It would be an absolute travesty to start this review and not mention “Toss a coin to your Witcher.”
An exceptional song that will find you and never leave no matter how many times you try to forget about it. You know what, by law of surprise, click the link here, I demand you play it as you read this review.
If you have never heard of the Witcher, put simply, originally a series of novels from Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski and then made into massively popular videogames by CD Projekt Red, the story follows a guy who was schooled and mutated to become a Witcher (monster hunters with powers) called Geralt, his adopted daughter Ciri and his sorceress lover Yennefer.
Back in 2017, Netflix announced they would be creating the Witcher TV show taking the source from the novels and short stories rather than the games. In 2018, Henry Cavill AKA Superman was confirmed to be the legendary Geralt of Rivia and the Internet was not very sure how well this would work. But alas, in early 2019, Game of Thrones pushed the self destruct button and delivered a very poor final season so goodwill for Cavill as Geralt increased and hope grew for The Witcher to be Netflix`s answer to Game of Thrones.
Finally released on December 20th 2019, Netflix pushed out an 8 episode first season, portraying the events that lead to Geralt, Yennefer and Ciri ending up in each others lives.
A big part of what endear us to the characters from the novels and the games is that their character development and growth went hand in hand with the events they went through and the dynamic between the main three characters has always been the foundation of the story with fantastic supporting characters to prop the story up in the duller moments, both in the novels and in the games.
As this is the freshman season, the show tries to set this same dynamic up for season 2 and in doing so we get a fractured time line, covering a period of around 56 years, you will see scenes from the past as well as the present and sometimes it may take some time distinguishing which is which but eventually the time lines do start to make sense.
The show starts with the sacking of Cintra and introduction of Ciri and how she ends up on the run and eventually running into Geralt. We then subsequently see Yennefer and of course Geralt both doing their own thing setting the board up for what commences in the following 7 episodes. Once the show checks in with the main characters, the focus is put onto the political turmoil and how Cintra ended up being the way it is.
We also meet the supporting cast of the Witcher universe, the bard Jaskier is especially great and well cast as is Tissaia de Vries. After the invasion of Cintra we see Geralt meeting the Bard, Tissaia finding Yennefer and other notable events from the novels. Some of the episodes do attempt to have self contained plots as well as the overarching stories, such as the monsters Geralt takes on and the various hardships and jobs Yennefer has to undergo in order to get where she wants to be (which eventually means bumping into Geralt)
The pacing of the episodes are well done and the confusion of what scene is when in the time line gets cleared up pretty fast and is easier to follow as the episodes go on. The fact that all 8 episodes are released together definitely helps with the experience. The show runners do a great job of keeping the world interesting despite the sets and backdrops really portraying how unique the universe of the Witcher and “the continent” is. The sets seem very default and bland and this is probably down to budget constraints and the production team just waiting to find an identity for the show but I have no concerns about this being corrected in the next season.
The actors also do a great job, Cavill is actually exceptional as Geralt and gets the mannerisms and that “hmph” down perfectly. Relative new comers Freya Allan and Anya Chalotra also impress as Ciri and Yennefer respectively. The cast make you care about Geralts and Ciri link and you want them to meet before the seasons out.
The Monsters are also great, the CGI is not shabby at all and the practical effects are also well done. You have an opening set piece with a giant spider as Geralt does his stuff and through the season you have dragons and Strigas to look forward to. Their presence also makes sense and they never seem shoe horned in for spectacle, the plot always makes sense and always leads Geralt to the next event or person who will eventually lead him to his destiny.
I would say that The Witcher as a TV show definitely succeeds and sets up a new live action fantasy world ready for us to dive into. We have had a great origin story now the real fun starts with season 2 reportedly looking at a 2021 release. Netflix have backed this to be a success and it seems like they have hit the mark, the showrunners, writers and Netflix just need to show consistency with quality throughout forthcoming seasons if they really do want this to be their very own Game of Thrones contender.
The Witcher is a great fantasy show blending humour, high fantasy and some horror elements very well to tell a great origin story for the main three characters. Now they need to really put their mark on this universe and make it theirs from season 2 onwards.