nudity although there’s enough shirtless Cavill scenes to balance things out for viewers complaining about any objectification.
The Witcher isn’t indulgent with its violence as several episodes don’t feature any bloodshed. When it does occur there’s a no holds barred approach with dismemberment, beheadings, skin eating and more.
At times it can be overwhelming keeping up with the various players, but the significant characters eventually rise to the top. Joey Batey is a fun supporting character as the bard Jaskier, who’s eager to tag along with Geralt to craft tales of his exploits. Think of Jaskier as a fantasy era hype man.
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One area The Witcher has a distinct non-fantasy feel is the commendable effort to be diverse. It’s always annoyed me in worlds with dragons, ogres, etc. it was considered unrealistic to have any minorities in significant roles.
The Witcher completely abandons that notion with a refreshing amount of minorities and major roles for women. That’s intentional to the point that minority characters have big parts beyond sidekicks like the complex mage, Fringilla (Mimi Ndiweni, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker).
Early on, I had a feeling the story wasn’t being presented in a linear fashion, but was way off on how the stories ultimately connected.
In adapting Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Last Wish, Showrunner Lauren Hissrich sets the story up in a way that the timeline jumping narrative doesn’t get too confusing. It actually helps to create this subtle mystery of determining how everything fits together.
Hissrich doesn’t reveal how everything connects until episode seven, which feels like a low-key story driven bombshell that shakes up everything that happened in the previous episodes. Even better, Hissrich‘s framing of the narrative makes a quick rewatch that much more rewarding.
Given better perspective on events, certain characters’ actions don’t come across as heroic and people who seemed shady earlier aren’t nearly as awful on second glance.
The season finale ends in a bold way. Few of the big plot points are neatly wrapped up and it definitely ends on a major cliffhanger. I was leery of getting hooked into another fantasy series, but The Witcher cast a spell on me and I’m anxiously awaiting Season 2.