TV Review | The Witcher | Season 1
Season summary: Geralt of Rivia, a solitary monster hunter, struggles to find his place in a world where people often prove more wicked than beasts. (IMDb)
There are some criticisms I've seen of this first season that I am going to be mostly unable to really appreciate thanks to already being very familiar with the world Geralt of Rivia inhabits thanks to the games made by CD Projekt Red. What I will say though, is that there isn't really much more thrown at the viewer here than in Game of Thrones' first episode.
Yes, there are a lot of names, titles and places mentioned with very little context to determine which is which, but if you're paying attention it really isn't that difficult to keep track - to go back to Game of Thrones first episode, there are more recurring characters introduced in that one episode than in the entire first season of The Witcher.
Then there are the complaints about the timelines and keeping track of what is happening when, despite the show actually pointing out the differences: Geralt, Yennefer and Ciri all start with separate stories that each proceed linearly, eventually crossing over as they catch up with each other before all their stories finally merge by the end of the season.
Again, it's simply a case of paying attention to what the characters are saying what tense they're using to talk about people or events to figure it out and isn't really that difficult at all. I'm guessing a lot of people are doing other things while bingeing The Witcher and missing out on the dialogue that clears up any confusion about what is happening when.
I'm not going to completely defend the show though - there is some weird cinematography here with some equally bizarre focusing that feels like a stylistic choice but only proves distracting and making some scenes feel very amateurish. I'm not insulting the crew who are only following instructions from higher up, but I hope this bizarre creative choice is left behind for season two.
The other issue is that there are a couple of poor episodes that suffer thanks to trying to fill in time for some of the characters by way of world-building and it isn't entirely successful. It doesn't help that the second episode is one of them which isn't going to make the best impression on people giving the show a chance to see if it's for them and can fill the Game of Thrones-shaped hole in their TV viewing schedule.
The star of the show - in every sense - is Henry Cavill, who is just about the most perfect incarnation of Geralt as can possibly be imagined. Even the author of the original books has admitted that he simply imagines Cavill when thinking of Geralt now thanks to his excellent performances. Quite the achievement for a role with so little dialogue.
It helps that Cavill is a huge fan of the franchise, both games and books, and it shows with just how good he is in the role. You can tell that this is at least verging on his dream role and is giving it his all in every scene, including some incredible close-quarters action scenes that are some of the best seen in any media in recent years.
The other two main characters, Yennefer of Vengerberg (Anya Chalotra) and Princess Cirilla Fiona Elen Riannon, or Ciri (Freya Allan), are the other standouts thanks to the time their characters are given. Not to dismiss the rest of the cast, but they do feel very much as if they are there to support the central trio rather than to hold any important position in the story.
What also doesn't help me here is my familiarity with characters from the games and the different looks they have in the show thanks to a more diverse cast meaning it actually took a while for some to sink in as the characters they are. Anna Shaffer as Triss is the biggest difference, going from a fair-skinned redhead to a tan brunette, and the limited time given to her means that there hasn't (yet) been a chance for her to surpass the game version.
Chalotra's performance as Yen is pretty good, although I still have the game version of that character as the definitive version for me, but it is a little weird that the show seem to be using her as the 'sexy' part of the show, with Chalotra stripping off pretty regularly despite no apparent need to do so. As attractive as the actress might be, it does feel more than a little gratuitous and is something else that will hopefully be left confined to this first season.
Before seeing the show, I would've said that Freya Allan had the hardest role, needing to play an inexperienced child and the material doesn't help her all that much either. Chunks of her story are re-written and Ciri's involvement suffers from a lot of the 'world-building as story' issue mentioned above as we wait for Geralt and Yen's timelines to catch up to hers.
Allan herself is perfectly fine in the role and I look forward to seeing how the central trio interact with each other going forward, especially knowing where it all ends in the books and the games (just to point out, the games are set after the books and are effectively unofficial sequels to the original material). I just hope that Netflix allows The Witcher to continue long enough to do their stories justice.
The Witcher is a great introduction to the world of The Continent and the characters of Geralt, Yennefer and Ciri. The timelines may confuse some going in expecting a linear story, but are simple enough to keep track of if you actually pay attention. The main characters are great - especially Henry Cavill - the action just as good and I can't wait to see more.