Review: The Witcher

January 2020

It’s the newest fantasy television series to hit the mainstream, this time produced by Netflix. It doesn’t have the pretense or ambition to be a Game of Thrones style epic and holds up well all on its own.

The Witcher series gained renown through the games. The original The Witcher game came out back in 2007 and was… decent. It had an interesting story but also suffered from blatant juvenile sexism. The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings (2011) did a lot better and was a graphical marvel, which paved the way for The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, an instant classic. But these games continued the stories from the books by the Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, which he began to write during the late eighties. So while the games were engaging on their own, there were a lot of references to earlier events. Until a few years ago, not all the books had been professionally translated yet and one had to rely on shoddy fan translations. This is what makes the new series so interesting to me personally, both as background to the games, as well as a recap of the crappy fan translations where a lot of things were literally lost in translation.

As far as I remember from those confusing fan efforts at translation, the series is true to the stories. The different plotlines are woven together neatly during each episode, coming together at the end of the season. This means that each episode is some sort of monster-of-the-week episode for Geralt, while the stories of Jennefer and Ciri are situated in other times and unfold according to their own schedule, with Ciri’s story being the most recent in the chronological order, and the stories of Geralt and Jennefer beginning long before Ciri is even born.

The acting is decent; not on the level of seriousness of Game of Thrones but certainly with enough ham, while never descending into camp or garbage. Henry Cavill plays the epyonomous witcher, and since they are rumoured to have no emotions, or at least with his ability to express them greatly affected by their mutations, his limited range of facial expression is actually quite spot on. Jaskier (Joey Batey) is fittingly over-the-top and some of the supporting characters are equally good fits: Queen Calanthe, Stregobor, Borch Three-Jackdaws and Mousesack are noteworthy. Anya Chalotra (Jennefer) and Freya Allan (Ciri) their performance is acceptable, but nothing special, which is why their storylines only become interesting as the story unfolds and start to get entwined with that of Geralt himself.

I remember the gaming having some problematic aspects, mainly the first one. While ignorance, bigotry and racism are central themes in the world, the way women are portrayed is pretty juvenile and objectifying. While later games get a bit better - the whole collect-the-trading-cards-of-the-girls-you-banged thing is gone - it’s never been perfect. On the other hand, both the (later) games and the series do well on terms of diversity. Lots of got on their high horse when they heard about how much more diverse The Witcher 3 would be, claiming ‘it wouldn’t be realistic for a medieval setting’, but we all know that’s rubbish: it’s fantasy, you can do what you want. The biggest thing I got some issues with was how Jennefer gets portrayed as a hunchback, before her magical transformation into a powerful sorceress; it smacked of ableism.

While not an artistic masterpiece (and whoever claimed it should be?), it’s most certainly very, very fun to watch.


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Review , Series