The Witcher

⭐⭐⭐⭐ based on 2 reviews.

tl;dr: A competent adaptation that suffers some pacing issues, particularly in the first season, but which continues to build and improve on itself, with excellent world-building and a brilliant core cast who are bringing these characters to life.


The Witcher

Season One

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

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 a bit unique, rapidly becoming 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 in every single story. 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 lifetimes" 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. But that's 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 storytelling. 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 effects. Whilst it would need to come much later, the dragon episode was another standout. 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 🎵

Season Two

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

I had hoped season two would slow the pace, take a bit more time to focus on the characters and core plot, and give itself room to breathe a little. Luckily, that's exactly what was delivered, and boy does it improve things! There's still a little bit of plot-twisting to ensure that characters keep on intersecting, but the timeline is much more focused and simple to follow, and the character development is excellent. Everyone gets a little bit of added depth, though Geralt and Ciri most of all, and the show even manages to introduce several new, important characters pretty well, including Vesemir, most of the other Wolf School witchers, and Dijkstra (who may have been in season one, but feels like a proper player in season two). The result is a fleshed-out cast where even fairly empty characters like Cahir are now understandable, with clear motivations and plot threads.

Better yet, actions have meaningful consequences that are explored, built into character arcs, and generally considered. The battle at the end of season one is consistently mentioned (as it should be, considering the scale of destruction and death), as is the fall of Cintra, and the mental (and physical) toll of war is ever-present.

Plus, the world-building is also much tighter, specifically focusing on the Elves, the politics of the Northern Kingdoms, and the mystery of the Monoliths. That enhanced focus really helps illuminate several aspects of the deeper lore and makes the world feel so much more alive for it. I was a particular fan of the Elven Queen, Francesca, whose arc provides a dark insight into the plight of her race and the persecution they face. Better yet, the story deftly handles the slightly alien nature of the Elves and the way that immortality makes them appear fickle and changeable to humans.

There are still some missteps, though. I thought Rience, the "fire fucker" mage (😂), was an interesting villain that posed a genuine level of threat, but much like Cahir in season one, his back story and character depth are utterly lacking. Hopefully (much like Cahir did) he gets a bit more development in the next season. The same issue could be bound to the Deathless Mother, whose introduction felt rushed and a little disjointed, though at least her finale was pretty spectacular and the concept of something feeding on despair was clever, keeping the audience in the dark just long enough. I'm also no longer sure about the show's portrayal of Triss. There are moments when she feels right and I enjoyed the larger role that she played, but her actions still seem to be both at odds with the character I know from the games and inconsistent within the show. She continues to evolve, though, and I think they're slowly getting there (a bit like Yenn, who now feels particularly like herself).

Still, overall, I thought this was an absolutely excellent season. There wasn't a single character who didn't feel at least a little real; the CGI is vastly improved; and whilst it was a little light on actual witching, the greater story it brought to play was deeply interesting and well planned out. The Deathless Mother served an excellent role as a way to twist the fates of several characters, allowed evolution in both Fringilla and Yenn that will be interesting to see play out, and set up some intriguing options for the next season. Ciri now feels like a main character in ways she didn't before, and firm favourites Geralt and Jaskier were just as strong as before (and whilst we don't get another Toss a Coin, the music was still brilliant). Best of all, the show has drastically improved the pacing issues from the first season; there are still some muddled areas of plot, but overall this was just a lot of fun to watch. More, please!

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