Okay. Like a whole lotta people I binge-watched The Witcher last week.
Filmed in Hungary, Poland, and Spain (I can almost hear the production location scouts saying stuff like, “Just give me a list of locations that are creepy AF!”) Netflix’s sword & sorcery offering does its level best to fill the hole left in some of us following GoT’s exit.
The Witcher manages to check all the right boxes for a fantasy series.
- Amazingly convoluted story dependent on a backstory that spawns generations? Check!
- Huge cast of characters that takes us at least 3 episodes to actually learn their names? Check!
- Amorphous world-building resulting in a continent large enough for several Earth-sized planets? Check!
- Ancient dynasties with barely explained rivalries? Check!
- Strange mystic castes? Check!
- Dragons? Oh, Check!
- A special child with frightening powers who everyone wants to control? Check!
- Physical violence with a keen eye to hacking? Check!
- Magical violence that blows the CGI budget into the stratosphere? Check!
- Lots of horses? Check!
- A Super Hot Hero and Villainess Who Really Wants to Be A Heroine? Check and CHECK!
- Potentially Epic Romance? Check!
- And of course, Scary Bad Guy? Ummm…Check, I guess.
What’s not to love?
Okay, the writing. Almost every episode is penned by a different scribe, but I’ll put this one on creator Lauren Schmidt Hissrich, who provided the scripts for the first and final episodes. The writing isn’t bad, but the story structure is a tad cumbersome. Those of us unfamiliar with Andrzej Sapkowski‘s book series of the same name, spend the first handful of episodes playing catch-up until we realize that we’re being told three different overlapping stories that aren’t happening at the same time. Once that mischief is managed, however, it’s pretty much smooth sailing into pure escapism. Cue the hacking!
EVERYONE is swooning over British actor Henry Cavill, who lucked into the titular role of the series. There’s a reason for that. Dude is hot as hell AND he can act. He also looks amazing in black leather. If you’re missing Viggo or Kit, Henry just might make you forget your pain for a bit.
But there are other standouts in this sprawling cast.
Anya Chalotra (who also looks amazing in black leather) is riveting as the very complex Yennefer. MyAnna Buring goes the extra mile as an actress and then some in her ardent portrayal of Trissaia, the cruel-to-be-kind headmistress of Aretuza, and Jodhi May totally brings it as the powerful but tragically prideful Queen Calanthe. There’s a lot of delightfully diverse woman-power in the cast, which I can only hope serves to light a fire under everyone else’s asses.
The Witcher’s production values range from “eh” to “wow!” The costumes absolutely fall into the latter category. British costume designer Tim Aslam did a magnificent job clothing his cast, and all I can say is that Anya Chlotra must be particularly pleased. The CGI budget (saved mostly for the last two episodes) was well spent, and delivered bang for buck, for the most part. Sonya Belousova’s score is fine. And no one will ever complain about any episode in this season being underlit.
Of particular note is the creation of The Witcher’s own school for Witchcraft and Wizardry…well, just witchcraft, I guess: Aretuza. A cruel and frightening place where you either succeed, or your life essence is taken and used to power the joint. Survival of the fittest at its scariest. Production Designer Andrew Laws and team got Aretuza just right, and it is, in my opinion, the most striking setting in the series.
A lot of what goes on in The Witcher borders on the nonsensical, but oddly, that only seems to add to the overall derring-do of the project. The epic gravitas of tales like LoTR and GoT is definitely missing here, but there is something unique about each character in The Witcher, which provides some internalized gravitas for the viewer.
The story is compelling, the acting is solid, the visuals are solid…its FUN, damnit, FUN.
So, if the dark nights of winter seem darker for want of a rollicking fantasy yarn with most of the bells and whistles you’ve come to love, give The Witcher a try. It sucked me right in, and I hate everything.