Ah, “The Witcher”… Witcher Geralt and I have known each other for a long time. Our friendship has lasted for over 10 years. I have followed him on his adventures through all eight books (two collections of short stories and six novels… I own them all, including the famous medallion 😁) and three video games released between 2007 and 2015. I haven’t (yet) delved into the Polish version of the series and film.
My friend Geralt is a good guy. He’s a bit rough and quiet (often just grunts “hmm” instead of comments), but he has moments when he suddenly joins the conversation and starts sharing such philosophical thoughts and insights that leave you speechless with his sudden eloquence (otherwise, you’d think he’s some mountain man). He also has a deep understanding of the world around us, although he tries not to get involved in politics. He has his own moral and ethical code that he won’t break for anyone, especially not for politics.
My friend Geralt doesn’t have many hobbies, but he enjoys a good meal and drink. Speaking of hobbies, he enjoys horseback riding and fencing, and occasionally indulges in amateur boxing (in taverns). When he has time, he likes to play a game of cards or chess.
My friend Geralt, aside from his love of eating, also loves… um, he loves women and their company. Although he’s not particularly handsome or refined (I’m being honest here, he’s still my friend), his somewhat exotic appearance (with scars, unusual eye color, and long white hair, a bit of a hipster touch, if you ask me), combined with his reticence and his profession, gives him a mysterious aura that attracts women, mixed with a hint of fear. And the women he attracts can be villagers, princesses, and witches (today, I guess that’s called “celebrities”).
My friend Geralt is, by profession, a businessman/freelancer, or as they popularly call it today, an entrper…enrtprent…enpret… um, that fancy word everyone throws around these days, which actually means working from morning to night. It’s not easy for him; he’s constantly on the road (all 365 days a year), and his income isn’t much, just enough to survive, find cheap accommodation in a tavern, pay for cheap food, drinks, a bed, and a woman. Unfortunately, people in villages and cities don’t really like him (in fact, they’re quite afraid of him), which I can’t quite understand because those same people hire him to do jobs they’re not capable of. And he always does the job honestly, without causing trouble. Oh yes, I forgot to mention what my friend Geralt does for a living… he hunts monsters in homes and villages… um, not people (very rarely, and mostly in self-defense)… actually, he doesn’t hunt chickens, piglets, or lambs… it’s usually drowners, bruxae, strigas, kikimores, basilisks, werewolves, wyverns, zombies…
My friend Geralt is a witcher.
And this is a series about his adventures… “The Witcher.”
With this somewhat playful introduction, I’ve tried to convey to you just a small fragment of the witcher Geralt and the universe in which his adventures are set. To delve into a more extensive explanation would require an entire blog dedicated solely to that. It would be just as extensive a task as if I were to explain the worlds of “Star Wars,” “The Lord of the Rings,” or “Game of Thrones.” It’s never-ending, and I’d surely miss out on many important details.
Perhaps it tells you enough that there are currently eight books (the author is Polish, Andrzej Sapkowski), three (main) video games (each of which lasts for dozens and dozens of hours and is created by CD PROJEKT RED, you guessed it, from Poland), as well as the Polish version of the film and series.
“Wait, does that mean I should read all those books and play the games to understand the series?”
You might have thought that.
But let me give you a brief overview of the series’ plot before I answer that.
The first season of the series covers the period from the first two books (i.e., the collections of short stories “The Last Wish” and “Sword of Destiny”) and follows the adventures of the witcher Geralt, the sorceress Yennefer (ah, Yen…), and the young princess Ciri, as well as the key events that shaped their paths before they finally all meet and together embark on a battle with something much greater (and more dangerous) than they could ever have imagined. These three, to simplify, share a destiny stronger than anything else.
Here, I’ll pause with the plot, simply because the first season of the series is based on the collections of short stories, which chronologically jump around a bit (and often parallel the events of the main characters), i.e., there are many flashbacks (so you’re often not sure what’s happening in the present and what’s in the past). However, since the obvious intention of the series creators was to follow the literary source (with, um… well, significant deviations from that source… don’t ask, who knows what the series creators had in mind when they created the series), this might have been (maybe?) the only way to start the series. The risk is indeed significant that this might deter people who are not familiar with “The Witcher” in any form, but given the army of fans of the books and video games, I don’t think the consequences for the fate of the series will be severe… at least, I hope not.
And now, a few impressions…
First of all, I have no intention of drawing parallels with “Game of Thrones,” because that’s like trying to compare apples and oranges, or how “Game of Thrones” is a more grandiose project (it’s really too early for such statements). The world of “The Witcher” focuses on a smaller number of main characters (everything primarily revolves around Geralt, Yennefer, and Ciri, as well as their intertwined destinies), with a different approach to how characters make decisions and the consequences of those decisions. Some may argue that “Game of Thrones” is a masterpiece of depicting political events and intrigues, but those who have read Andrzej Sapkowski’s books (correct me if I’m wrong, it’s been a long time since I read the books) know that political events in Geralt’s world are no less complicated (maybe even more so) than in George R.R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones.” After all, the first books by both authors appeared in the early ’90s, with one author being American and the other Polish. I think all of us in Europe (especially this region) know very well what the ’90s were like, both economically and politically.
