The new Netflix series The Witcher has been catching a lot of flack during its tenure. From fans of the game complaining about the media transference issues, to fans of the books complaining about the potential casting, to fans of Game of Thrones crowing how amazing GOT was before it jumped the rails and how The Witcher isn’t fit to lick its boots …
In my Quick & Dirty Analysis, I am going to say I liked it better than Game of Thrones because, while it is also a grim-dark scenario, it doesn’t feel as if it needs to equip every dastardly deed with a scene of rape, incest or insane murderfests to carry an otherwise unremarkable story. Yes, I said it. Game of Thrones appeals to the lowest common denominator in human interactions.
I like The Witcher better than Game of Thrones because rape is not a common and deemed necessary event for the story to progress. Yes, there is still gratuitous nudity but I try to accept it as just the status quo in a media-obsessed, yet sexually-repressed society.
The series is plagued (particularly in the early episodes) with uneven pacing, from long strangely slow scenes to breathtaking fights where the Witcher proves to be frighteningly proficient at.
The acting early in the series is a bit off ,but it does get better. I am to understand there were issues around early scripts, and challenges regarding character placement and racial makeup of the cast. Seeing that the book had been written by a Polish writer ( Andrzej Sapkowski), it was the general fan consensus that any depictions of the cast should be entirely as white as can be. Fortunately, this was not the case and the cast of the Witcher is far more diverse than I would have expected. Hopefully, these diverse cast members will get more than token appearances in the story.
I suspect the pacing for the series is true to the books, since foreign writers have not taken on the viewpoints of American writers to forgo exposition and insist on pure action in every scene. I appreciate this change of pace and see more of it occurring on our screens today. (See: The Mandalorian).
While many people give up after the first episode, I believe it is their loss as The Witcher is a story that is told in a nonlinear fashion – thus, it takes until Episode Four to realize you are moving through time. The secret lies in the Witcher’s armor. In the past, it’s got all of its metal studs and they are quite shiny. As we move through time, you will see his armor looking worse and worse, until he almost forgoes it altogether …
There were plenty of characters to like and hate in this series and the one character everyone loathes is the Bard, though I admit to having a secret fondness for the role. He is presented as a means of having dialogue with a character not known for it. Without him, there would be several long periods where Geralt of Rivia would have no one to talk to except his horse. (This is not a bad thing, mind you, but horses are not great conversationalists.)
Geralt of Rivia is a complex character, though his depiction by Henry Cavill, of Superman fame, is very measured and minimalist. I like this depiction, because it is meant to show a man who has taken a psychological stance against the expectations of the world and refuses to give ground. Thus he is an unchanging protagonist in a mutable world undergoing great change. He is described as wooden by many critics, I consider him a classic stoic, attempting to remain emotionally uninvolved while Destiny weaves him into the story, like it or not.
Another reason he get good marks from me is his working class hero work ethic. While he is a mutant made by magical powers in a time before today, he is still required to get out and work for a living. He fights monsters no one else can and has an encyclopedic knowledge gained by his experience. He also manages to get hurt, even while doing what he does best and has to be rescued, often by the people he saves from becoming monster chow. In all the ways that matter, Geralt of Rivia is as human as you or I.
Jaskier the Bard gives us a comic foil, someone who questions motivations and lives a life of excess, the exact opposite of our main protagonist. The best part of their relationship is when Geralt realizes he may have more than a passing friendship with this musical gadfly who won’t stop talking to him.
Freya Allan role as the child of destiny, Cirilla Fiona Elen Riannon, is filled with idealistic sophistry and engages in plot-induced stupidity on a regular basis. Perhaps it was a sheltered upbringing but I find it problematic that the Cub of the Warrior Queen Calanthe wasn’t more streetwise and hip to political intrigue. He role as a wandering plot device annoyed me, but it gave us a chance to see Eithne, the Queen of the Dryads of Brokilon Forest.
The mage-witch Yennefer of Vengerberg was a troubling package to unwrap. Part of a legend which said a number of women born under an eclipse would destabilize the world, she is a woman born physically deformed but magically gifted. Discovered, she is trained in magic and is eventually capable of impressive magical ability.
Here’s where it goes wrong for me: While I did not like the makeup for her disabled state, the story’s motivation for removing it was problematic. Yes, a writer decided this needed to happen, but I disliked the supposed necessity of the act. Outside of that grievous issue, she progresses much as I would expect a character in this world with magical power and a complete lack of interest in her job.
After Episode Four, the pace and pacing picks up quite a bit and it becomes a more Americanized product filled with tense action scenes and fewer of the annoying bits where the story bogs down in plot-induced stupidity and navel-gazing.
What I liked the most was there was active magic in the world, magic few people understood, which gave it an element of danger no matter who was doing it. The other thing I enjoyed about this series was it had a decidedly “we don’t give a f— what you think” kind of air. The series is at its core, just a bit silly, but it lacks the pretentiousness of Game of Thrones, presenting scenes where it laughs at itself.
I enjoyed the series more toward the end than at the beginning. The early episodes before episode four are less engaging but necessary for the next episodes to land effectively.
While the special effects were sometimes questionable in quality, they were good enough to be believable and knowing what such effects normally cost, they were adequate to the task without breaking the bank.
On my scale of 1-10, a solid 6.5 means I will probably watch the next season to see how Geralt of Rivia finds his child of destiny and surprise and survives the Nilfgaardian interregnum. The Witcher is streamable now from Netflix.