This past weekend, Netflix released the first season of their newest adaptation, The Witcher, starring Henry Cavill. The Witcher, based on a video game & a series of novels, follows the titular character, a.k.a. Geralt of Rivia, as he makes his way to Blavekin. Upon his entrance into the town, he meets a woman named Renfri. Alongside their story, we are introduced to Princess Cirilla (Ciri) of Cintra and her grandmother (How?! The actress playing her grandmother looks way too young), the queen.
Upon this first viewing, I was struck by one thing at first, and that was how the heck are these two storylines related? They didn’t take place in the same town. They didn’t reference the characters in the other storyline (at first). It left me, as a first-time viewer of this universe, a bit confused. Combine that with the fact that with any type of fantastical pilot, that tends to result in an info-dump of an episode. This pilot did fall victim to that in the beginning. I felt like I was inundated with names and places, but at the same time, I didn’t feel like I had a good grasp on who everyone was to an extent. This is such a tricky episode to write (for anyone who writes fantasy or sci-fi or anything not contemporary), and I can almost forgive that.
Before I go into a bit more on the specifics of the episode (and spoil anything), I first heard really good things about this series over the last two days. One reviewer even compared it to Game of Thrones. Now, that’s a hefty comparison to make, and it doesn’t always earn it. Just because a story is set in a Eurocentric fantasy world doesn’t mean it’s comparable to Game of Thrones. And, based on this first episode, I’d say it’s a disservice to say this is like Game of Thrones. GoT had that political grittiness and anxiety that was interwoven into every episode and developed that naturally over the course of its 8 seasons. The Witcher is its own show, and it needs to stand apart from GoT and other fantasy-based TV shows. Otherwise, why would anyone watch it if it was so much like another show?
Something that I truly appreciated in this episode overall was how it showed the almost open use of magic. So often, when we watch these types of shows, magic is almost always forbidden because of “unlimited power” and “magic has a price”. Here, it was part and parcel of the world, and I LOVED THAT. It was a refreshing change of pace.
Getting into the characters a bit, Renfri was one we met almost in the very beginning. Of course, as the episode went on, we learned a lot more about her history as part of Lilit’s women and of her mutant status. I don’t want to spoil her character for anyone, but let’s just say I was disappointed with how the episode ended. There was a lot of lost potential there with her character. But, at the same time, this is a fantasy show, so maybe things can change?
Geralt’s meeting with a sorcerer named Stregobor ends with the sorcerer asking Geralt to kill Renfri because he believes her to be a monster. Geralt refuses, and it’s here where we really see a moral center start to show. Now, I’m not familiar with exactly what Witchers are (or why women can’t be one), but based on what we’ve seen so far, it appears that they’re actively shunned/distrusted by others for a reason. So, why the hesitation?
In another part of this world, Princess Cirilla is already struggling with her own role in life as royalty. Falling into the “princess who doesn’t really want to be the princess” trope, Ciri is left out of the Cintra/Nilfgaard war talk. Yes, it’s the first episode, and there’s already a war scene. (definitely no shortage of boring stories so far) When the queen and king are injured/killed in battle, Ciri is left with one message from her grandmother. “Find Geralt of Rivia”. & Hallelujah, we finally get some kind of link between these two storylines.
This episode left me with a lot more questions than answers, but I’m excited to see where the writers will go with this story, and how it unfolds over the next seven episodes.
Will you be watching The Witcher?