To the untrained eye, The Witcher seems like an unfettered mess of medieval fantasy cliches. Monsters, wizards, kings and queens, destiny. And in the middle of it all, a lone outsider, a free-thinking warrior going against the grain. But The Witcher is not your average fantasy, and that is exactly why it both fails and succeeds. Based on a series of books by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, The Witcher follows the exploits of Geralt of Rivia, a monster hunter armed with two swords and an array of specialized mutations. As satisfying as it would be to simply watch Geralt fight giant spiders and werewolves episode after episode, the show insists on an actual story. In three parallel plotlines, the series centers around Geralt, the sorceress Yennefer, and Ciri, the child of destiny. The first season, as with many first seasons of many shows, seeks to overcome the necessary tedium of exposition and world building.
In a frustrating bit of irony, the show suffers from a similar shortcoming as its namesake, yet not directly related video game counterpart. As in The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, the show expects the viewer to be aware of certain details without educating the viewer directly. As the events in the show do not occur simultaneously, flashbacks are inserted sporadically and without warning, leaving the viewer to detect when we are no longer watching what we were just watching. For those of us who are familiar with at least some of the source material, this is only temporarily disorienting, as we can use context to piece together the scene. Those new to The Witcher in any form, however, may find the sudden change of pace jarring. Once you are able to make sense of the shifting timelines, The Witcher makes up for its poor pacing with phenomenal storytelling and acting.
Henry Cavill plays Geralt brilliantly, which should come as a surprise to no one considering what a giant nerd he is. Lazier fans spent many a day clamoring for Obvious Choice Mads Mikkelsen to take on the role, but you would be hard pressed to find an actor more devoted than Superman. Cavill is famously a huge fan of the book and video game series, and his performance is essentially a love letter to one of his favorite franchises. Granted, Geralt is not the most expressive of characters, and you could argue it wouldn’t take a tremendous amount of acting talent to play him, but who cares, and, also, shut up.
I would also like to send a shout-out to the man responsible for one of the show’s best features, the fight choreography. Vladimir Furdik, who played the Night King on Game of Thrones, brings Geralt’s dance-like swordplay to life and designs one of the most enthralling fight scenes in history. Viewers will be treated to his work almost immediately, as the first episode concludes with what I venture to say is some of the best fight choreography I have ever seen. Seamless and graphic
without being gratuitous. Like Kingsman, but with swords.
The Witcher cuts some corners here and there and the pacing feels disjointed at times, but its minor hiccups pale in comparison to its successes. The liberties taken by the production team are clearly with purpose, as the finale appears to be the result of loose ends being tied. The worst that can be said about this debut season is that it felt like a drawn-out “previously on” segment, and now the good part starts. Assuming the showrunners treat it like everyone’s caught up, season 2 should be a wild ride when we finally get it.
Joey's grade for season 1: B+