The Witcher is one of my favourite fantasy series of all time, with books and games telling the story of Geralt of Rivia in glorious fashion. So, naturally I was excited to hear that Netflix had decided to make a live action version of the series. But with that excitement came anxiety. Could Geralt’s story be adapted faithfully to the realm of TV? Could quintessential action hero Henry Cavill inhabit the gritty life of the White Wolf and make it believable? Or would the show follow in the footsteps of the final season of Game of Thrones as a car crash of epic fantasy proportions?
The answer is resoundingly positive. Netflix’s The Witcher is a love letter written in the blood of monsters and gilded with the magic of breathtaking fight scenes. The source material is in good hands with producer Lauren Schmidt Hissrich.
Destined to be different than Game of Thrones
The comparisons between Game of Thrones and The Witcher are inevitable because they inhabit similar spaces of political intrigue, casual sex and violence. But The Witcher narrows down the focus to the relationship between the three main characters: Geralt, Yennefer and Ciri. Yes, there’s political backstabbing, wars between nations and gory battles. But the show doesn’t let all the noise drown out the stories of its most important players.
The Witcher is much more of a horror detective show, which involves Geralt hunting monsters of the week across eight episodes. Each monster is a work of grotesque art, especially the striga that Geralt stalks in the dark corridors of a royal crypt. And with every fight, Cavill brings The White Wolf to life in wonderful detail.
I’ll admit to being skeptical when I first heard about Cavill’s casting. But after watching the show I can say that I was so glad to be proven wrong. Cavill does a great job of portraying Geralt, grunting, sassing and slashing his way across The Continent. He delivers an understated performance with body language and facial expressions that convey more than words could.
Cavill is joined by Anya Chalotra as Yennefer of Vengerberg and Freya Allen as Ciri. Both deserve praise for their performances as well. Chalotra is electric as the enigmatic sorceress who ensnares the witcher’s heart. We get to see her scratch and claw her way from nothing, watching every insecurity and quirk unfold.
Allen has some excellent moments with the material that she’s given, showing Ciri’s vulnerability and desire to find what she’s looking for. I liked the fact that the Netflix adaptation provides a window into the past of Yennefer and Ciri, which isn’t present in the books or games. You get to see who they are before they met Geralt and what motivates them.
Beautiful choreography and grim humour
The fight scenes of The Witcher are beautiful, fluid acts of utter carnage. In the first episode, Geralt battles a group of bandits in the town of Blaviken and the sword work is phenomenal. But while there’s plenty of violence, the show never gets lost in bleakness, thanks to comedic timing from Cavill and his colleagues.
There’s a lot to like about Joey Batey as Jaskier, the irreverent bard who leads Geralt into all kinds of problems and difficult situations. Far from an annoying sidekick, Jaskier’s fast-talking provides a good counterpoint for Geralt’s grimness.
What may bother some viewers is the non-sequential storytelling. Geralt, Ciri and Yennefer’s stories take place across different time periods, but you shouldn’t let that put you off. Patience is rewarded in later episodes.
There’s no doubt that Netflix’s The Witcher had a lot of pressure to live up to by standing apart from the game series and books. Borrowing from both, the show manages to carve out a unique identity that’s as memorable as Geralt himself.
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