I guess nowadays it's only fair to expect pretty much any IP to be viable for a TV-series, seeing as I am certain that most Streaming Services are constantly on the look for The Next Big Thing. They must have droves of people just scouring the internet and various books to find a potential money-maker. For better or worse Game of Thrones seems to have set some sort of standard as the way to go for the really big success - was it the mix of extreme violence and nudity? Was it the well developed characters and plots? Who knows but let's try to capture that lightning in a bottle again by just using a similar formula.
How obvious isn't it really then if you keep all those things in mind that the Witcher was going to get the TV-series treatment? It is essentially Game of Thrones in so many ways, though it actually predates it which means you also avoid any claims of just trying to be a copy-cat.
Yet I'll be honest, I was pretty confused when I first heard about The Witcher coming to Netflix. Why? And... how? At the time I had played the first two games (and loved them) and read four of the books (and enjoyed them enough) so I was in that borderland of kind of wanting more because I enjoyed it so much but also being worried that they'd mess up something I really loved.
I was especially worried about Geralt. Ever since the first game I had a gamer-crush on this exceptional character. He is fun to play and fun to be around. For me he hits every note of being well fleshed out without being overly obvious - we actually know very little about him yet I find his personality easy to grasp and understand. His actions, reactions and interactions not only make sense but they portray a multi-faceted and interesting person. As characters go he is among the best I've had the pleasure to encounter in gaming and reading.
|The beard suits him.|
In most ways this goes for the entire world that he lives in as well. The reason Geralt comes off as such a well-written character is probably because he has a lot of well-written lore and side-characters to work with and all these beautiful pieces come together and make an excellent whole.
When I heard that Henry Cavill was going to play Geralt I went something along the lines of "eehhh...". Not immediately bad but rather "was that the best they could come up with?". At that time, and pretty much still actually, the only other thing I know Henry Cavill has done is Superman and since I haven't actually seen those movies I only know of it because of the moustache-debacle. Having Cavill in Superman-tights as my only reference point didn't exactly make me think he was going to be perfect as Geralt.
Then pictures were leaked or released or what have you, of Cavill in that wig that everyone made fun of and I actually started thinking the opposite. "You know what, this might actually work". By the time the release date had been announced I had decided that I was going to look forward to this and try my very best to enjoy it. I usually try to not go into things with high expectations and I can't say they were particularly high for this show either, but I wasn't going to slate it until I had given it an honest chance.
And I am glad I did. The Witcher is one of the few shows I pretty much binged, as much as I am able to do that with my limited amount of free time. And while I didn't love every second of it, there wasn't any one thing I hated or really didn't like either. Now that I am through it I can with confidence say that I think it's quite good and well worth watching if magic, beasts and magic beasts are your thing.
Let's take a look at the things I wasn't too keen on first;
While I can see what they were going for, I think, the actual storytelling ends up being way more confusing than it has to be. Since I am ever the optimist I chose to view this as the show creators desire to tell us viewers that they had confidence in our intelligence and went with the most brain straining way possible to tell the story of these three protagonists. Maybe it is to reward rewatchings of the show, since I am sure you don't understand every scene unless you watch them a couple of times. Maybe it was to fully be able to use the effect of "aha, it was really this and he was actually there!".
|Easy to follow yet blows your mind.|
The Prestige is a good example of where you can blindside and confuse your audience throughout the story to be able to get the full effect of the puzzle coming together and all those scenes that made little sense on their own suddenly get a whole new meaning. The Witcher doesn't fully manage to do this. I'd say they don't manage to do this at all in fact and there are a bunch of ways they could've made the various jumping of timelines and stories so much easier to follow without removing too much of the surprise build up.
Even to me who have read some of the books and especially these particular books that this season is based off, a lot came off as confusing. Though I'll probably still have to say that in the end the confusion fortunately did little to detract much from the fun happening on the screen. In fact I have two friends who have watched it who have zero knowledge of The Witcher beforehand and they still enjoyed it so it's clear the Witcher manages to be more than just its storytelling.
My other issue is a similar one I had to the games. The Witcher's world is really comprised of two very different aspects - him as a monster hunter and him as a pawn in a massive chess board of politics. I find both these aspects necessary and interesting, but I definitely prefer the former over the latter. This is the reason I enjoyed The Witcher 1 much more than The Witcher 2. The first one builds up Geralts character as a monster hunter whereas the second one focuses a lot more around the politics and the wars and the factions and all that.
