Review – The Witcher
I was first introduced to the Witcher universe when the Witcher 2 game released. A medieval world with magic and feudalism, but laced with scholars and science. The main character is a genetically mutated human with extreme agility and cunning. And the underlying theme of Geralt of Rivia’s story is philosophising over what is the right thing. Can there actually be a lesser of two evils? It’s safe to say I was in.
When the Witcher 3 came out, I was blown away. CD Projekt Red took a great character and world and made them come to life in such an immersive game that it quickly became widely accepted as the best adventure game of the year, probably the best of the decade. I’ve played through the game at least four times from start to finish, collecting all the little nuanced and hidden things in the game.
The TV show was announced about a year ago, and I have to say I didn’t think it could work. I didn’t think that they could do the world justice visually, and I didn’t think that they could build a show with the deep lore of the Witcher series that audiences could understand. I wasn’t entirely wrong, but I have to admit that the show does a bloody good job of bringing the Witcher to the small screen.
The rich world and lore of the universe are metered out over the episodes without overloading the audience. The actors in the show do a fantastic job, which makes Henry Cavill and Anya Chalotra’s performances stand out even more as they shine amongst a great cast.
The show weaves the short stories written by Andrzej Sapkowski, originally standalone stories, into a single narrative as well as expanding the backstories of Yennefer and Ciri which are only alluded to in the written works. This makes an excellent platform for moving into the story going forward, now that audiences know who the characters are and have a grounding in how the world works. I am looking forward to seeing the story move forward.
I do have a couple of gripes with the show. The show has a non-linear time narrative, which I have no problem with, but it doesn’t acknowledge the time jumps. The show tells Ciri’s story over each of the episodes, then intersperses that with a short story focusing on Yennefer or Geralt each episode. But the short stories aren’t in chronological order, and there is nothing to indicate how far apart they are from one another. In a universe where the main characters effectively don’t age, I can see how someone without knowledge of the lore would struggle to understand what is happening. This could be fixed easily by putting a timestamp at the beginning of each of the stories in the episode. I think anyone who persists with the season will get what’s going on, but I imagine that some people turned away from the season because of this.
Another minor gripe that I had is that I would have accentuated some of the characters visually with makeup more than they did. For instance, we see Ciri’s grandmother in two episodes, but 13 years apart, and she looks very similar. I would have visually aged the actress more to avoid the confusion. Yennefer’s story could do with this as well, as a young girl she is a hunchback pig farmer, yet her skin is flawless, and her hair is relatively well kept. When she is beatified with magic, I felt that having her skin more pock-marked and pimpled beforehand would have made that scene resonate more.
My last gripe is about casting. Unlike the previous two points which were more from a perspective of people who were unfamiliar with the Witcher lore, for someone like me, I struggled to accept the casting in the first few episodes. Both Cavill as a more buff, less lithe, Geralt than I have in my mind’s eye and Anya as Yennefer who doesn’t have the commanding stature that I imagined Yennefer having. I was jarred in my first watch through of the series as I had to keep consciously reminding myself of who the characters were, but I have to say the actors won me over by the end. Cavill settles into the role as the season goes on and Anya makes the role her own as Yennefer faces her trials. I re-watched the season before I wrote this review, and enjoyed the early stories much more once I had cemented the actors in their roles. It turns out, great acting makes up for any shortfalls in physical casting.
On the whole, I have to say I’m very happy that this show bested my expectations for it. I look forward to seeing these characters struggle against Destiny and monsters in the future.