Netflix’s The Witcher does an excellent job of creating the sprawling, riveting, visionary world of Andrzej Sapowski, the author of the Witcher series.
To start, there’s Henry Cavill’s take on the famous Witcher, Geralt of Rivia, who was turned into a Witcher after being abandoned by his sorceress mother, Visenna. Having undergone rigorous trials as a child to become a Witcher, Geralt is one of only a few of them left. Cavill conveys Geralt’s long-weary isolation in a world that calls upon his monster-killing services for coin, but doesn’t appreciate his kind.
Known mostly as Superman prior to his casting as Geralt, the well-built actor lobbied for the role because of his love for the game The Witcher 3. But anyone who watched him chew up the scenery as Charles Brandon, the First Duke of Suffolk, on The Tudors, can tell you how wonderful it is to have him back on television. Cavill’s Suffolk was my favorite character on The Tudors, but in The Witcher, he’s front and center, and he fills up the screen with all the charisma, humor, and expertly choreographed fighting skills that make him an unforgettable Geralt.
Yin to his yang is Anya Chalotra’s Yennefer, a powerful mage (sorceress) in this brutally savage world. To the audience’s benefit, we are treated to a full backstory. In this case, we are lucky indeed in the casting of Chalotra, who is a revelation as Yennefer of Vengerberg. The 23-year-old actress puts on a fearless, unforgettable performance, and she holds her own in the scenes with Cavill.
Yennefer’s backstory is alluded to in the books and game, but we’re treated to a complete telling at the center of her story, and this is where the series thrives. As an abused hunchback with a facial deformity, Yennefer’s childhood is heartbreaking, and Chalotra excels in these scenes. As emotionally compelling as she is earlier on, she also fascinates as the beautifully transformed, mage who is continuing to grow her powers. As the series proceeds, it is unsure how truly powerful Yen has become, and if there are any limits to her growing talents.
Much has been written about Geralt due to the popularity of the books and the game, but thanks to the gift of television as a medium for storytelling, we get the opportunity to dig deeper into the central female characters of this world. Princess Cirilla of Cintra, “Ciri,” is no exception. Here again, the casting of the show is a gift, with Freya Allan handling the transition from sheltered princess to a hunted girl on the run, after the ruthless Emhyr var Emreis has led his merciless Nilfgaard army to overtake her kingdom of Cintra. Ciri also possesses abilities that are hinted at throughout, and there is a reason that Emhyr is hellbent on capturing her alive. But first destiny must intervene, potentially connecting her with Geralt.
Thanks to showrunner Lauren Schmmidt Hissrich, she allows both women’s riveting storylines to shine.
The Witcher is mostly based on the novels, but there are plenty of nods to the popular game as well. Sure enough, Geralt’s famous bathtub scene is there.
Henry Cavill may have been inspired by the game actor’s (Doug Cockle) take on the monster-hunter, but his stoic, gravelly tone is even one step better.
You can also feel the influence of the game through the music choices and distinctive fighting strategy. The Netflix series really does take the best of both The Witcher books and game and fuses them into a mesmerizing, otherworldly perfect concoction, with an added dose of Geralt’s dry humor as well.
One special note is Jaskier (Dandelion in the game), played by Joey Batey, who makes an annoying, but fun traveling companion for Geralt.
Gargantuan in scale, you can feel the high quality of production throughout, from the populated Medieval-type towns, to the epic battles, to the magically conjured background orgy scene. It’s all part of crafting a multitudinous, riveting fantasy world that engages right away.
If you are looking for a series to fill that hole that Game of Thrones left, The Witcher will certainly fit the bill. But Netflix’s big flashy drama is also its own thing, and the viewing experience is more fulfilling when you forget about comparing it to the HBO drama. The two are vastly different realms, with Witcher’s focus more on the imaginative elements than the detailed political landscape Thrones excelled at.
If there are a few confusing bits, they are answered by the time you get to the fourth episode, which is particularly excellent. The series rewards close attention, and no judgement should be made of it until you have watched the last episode.