Because the show is trying to be about not just Geralt but also Yennefer and Ciri, there is a lot more about the politics than the monster hunting. And I'll be honest, I am actually not overly interested in Yennefer or Ciri. They're good side characters, just like Triss, Dandelion (I'm sorry, Jaskier), Zoltan Chivay and all the other people Geralt meets while running around the world. But I'm not interested enough in them for them to be main protagonists.
|What does Geralt even see in her?|
I find the show actually does an ok job not only with expanding on the characters, especially Yennefers, but building up the story around the three so that we care about what is going to happen to them. But I can't help but think what a different kind of show this would've been if it had focused more on Geralt and his monster hunting and maybe gotten to the heftier political stuff a bit further in instead. That way it would've had a similar arc to series like Supernatural and the X-files which starts out with "monster of the week" and slowly carries you into the "Big Things" that you then care about because you've become so invested in the world and the characters.
The Witcher tries to make you care about a lot of things really quickly and I'll give it big cred for actually succeeding well enough with this. But I think a show more to my liking would've dared to work this up slower. Maybe that is just not how TV-shows are made anymore, Star Trek Discovery has the exact same issue for instance.
That is because when I truly enjoy something I want it to linger. I don't want it to race past my eyes. When playing the Witcher 3 I can sometimes just walk slowly through the shrubbery because I want to immerse myself in the feeling of being in that world. The Witcher TV-series cuts out too much of that aspect for my tastes at the moment.
So to the things I did like then;
Henry Cavill as Geralt. I think you can really tell what respect he had for the character and the IP because overall I think he nails it. I have no trouble with the wig, I think he gets the facial expressions and demeanor just right without just trying to copy the games for instance. He makes Geralt to his own and manages to stay true to the character, hat off to Cavill for this.
And Cavill is not the only one where I think they've got the casting right, in fact I am happy with pretty much everyone - except Triss. I did just mention that I am not that interested in the side characters, but they are an important part of the world building and immersiveness of said world. I can understand the reasoning behind focusing on the three characters they have now, but I wouldn't mind seeing a bit more of some others as the series moves along.
Queen Calanthe was excellent, loved her entire performance.
Just a quick word on Triss. Speaking on WoW to someone about the new Witcher series that person got really angry about the fact that they were going all "agenda" on Triss. I didn't even understand what this person was talking about, but I think it had something to do with the fact that she is not a red-head in the TV-series, though she is in the games. I hadn't even thought much of it, but when I looked it up it turns out that Triss isn't even supposed to be a red-head in the first place. The way she looks in the TV-series is actually more faithful to what she is "supposed" to look like than what they did to her in the games. I care little about exteriors though, as long as they are superficial. I have no issues with Triss whether she had been a red-head or not. The way she looks is not the problem I have with Triss.
I do feel however like the person they cast for the TV-series seemed to hone in on Triss' "gentle" trait a bit too much. Yes Triss is a gentle person who might even come off as nurturing for the untrained eye. I never thought she was just that. Triss is one of the more interesting characters in the Witcher games if you ask me, especially because she is so much more nuanced than what she initially seems like. I feel like they failed to capture this in the TV-series, and I hope upcoming seasons will do her more justice. The Triss in the books has a lot less "screen-time" (What do you call that in literature, page-time?) but then why even add her? It feels like they tried to cater to the game-lovers by adding her and giving her as much screen time as they do, but then they don't make her as interesting as she can be. This Triss seems like a bore and not someone anyone would like to get to know better. The Triss I know from the books and games is way more interesting and fun to be around.
But I seem to have gotten a bit sidetracked there from the things I liked.
The effects and fights were great. Love that they seem to have used a lot of practical effects, I am always a fan of that. My bf who is a bit of a fight choreography snob thought the fights were "ok" but I thought, especially that first one in Blaviken, they were really cool.
Most of the dialogue hit the right levels of cheesy/cool for me.
I didn't mind them digging/making up background stories for Geralt and Yennefer because I think they actually turned out pretty neat. Sapkowski is in fact part in the creative process here (similarly to GRR Martin in Game of Thrones) so one can hope these background stories are actually something that he came up with at one point or other. Either way I don't think they betray any of the characters and definitely don't detract from the entertainment.
It's difficult I think to point to any particular things that this series gets right, because it actually has a lot of things I think it needs to improve. But in the end, somehow, they really manage to nail the Witcher feeling for me. If it is Cavill or whatever it is, I had so much fun watching it and just want more. If I could wish for anything for season 2 it would be to expand on the "witching" part of the series and maybe put a bit less effort on the "political" part of it, but seeing as Geralt has finally found Ciri I doubt that will happen. In any case I think it is lame that I have to wait another year for season 2.
Images from gp.se, imdb.com, reddit.com, cinemablend.com, winteriscoming.net, Youtube.com.