By Sam Acosta
This Netflix adaptation of the beloved “Witcher” series has its fair share of triumphs and failures. This gritty fantasy series follows the story of Geralt of Rivia, one of the few surviving Witchers (mutated humans created to hunt monsters), and his battle with his destiny. While I am in love with so much of this series, I also struggle to justify some of its creative decisions.
In terms of plot, “The Witcher” somehow manages to take its strong story and place multiple speed bumps in its path. Geralt’s struggle to find his place in the world is gripping, especially as he deals with being one of the last of his kind as well as the rumors surrounding the Witcher mythos. Watching as he suffers to maintain the idea that Witchers feel no emotion, despite that being clearly false, creates a strong sense of sympathy for his character.
Yet, Geralt is not the only protagonist of the series, as two other stories intertwine with his. Yennefer is a mage-in-training who yearns for power, as her physical deformities have left her victim to years of mistreatment and abuse. As we witness her gain both physical beauty and magical power, we see that despite getting what she wanted, she still remains unhappy, except for when she is with Geralt.
Ciri is the other character we follow, a young teenage girl who is legally under Geralt’s guardianship but has been left to live with her grandmother, the warrior queen of Cintra. After an invading army conquers the kingdom, Ciri must flee and find Geralt to protect herself from being used for her immense hidden power.
Henry Cavill as Geralt
As individual units, I found each of these stories to be relatively compelling, though Ciri’s is definitely the weakest of the three. The way they are weaved together, however, is what I found to be problematic. The story is not told chronologically. A single episode could be showing three separate time periods for our three characters, and the following episode could be years before or years after its predecessor. Most of Geralt’s story happens before Ciri needs his help, up until basically the last episode in fact, yet Ciri’s quest to find Geralt starts in the very first episode. Characters that we watch die return in later episodes in a different character’s storyline.
This ordering of plot points causes a lot of confusion and makes it hard to follow what is happening. Many times, I had to rewind more than once simply to understand what I was watching. I wish either that some sort of pop-up text could tell me what year it was or that the story could simply unfold in order.
Another major issue that I have with this series is its unnecessary graphic nudity. It all feels completely gratuitous and makes it so that multiple portions of the show are unwatchable for some audiences. It is just something that takes more away from a seemingly strong foundation.
Henry Cavill’s portrayal of Geralt, however, is near perfection. I believe that this is partially due to Cavill’s personal love for the series. Fellow cast members claim that he is an encyclopedia of Witcher knowledge, able to quote both its books and video games. His devotion contributes to an amazing Geralt, both brooding and outwardly one-dimensional yet deeply complex below the surface. Cavill is able to convey every emotion of his character to the audience while seeming emotionless to the other characters.
The rest of the cast is also strong, with Anya Chalotra and Freya Allan playing Yennefer and Ciri respectively. While not quite as perfect a copy of the source material as Cavill, they still create relatable and interesting characters that we can connect to.
Geralt’s duel with Renfri is one of the best sword fights put to screen.
Another fantastic aspect of this show is its action sequences and intense fight choreography. All the action in the show is incredibly satisfying and delightfully varied. Geralt fights both man and beast throughout the show in spectacular fashion, but nothing tops the sword combat we get to see. In particular, the fight between Geralt and Renfri in episode one is one of the most realistically and beautifully choreographed fights of all time. Netflix clearly poured a lot of resources into these sequences, and it paid off.
The special effects of the show are another strong point. The many different creatures we are introduced to all look simultaneously grotesque and captivating. In a time when CGI is used frequently and often poorly, there is no hint of a digital sheen in these creatures, meaning that the CGI is being done right.
Something that surprised me is the amount of comedy in this dark and gritty show, most of it coming from the emotionless Geralt. The bits of humor are such a refreshing change of pace, especially when they come right after emotionally heavy events. They help balance things out and keep the viewer engaged.
Overall, I have mixed feelings about this show. While there are parts that are extremely high quality and entertaining, there are others that just subtract from the experience. If you are a fan of the fantasy genre or of the “Witcher” games or books, this is a show that might be worth your time.
“The Witcher” is now available to watch on Netflix.
Sam Acosta is a Junior Theatre Comprehensive Major and an A&E writer for Cedars. He likes spending his time watching movies, drinking Dr. Pepper and writing plays.