The Witcher (2019)

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Admittedly, I have not read the books or played the games (though I have played part of the third one). And while I’d say there were a few little things I found strange or hard to follow, I also found that, not only does it all come together by the end of the season, I also found that I loved it. 

Though the show is based on the books and not the games, there’s a clear attempt to borrow from the games. It’s a brilliant decision to make the series look and sound as much like the games as possible considering that a good portion of the audience will be gamers.

Henry Cavill, in particular, seems to be doing a version of the character from the games. He nails the low, gravelly voice of Geralt as seen and heard in the games. He even seems to have adopted a similar walk and mannerisms to the game’s version of the character. Cavill is a savvy actor who knows the games and how fans will appreciate a take on the character that feels close to what they know. His Geralt of Rivia is as close to the character from the games as you could have hoped for. 

The trouble I ran into (as someone not familiar with the books) is that the show jumps around the timeline with no warning and little to indicate that it’s doing so. Not having much prior knowledge of the story or why it’s unfolding the way it is can make it a bit confusing. However, I never found it so confusing that it started feeling convoluted or tedious. And if you stick with it, it all comes together in a satisfying way in the last few episodes. 

Nevertheless, it’s evident that some of the stranger concepts at play will be lost on those not familiar with old Polish mythology and tradition. In particular the Law of Surprise plays a big role in the story, yet sounds like something that was lost in translation. And because the show also does little to define the Law of Surprise, it starts feeling like something you had to have read the books to have understood. Vulture put together an explainer on the Law of Surprise if you need more explanation.

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While Cavill is good as Geralt, Anya Chalotra’s Yennefer steals the show, not just because she’s excellent in the role, but because the character clearly has the most compelling arc. She begins the series as a poor, disfigured woman whose own father sells her for four bits, and she ends the series as one of the most powerful characters. She’s also the character who has the most clearly defined motivations throughout the entire series. She makes a sacrificial choice at one point, and the great cost of that choice drives her for the remaining episodes. 

The show splits its time following three characters each on journeys destined to collide with each other. While each of those journeys are pretty well done, it’s Freya Allen’s Ciri who’s journey feels like it’s still building to a crescendo. To be sure, all the characters have room to grow and more to do in the inevitable future seasons, but Ciri undergoes the least change.

She’s the granddaughter of a powerful Queen whose kingdom is under attack. Ciri flees for safety with the directive of finding Geralt of Rivia. She also displays evidence of an unknown, latent power waiting to be discovered and utilized, but to what point and purpose we’ll have to keep watching to find out.

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These narrative threads leave plenty for the next season to do, and will certainly keep viewers waiting anxiously. I’m certainly ready for season 2 already.

Some of the weaker aspects of the show are the effects and the dialogue. Both are a mixed bag. At times the effects are excellent and on par with other major productions and at others they leave a lot to be desired. Similarly, sometimes the dialogue is profound and well written, but at other times it borders on eye-roll worthy. Thankfully the low points are few and far between.

The only character that got on my nerves was Joey Batey’s Jaskier, a bard who looks and sounds way too contemporary to be in a medieval fantasy series. He was clearly designed to be the comedic counterpart to Geralt’s straight man, but he was often more annoying than funny. Yet even he had grown on me by the end of the season.

If you’ve been noticing a fantasy void in your life since “Game of Thrones” ended, “The Witcher” should fill that void nicely. The characters are interesting, the action is exciting and well choreographed, and there are some compelling themes at play.

Don’t listen to the small vocal number of critics who inadvertently made a better case for the declining quality of film and TV criticism rather than whether or not you should watch this show. They didn’t so much review the show as they did prove how complacent you can become and still receive a paycheck at some major media outlets. Ignore them. Enjoy “The Witcher” instead.

 

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