I want to make it clear before I write The Witcher Season 1 Review that I have not played any of The Witcher games, nor have I read the books and short stories by the author of the series. I came into The Witcher on Netflix knowing only the loosest bits about the video games (which I have written about news-wise for various websites including here on Anime Superhero!). But, not unlike Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, I knew that people would come into this without reading the source material, and that it’s not a requirement, so I dived in…and I wasn’t disappointed…though I was confused a LOT.
WARNING! MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!
I’m going to spoil my score right here for you because I want to make a certain point clear. I’m giving this a 4/5 for the first season, and a big reason for the docked point is that The Witcher Season 1 does the very question act of mixing up timelines without explaining themselves, or stating that it’s past present, or technically future. It’s dang confusion, and at one point I swear I was watching an illusion or a mind trick, only to find out it was something else entire (a sleight of hand as you’ll see when you watch). This is not the way to do a fantasy series that a LOT of people don’t know outside the games, but thankfully, the rest of the material holds up despite this odd way of doing plot.
Grounding this whole adventure (more or less) is Geralt Of Rivia, played by the amazing Henry Cavill. If you know him from Superman…don’t expect him to act like him. Geralt is as anti-Superman as you can get in many respects. And you can tell that Cavill had a lot of fun playing this role (so much so he took his costume home to make sure he could keep it!).
Geralt is blunt, weary, profane, and only cares about making coin and killing monsters. He is The Witcher, a mutation of a human born from experimentation. This makes him an outcast, not that he cares most of the time. What I loved about Cavill’s performance is that he played it both subtly, yet full of passion. An early conversation with a wizard shows that he’s lived so long that he can see though bull and knows when people are full of it, and isn’t afraid to call them out on it. Like he told the wizard, “speak plainly”. Which is exactly what Geralt does.
While a man of few words, he’s also a man of action, the swordfight in the first episode is easily one of the best swordfights I’ve ever seen on television-style viewing (and trust me, I’ve seen a lot). Not to many other fights in the series match up to it, which makes it all the better that we see it episode 1.
Another thing that makes Geralt so much fun a character is that he’s actively trying to avoid his destiny throughout the season. Usually, characters embrace of his “nature” embrace it an episode or two in. But as we find out, he’s avoiding it for basically a decade before finally succumbing to it. It’s a nice change of pace, even if it comes at the expense of the full season plot.
The other key players of the season include Anya Chalotraâ€™s Yennifer, a powerful mage who arguably gets the best character development of the whole season. Mainly because unlike Geralt, or even Ciri (who I’ll get to), she has a full-on origin story. We see her as a deformed child (thanks to Elvan blood) who gets taken in by a Brotherhood of Mages, only to be used, abused, and forced to strike out on her own after she realizes just how pointless it all is.
Anya Chalotra really does deliver here, which is good, because Yennifer is a beloved character in the games, and fans should be happy with her performance in Season 1. She plays many different hats, and it ends up Geralt and others in some interesting situations. While I won’t spoil it, the final episode shows her arguably at her best both personality-wise and power wise, though you’ll see a lot of powerful magic from her throughout.
Finally, there’s Ciri, the “Lion Cub of Cintra”, and very much the focal point of a lot going on…even if we’re not told exactly why. Sadly, she’s very much the weak link of the bunch. She starts off sympathetic as the last of her family after an invasion, then she’s on the run…then she’s with elves…gets tricked into leaving said elves…causes a friend to abandon her…becomes a “loner” and then ends up with Geralt at the end.
No, really, that’s basically her whole story in the season. Not the most compelling thing as you can see, and it doesn’t explain who or what she is despite numerous teases and people telling her about her “destiny” and the “White Flame” and a prophecy and all that.
Again, the real problem here is how the plot is told. At first, it seems very linear, like a Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones. Then, all of a sudden, we get clues that there have been time jumps. Mainly for Yennifer, but it makes sense for the most part given the story. Then, all of a sudden, a character we know is dead shows up and is talking with Geralt despite her being dead. Then we realize that Geralt, Yennifer, and Ciri are playing out three different timelines (from their point of view I mean) over the course of 30+ years. So in regards to the characters. Yennifer’s story takes place over 30 years, Geralt is about 10, and for Ciri? Days! It’s weird, and disjointed and it makes the season feel more like an anthology than anything else.
Which at times is fine, there are many standout episodes that make the season feel really good, which is saying something because one of them has very little Geralt in them. For me though, the standout was “Rare Species”, which had fighting, character development, and of course…dragons. Oh yeah.
And to be clear, the fantasy elements of this season were totally a highlight. From the monsters of all sorts (going deep into folklore and beyond), the uses of magic, the knights, kings and armies, and on and on, The Witcher Season 1 did a good enough job building up the whole world. Even if we’re to take a lot of it at face value at points.
The problem is that at times, we want more of that…and we don’t get it. Easily one of my biggest downpoints (aside from the time jumps of course) was that of the Bard known as Jaskier. He follows Geralt around like a lost puppy, expects the world from him, and yet we’re supposed to be sad when Jeralt chews him out and demands he leaves. I had no such feeling and I wish he had died, I skipped a lot of scenes with him. No joke.
It also should be noted that the show has a lot of profanity, violence, nudity, orgy scenes, and more depravities that puts it on par with Game of Thrones at times. It gets dark, and earns its MA rating, so definitely don’t watch this if you don’t like this kind of stuff.
But for all its faults, and I know I’ve mentioned a lot in this The Witcher Season 1 Review, it really is a good season. And with things now finally caught up in the season finale, Ciri and Geralt together, Yennifer becoming more of what she “needs” to be in her mind and more, the story could explode with much more greatness in the already ordered season 2. Though I do hope they go beyond 8 eight episodes, the story needs more room to breathe.
In the end, The Witcher Season 1 was a solid entry into the world of the books and games. Not everyone will like it due to the story structure, but it’s clear that they were trying to get everything set up for a powerful season 2. Let’s just hope that they deliver on that promise.