The ideal casting of Henry Cavill as Geralt of Rivia, spells out an instant, ready-made success for Netflix. The viability of the story, already boldly proven out in compelling books and exceptional videogames, it’s easy to imagine this as a moment for the property, where it finds pure mainstream acceptance. Even before airing, it has already been renewed for a second season. Certainly, it is filling a sizable hole in the television zeitgeist — as we patiently await a new spin on Game of Thrones and Amazon’s forthcoming The Lord of the Rings. Netflix has arrived at the right place, at the right time. As a matter of timing, it is the streaming show of the moment (having usurped The Mandalorian to become the current most popular show.) By necessity, by demand, absolutely by design, the stars have aligned.
The Witcher is a good show. It is rarely a great show. The expectations of its merits — that they’d follow from the other source material — would be that it’d be informed by expert worldbuilding and characterization, a hugely optimistic perspective to bring to a Netflix show. Some episodes feel bookish, others videogamey. It can feel like it’s either divulging prescriptive exposition or sending characters on videogame quests, by turns. That all is implicit in the premise. The charm of its central actors, often played for comedy, whether or not it has done so intentionally, broadly sells the material.
It’s such a simple thing: the image of Cavill as Geralt is delightful, his tone assured. He is well-suited for the look and has certain physical and emotive attributes. His hardened physicality and gruff affectation do a lot of leg work. Then there is Yennefer (the endearing Anya Chalotra). Her story does not begin with comedy but deterministic tragedy. She starts as a humble and malformed farm daughter with a hunchback and soon becomes a lovely and gifted mage for the king of Vengerberg. Her parts do not always play to the right tone. Why is she dialoguing philosophy to a dead baby before burying it on the beach? It is probably meant to play as something other than ponderous, how she ends up selling the moment. What she lacks, that Cavill has instilled alongside him, is any sort of comedic foil. Her origin story is unamusing in contrast to the rest. The Witcher‘s bard, Jaskier (Joey Batey) perfectly supplements our main character’s bitter dryness with song and dance. His joyful minstrel tune, “Toss a Coin to your Witcher,” is the other best thing to happen on streaming this year, after Baby Yoda.
As Yennefer and Geralt’s stories develop and converge, both pay off more significantly. The greatest proof of its success is just how easily watchable it all is. The story is now made accessible to any audience. You do not really need to read six books and sink a few hundred hours into the videogames to find your footing. What you need is in the show. It offers great potential outside to really feel the universe, of which we only get glimpses here. The series has already reached critical mass through literature and videogames, but it will take Netflix to truly capitalize and popularize the thing.
Whatever its strangely tuned comedy is aiming for, this critic finds the show to be a pure and simple joy. It’s really inherent in everything it does. It is fandom repackaged and dressed up for the masses. It absolutely succeeds in this. The show is bold and confident, even when it has not quite earned its boldness or confidence. There is a strong future ahead for a show that’s filling a much-desired void. It will never be Game of Thrones, but is certainly, without any doubt, a perfectly fine, and often fun, translation of The Witcher.