TL;DR – Fun, brooding, entertaining
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
As someone who generally enjoys fantasy, it is surprising that it took me this long to really get into The Witcher franchise. I had tried in the past with the video games, but by the time I was helping a miss-carried baby to get back into the grave it all got a bit too weird without the context, to add to this, the books seemed this large mountain of work that I didn’t know where to start with. Well with the new series starting I thought now was as good as time as any to dive into the world of the brooding Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill).
So to set the scene, in a world of magic and monsters lives many feuding kingdoms and power structures in the land known as The Continent. We open in the kingdom of Cintra, ruled by its Queen Calanthe (Jodhi May). All is well until the day that the evil Nilfgaard set their sights on them burning their capital to the ground and killing all they find. Calanthe in her last act sends her granddaughter Cirilla “Ciri”(Freya Allan) away with one mission, to survive and find Geralt. Geralt himself is off in another kingdom stuck in a war between a powerful mage Stregobor (Lars Mikkelsen) and a bandit/princess Renfri (Emma Appleton). Meanwhile, a girl with a deformed back works caring for the pigs of her father. But Yennefer of Vengerberg’s (Anya Chalotra) life is forever changed when the powerful sorceress Tissaia de Vries (MyAnna Buring) arrives and buys her for a couple of coins. Now we will be looking at the season as a whole, so there may be some [SPOILERS] ahead.
There is a lot of going on in this season, so I wanted to take a few moments out to talk about the production side of things. I think you have to give mad respect for the location scouting team in this show in finding such diverse and fascinating places to film in. From the research I have done, they filmed mostly around Hungary but also in Austria, Poland, and the Canary Islands. That diversity gives the feeling that this actually is a large continent that they are gallivanting around. To add to this, the work of the costumers and set builders, and designers of all persuasion is on clear show here. You get immediately transported back into this world because they took the time to ground the world through its design and implementation. Also, I have to give props to the fight choreographers for making several fascinating fights throughout the season and fantastic music to set them too.
I think one of the things that really brings you into this world is the cast because they embody their characters to the core. I had heard that Henry Cavill was a fan of The Witcher before he was cast and you can just feel that joy he has playing the role. Witchers are meant to be emotionless as part of their transformation (of which only 3 out of 10 boys survive) but you can see that there is more going on there with Geralt. Also, I have to say that Henry does annoyed frustration better than anyone I have seen. I really enjoyed Freya Allan as Ciri, the princess who likes to pretend to be a poor person but has no idea of the reality until it was thrust upon her. She has to grow up quickly and we see that throughout the show. The one character that goes on the biggest journey throughout the season is Yennefer. She starts the show in a bad place only to discover that there is lower to go. She has great highs and crushing lows, and that makes her triumph in the final episode hit that bit harder. Also Joey Batey as Jaskier, chef’s kiss, absolutely brilliant, within thirty seconds I knew why Toss A Coin To Your Witcher became such an instant hit and yes I am sure that song is now back in your head and no I am not sorry.
Where I think a lot of people’s different views with the show stems from is how they respond to the many different timelines that are on show, without ever telling you that is what is going on. The first episode is presented in a manner that makes you believe that like a normal show everything is happening at the same time. However, as we go on you start to see signs that we are actually in three different timelines and they are all careening forward until a point somewhere in the future. Once I worked out what was going and the oddness of it subsided, I quite enjoyed seeing the different linkages and wondering when our three main leads would meet up. However, I have talked to people that found it disorientating and a big barrier to entry. One of the positives of breaking up the season into timelines is that allowed you to present things as being the truth and then undermine that throughout the season. For example, in the first episode, we see Cintra as this glorious kingdom lead by its fearsome queen destroyed by barbarians there for the slaughter. Now while don’t get any change to Nilfgaard throughout the season, we do get to see that maybe Cintra is not the bastion of goodness it was first presented as.
Another issue can be that I think the show does have, is that it presumes a lot of pre-knowledge of its audience in places. I sort of knew a couple of things coming in so that never was as much of an issue for me, and the show did enough visual work that while I had no idea what the deal was with Cintra and Nilfgaard, I knew who was who, and that made working the rest out a lot easier. However, if you knew nothing about the show before going in, then that will be a big issue for the first couple of episodes before they really explain what is going on. To add to this, for a show based off a popular Polish novel series and mostly filmed in Eastern Europe, I was surprised just how British it all felt and there was clearly a disparity in the depiction of nudity throughout the show.
In the end, do we recommend the first season of The Witcher? Yes, yes we would, but with a few caveats. You have a great cast, some great production, and an interesting story. However, that story feels like it was fashioned for people that already knew about the show and that can be a big barrier to entry. Also, if you are not a fan of violence, gore, and nudity, this is not the show for you. Overall, I quite enjoyed my time in The Witcher, and I would very much like to see where it goes in its second season know that most of the cast has met up. Now a quick aside, if I was going to start reading the books, which one would be the best one to start with?
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of The Witcher
Directed by – Alik Sakharov, Alex Garcia Lopez, Charlotte Brändström, Marc Jobst
Written by – Lauren Schmidt Hissrich, Jenny Klein, Beau DeMayo, Declan de Barra, Sneha Koorse, Haily Hall & Mike Ostrowski
Created by – Lauren Schmidt Hissrich
Based on – The Witcher stories The Lesser Evil, The Edge of the World, The Last Wish, A Question of Price, Sword of Destiny, The Bounds of Reason & Something More by Andrzej Sapkowski
Production/Distribution Companies – Hivemind, Platige Films, Netflix
Starring – Henry Cavill, Freya Allan, Anya Chalotra, Eamon Farren, Joey Batey, MyAnna Buring, Royce Pierreson, Mimi Ndiweni, Wilson Radjou-Pujalte, Anna Shaffer & Mahesh Jadu with Jodhi May, Adam Levy, Björn Hlynur Haraldsson, Lars Mikkelsen, Emma Appleton, Maciej Musiał, Tobi Bamtefa, Therica Wilson-Read, Shaun Dooley, Terence Maynard, Judit Fekete, Josette Simon, Nóra Trokán, Anna-Louise Plowman, Francis Magee & Ron Cook
Episodes Covered – The End’s Beginning, Four Marks, Betrayer Moon, Of Banquets, Bastards and Burials, Bottled Appetites, Rare Species, Before a Fall & Much More