I’m going to preface this review by stating four things. I’ve never played The Witcher video games. I’ve never read the books. I have Prosopagnosia (Face Blindness). There will be spoilers.
So recently, I finished watching the new series on Netflix, The Witcher. This series follows three main characters; Geralt of Rivia, Yennefer of Vengerberg, and Princess Ciri of Cintra. The story is based on the novels by Andrzej Sapkowski, which were inspired by Slavic mythology. It’s the story of destiny, adventure, and characters searching for their place in a world where they are all different from everyone else around them.
I think the character development is one of the strongest aspects of this adaptation. Still, you wouldn’t know that by the first episode, which honestly is the hardest to get through. It felt very cliche. Geralt comes off as your stereotypical antihero. He rides into town and stops at a tavern, where they don’t take kindly to strangers, accepts a quest that goes horribly wrong, then sets out on his journey. But, as the story progresses, he shows compassion and a growing sense of responsibility, which results in some satisfying character development.
Yennefer, born disfigured due to her quarter elven heritage, is portrayed as intelligent and driven. We see her struggle to grow as a mage while wanting to find a love that will fulfill her. At first, she attempts to find this love by curing her infertility and having a child. Those dreams are eventually squashed, so she must seek her legacy elsewhere. As Geralt’s main love interest, we’re sure that as the story progresses, she’ll discover that she does, in fact, mean something special to someone.
Sadly, the romance between Yennefer and Geralt falls rather flat. They meet and fall in love almost instantly, and there doesn’t seem to be much chemistry to explain why those two should like each other. I hope that their relationship makes more sense in the books because, in the show, Geralt falls in love with her after they take one bath together. The show spends more time developing Geralt’s relationship with Jaskier, the traveling bard, with whom Geralt also spends a lot of time in the bath, than it does with Geralt and Yennefer. The show takes its time developing the relationship between Yennefer and her mentor Tissaia, or Yenneffer and Istredd. Yet when it comes to Yennefer and Geralt, oh well, destined lovers now, I guess.
Ciri’s character is the least developed of the three, so far. Torn from her home and the only family she’s ever known, she sets out to find Geralt of Rivia, the witcher to whom she was promised by the Law of Surprise. While on her search, she spends a lot of time wandering without purpose and getting those around her into the sort of trouble that can get people killed (and sometimes does). By the end of the season, you can see that she doesn’t want to bring sorrow to any more of the people who have shown her kindness. In the final episode of the season, she, at last, finds Geralt.
Will we learn more about Geralt’s past, and will he and Yennefer find each other again and reconcile? Will Ciri finally learn why Nilfgaard is really after her? I guess we’ll have to watch season two to find out.
The next thing I’d like to examine is the pacing. To be honest, it’s not good. It’s actually kind of a mess. Some episodes seem to drag out at a slow pace, and other episodes are just confusing. Now, as I prefaced above, I have face blindness, so when a story is told in a non-linear fashion, and you can’t remember the character’s faces, it REALLY throws you off. It took me 3-4 episodes before I realized that this story was not running on a parallel timeline between the different characters. I’m not the only confused person. Many online guides have been made since this series was released to clarify what’s going on with the timeline. Like me, those who haven’t read the books or played the games were confused. The reason the timeline isn’t linear is that the showrunners didn’t want to front-load the first few episodes of the season with too much character backstory and not enough action. I get it. I write, and I also have used non-linear timelines to set up a story, but there are ways that this can be done that are far less confusing. Thankfully, by the end of season one, everyone’s backstories and the source of the conflict seems to be established, and all the characters are up to speed with each other. I think I’m safe to assume that from here on, the story should be linear and easy to follow. It was just a very rough first season.
The visuals in this series were honestly kind of disappointing. I understand as a Netflix series and not an HBO series that they may have had a more limited budget. The CG monsters looked pretty standard as far as quality goes, but the design of the dragons was just terrible. Imagine a humanoid looking dragon. It’s unpleasant to behold. Monsters and dragons aside, my biggest issue was with the costumes. YIKES! Pick an era! There is NO consistency in the costume design for this show. Some of the clothes look turn of the century, some medieval, and some completely modern. The hair and makeup were much the same, with contemporary styles mixed in among medieval up-dos and bare faces. Geralt’s white wig, sometimes gray, looked very fake and stiff in many shots. And don’t get me started on the Nilfgaard armor. Holy shit, they look like walking scrotums! What the hell kind of armor was that? Is that supposed to be rumpled leather? That’s a terrible idea for armor! I have heard that the costume designer for season one will not be back for season two, so make of that what you will.
The world-building isn’t much to write about yet. A few locations are explored, but as a viewer, I don’t feel like we’re given much time to form attachments to any of the places presented so far. We know little about these warring kingdoms except that things may not be what they seem. It is strongly hinted that the buried elven civilization will be explored further in future episodes, but for this first season, we meet a few elves; briefly, they don’t add much to the story, and then they’re gone. Slovic mythology does play a part in the story. I was pleasantly surprised that one of the episodes, and the concept of the Law of Surprise, was heavily inspired by the fairytale of Hans the Hedgehog. That was honestly my favorite episode, and I think this show is at its best when it incorporates more fairytales and mythology into the story.
As far as plot goes, season one is just one giant set up. Setting up characters. Setting up places. Setting up conflicts. You are definitely left feeling like the journey of these characters has only just begun as the first season draws to a close.
Overall, I’d rate this series, or at least this first season, as 7/10, and to be honest, part of me wants to rank it lower than that. The first season of this show has a LOT of issues, but the reason I’m willing to rate it a little higher is that I am intrigued. I do want to keep watching and see what happens next, and I did enjoy the show. If it was less than a 7, I wouldn’t want to keep watching, but I do believe that going forward, the show is set to improve. We should get more plot development with the next season. The characters are established and ready to begin their personal journies, and we might even get some better costume designs in the upcoming season. Because of all that, I’m willing to stick it out and see where it all goes. It was fun. I was entertained, and at the end of the day, that’s what matters most to me, so I would say, give it a watch, at least the first season, and see how you feel about it for yourself.
Side note: as someone who loves Power Metal, I highly recommend you watch this cover of Toss A Coin to Your Witcher. 🙂