The first season of The Witcher, Netflix’s sprawling fantasy series starring Henry Cavill, was a solid season of TV, providing the streaming service with its own big fantasy show in the aftermath of the big rush by seemingly every streamer and TV company to acquire such properties in the wake of Game of Thrones.
Though it clearly has ambition, the series isn’t trying to be the next big thing, an “all are welcome” tentpole show like other major sci-fi and fantasy shows over the past couple of years, and it's to the show's benefit. It succeeds because it leans all the way into what makes it unique. The Witcher is OK with its weird source material and unafraid diving right into the fantasy side of the pool, with some good performances, big ideas and great effects layered throughout.
The Witcher is based on the book series of the same name by Andrzej Sapkowski and the award-winning video game trilogy produced by CD Project Red. The basic setup for its world is many years ago there was an event that brought monsters from different planes of existence into the world. Eventually to fight these different monsters “Witchers” were created by mages, as human weapons to combat them, and they succeeded. Cavill Plays Geralt of Rivia, one of the last generation of Witchers, who goes from town to town killing monsters for coin.
The series could have easily been had a monster of the week format, where Cavill’s Geralt has a new monster to kill every episode like a monster-hunting CSI. Luckily the series has a lot more going on. Through one of the strangest laws you will see in any fantasy series, Geralt basically becomes the adopted father of a young girl, Cirl (Freya Allan), who is the key to the conflict of the story and is pursued by multiple factions and powerful people who want to use her and particular lineage to further their ambitions.
The second season feels stronger now that all the pieces are in place, and the characters who have been searching for each other are finally brought together.
Geralt and Ciri’s relationship brings a different emotional level to the show. Their pairing is the always serious grunting of Geralt and the wide-eyed youth of Ciri, who is dealing with finding out who she truly is. Their interactions can funny and tender, and we see their relationship develop from a forced pairing to a real paternal bond and it’s one of the highlights of the second season. Anya Chalotra’s Yennefer is the third part of the show’s main trio with Geralt and Cri. She is a sorceress who has an on-again-off-again relationship with Geralt. She is our lens into a big part of the political intrigue happening, and her connection with Geralt and Ciri is the aspect of the show that holds everything together as the world develops around them.
Cavill has much more to say this time around in its second season. Geralt is a tough role to play already but if you weigh fan expectations and the vision of the character they have developed in their head then it’s even more difficult. In the first season, he is good but doesn’t get much to say or anything to really sink his teeth into dialogue-wise. Season Two corrects this, giving him characters to play off of, like Ciri and other Witchers like himself, and he gives a muted and strangely charismatic performance as Geralt. The character is supposed to be emotionally numb due to the process of being made a Witcher, but you can see the feelings are still there.
Outside of its core three characters, the series is full of political plots and dramas involving its numerous side characters. The politics are very Game of Thrones-like, and there are people talking about big ideas in big beautiful rooms that make the politics seem like they are of great importance, but once again the show doesn't explain everything, which makes it interesting but which could also be frustrating for some.
The strongest part of the show is the Geralt-Ciri-Yennefer trio. The world feels large, but the scope of the show stays focused enough on its main players to make everything around them seem important.With its mix of practical and CGI effects, the series looks amazing and features some really entertaining fight scenes featuring Cavill.
The series isn’t concerned with having a broad audience, but has endeared itself to new fans even more than the die-hard book readers who may not all appreciate the series adaptations from the book. Comfortable in its own skin and fun, The Witcher is definitely worth the watch for those even mildly interested in fantasy.
The Witcher appears on Netflix.
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