There's been quite a bit of buzz surrounding Netflix's adaptation of Andrzej Sapkowski's The Witcher, and now it's finally here for fans to enjoy. We've known about some of the changes coming to the popular book of short stories titled "The Last Wish," which Season One draws most of its inspiration from, and with all eight episodes from the first season now streaming, it's time to see if those changes pay off and if the show successfully translates the beloved material and overall world of The Witcher. So, what's the verdict, you ask? Well, we've got some good news for you, because The Witcher brings to life the charm, humor, and action fans love from the novels but with its own fresh spin.
The series establishes the world of the Witcher quite a bit in the first episode, touching on two of the main characters in a huge way. That episode sets the tone for the rest of the series, as early on we see the mix of brutal action, dark humor, and morally grey decisions that fill this fantastical world. Easy choices are few and far between, and the show integrates that into Geralt, Ciri, and Yennefer's individual stories right off the bat, helping to set the tone with poignant scenarios that make these larger-than-life characters feel much more real.
Showrunner Lauren Hissrich and executive producer Tomek Baginski really knocked the casting out of the park with this series. Henry Cavill, Anya Chalotra, Freya Allan, and Joey Batey all bring the necessary gruff, edge, and charm of their famous characters to life throughout the series, and they contrast incredibly well with each other once they all get a chance to unite on screen.
Cavill's gruff exterior hides the practical but compassionate soul of the Witcher from the novels and games, and Cavill's enthusiasm for Geralt is difficult to hide. Cavill can flip from sarcastic and visibly annoyed to contemplative and caring in a heartbeat, but it always feels organic to who Geralt is. Even the oddball comedic and, at times, crass aspects of the character shine through, and when it comes time to swing a sword, get your popcorn ready, because The Witcher does not shy away from brutal action sequences, something you'll learn from the jaw-dropping fight sequence in the show's initial episode.
As for Yennefer, Chalotra builds a believable and flawed portrait of the famous sorceress, and you can't help but be impressed with just how extensive her transformation is. Chalotra is able to draw out the audience's empathy early on, so much so that when the character makes some shocking decisions later on, you are still willing to go along for the ride, and that's immensely welcome. As someone who played the games and read the novels, I always had a more difficult time relating and, at times, even liking Yennefer, but that's no longer the case here, and this just might be my favorite interpretation of her to date.
Freya Allan also does a lovely job with Ciri, finding a space between sheltered and naive that allows the character's curiosity and humor to stand out. Ciri is actually the recipient of one of the biggest changes to the source material, and that addition does give the character some additional mystery and avenues for exploration, especially early on. That said, Ciri's portion of the storyline is the one that drags the most throughout the first season, especially towards the middle, when the character is stationary for a time and not moving through the world and coming to terms with things outside of Cintra.
Speaking of traveling the world, we have to shout out the stellar pairing of Joey Batey's Jaskier and Cavill's Geralt, who steal the show every time they're on screen together. Batey's self-deprecating Jaskier pairs perfectly with Cavill's sharp-edged Geralt, bringing out the more lighthearted side of the monster hunter but also acting as one of the few people who sees the person behind the myth. Throw in the fact that Jaskier lives up to his bard title and fills even the darker scenes with a touch of humor and you've got one of the MVPs of the season.
One notable point to mention is the method in which the narrative is told, and, without giving away spoilers, that method can lead to a bit of confusion regarding what you're currently looking at, especially for those who are familiar with the original stories. That said, it does all come into focus as you move throughout the season, but it is still worth mentioning.
This is The Witcher we're talking about, so there are plenty of monsters to be dealt with, but like the games, they aren't what define the series. Seeing Geralt take on a Kikkimore is entertaining, don't get me wrong, and the same goes for the other notable creatures from the books that show up before season's end. That said, they are merely part of this world, not the focus of it, and those looking at the show as a series about monster hunting might be disappointed. The monsters that show up are done extremely well, especially one that shows up midway through the series, and the decision to go with more practical effects as opposed to CGI seems to have paid off.
The Witcher only works if you buy into the setting and the tone, and while it's a delicate balancing act, the series manages to pull it off. The tone can shift on a dime, and that adaptability is what makes it so unique, following romantic moments not with a heavy hand but instead a lighthearted touch that doesn't feel quite like anything else out there. There's plenty of magic and other trademarks of the fantasy genre, but, like the books, the show more often than not finds a way to spin those tropes with humor and complexity. Geralt and Yennefer are truly conflicted individuals, who often are fighting against the myths and legacies they've left behind in the past, even if they don't often admit it, and that breathes new life into an otherwise well-worn genre.
The Witcher isn't perfect, as the story can drag a bit, but that's not nearly enough to outweigh everything the show does right. Witcher brings the world's rich characters, sharp wit, and stylish action to life in a truly delightful way, and whether you're a fan of the novels or the games, you're going to find something to love. The show has some big hype to live up to, but we think it's off to a magnificent start.1comments
Rating: 4 out of 5
The Witcher hits Netflix on December 20th.