Netflix’s The Witcher gives a refreshing take on fantasy

Olivia Brightbill, Staff Writer

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By: Olivia Brightbill

(NOTE: The show’s basic premise is examined here with no plot reveals.)

Netflix’s The Witcher has received great success as the first live-action adaptation of the famous Polish book series and the hit video games. Even though I am not even remotely familiar with these other mediums of the series, I was able to fully understand and love it. 

The Witcher is a fantasy-driven world full of magic, monsters, and links of destiny. Although focused in fantasy, the show executes drama, action, romance, and comedy extremely well. Only great shows can properly balance different genres while still staying true to its purpose. I found myself completely enamored by The Witcher and I highly recommend multiple rewatches.

The series mainly follows Henry Cavill’s character, Geralt of Rivia, a witcher (a mutated human trained to hunt monsters). The character could have easily devolved into the boring, brooding, loner type that has been so overdone. Instead, Cavill brings a refreshing performance that brings to life to the archetype. The show lets Geralt not be perfect and he is charming because of his faults and because an antihero. He is also not excused for his bad behavior towards others just because of a traumatic upbringing. Also, there is more to his personality than his skillset. He is capable of being funny, caring, and unsure. Geralt is a fully realized character because of his ability to grow across the season. 

The other main character, Yennefer, really caught my attention. Anya Chalotra expertly pulled off her allure. What really stood out was her complexity that rarely given to female characters. She can be powerful and ambitious while also being vulnerable.  Yennefer embraces and uses her sexuality. She is empowered by her sexuality as opposed to being reduced to it. Her ability to desire and choice to be desired is respected. She was written properly to be more than the femme fatale stereotype. However, in the books she did not have this in depth backstory and her character lacked any real motivation. Her backstory shows the writers are actually capable of original content which bodes well to the show’s longevity of quality. 

I am genuinely thankful for how the women were written. The most powerful characters in the story are females. They are not  just used for their bodies. Also, there are not unecessary rape scenes that are too oftenly forced into the fantasy genre. The show proves there does not need to be rape to show the plight of women in that fictional era. It does not ignore the struggles of women but they are not victims to this. 

You can tell there is a woman showrunner especially by how the women are dressed. Yennefer is allowed to be dressed impractically for action because she is a sorceress. She is in this fabulous dress since it is in her personality to want to be extra and fashionable, whereas female characters like Renfri are more focused on practicality and has real armor with pants. Her wardrobe serves a purpose, and it has to be compatible for fighting and hand-to-hand combat. 

 

I am excited to see where Freya Allen takes her character, Cirilla, in the next season and how the show will expand her magical power. Allen was asked in an interview if Cirilla is the next Arya Stark, and she declared that they each were their own characters. Beyond the obvious character differences already present between Arya and Cirilla, I am so over female characters being relentlessly compared to each other as if they cannot coexist. The Game of Thrones comparisons also need to stop. If I see one more headline trying to pit shows against each other just because they are both fantasy I will lose it. I appreciate Allen setting her foot down to stop the comparisons and shutting down that interviewer. 

Joey Batey came out of nowhere and quickly became beloved for his performance as Jaskier. The lovable bard is now a fan favorite thanks to his dramatic and comedic antics. Jaskier is more than comedic relief though, he is a large part of the heart of the story and crucial for Geralt’s emotional development.  

It is the first fantasy genre I have seen to have great representation of people of color. There is not a feeling of forced diversity and comes across like they did not write the characters with race in mind. These characters are not portrayed as always evil, savages, or tragic victims as it has been done in most fantasy. They are able to be a wide array of characters with varying levels of power. The spectrum of representation is also more diverse with multiple ethnicities. 

On first appearance, the show seems dark and gritty, which it is, but it has a lot of heart and wants to show the good in people. The show knows when to take itself seriously and when it should have fun. A lot of the time writers forget that the point of fantasy is to be an escape and to have fun. There are definitely filler episodes that do not continue the plot and instead take the time for worldbuilding and developing their characters. Going in I did not expect to laugh as much as I did, it is surprisingly comedic. The comedy ranges in subtlety from quick-witted dialogue to slapstick between Geralt and Jaskier. 

The first episode is more of a character introduction and feels more like a day in the life of Geralt than a traditional pilot. All the main characters are not even introduced until later. I think this was the right choice because it is really important to introduce the mechanics of a fantastical world such as this one. This form of exposition feels reminiscent of the video game, like a tutorial section, showing the extent of Geralt’s powers and some of the magic system in the world. All of the lore of the world is slowly revealed as it goes on like in a video game. By setting the standard of Geralt’s life in the first episode the season was free to stray from his norm, to push him in new situations brought by these other main characters that change his life and put him in conflicts that force his evolution.

I am one of many who are victim to the ‘Toss a Coin to Your Witcher’ phenomenon and now hopelessly obsessed with Jaskier’s advertisement song for Geralt. The song is going to be stuck in my head for the rest of my life and I am okay with that since it is the best song to ever exist. The internet is flooded with remixes to all the songs sung by Batey and yes I will be listening to all of them. The entire soundtrack is phenomenal, but unfortunately for Apple Music users it can only be heard through Spotify or SoundCloud. This is a missed opportunity for Netflix to cash in on the success. The demand for the songs is there and people are turning to bootleg versions on Youtube. Those unofficial videos have gotten more plays than these other platforms. Luckily, this is the only way in which The Witcher team dropped the ball. 

 

Their largest task was executing the multiple timelines since they decided to combine the stories from the franchise, drawing from different source material that had the time to span across decades. I think they tackled this extremely well. They did not handhold their audience but did make the interweaving timelines digestible for general audiences. It was not too complicated and I was able to follow along with the story. Somehow the writers avoided the most common mistake of taking on too much. Usually when drawing from source material more content is shoved in than the adaptation, but this season did not reach for stories that would overwhelm the team. 

Despite skipping around in the timeline there are not even any gaps in the personalities of the characters. Even though the main characters and conflict are separated across multiple timelines The Witcher brings it all together within the one season. It is more satisfying for the viewer and better for progression of the plot to not postpone the main characters meeting over multiple seasons. 

The visuals really picked up as the season went on, not to say that they were bad to begin with. The set production and the locations used were really exceptional. It truly came across as a lived in world. 

It is always a delight to actually see everything in the dark scenes without having to turn up the contrast on my television. The show balances out its stark moments where its nothing but a sea of gray with great uses of colors. More colors are used when there is more magic which brought the sorcery to life to produce the most beautiful scenes. The CGI was tasteful and implemented in all the right ways. Magic came off as realistic, believable, and tangible.

The action is incredibly well executed. It was so smooth, fight choreography flowed, and we can see the movements follow through without a million cuts. Some of the fights are similar to a first-person video game and this added unique flavor to The Witcher. The final action sequence in the first episode was especially iconic. I did want more incorporation of Geralt’s magic, but I understand that it would require more CGI and more money. I think production team purposefully held back on some of this to not show all their cards at once in this first season. 

Fans are eagerly anticipating for season two in 2021, and Netflix is showing large numbers of binge-worthy marathons. People just cannot get enough Witcher content. The preexisting cult following has gained plenty of new members, myself included, with this release.