Netflix is poised to launch a new series based on the Polish book series, of the same name, written by Andrzej Sapkowski on Friday, December 20th. I was humbly offered an early preview of the series. As is usual in our reviews, I will provide my thoughts on the series without spoilers. Admittedly there are some great things for viewers to experience themselves and I have been asked to NOT divulge these moments and I am only happy to do so. Full disclosure, I’m not familiar with the book series. I became acquainted with Geralt and his world through the game series and it should be noted that yes while the games are based on the books (or inspired by), the producers have said in many interviews that this series also draws from the books as opposed to the game series.
The Witcher is the story of a monster hunter (Witcher), Geralt of Rivia, in search of monsters and how he fits in a world that not only dislikes and distrusts his kind but also seemingly has him on a crash course with destiny in a powerful priestess named Yennefer and a young princess who also has special powers named Ciri. This world is one where magic, elves, dwarves and humans co-exist. A world where politics are dirty and the Nilfgaard Empire is on a mission to conquer the Northern Kingdoms.
As a new series, the first episode is really all about setting the stage for what kind of world we’re visiting. The first moment is one that one would expect from Geralt. He’s duking it out with a huge monster in a filthy battle, obviously winning. Soon after we see him in a bar and are exposed to how people greet and treat him. His long snow-white hair and deep yellow eyes are telling signs and the patrons are none too pleased, which is why he’s so cold and short with people. We also get a quick glimpse of the dry sarcastic humour that fans of the series will recognize from the games and from my research the books as well.
The cast of The Witcher is, in my opinion, cast perfectly. I have to say, I was a bit skeptical with a few members of the cast – more specifically Anya Chalotra as Yennefer and Anna Shaffer as Triss. I think it’s more because of my familiarity with these characters from the games but after watching the season and doing some more research, I really feel that the casting director absolutely crushed it. Yennefer’s transformation from where we see her in the first episode to where she is in her journey by the end of episode 8 is really well written and acted. Henry Cavill, who I’m a fan of (more Superman please), is absolutely dominant as Geralt. From his imposing size to the raspy gravel in his voice, Henry is Geralt of Rivia from top to bottom. When you see him in interviews talking about this role, you can tell he’s throwing everything he has into it from his enthusiasm and it shows in spades. Then there’s Joey Batey’s bard, Jaskier (Dandelion for some). The interactions between him and Geralt is a lot of fun to watch. Their chemistry together is great and I think fans of the series are really going to enjoy him. Another notable character not to be forgotten is Freya Allan as Ciri. She comes off as very young and afraid of her new world but there’s just something about her that gives one pause. There’s a deep, dark danger under her bright eyes and white hair. Really excited to see more from this young actress.
The set pieces are beautiful. I don’t say that in the sense that they’re shiny and pretty but they’re exactly what you would expect to see in this world. Old stone buildings and cobblestone roads lifted right out of the middle ages. The creature effects are quite good and really excel in a few episodes. Fans will immediately recognize a few of them from The Witcher’s lore. Fight scene choreography is smooth and enjoyable with a bit of a dirty clumsiness to it. I didn’t find there was much of that Hollywood fluff with copious amounts of crazy rolling, spinning just being overly stylized for the camera.
The first season of The Witcher was, in my opinion just a tiny taste of things to come. I will admit that there were a few moments where I was a bit confused and I think other viewers will say the same thing but once you get to through it all and you sit back and think on it – pieces fall into place pretty quick. Everything from the casting to the sets, to the overall story smells to me like another feather in Netflix’s cap. There’s a real sense of love for the source material and the attention to detail is amazing and it’s another showcase that leads me to think of Netflix as a premier studio.