Netflix’s The Witcher (Review)
Season 1, Episodes 1-5
A “Game of Thrones” wannabe.
It’s no secret that Game of Thrones stormed onto the scene and dominated television for over a decade. So it was only a matter of time before imitators and potential successors would show up ready for their time to shine.
The Witcher is Netflix’s attempt at capturing some of that mystical magic that made Game of Thrones such a juggernaut. On the surface, the show makes sense.
An old (yet obscure) fantasy book series turned into an even more popular video game series. You have a built-in fanbase, a platform that reaches millions, a fantasy aesthetic that is extremely popular for TV and Hollywood hunk “Henry Cavill” as your lead man.
This show has all the ingredients to be “must see” TV. This makes it all the more painful to say that The Witcher is nothing other than a cheap and messy Game of Thrones knockoff.
Henry Cavill Shines as Geralt of Rivia.
Getting the obvious positive out of the way; Henry Cavill absolutely nails the role as hired assassin Geralt of Rivia.
For those who have played the games, you would have thought that the actual Geralt came to life from the “PlayStation” Franchise. Brooding but kind, direct but restrained and in it for the riches and pleasure; nothing more. Cavill embodies everything that made this character such a staple of the modern video game era.
Cavill’s commitment to his craft should never be taken into question. He’s a mountain of a man whose brute physicality provides some of the best action sequences ever put on television. You feel every sword swing, every punch, the pain he inflicts on his opponents and you will flinch each time he chops someone in half.
Simply put, this is Cavill’s time to shine.
He oozes on-screen presence and affects the show’s quality by being both on and off the screen. Basically the kind way of of saying that anytime Cavill is not present, the show’s quality tanks.
Henry Cavill is the one thing that makes this show worth checking out. The rest of the show? Throw it to the wolves.
The story and structure are complete disasters.
At its best, the rest of the show is a passable fantasy show. But at its worst, The Witcher devolves into poorly thought out, middle-school fan fiction.
When Game of Thrones made controversial creative choices, it was always at the service of the story. There was proper setup, proper benefits and or consequences to each action taken. There was a method to the madness. When The Witcher makes controversial creative choices, none of it makes any sense and screams “See? We can be like HBO too!”
There’s also some serious issues when handling the story structure. Now it’s a normal thing for fantasy shows to have portions of story take place in the past; usually to set up world-building and plot points.
The problem? There’s never any indication that you are watching a flashback and it’s going to cause some serious confusion. You could be watching a flashback and then the very next scene could take place in present day without any indication of a time jump. Far too often you will be rewinding and re-watching episodes; not because they’re good but because you’ll feel like you missed something.
Additionally, subplots and storylines are introduced but never properly set up. You’re told that Geralt has this journey of higher meaning but you’re never told what the stakes are. Will the world end? Will evil take over? We don’t know because we are never told and it’s hard to care when you don’t know what the point of the story is.
It’s quite a shame because you can tell (for the most part) that the the production designers and VFX artists put a lot of time and effort into attempting to make this world come alive. There are moments that can be absolutely breathtaking, trying to capture the viewers investment in this world. But all of their efforts are at the service of a lifeless story with characters that you care little about.
What makes it all the more puzzling is why the creators elected to go with the books and not the video games.
Following the Books and not the Video Games was a mistake.
Now this could be a nitpick or a “I didn’t get my way moment” but this really is a serious problem.
Unlike the Game of Thrones books which were actually popular reads in the 90s, The Witcher became popular because of the video games. The three entries in the video game franchise had some incredible storytelling, recognizable characters and a world filled with wonder and magic despite its constant brutality.
This is yet another case where “The Witcher” feels like it’s chasing down “Game of Thrones,” instead of trying to be its own thing. Everything is gray, ugly and depressing and feels like all the life and color has been sucked out of the world completely. The world simply doesn’t feel alive.
There are also questionable casting decisions to key characters, especially when it comes to Yennifer (Anya Chalotra) and Triss (Anna Shaffer). No, I’m not one of these people who will complain that Triss doesn’t have red hair; but these are the women who Geralt allows to steal his heart. There’s almost nothing that makes them unique from any of the other women of this world. They are just sort of there, blending in with everyone else.
Netflix wants to entice viewers but when it comes to the millions who bought the games, these creative and casting decisions are what’s ultimately going to make or break their viewing experience.
Some are going sit there and say “fans are spoiled” and “this is not their show to make.” However in an age of social media, pleasing the fans has to be taken into account because they now have a voice. It’s going to be very interesting to see how fans react to this adaptation.
Bottom line, The Witcher is one of the most disappointing viewing experiences of 2019.
An enigmatic performance from Henry Cavill and some incredible production designs save this show from the countless story and character shortcomings. The show is simply trying too hard to be the next edgy, over the top, high fantasy, epic, instead of embracing what made this franchise popular in the first place.
One can only hope that things get better from here because in a world filled with contenders and pretenders, The Witcher is nothing more than a pretender.