Ever since the fantasy juggernaut Game of Thrones came to a close earlier this year, fans of the genre have already been searching for something to fill that void. There’s been a lot of hype leading up to the release of THE WITCHER series from Netflix, and multiple media outlets have been quick to suggest this could be the next fantasy craze to get behind in the near future. Having previewed the first five episodes of the show’s inaugural season, I’m beyond relieved to report that this hype was far from being unfounded. While the two shows are vastly different in a lot of ways, THE WITCHER will scratch the itch for die-hard fantasy fans and will go as far as to thrill fans of both the written source material and video game series.
Based on the successful novels by Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski, THE WITCHER tells the story of Geralt of Rivia, a mutant with extraordinary powers and abilities, who manages to get by as a monster hunter of sorts. The intense pilot opening introduces us to Geralt through a violent and explosive battle with a spider-crab-like monster called the kikimore. This singular battle sets the stage for the remainder of the series—intense fight choreography, blockbuster-quality special effects, and no time to waste on pleasantries. THE WITCHER makes it very clear early on that it is not here to fuck around. This break-neck pacing remains a hallmark of the show throughout and feels like a breath of fresh air when compared to more slowly-paced fantasy epics.
The series largely draws its inspiration from The Last Wish, the first collection of short stories Sapkowski published about Geralt. While inevitable changes have been made, a bulk of the most important stories, including the titular tale, remain intact. Fans of the books will be pleased with both the show’s meticulous attention to detail and with Henry Cavill’s loyal portrayal of the beloved lead role. Cavill is stoic and charismatic, capturing the pure essence of Geralt in each episode. Even though he feels a bit too clean-cut visually, he will win you over with his enigmatic on-screen presence. Geralt is set off on a different quest with each chapter, giving the series the same episodic quality that The Last Wish book contained. Just like the book, the show expertly ties all the threads together to make sense of the large plot at work. Geralt is seemingly emotionless and reserved—and many people he comes across throughout the story are quick to point this out. Through subtle moments and choices he makes, we soon find that this possibly could not be true of Geralt. Somewhere, underneath his cold exterior rests a soul, and while Geralt is a paragon of neutrality, he clearly understands the difference between right and wrong. Cavill clearly has a deep respect for the character, and his prowess as an action movie star really helps to complete the full package—but we’ll get to that in a bit.
But what would THE WITCHER be without Yennefer? Brilliantly portrayed by Anya Chalotra, this is the character arc I’m most interested in following in the remainder of the season. I’m limited on the information I can discuss, but I will say that Yennefer’s origins are handled incredibly well, and it makes for one of the most compelling elements of the story. When we first meet her, she is a struggling hunchbacked girl who is slowly coming to grasp her own magical powers. Unbeknownst to her, she is destined to become one of the most powerful sorceresses of all time. In the first half of the season, we largely follow Yennefer throughout her training process as she learns to harness her magical powers, and bend them to her will. Chalotra’s performance is beyond convincing, and so much fun to watch. Her chemistry with Cavill is instantly palpable, and their meeting scene is one of the most memorable in the genre’s history.
Where THE WITCHER really stands out is in its action sequences. The fighting in this show is simply the best. I can’t stress enough how electric the swordplay is right from the start. Featuring a refreshing hybrid of CGI and practical effects, Geralt’s encounters with fearsome beasts and formidable human foes are the eye candy that will keep you coming back for more. As a horror fan, I particularly felt entranced by Geralt’s showdown with the striga—a werewolf, Thing-like abomination. The battle feels like something out of a Castlevania game, set against the dramatic backdrop of a ruined fortress and under the fullest of moons. I found myself cheering, and even jumping up from my couch with excitement during some of these action scenes. The fight choreography is to be applauded, and if the show borrows anything from the popular video game series, it’s this element. Cavill’s pristine physical condition allows him to execute the choreography with fluent ease, and while I wish there was more practical gore, and less CGI blood, the fighting is just too damn cool for any of that to truly matter.
THE WITCHER is dark, gothic, and intense. It is not for the faint of heart. If Game of Thrones used magic and mysticism sparingly, then THE WITCHER instead projectile vomits it all over you in nearly every scene (in the best possible way). Whether you’re already a fan of the franchise, or an unfamiliar newcomer, there’s something for all fantasy fans within this expertly crafted series. While it’s not perfect, there’s too much potential on display here for the flaws to make any kind of detrimental difference. There are far more layers to the show than I could possibly fit in this single review, and so I urge you to watch it for yourself, especially if you’re a fan of the fantasy genre. Only having seen five episodes, it’s easy to understand why Netflix has already renewed this show for a second season. I’m so glad that they did, and I hope you will be too.