After months waiting, the entire eight-episode first season of The Witcher had dropped on Netflix. As an avid fan of CD Projekt Red’s The Witcher games, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the launch of the show. Thankfully, Netflix gave GameByte the first five episodes of the series for review ahead of release – here’s what I thought.
First up, you probably know by now, but Netflix’s The Witcher is based on the mega-successful book series written by Andrzej Sapkowski. Although the CD Projekt Red games are inspired by the books, Netflix has been pretty clear that the show will be following the original works more closely than the games do. Don’t expect a carbon copy of the games you know and love, which means yeah, sorry but there’s no Roach on a roof (ha!) and no sex on a unicorn scene. Now we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get into the spoiler-free review of Netflix’s The Witcher.
As with most Netflix productions, there’s been no expense spared in bringing Geralt and Sapkowski’s cast of down-trodden and scorned characters to the small screen. If you thought that Stranger Things pushed the boat out for its special effects then you’re going to be seriously impressed with The Witcher. From its well-designed monsters to its attention to detail in creating what feels like a genuine and dense world, the universe of The Witcher carries the same weight as the likes of Game of Thrones or The Lord of the Rings.
Although the casting choices for the series came with a mixed response from fans, the show has amazing performances from its star-studded cast. Henry Cavill’s portrayal of Geralt of Rivia, the show’s main character, is absolutely flawless. This is quite possibly down to the fact that Cavill is a known fan of the games, and even modelled his depiction of Geralt after the one we see in the games. Remaining as spoiler-free as promised, I will say that for those with doubts about Yennefer, played by Anya Chalotra, give the character some time.
One of the most stand-out parts of the show has to be its battle scenes. Cavill’s swordplay puts other high fantasy shows to shame, executing amazing moves in jaw-dropping sequences that really get the heart racing.
With its dark themes, heavy reliance on fantasy and its general sword-wielding setting, The Witcher is likely to appeal to fans of shows like Game of Thrones but, just like Game of Thrones, it doesn’t quite hit the mark when it comes to storytelling. The show’s approach to story is a little messy and confusing which is hard to ignore. Again, I don’t want to spoil the series for you, but I will say that there’s been a very unique take on traditional TV storytelling that I’m not fully sold on. How this’ll wrap up in the final three episodes of the show will definitely be interesting to see.
Very occasionally I thought the show’s humour failed to land – especially in terms of Dandelion-inspired bard character. Although Geralt’s stony and stoic responses were always a welcome relief from the tension of the dark and all-consuming world of The Witcher, there’s some terrible jokes that are nothing but jarring against such an intense backdrop of story.
Its flaws aside, The Witcher does an incredible job at bringing the IP to the small screen for the first time. Although players of the CD Projekt Red games will definitely have an easier time picking up and jumping into the plot, those with minimal history shouldn’t find it too difficult to understand the lore. The series generally focuses on a different threat each episode, with an over-arching story working its way to the forefront. It’s these mini-stories, which come across as quest-like in their execution, that I personally found the most enjoyable. Again, with another three episodes for me to watch, it’s going to be interesting to see how the overarching plot pulls together for the finale.
All in all, Netflix’s The Witcher is a massively satisfying blend of high-fantasy and dark magic that oozes enough style and charisma to overcome its minimal flaws. It’s likely to draw in a lot of fans previous heavy-hitters in the fantasy genre, but has more than enough meat to become a cultural phenomenon all on its own.
On a personal level, I’ve been waiting for the last three episodes to drop, as it’s been a must-watch show for me. Despite its flaws, I’m fully invested in the series and its lore through just a handful of episodes. It’s easy to see why Netflix has faith in the series, and it’s going to be exciting to see just how far Netflix’s The Witcher will go over what’s sure to be multiple seasons.