August 26, 2020

“The Witcher” Season One Review: Dive Deep into a New Fantasy World

Up until recently, I’d never played a video game, and I’ve never been knowledgeable of the subject, but I knew some of the major ones; and one that I’d always heard of but never paid much attention to was the Witcher games, adapted by the Polish fantasy novels by Andrzej Sapkowski. As with any other game, they never interested me…until Netflix announced a big-budgeted episode series based on the stories of the novels and games.

Now, this didn’t exactly catch my fancy, but I saw news about it. It was given a massive budget, Henry Cavill (known to me then exclusively as the DCEU’s Superman) campaigned for the lead role of Geralt of Rivia, and he eventually got it. Until its release, I put it on my radar.

The week that it was released, a bunch of my friends had already binged the entire series. It was winter break, and so everyone had more time on their hands. On the first day of the new year, I watched the first episode to see what all the fuss was about.
My first impression: it started with a bang, but it got quite slow after that. It was only months later that I went back to finish the entire series that I realized, the first episode is in no way indicative of the way the season eventually goes. There are engaging action scenes at the beginning and the end of the premiere, but it can get a little sluggish in the meantime. This led to somewhat of a disinterest on my part, and I didn’t pick up the show again until a few weeks ago, and I found out what I was really missing out on.

Each episode, despite being a self-contained story, is assuredly connected to the larger plotline that plays out over the season’s eight episodes. Geralt fighting a monstrous (and devilishly creepy) Striga, earning a famous nickname and attempting to pry three wishes from a djinn are among the adventures we get to see. Some are more interconnected than others, but everything we do get to see is extremely entertaining, and some of it is even unsettling enough to be genuinely creepy. It was a mistake to watch some of this late at night.

Henry Cavill’s performance is one of the series’ main strengths. His commitment is clear, and his gravelly voice makes Geralt’s TV counterpart instantly recognizable, by audio alone. Besides, he gets to use his native accent, which you don’t get to see in his Superman.

The supporting cast sometimes overshadows even Cavill. A notable mention (that everyone seems to love) is Joey Batey, who plays Jaskier, a bard who accompanies Geralt in the middle batch of episodes. His charm and quips, as well as his beautiful voice, are what make him appealing, but if you choose to look past that, his character carries genuine emotion and he’s a part of the season’s most heartbreaking friendship.

Other notable cast includes Anya Chalotra as mage Yennefer who, despite being gratuitously nude half the time she’s on screen, has the best arc; Jodhi May as the flawed but empathetic Queen Calanthe of Cintra; and Lars Mikkelsen as the delightfully hateful wizard Stregobor. I could go on and on about the supporting cast, but there’s far too many to mention. They’re a big part of why people should be watching this show.

One aspect of the show that caught audiences off guard at the time of its release (but what I knew was coming) was the season’s wacky handling of its timeline; you only get a true sense of it later on, but certain parts of the season happen before after other parts, and some plotlines happen decades before others. You’ll get it at the end, but it can be confusing in the moment.

My biggest gripe? We’ll have to wait an unfortunately long time for the second season. Hurry up, Netflix!

In the meantime, The Witcher Season One is an engaging, yet intense, watch. Just sit back, toss a coin to your Witcher, and get started on it! It’s not going anywhere, but that’s no excuse. [Grade: A+]

Showrunner: Laura Schmidt Hissrich
Starring: Henry Cavill, Anya Chalotra, Freya Allen, Joey Batey, MyAnna Buring, Eamon Farren
Rated: TV-MA (violence, sex, language)
Available: Netflix
Fun Fact: A massive amount of dialogue was written for Geralt in the series premiere; however, after shooting it, the creative team realized that Henry Cavill was able to convey just about everything he needed to with his physical performance alone.

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