The Witcher: A TV Review
A fantasy adventure that combines all the elements that made Game of Thrones great, but with more monsters and magic
INCLUDES SPOILERS FOR THE WITCHER SEASONS 1 AND 2. READ AT OWN RISK
Cast: Henry Cavill, Anya Chalotra, Freya Allen, Joey Batey, Jodhi May and MyAnna Buring
Created by: Lauren Schmidt Hissrich
Adapted from: The Witcher book series by Andrzej Sapowski, namely The Last Wish and The Sword of Destiny
First season: December 20, 2019 (first episode: ''The End's Beginning''; final episode: ''Much More'')
Second season: December 17, 2021 (first episode: ''A Grain of Truth''; final episode: ''Family'')
Season/s: Two seasons, 16 episodes (3rd season coming either late 2022 or early 2023)
To set the scene: a man with white-blonde hair and a giant-ass sword fights a creepy spider-like monster in a darkly-lit forest/swamp. I know I used a lot of special characters in that sentence, but bear with me here. We soon learn that this particular man's name is Geralt of Rivia, and that he is hardly a man, but in fact, a witcher. Not many people on this ''Continent'' like witchers, though, and as he walks along the muddy streets of a little town called Blaviken with his beloved horse Roach, and when we meet characters such as the cunning wizard Stregobor (portrayed by Lars Mikkelsen) and the princess/bandit Renfri (portrayed by Emma Appleton), we get a sense within a few scenes of the kind of person that Geralt is. He barely speaks in words, using hardly anything above a grunt or a sigh or a muttered curse word underneath his breath, but it quickly seems like he is the kind of character that would sacrifice everything for others who are different than him, even if they don't always appreciate his help.
And so our story begins.
Within an episode or two, we meet the hunchbacked human girl Yennefer of Vengerberg (portrayed by Anya Chalotra), who longs to be something more in this cruel world known as the Continent. Her parents hate her, and she's considered literally a monster. Not just because she's basically the female version of Quasimodo. But also because she is quarter elf, which in their world are not the stoic, bow-and-arrow-wielding characters you see in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. In this world, they are hunted and feared. But that is until a matronly woman, Tissaia de Vries (portrayed by MyAnna Buring), who we find is also a mage, comes to have Yennefer by way of possession (aka. her dad sold her to the mage). Tissaia then takes Yennefer to a place called Aretuza, a castle on a hilltop, overlooking the sea, to learn magic.
The final player in this story, Princess Cirilla of Cintra (portrayed by Freya Allen), is the most central piece that ties the plot of this show together, and ends up driving forward most of the plot for the second season. After her kingdom falls, and her grandmother, Queen Calanthe (portrayed by Jodhi May) dies, Princess Cirilla, or Ciri, as most of the characters know her to be, flees her dying kingdom, which has been taken by a strong, but ruthless kingdom called Nilfgaard.
The storytelling is a little confusing, as it bounces back and forth between timelines, but eventually all of the roads in the past, lead up to the present, which the main present event is the fall of Cintra, Ciri's home kingdom. Later in the season, it is revealed that Ciri's parents, Pavetta and Duny (Pavetta is Queen Calanthe's daughter) were married due to the Law of Surprise, and that Pavetta's marriage to Duny was repayment for the latter saving Pavetta's father's life years prior in a battle, before he was cursed as a hedgehog/man. Geralt saves Duny at their wedding feast and invokes the Law of Surprise, unwittingly spurring the pregnancy that brings Ciri into the world. Therefore, because of said law, his destiny is now tied to that of Ciri's. However, in the typical hero's journey, he refuses to uphold his end of what destiny has bargained and leaves, only returning twice more to witness the beginning of the end for Cintra.
Geralt, on his travels, meets a bard named Jaskier (portrayed by Joey Batey), through which one of the most epic pieces of music that I've ever heard in a fantasy show come out of: ''Toss a Coin to Your Witcher''. I heard this tune before I watched the show and now its constantly stuck in my head - and on my Spotify playlist. The bard and the witcher eventually meet Yennefer, and Geralt feels an instant attraction to her. By now, she has mastered her training at Aretuza and underwent a magical surgery to become beautiful, at the great cost of her ability to bear a child. But she has also gone rogue. After a failed mission to protect a princess and her newborn daughter from an assassin, Yennefer begins to forge her own path with her newfound power. After a crazy adventure with the Witcher version of a genie, aka. a djinn, Yennefer, Geralt and Jaskier, along with a nobleman and several dwarves/monster hunters, go on a dragon hunt. Turns out said nobleman is actually a dragon and this was the reboot of Dragonheart. Haha, no. No, it's not.
Geralt later reveals to Yennefer that he made a wish via the djinn to save her life, and angered by both her growing feelings for Geralt and the fact that he denied her power, she leaves. The bard leaves too, and Geralt returns to Cintra to retrieve the now pre-teen Cirilla to fulfill his end of the Law of Surprise. Queen Calanthe isn't too happy about this, and so she locks Geralt away in the prisons, who breaks out just as Cintra is falling to the Nilfgaardian army. And so the past paths merge with the present. Yennefer then returns to Aretuza, and she is eventually convinced to fight against the Nilfgaardian armies who work to spread their reach of terror around the rest of the Northern Kingdoms after the subsequent fall and capture of Cintra. Meanwhile, the leaders of Nilfgaard, including a mage from Aretuza who studied under Tissaia named Fringilla and a military commander named Cahir both combine their efforts to search for Ciri.
The first season ends with a battle at a place called Sodden Hill, which the mages win, but with heavy losses, and Yennefer mysteriously disappears after showing an outburst of magic, being now able to control fire. Geralt is injured fighting a monster, and eventually makes his way into a forest where he and Cirilla finally meet.
