I am currently halfway through Netflix’s The Witcher, and I thought I would share some of my thoughts on the series so far. This will contain spoilers for the first four episodes!
A lot of authors who show promise and plan any kind of fantasy novel series end up being labelled “the next J.K. Rowling”- and almost all fall short of the hype, tenacity, and overall fame that Harry Potter as a franchise has. Meyer tried with Twilight.
The same seems to be happening with every new fantasy show cropping up, news outlets and media sites naming them ‘the new Game of Thrones‘ or describing them as ‘the next show fans of Game of Thrones will love’. It will be impossible for a show to live up to the extraordinary phenomena that is Game of Thrones.
Supposedly, that is true with The Witcher. Like GoT, the series is based on a series of short stories and novels, written by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, in which ‘Witcher’ is translated from the word ‘Weidźmin’ (cue me trying to pronounce the word to my Polish housemate- I got a laugh and a “close enough”, so we all know what that means). Before the Netflix adaptation, there was a Polish film adaption and TV show, as well as comic book adaptations and a series of video games.
Now, I have not played the video games, read the books, or the comics. So entering The Witcher, I knew nothing about the universe – as, I imagine, is the same situation many viewers will or have been in. It was exactly the same for GoT, for myself and countless others. (Although I am happy to say I am halfway through the first of the GoT novels; it’s the book I take on plane journeys so it’s a very slow read).
It took two watches to get into The Witcher. The first time, I gave up after 15 minutes. The reason for this was the, frankly, appalling special effects. The first scene that got me was the sword under the water. (image source)
It just looks… so fake. So thin. It was not a good first impression. The second scene was this: (image source)
All I got from this scene was Lord of the Rings vibes. Naturally, that’s not a bad thing – except in this case it is. The LotR films are all almost 20 years old. Technology and film editing technology has advanced so much since then; a show made in 2019 should not have SFX that resembles the early 2000’s, especially not a Netflix production. Now, I know pilots are often filmed way in advance to the rest of the series and often with a much more limited budget, so this could explain the terrible SFX- but still. A bad start to a series doesn’t always bode well for the rest. Fortunately, the subsequent three episodes I watched were much, much better in terms of SFX, and for that I was very grateful. The sword still needs some work, in my opinion, but hopefully that will occur in the remaining four episodes. Who knows.
Another issue I found with The Witcher? The lack of exposition.
For newbies like myself, there was absolutely none. All of these places and names were introduced with absolutely no backstory. I’ll be honest, I’m still not 100% sure of what is actually going on, and I don’t know if I will by the time I watch episode 8! Too much exposition would be boring and belittling, but having absolutely none, as I feel like The Witcher does, is absolutely ridiculous. It poses far more questions than it should for a first season.
And finally: the friggin’ timelines!
It took three, THREE, episodes for me to realise that there were three different timelines occurring throughout each episode. If there was a warning for this, I missed it- so I definitely do not believe there was a warning for this. This just made the whole thing even more confusing than it already was. I didn’t even feel like I had reached a resolution after realising this fact- sure, it answered a couple questions (like it explains why Geralt & co mention Cintra as a city that still stands), but it opened far, far more doors.
I don’t only have negative things to say! (And these aren’t the only negative things, but I’m reserving judgement until the end, now).
The characters are likeable. The story arcs are going in promising directions (though it would be helpful to know what the directions were), and the lore and the beasts are quite interesting. Oh, and did I mention (shirtless) brutish Henry Caville and his very common grunts…