‘The Witcher’ proves that dark fantasy can thrive without ripping-off Game of Thrones

From book, to video game franchise, to Netflix Original

Courtesy+of+official+The+Witcher+Netflix+facebook+page

Courtesy of official The Witcher Netflix facebook page

By Matt Martella, Collegian correspondent

The Witcher” is the latest blockbuster television show produced by Netflix looking to find the same success in the “dark fantasy” genre as HBO did in the seemingly endless goldmine that was “Game of Thrones.” Made with the same quality, and expectation of success, as Netflix’s other hit original shows like “Stranger Things” and “House of Cards,” “The Witcher” has a massively high bar to meet both in its production and ability to attract the same hordes of viewers that flocked to “Game of Thrones” in ever-increasing numbers. But was “The Witcher” the Azor Ahai that Netflix wanted it to be? For simplicity’s sake, I will give it a tentative “yes.”

Henry Cavill stars as Geralt of Rivia, the titular Witcher of the series. Geralt is a monster hunter who has dedicated nearly his entire life mastering the skills, swordplay and magic to become a formidable warrior. Geralt is in a particularly vulnerable and isolated position in a world cursed with never-ending violence and hatred between the races of humans, elves, dwarves and monsters. Although born human, the trials he endured and mutagens he was injected with to become a Witcher have stripped him of that identity.

Cavill does an excellent job playing Geralt of Rivia, whose personality could seem contradictory if not helmed by an actor who knows the character so well. The aloof Witcher is a man of few words and few interests apart from his monster contracts, but Cavill inserts enough humanity within the character that allows the audience to sympathize with him and understand why such a seemingly indifferent bounty hunter has such a profound sense of right-and-wrong. It helps that Cavill himself is a massive fan of “The Witcher” books and video games, something that the producers of the show must be eternally grateful for.

The show also stars Anya Chalotra as Yennefer of Vengerberg and Freya Allan as Princess Ciri. As a passionate fan of “The Witcher” video games and books, I was skeptical of Anya’s casting as Yennefer because of her relative obscurity and the fact that the actress came off as fairly reserved in interviews, something that Yennefer herself most certainly is not. Anya is phenomenal as Yennefer and plays the character with all the haughty determination of her book and video game counterparts. She is just as much the star of the show as Geralt, and I would even go as far as to say Anya Chalotra’s character work surpasses that of Cavill.

Freya Allan is also great as Ciri, although the character herself seems somewhat out of place as one of the three main characters. This is not the actress’ fault at all, but it does indicate to the most glaring problem of the first season of “The Witcher:” the plot.

A typical episode of “The Witcher” goes as follows: Geralt either willingly or unwillingly gets caught up in a morally ambiguous conflict between men and monsters, Yennefer has to overcome some sort of adversity on her path to become a powerful sorceress, and Ciri wanders through the woods and occasionally encounters another character that disappears from the show just as quickly as they are introduced. Two of these plots sound vastly more interesting than the other, and watching Ciri’s story unfold over real-time can be monotonous and even aggravating due to its irrelevancy. That being said, Geralt and Yennefer’s storylines are far more captivating on an episode-to-episode basis, especially when their fates intertwine, but more chinks in the armor become apparent when analyzing the show’s plot from beginning to end.

The timeline of the show is completely erratic, as some of the scenes in the first episode are some of the last to occur if the entire show was placed in linear order. It can be distracting to watch an episode and find out half-way through that it’s a flashback and then try to piece it in your head as to where the scene fits with the rest of the show. The culprit of this frantic timeline is clearly the writing team’s intention to make Ciri one of the three main characters. From both a geographical perspective, and keeping in mind the timeline of the story, her arch is completely isolated from what is going on with the rest of the show. It would make more sense to condense Ciri’s season-long arch into one solid episode so that Geralt and Yennefer’s adventures could unfold more linearly.

As to other problems, the world of “The Witcher” is often explained in long-winded and convoluted exposition dumps that could leave viewers not previously attuned to the lore stranded without a paddle. Even as a fan of other Witcher content, I occasionally found myself lost in my effort to understand the factions, locations and traditions that play major roles in the story.

“The Witcher” can be nitpicked to death with its awkward lines and lack luster CGI, but none of these issues are so glaring that they could turn an interested viewer away from the show. If anything, some of the bad jokes and one-liners add to the show’s charm, which it overflows with. Despite the problems in the writing and special effects, there is something undeniably appealing about “The Witcher” that kept me hooked to it for its eight-episode runtime. For one, all the acting is phenomenal and there is an overwhelming feeling that the staff, both in front of and behind the camera, are determined to make “The Witcher” as good as they possibly can. It isn’t trying to be a knock-off “Game of Thrones;” it has its own take on dark fantasy that pays respect to the books and video games that came before it. That being said, I expect major improvements to the show in its second season, and even if the team behind “The Witcher “is only half as determined as I think it is, then fans should be very excited for the next adventures of Geralt of Rivia.

Matt Martella is a Collegian contributor and can be reached at [email protected]