Season 2 leaves off a couple of years after the finale of Season 1. Geralt and Ciri head to an abandoned castle keep called Kaer Morhen, which used to be the stronghold of the last remaining witchers on the continent. There's a few left, but not much. And it's here we see more of Geralt's fatherly side towards Ciri come out, as well as discovering him dealing with his own issues towards his father figure/mentor, Vesemir (portrayed by Kim Bodnia). This season sees him challenge his childhood pain head-on and turns Geralt from a broody, grumpy witcher to a empathetic but still strong central male character and father figure to Freya Allen's Cirilla of Cintra.
Meanwhile, Nilfgaard makes advances in welcoming the elves Filavandrel and Francesca into their kingdom along with a massive host of their people into the newly captured Cintra. Over the agreement that the elves will be taken care of by the Nilfgaardians, the very pregnant Francesca (who will bear the first pure elf born in hundreds of years on the Continent) and Fringilla, the mage assigned to Nilfgaard's court, make an alliance, which soon evolves into a friendship.
Yennefer returns to Aretuza and is welcomed back with not-so-open arms by the Brotherhood, of which the leader, the wizard Stregobor (remember him from the first season?) wishes Yennefer to show her allegiance to the Brotherhood by executing Cahir, the now-disgraced (and very ragged) lead military commander of the Nilfgaardian forces. She fails to do so and sets herself and Cahir free, and they head for Cintra. The two get on a boat thanks to Jaskier the bard, who has now taken up an occupation known as the Sandpiper, as he is the main transit point for persecuted elves to make their way to Cintra.
After a scuffle with a rogue fire-controlling mage (who was not so kindly labelled ''fire-f-er'' by Yennefer, whose actual name is Rience. He's also on the hunt for Ciri, and the tension ramps up once Geralt and Vesemir learn with the aid of a mage from Aretuza, Triss Merigold, that Ciri has what is called Elder blood, and she possesses devastating magical powers as a result.
It all comes to a head when Yennefer allies with a demon named Voleth Meir, who takes the shape of an old woman and feeds on pain and fear. After the event that took place hundreds of years ago, known as the Conjunction of the Spheres, the first witchers locked her away in a cabin for eternity. That is, until a series of events breaks her free. You can guess what circumstances they are. That's right - all fear and pain circumstances. I won't spoil it for you, but I'll let you watch the show first. Long story short, Yennefer betrays Geralt and tries to harm Ciri for the sake of getting her powers back, which disappeared after her fire stunt in the battle of Sodden Hill.
Voleth Meir takes possession of Ciri, and she murders several witchers before the last of them finally make a stand against her, which includes Vesemir and Geralt. Again, I won't tell you what happens in the last few minutes of the final episode for this season, but what I will tell you is that we're most likely getting a Season 3 for The Witcher, and I was so excited when I heard this. The last few moments of the episode sets up an incredible plot twist that was almost a blink-and-miss for me, especially if you don't pay attention to the finer details of the story.
I absolutely loved this show. The level of worldbuilding, set design, costume design and character development are all on point. I've never personally read the books or played the Witcher games, but from what I've seen, they've nailed Geralt's armor and other costumes, not to mention his overall look throughout both seasons and his personality down to a T. Henry Cavill is one of the best actors I've ever seen on screen and I reckon (you might disagree with me, or not - after you've seen the show of course) that his role as Geralt of Rivia is perhaps the best since his role as Superman/Clark Kent in the Snyderverse franchise (aka. Man of Steel, BvS, Zack Snyder's Justice League).
As someone who's still kind of getting used to excessive violence in fantasy movies and TV, they've done this kind of violence really well. It's a lot of blood and gore, and it's the kind of style of violence that fits in really well with Game of Thrones' style of violence. There's quite possibly a bit too much nudity in the first season, as well as sex, but a lot of that charges the emotional arc of Yennefer and Geralt's relationship. (Yennefer's magic surgery in Season 1 is a bit much on violence and nudity combined, and I wouldn't lie if I said it was a bit barf-worthy... there was way too much blood). But other than that, it's wonderful and very well done.
The emotional tension in some of the scenes is very visible, as well as the physical sense of peril that a lot of the characters feel throughout the show. The joy and peace that the characters feel is also very visible, and there's a few funny bits here and there too. Mostly with Jaskier - he's literally one of the most hilarious parts of this show, not just there to pull out his lute and play a few musical bangers every now and again. I loved Yennefer and Geralt's relationship. Well, it's not quite a relationship. They are two very broken people, who were both hurt in different, but not too dissimilar ways to become what they are at the point in time that they meet each other on the show. That being said, relationships with two people that are broken in nearly irreparable ways are set on a crash course for doom. It's never a good thing, but it's fantastic to watch these two characters navigate their complicated feelings for each other and wrestle with their separate destinies.
Cirilla is a fantastic character too, and she goes from a young, privileged princess to a fugitive forever running in the woods and to a warrior-princess archetype figure. Or at least a warrior-princess in training. She's pretty funny throughout the series and the second season really brings out aspects of her that Geralt's personality totally rubbed off on in that she's very stubborn, and persistent. She knows what she wants, and when she tells Geralt that she wants to be trained to fight, the other witchers mock her and its Geralt's turn to be hesitant, but eventually, she learns - and triumphs through the impossible.
In short, this is a fantastic fantasy show and definitely worthy of praise. The acting is stellar, the characters are engaging, the special effects are wonderful, and it's a honest adaptation of the books/video games.
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About the author
Hi!! My name is Taylor.
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