I mean, I clearly absolutely adore the game, so I was pretty pumped to see Netflix's answer to Game of Thrones when it was announced. I was also excited by the casting of Henry Caville, who I feel is a solid actor marred by some pretty terrible scripts. That instant reaction turned out to be pretty accurate as, if for nothing else, Geralt seems pretty perfectly translated to the screen. Luckily, there were plenty of other elements to enjoy in season one as well, though it definitely felt a little rushed.
To start, Geralt wasn't the only character well cast. All of the main characters fit their roles well, even the mildly reimagined Triss who retains the heart of her character perfectly. In particular, the re-renamed Dandelion/Jaskier was both instantly recognisable and manage to make the role their own and rapidly became a favourite. Ciri and Yenn are both perfect, though Yenn in particular really comes into her own over the course of the season and it's fun to see the Yenn I'm used to slowly emerge. The one character I feel has been done a disservice so far would be Cahir. Whilst he's hardly a huge character in the source material, I remain pretty uncertain as to who he is and how he fits into the world that the TV show is trying to build. Apart from being the main antagonist and having a strong desire to capture Ciri, seemingly as a result of his devotion to the White Flame cult, he's given almost no backstory or complexity. I think he is the heir of Nilfgaard, but I'm not even sure that's true or if he simply serves the heir.
Which brings me on to my single largest issue with The Witcher: it tries to do far too much in a single season. We get introduced to a huge array of characters, including all the core cast of sorceresses, Dandelion and (of course) Geralt, and all in only eight episodes! Sure, we're still missing some major secondary characters and we've yet to really meet any of the other witchers (certainly any that matter), but still that's more than one major character being added every single time. You also have to contend with Ciri being introduced in episode one, despite being much younger than the other main characters. By the looks of things she's still <16 years old at this point, whereas Geralt and Yen are clearly over 100 (Yen states she's already lived "several life times" in the final battle, so we can assume a 90+ age). Whilst the show makes the right decision to not overly explore Geralt's backstory, instead focusing on outlining his abilities and the concept of a "witcher", we still get to see Yenn's entire rise, which has even been padded out with a whole disfigurement angle.
That's not a bad thing. I like that we get to see her as a broken individual, the inclusion of elven blood in her lineage helps patch together her power and associations with Ciri, and overall it makes her a bit more intriguing from a psychological perspective. Which is why it's so much of a shame that we quickly leap through her timeline to bring her up to Ciri's. Geralt is even more sidelined in this respect, only ever really getting to show the moments where he meets or significantly alters relationships with other main characters. The show isn't clear about these time jumps, either, which means it took me a while to realise that half the season occurs over a huge time span. It isn't really clear until Yenn and Geralt first meet, in fact, and suddenly leaves you confused as to Ciri's own plot.
As a result, the characters suffer. I care, but only barely, about the main cast and yet the stakes are enormous. I'm also not sure how much that would work if I wasn't already a fan of the games and knew a little about the wider lore, which is problematic too. The story suffers as well, with plenty of lost opportunity. We start with a quite fun intro (with some truly excellent and poorly reused fighting styles) that sets up the Brotherhood as a potential antagonist and the mystery of the Black Sun, whilst laying down the basic understanding of how witchering works. Then we skip forward, probably by quite a bit (though Dandelion does confuse the timelines a little, seeming to never age despite the large jumps and his own mortal status) and pretty much forget all about it. Sure, there's a lingering psychological impact about what happened, but it could have been an entire season. Honestly, I think it should have been.
If I was to suggest a do-over, it would have been just that. Let the intro be "in the past", but start the series proper 50 or so years further on with Yenn beginning her training. All of that can stay the same, but we get a little more insight into her own desires for power; then, when she goes to court, we get to follow her, seeing her initial wonder at Aden and then ultimately coming to understand the futility of her position. In the meantime, Geralt gets to just have some fun, building out the world and its various peoples, races etc. with monster of the week style story telling. The Brotherhood could serve as a useful connecting of the dots, as Geralt begins to look into and unravel some of the mysteries about the Black Sun and the girls that were killed. Some of the same episodes could even be kept: the meeting of Dandelion and defeat at the hands of the Elven King is a great piece of world building and some of the best special attacks. Whilst it would need to come much later, the dragons episode was another stand out. Heck, keep the stuff to do with the Djin but change Geralt's reasoning for restlessness to be related to the Black Sun and you can actually flesh out the burgeoning relationship between him and Yenn, alongside his friendship with Dandelion, over the course of several episodes.
In the background, you lay subtle hints about Fringilla and Novigraad, as well as just a touch of what's happening in Cintra through the episode where Geralt accidentally claims Ciri, but you keep it little more than hints. Perhaps the big finale is Yenn and Geralt coming together to fight someone trying to embrace the power of the last child of the Black Sun (or something) only to discover it was Fringilla. She escapes and suddenly they realise that there's this huge threat in the South, leaving a perfect setup for the second season. Particularly if you then cut back to Cintra and show Cirri, properly, with some play on the "promise of the woods". Season two then introduces Cirri as a main character and gives us the whole "present" storyline that we've just had, culminating in the same battle, Yenn's power unlocking, and Geralt and Cirri finding one another. It gives everyone a whole lot more breathing room to split it up like that, and I think the hints of Cirri would be sufficient for fans to want to know more.
Having said all of that, and putting aside my personal fanfic, I think The Witcher still has a lot of potential. With the main characters set up and the pieces all in play, I'm hopeful that season two will be a little slower, a little more refined. Plus, by the end of season one I was really looking forward to each episode and genuinely felt a bit sad when it was over, which is always a good sign. We'll just have to wait and see what it turns into. In the meantime, one particular song probably isn't going to leave my head for at least a week or two, so go on...
🎵 Toss a coin to your Witcher, oh valley of plenty 🎵