It’s no secret that I have a thing for the Witcher Series, so when they released the Netflix series this Christmas, it was like a special gift just for me. I’ll make it very clear for those wondering, I haven’t actually played the games. (I know, right? They’re amazing and I’m missing out. Should I ever find myself with a grundle of free time, I know what I’m doing.)
**Disclaimer** Although I’m a YA fantasy writer, the Witcher is NOT YA appropriate by any stretch of the imagination. This review does not endorse any of the Witcher media by any means for anyone under the age of 18. It’s solidly in the same sensational vein as Game of Thrones with it’s use of graphic violence, explicit content, and language.
That said, it’s a personal favorite universe of mine, so I’m going to review it anyway.
The main character, Geralt of Rivia, is a witcher, a mutant human who has been created and specially trained to kill monsters. He has faster reflexes, better vision, and faster healing than a normal man. Because he is different, people hate him and he is treated poorly. Throughout season one, we see him take jobs to deal with monster problems and learn that although he’s really tough, he’s got a good heart and is making the best with what fate has given him.
We then jump to the next storyline which follows Cirilla Fiona Elen Riannon, better known as Ciri, the Cintran Princess. Hers is a story of survival. Her parents were killed when she was young and she was raised by her war loving grandmother, Queen Calanthe. When Cintra is attacked by Nilfgaard, Ciri flees the city and must find a way to stay alive while Nilfgaardian soldiers hunt her.
Then, there’s the much older story of Yennefer of Vengerberg, a powerful sorceress. Throughout season one, we see her journey from unwanted little girl to her coming into the fullness of her power. Sorceresses live much longer than normal people so her story starts much further in the past than the others. In this universe, sorceresses secretly, and often not so secretly, control governments and keep the kings and queens under their thumbs.
Within each episode we follow these three characters in three different time periods. As the season moves forward, these time periods come closer and eventually connect, but until then it’s hard to keep things straight. This happened because the source material is Sapkowski’s books and the majority of season one was pulled from his two books, The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny, which are both collections of short stories.
Politics play a huge role in the witcher universe. Everything revolves around who has power, and who wants power. The sorcerers and sorceresses fight to maintain the peace between countries, using magical means if they must. When things go wrong and people get cursed, or when wars break out and the monsters who feed on death appear, that’s where Geralt comes in. Despite his best intentions, he gets pulled into the politics of the world as those contending for thrones and power try to use him to reach their goals.
I’m not sure if reading the books made watching the series easier or harder to enjoy. I’d already formed ideas about what the different characters were like and knew which ones I wanted to root for. To be fair, the series did an amazing job casting the characters. As for the chopped up timeline, I think having read the books made it harder. The jumps back and forth were far more obvious and I was constantly trying to figure out if they skipped a part I remembered or changed it for the series.
That said, it did make things less predictable and I liked that.
Let’s talk Henry Cavill for a moment, shall we? Casting him as Geralt of Rivia at first worried me because Henry is far too pretty. Part of Geralt’s charm is that he’s got all these scars, each with a compelling story behind it. While I can see the potential for the series to start adding these scars with each season, I really wanted to see Geralt’s distinct facial scar that was a big part of his character in the games.
They also made Geralt more of a jock hero and pulled back when they could have shown how his character is not only well read, but is one of the best skilled witchers when it comes to reversing curses. Maybe this will show up later, but it feels like they dumbed him down, which I don’t like.
Did I like the show? Absolutely. Was it a good show? It had it’s challenges, but in all it delivered on what it promised. The costuming, sets, dialogue, and fight choreography were all excellent.
I’ll repeat myself here, The Witcher is not for kids. If you love a fantasy story that’s more complicated and doesn’t shy back from the uglier sides of life, you’ll probably like it. All of you who loved Game of Thrones, this will scratch that itch as well, with the added benefit that there is less gratuitous violence. The characters are compelling and complicated and the different stories interesting and unpredictable.
For sensitive viewers, proceed with caution. While the violence is justified, they do not shy back from showing some pretty gnarly wounds and death. They also have a tendency to jump cut to fairly intimate scenes without warning, which is jarring at times. Geralt has a favorite swear word that he uses enough that if you don’t like it, you might not like him.
I give Netflix’s The Witcher, season one 4/5 stars
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