Spoilers will be hunted down.
Here’s some non-spoilery good news, Henry Cavill does a good job immersing himself into the character of Geralt of Rivia, the titular Witcher of the show. It took a couple of episodes to stop seeing him as the Kryptonian. Of course, your mileage might vary if you don’t allow yourself to be drawn into this world. It does take some time to breathe it all in. There’s some very satisfying payback up ahead if you’re willing to invest the time.
The Witcher is based on the original series of books by Andrzej Sapkowski and produced by Lauren Schmidt Hissrich. The show follows three main character threads: the Witcher, Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill); the Princess of Cintra, Cirilla (Freya Allan) and the Sorceress Yennefer of Vengerberg (Anya Chalotra). Their paths will eventually cross due to destinies interwoven and all that jazz, but the way each of them are built up is rather different.
Geralt’s character is the brooding silent type. He’s good at what he does but keeps running into choices that are bigger a commitment that he cares for. Due to that, he gets cornered to make an impulsive choice more than once, including a massacre that earns him the title of Butcher of Blaviken and the hatred of powerful sorcerer Stregobor (Lars Mikkelsen. Honestly, I was buying the character but I was sure a completely stoic Witcher would get tiresome to watch eventually. Surprisingly, Cavill manages to put a very subtle humour and occasional sparks of passion into Geralt that saves the lone wolf from becoming a bore. He remains an altogether tragic figure, but he’s not completely devoid of feelings regardless of his supposedly heartless nature.
Cirilla “Ciri” knows only the world as ruled by her grandmother, Queen Calanthe (Jodhi May) of Cintra. Her kingdom crumbles down on the first episode due to the invasion of Nilfgaard, an enemy kingdom and the main of antagonist of the show. How she gets away, why and what her connection to Geralt is further explained as the show goes along, revealing how powerful and commanding Queen Calanthe was. Ciri will be stripped of all her royal privileges as a fugitive, and although she has to be careful about who to trust she will soon find she needs the kindness of strangers to get by.
Yennefer of Vengerberg is the one character that starts from the complete bottom. She is a hunchback, shunned by the world and sold by her father to a sorceress named Tissaia de Vries (MyAnna Buring). Yennefer will end up in Aretuza, where Tissaia trains prospects to become sorceresses. The road for her is rough and with very little kindness, making Yennefer resent society to the point she will have to forge her own way.
Although it is not explicitly said, which I loved to discover, the timeline of events is not simultaneous and not linear. Things do sync up in the later episodes but the discovery – and the fact that the show does not feel the need to spoon-feed us the explanation of that storytelling choice – was something that I welcomed. It’s rare to find a show with extensive world building that doesn’t feel the need to go into long bouts of exposition and trusts the audience will be smart enough to figure it out.
I was pleased to see strong performances in this show, starting with Jodhi May as warrior queen Calanthe. MyAnna Buring’s cold but charismatic Tissaia de Vries is rather notable. Best in show is the amazing and powerful portrayal of Anya Chalotra as she goes through a transformation as Yennefer of Vengeberg. Her build up is the most problematic as she starts portraying a hunchback girl and literally chooses to transform herself (it’s not a makeover, she pays a high price for it). As often as seems spiteful of her position, Yennefer remains the strongest character in the show.
Highly recommended if you’re willing to invest the time for fantasy enthusiast and casual viewers that don’t mind a little magic here and there. It’s not Game of Thrones, although a few early scenes invited that comparison, but its own thing. Some outcomes you’ll see coming a mile away, but there are more than a few subversions of the entire sword-and-sorcery genre that make for genuine entertainment. The starting episodes have a slower pace but it ramps up quite fast as it moves along. The finale has both satisfying resolution and foreshadowing to keep us hooked and looking forward to the next season.
That will do for now.