The long-awaited series The Witcher dropped on Netflix on December 20 and continues to dominate the top spot for viewing for Netflix. According to a Forbes article, it has pushed out Stranger Things, Peaky Blinders, Black Mirror, and others for the highest-rated original series on the streaming channel. Fans of The Witcher books The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, have been waiting for the live-action series for a while. The series show-runner, Lauren Schmidt Hissrich (Daredevil, The Defenders), and actor Henry Cavill (Superman, The Tudors) who takes on the leading role of Geralt of Rivia, bring to life a world of fantasy, magic, and monsters in a world that does not always accept difference.
Many viewers have likened the series to Game of Thrones for its high action fantasy, dark tones, political complexity of warring nations, and violence. Despite these similarities, The Witcher is different from GoT as it only has three main characters. Magic takes center stage, and for the most part, the characters in the Witcher universe are generally “good,” or at least trying to be.
The first season introduces us to the supernatural monster hunter Geralt, the sorceress, Yennefer (Anya Chalotra), and princess Cirilla (Freya Allan), whose stories and choices connect to one another in unexpected ways. There are elves, dwarfs, witches, dragons and battles, alongside extraordinary monsters – which are sometimes human.
The story is set in a medieval-style fantasy world on a landmass known as the Continent. It follows the story of Geralt of Rivia, a solitary monster hunter who finds his destiny linked to the sorceress Yennefer of Vengerberg, and the Princess Cirilla. The Witcher gets caught between two warring human nations, the Nilfgaardian Empire and Northern Kingdoms. Episodes are “monster(s) of the week” style, weaving together the plight of the characters within the backdrop of war. Episode titles generally give viewers an idea of what to expect each week and throughout the series. Titles to look forward to are “The End’s Beginning,” “Betrayer Moon,” “Rare Species,” “Before a Fall,” and more. We won’t spoil what the episodes are about, but you can find a handy episodes guide in this Entertainment Weekly article.
It’s a compelling fantasy drama exposing the grey areas of human morality, and how destiny and personal choice affect each character and their paths. The time shifts provide some insight into the main character’s decisions or those made for them. From the beginning, we see the struggle the main character faces with a choice, “Evil is evil, greater, lesser, middling, it makes no difference. The degree’s arbitrary, the definition’s blurred. If I’m to choose between one evil and another, I’d rather not choose at all.” Geralt is often accused of having no emotion for what he does, or feelings towards others. Yet throughout the series, the tonal shifts show us something else, a hunter who questions the killing of monsters, choices that are made, and his empathy towards others.
The shifting timelines, and the uncertainty of how destiny connects the characters in the beginning, have put some viewers off, but stick with it. It all comes together and starts to make sense somewhere around episode four. Others have found it unsettling and triggering, with the treatment of disability, ableism, self- harm, incest, rape, and torture, this makes for some difficult viewing. But this could push the industry to begin to look more closely at placing trigger warnings on television programs when they are released.
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Cavill refreshingly plays the stoic hero, with humor, and his facial expressions are something else. He fits the character of The Witcher perfectly. The author of The Witcher has likened Cavill to Viggo Mortenson (Aragorn, Lord of the Rings). Taking on an iconic role and putting his face to a character, forever changing how audiences view and understand that character and the story. The costumes and sets are stunning with the backdrop of the locations of Hungary, Poland, and the Canary Islands fitting with the fantasy story. The fight choreography is extraordinary, and Cavill simply marvels in these scenes.
Notwithstanding, The Witcher is an action-filled fantasy adventure with the leading characters played with conviction. An honorable mention goes to Jodhi May as Queen Calanthe. Her performance was chilling to watch as a battle-hardened queen. Plus Joey Batey, as Jaskier the Bard giving us the catchy tune “Toss a Coin to Your Witcher,” dominates the series after episode two. Add this series to your watch list, and for those who have already seen it, re-watch it again as it gets better and better.
Fans will be even more delighted to know that the series was picked up for a season two that will likely be released sometime during 2021.