Netflix’s The Witcher has finally made its way to our screens and I have got to say that I love it. Since the end of HBO’s Game of Thrones (GoT), I’ve been scouring TV guides and recommendation lists to find its successor. Something to fill the Direwolf-shaped hole it left in my heart. While I have found some shows that have the potential to rival GoT, they haven’t exactly scratched my medieval fantasy itch. If you feel the same as I and have been longing to fill that void, I believe Netflix’s The Witcher is precisely what the apothecary ordered. Full disclosure, I am a massive fan of CD Projekt Red’s The Witcher games. I even bought the Blood and Wine DLC just so I can get that storybook ending but I digress! Initially, I was sceptical about the series, namely Henry Cavill as the brooding Geralt of Rivia, but after binging the entire show in a day, I am more than happy to admit my fears unfounded.
Fan or not, I truly do believe that there’s something here for every GoT fan if they’re willing to give it a chance, despite what the critics may say. Allow us to persuade you, without having to use an Axii sign, on why you should totally check out Netflix’s The Witcher.
1. A Rich Setting and World
Say goodbye to Westeros my friends and say hello to The Witcher’s Continent. Originally the land of the Elder Races of elves, dwarves and gnomes before an event known as the Conjunction of the Spheres occurred. An event that opened up the Continent to incursions of creatures and beings from other worlds. Some of them being monsters like ghouls, werewolves and all manner of nasty things. The worst among them to arrive in the Continent being humans, who apparently destroyed their world before coming over. After 1,500 years, humanity has carved up the Continent, creating their own kingdoms and driving the Elder Races from their homes. In response to the growing threat of monsters lurking the land, humanity created mutated monster hunters known as Witchers. They are said to be deadly, efficient and completely without emotion.
All this is just the tip of the iceberg! If you’re a fantasy aficionado looking for a world as rich and dense as that of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, then you are in luck. We haven’t gone into the political factions, kingdoms and empires that dominate this land. Each of them have their own unique and fascinating history and inhabitants. Then there are the monsters and supernatural creatures that roam the land of the Continent and then there are mages who are part weapons of mass destruction and political advisors to local rulers. Seriously, I could spend all day telling about all this lore but it’s best experienced yourself.
2. Captivating Characters
Right, so all this lore and history can be pretty overwhelming for the audience, especially if this is their first time being introduced to the world of The Witcher. Fortunately, this all made accessible to us through the perspective of engaging characters. Chief among them being Geralt of Rivia, the titular Witcher. Not unlike GoT, this world is not for the faint of heart and morality is something that is constantly being questioned. Geralt is a pariah of society, seen as an abomination by most people he comes by or a heartless mercenary by others. Throughout the series we see him wrestle between his more pragmatic, apolitical nature and his desire to intervene in the lives of others around him. Every time he chooses to pick up the sword or sheath it lives hang in the balance. A good part of the reason Geralt of Rivia is so well realized here is due to Henry Cavill’s spirited and devoted performance.
That being said, it isn’t just Geralt who gets the spotlight here. We also see a bunch of other fun and interesting characters. There’s the singing, wisecracking and occasionally womanizing bard Jaskier, played by Joey Batey, who follows Geralt around, singing of his adventures. Then there’s Anya Chalotra’s Yennefer of Vergenberg who is by far one of the most awesome characters in the entire show. If you thought Cersei Lannister has baggage, then you haven’t met Yennefer. Born as a deformed hunchback with an aptitude for magic, Yennefer would go on to become a powerful and beautiful sorceress the world has ever known through blood and sacrifice.
3. Political Intrigue
Since the conclusion of GoT and Netflix’s House of Cards, I’ve been craving for a good political thriller to keep me on edge. I miss the Machiavellian schemes and mind games I’ve come to expect from Varys, Tyrion and Cersei. Thankfully, there’s plenty here to keep me satiated and if you’re anything like me, I’m sure you’ll feel just the same. The Witcher isn’t merely about monsters and monster hunters. It also takes the time to flesh out the intriguing political landscape of the Continent. The series sees the rise of the Nilfgaardian Empire, a zealous southern state looking to rein in the northern kingdoms. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? This is far from another rehash though. We also get to see how magic plays a role in government and how they can turn the tide of war.
One particular plotline I’ve thoroughly enjoyed was the one pertaining to the Brotherhood of Sorcerers and the Lodge of Sorceresses. They are non-partisan organizations that assign mages to specific rulers of kingdoms. This is done in the effort to avoid kings from rushing into needless wars and tyranny from reigning over the lands. Think of them as the “Hand of the King” for many nations…while also being capable of launching fireballs from their palms. But when one particular sorceress dedicates herself to the Niflgaardian dream, the world is in great peril. There’s plenty of other side stories following other kingdoms like Cintra and Telmaria that I won’t spoil but trust me, it gets wild.
4. Stunning Action
Some of you at this point might be saying “Yes, yes that’s all well and good but what about the action? Where’s the blood and gore?” Fear not for there is plenty of dazzling swordplay and action to keep you on the edge of your seats. We’ve seen some great sword fights in GoT, my personal favourite being the one between Ser Arthur Dayne and a young Ned Stark at the Tower of Joy. The Witcher delivers on battles and choreography of similar calibre and scale, if not better. Watching Henry Cavill’s Geralt tear through a dozen foes at one go is a thing of beauty. All this is done with minimal cuts. He changes and transitions between strokes and tactics in the midst of a fight with such speed and poise while at the same time maintaining a sort of animal ferocity. It’s like watching a ballet of death on screen. I don’t know how long he’s trained to nail the choreography but I can assure that it is insane!
Each episode offers something fresh and new that aids in keeping the action from feeling monotonous or samey. In one, you’ll see Geralt taking on a cursed princess turned into an unstoppable killing machine. In another, you may see him hunting a dragon while fending off a group of hunters and mercenaries. There’s also plenty of visual splendour whenever magic is used on screen. This rings especially true in the final episode of the first season that involves a siege at a castle. Needless to say, there’s never a dull moment here.
5. Subversive Fantasy
One thing that always made GoT stand out from the rest of the fantasy series crowd was its dedication to subverting popular fantasy tropes. The good guys die, our knights in shining armour are actually terrible human beings and bastards can become monarchs. This distortion of traditional fantasy served as a critique and satire on the genre which kept viewers on their toes. The Witcher, too, has some sick parodies of classic fantasy tales that may surprise, delight and horrify viewers. Where the typical “ugly duckling” route would see a deformed hunchback girl learn to find inner and external beauty along with happiness, the series flips the entire premise. She scorns her prince charming, sacrifices her capacity to bear children to gain beauty and becomes a power-hungry mage.
We once again see the dark side of humanity when humans are shown on screen persecuting and murdering magical creatures that were the original settlers of the land. The heroes that we once heralded as paragons of virtue got where they were stepping on the backs of others. Princesses born out of incestuous relationship become hideous monsters. Now, I could go on about how the world of The Witcher is a grim and merciless one but I highly recommend you see it for yourself. That being said, the show is not without some romantic charm of its own. Where there is evil and injustice, Geralt will be there to lend a helping hand, though it might not be in the way we expect. There’s more than meets the eye when it comes to our favourite Witcher and his world.
The Witcher is currently streaming on Netflix.