From a visual standpoint, although the series is of American production, it fairly decently (but far from perfectly) presents that Slavic spirit, i.e., civilization. The costumes of various nations, the atmosphere in the taverns… it’s all well done (with the exception of Nilfgaard’s armor, I have no comment on that). Mythical creatures and monsters in their environments are done perfectly chilling (starting with the kikimores in the swamp and all the way to the battle with the striga in the abandoned castle). The action sequences are well executed. Our witcher is quite agile considering he wields heavy swords, and a fine balance is struck between elegant movements and practical butchering of his victims. 😄 The magic is decently done, although many have complaints that it’s not quite there. To be honest, I somehow saw the sorcerers/witches in “The Witcher” series more as masters of tricks and illusions a la John Constantine (with occasional ace up their sleeves in the form of epic magic) rather than those who hurl lightning and meteors like crazy and don’t even break a sweat.
Whatever people might think (and as I see, more and more people are seeing it this way), but Henry “Superman” Cavill did an excellent job, and I think it’s now hard to imagine another actor as Geralt. Some may comment that he bulked up for this role, but my goodness, you have to swing those swords all day long and throw yourself in the way of being eaten by some monster, and on top of that, you’re a mutant! So I think his appearance makes sense (I somehow imagined him like this in the books). And I think one of the reasons why his role as Geralt is successful is that the actor has stated that he’s a fan of “The Witcher” video games (from where he borrowed the idea for Geralt’s gruff voice and that famous “hmmm”). All in all, the man carried the whole series on his shoulders successfully.
Yennefer… she gets an excellent rating from me. Although the actress is not familiar to me, she’s quite sweet and likable. And in combination with the makeup, I think they managed to convey her appearance just as she’s envisioned in the books (a beauty of imperfect beauty, possessing a certain seductive allure), and as for charisma and behavior, I don’t think much can be said, because we get to know Jen better in the upcoming books (if I’m not mistaken) and why she behaves the way she does. The gamer population would surely love Jen from the games (who wouldn’t!), but here, we got a pretty good Jen as well.
Triss… I don’t know, she’s not it, neither in looks nor in behavior, but it’s too early for any impressions, but definitely, this is not how I pictured her. Maybe there will be some transformation later?
Ciri… yes, for now, it seems like a good choice, we’ll see how she develops in the next seasons (after all, she undergoes the most significant transformations from princess to warrior).
Jaskier/Dandelion… I think it’s an okay choice and conception, although I imagined him as a bigger womanizer and comedian (but also a cynic), but it’s still early for an assessment; a few more seasons must pass.
Roach… what can I say, he works like a horse, behaves like a horse, smart as a horse… yes, I think we can say with certainty that he can win the award for “best horse in a series.” 😄
The rest of the cast is also good, and they portrayed their roles nicely.
But the series is not perfect; there are some things that… well, not to say they sting, but they “poke” the eyes a bit.
First and foremost is, of course, the pacing of the series. Although it was a logical choice to follow the selection of short stories, it was also a double-edged sword (but it seems it didn’t hurt the series too much). Frequent switching between the past and the present will definitely create confusion for people who haven’t read the books (let’s not kid ourselves, it will be confusing for those who have read the books too because the literary source is not strictly followed). But all of this should clarify in the upcoming seasons.
Then there’s the noticeable “Americanization.” Understand, I, for one, have nothing against skin color, race, political, religious, or sexual beliefs (everyone has the right to their choices on how to lead their life)… but if these details are emphasized, it needs to be done more subtly, to seem natural, you know, like a natural integration (especially since we’re dealing with books written more than twenty years ago). I won’t delve into that topic; you’ll see for yourselves. But there will definitely be situations (especially if you’ve read some epic fantasy in your life) where you’ll comment, “What the heck…”. Maybe it will bother some, it didn’t bother me, but it led to some situations in the series looking mildly comical.
And, finally, let’s return to the unanswered question.
“Wait, does that mean I should read all those books and play the games to understand the series?”
The answer is the same as on some job advertisements – “Prior work experience is not required, but it is desirable that you have at least read one book or played one game. Candidates who have read all the books, played all video games, and can list at least two subspecies of drowners will have an advantage.” 😄
But I think it’s worth watching regardless of your prior knowledge. The series combines elements of action, drama, fantasy, and horror quite well, with a slight touch of cheap humor. In translation, it creates the world in which my friend Geralt resides. 😊
Give the series a chance; if Netflix puts in the effort, there’s enough material here for six or seven seasons.
And the ratings speak volumes, don’t they? Especially since the audience is thrilled, so now even the self-proclaimed critics have to change their tune to not look foolish…
And I’m off to dig out my books about the adventures of my buddy Geralt… and somewhere there should be my wolf medallion…
By the way, I’ve been humming this song everywhere for weeks. 😄
And you, dear reader, are you ready to dive into the world where my friend Geralt dwells? 😊
(Originally reviewed: 11/01/2020)
IMDb | Rotten Tomatoes | Metacritic
Release date: 2019
Number of seasons: 1 (eight episodes)
Runtime: 60 minutes per episode