The Witcher premieres December 20 on Netflix.
By Chris Flanagan
To the uninitiated, The Witcher wastes no time jumping headfirst into the deep end of its folklore leaving behind those expecting it to hold their hands through its narrative entanglements that run rampant throughout its first season. This bares mixed results affording those that might not express patience to giving a show rooted in dense fantasy source of written material a chance to find its footing. Indeed, The Witcher finds a good narrative pace around the end of its third episode and into its fourth, however, there were many moments that I was left scratching my head in confusion as to when and where we were in the story as it seems to span several decades from one episode to the next with only the subtlest of dialogue that hints at such.
The show follows three main characters – Geralt, a monster hunter born from magic, who has no real place in the world but finds comfort in killing monsters in exchange for coin, Ciri, exiled royalty displaced after her grandmother’s kingdom falls at the hands of an ominous dark knight, and Yennefer, an emerging mage who helps advise kingdoms in need. As the season progresses, their different paths slowly begin to converge for the sake of something far greater than any of them realize. For the most part, The Witcher does a fairly decent job at balancing these varying storylines and the characters within them but amidst its successes, it cannot escape the feeling of being downright BONKERS at times. This is not meant as a direct insult but more of an overall observation that both keeps the show at arm’s length from emotionally investing in its characters while also intriguing and urging me to keep watching.
Where The Witcher thrives is with its depiction of mythical creatures that populate its world. Featuring a healthy mix of CGI and practical effects, the monsters ranging from a porcupine-man, a giant spider to an evil djinn and goat-man are gruesome and mesmerizing as the production value invested in the show is able to take front and center as one of its main strengths. The cast is also strong as Henry Cavill embodies the emotionally withdrawn titular hero while Anya Chalotra gives a standout performance as Yennefer. But the fan-favorite has to go to Joey Batey who plays Jaskier, the Bard, who serves as the comedic relief of the show.
The Witcher is a show that can be difficult to explain or even recommend to others but with few shows that attempt to wrestle this type of source material, it should be given a chance. That being said, it is unorderly and can be slightly frustrating at times but if you are able to overlook its shortcomings it does finally hits its stride and becomes a funny fantastical tale of magic, monsters and a world of people attempting to make sense of its chaos. The fact that Netflix has already renewed it for a second season gives me hope that it will be able to grow into its own even more over time and that testament of faith will afford more viewers to find it. The Witcher is by no means perfect or even great on many accounts but when it leans into the aspects that make it entertaining there is a good show underneath the narrative obstructions – a show that has given me enough to see it through to the end of its journey without having to invest too much.
I give The Witcher a C+.