Film & TV

Review: The Witcher

By Sophie Squire

People can be a little precious when it comes to retelling beloved stories in the form of a new medium, seeing the screen as an evil enemy to the richness that the book can provide. So, if ‘evil is evil. Lesser, greater, middling… makes no difference’ did the Netflix adaptation fill the Legendary Viper Boots it set out to?

The reality is that the screen provides a far larger visual scope to play around with a world. Poland, where Sapkowski, the author of the original books is from, saw the creation of some questionable screen adaptations. The game franchise rose from those ashes in 2007, giving new and loyal fans alike the chance to immerse themselves in the world that Geralt of Rivia inhabits. But, as if the details of the books were communicated down a string between two bean tins, some things got a little… skewed. However, the games are now taken as another form of canon in the Witcher universe; they are so widely played that the new Netflix series seems to be compared more commonly to them, even though the series is based on two short story collections in the world that Sapkowski created.

With the rise of Netflix’s Originals, ‘The Witcher’ is reborn. Released in the first month of 2020, it has already been received as one of the most anticipated releases of the year and seems to have comfortably risen to that role. But maybe only comfortably for pre-existing fans of the franchise: the show’s three timelines that grant each of the three main characters their own screen time, are barely discernible at the beginning. But fans of ‘The Witcher’ games and books will be familiar with the timelines, making the show seem to exclude new fans. Yennefer of Vengeberg, a powerful sorceress by her own creation, has the earliest timeline; it is one filled with politics, magic and world building, something very well done in the show! Ciri of Cintra, a young orphaned princess, leads the most recent: filled with desperation, fear and more politics. These two sandwich Geralt’s timeline which attempts to quench the thirst that many fans have for action. The short story collections that the show is based on shine through in these scenes of the titular character killing monsters and ‘hm’-ing his way through the world, accompanied by his trusty horse Roach and a very ‘hm’ inducing character, Jaskier. Fans of the game may not be familiar with that name, but Jaskier is the original name for Dandelion, a bard determined to be friends with Geralt. The dynamic of their relationship is very well executed in the show, think Donkey and Shrek walking through a sunflower field and you are part of the way there.

As someone who is passionate about fantasy, I believe that characters provide a gateway into any fantasy world. In ‘The Witcher’, all of the characters we meet are already familiar with the world, seeing action and conversations taking place around them as if nothing is new. But this risks the viewer being left behind if they are not tactfully introduced to the fantastical elements. It is undeniable that the Netflix adaptation is a mix of staying true to Sapkowski’s books, with lines of Geralt’s speech taken directly from them, and pandering to the fans of the game, with scenes that are visually so close that you almost feel you have a controller in your hands. This blending of the two creates a wonderful new layer to the Witcher universe, with fans in both camps comfortably placated. Hopefully, the second season will do some more work to explain things for the newer fans!