Synopsis: Geralt of Rivia, a mutated monster-hunter for hire, journeys toward his destiny in a turbulent world where people often prove more wicked than beasts.
I’m not familiar with the books or video games that form the basis of The Witcher, so I’ll be judging this series on it’s own merits. The entertainment press has been comparing the show to Game of Thrones. The parallels are there, in so far as viewers are given one dragon, some undead creatures, incest, and fantasy kingdoms. Those elements have less to do with story cloning, however, and more to do with Euro-centric fantasy narrative having a limited number of tropes for creatives to work with.
The biggest issue viewers are faced with isn’t content but structure. The story is non-linear, The pieces fit together like a puzzle. I didn’t mind this, but I appreciate that mileage will vary. Those who stick with it will be rewarded with a tale that beats Once Upon A Time by 100 miles. The Witcher celebrates fairy tales and folk tales not by deconstructing them, but by putting adult spins on them and letting them be. I particularly loved the series riff on a wonderful variation of Beauty and the Beast first adapted for the small screen years ago by The Jim Henson Company for Jim Henson’s The Storyteller. It’s called “Hans My Hedgehog,” and The Witcher version is pivotal to the action. I also really enjoyed the use of the interlocking fairy tale princess tropes, the ugly duckling trope, and the djinn granting three wishes trope.
Henry Cavill is excellent as Geralt of Rivia. The role allows him the same scope as The Tudors combined with the physicality he brought to his version of Superman. Freya Allan gives Ciri, princess on the run, all the layers fans of this kind of storytelling could want. The breakout star, however, is Anya Chalotra as mage Yennifer. She steals every scene she’s in, bringing the power the show will need to make the newest fantasy power couple work.
A Very Honorable Mention must go to Jodhi May as Queen Calanthe. She plays Ciri’s grandmother with massive gusto. I found I preferred Calanthe. to Cersei Lannister. A second Very Honorable Mention must go to MyAnna Buring as Tissaia, Yennifer’s mentor. Buring is typecast, but she demonstrates that she’s typecast for a reason.
The first season of The Witcher is a solid start. The characters and stories have plenty of room to grow. The world-building is excellent, The stunt sequences exceeded my expectations, as did the VFX. My only complaint is that viewers have to wait a while for the second season, which is in the planning stages now. I really wish they’d filmed them back-to-back, and Netflix had given the show an early renewal.