The Witcher: Season One – Netflix Series Review

Introduction

Though there are many fans of the games, particular ‘The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt’, I have not met many people who have read the books that came before the games, until the series was announced and then all of a sudden people began reading the books.

I’ll admit that I personally hadn’t played the games or read the books until the Netflix series was announced, but I knew about the games and everything about the games made me realize that it was definitely something I’d love to get into. From it’s vast, well thought out world, to it’s badass hero and of course the horrifying creatures, which are all inspired by creatures of folklore and mythology from around the world.

So, when the series was announced, I knew it was time to dive in, and so I bought the box set of books to read because I learned that the series focused more on the original source material, and not the games, which differ greatly from the books.

Plot

The first season for The Witcher, is a series of short stories, which all connect once you piece together the timeline. Though some viewers may become confused within the first few episodes, I implore any viewer to stick with it for all 8 episodes because it will all make sense when you finish the series. Yes, there are still unanswered questions, but that’s expected from any first season of a series, because they’re only just introducing the world and the characters and the creators of the series need to leave some room for viewers to want more.

We are introduced to our key characters in this first season in the form of Geralt, Yennefer, Jaskier and Princess Cirilla (a.k.a. Ciri). These four characters will take us on our journey throughout the fantasy world known as The Continent.

However, unlike many fantasy series, and yet similar to many others, these characters all fit together for many reasons, which you’ll learn about as you watch but I have heard many viewers still misinterpret what these characters represent. So I’m hoping I might help with that, but please be aware, I’m not claiming to be an expert on the world of The Witcher, this is just what I’ve taken from the series and the books that I’ve read.

Themes

I believe the primary theme for the series in particular is ‘chaos’ or rather ‘chaotic’. So let me explain this theme.

Within each character there is a form of chaos, with Yennefer being the most obvious character for this theme since it is said many times that her magic abilities are formed from chaos and that she herself is a vessel of chaotic power, due to her elf blood.

Yennefer’s power isn’t the only thing about her that is chaotic though, because the primary factor is her personality. As a hunchback she was angry, and allowed her emotions to get the better of her, but as an adult she became more controlled and yet still allowed her emotions to drive her into chaotic situations. Her stubbornness put other characters lives in danger, and so she represent a form of chaotic evil within the show.

Geralt is the chaotic neutral character for the series. Witcher’s are said to feel no emotions, and are often referred to as monsters by the common humans of the world.

Despite how many real monsters he has slayed in order to save humans from their troubles, he remains an outcast of the world, and many say he feels nothing, but as you can witness throughout the series, Geralt struggles with love, loss, and loneliness. He is told that he has made the wrong choices, or that he acted from pure instinct which Geralt himself has said is what the monsters do, so he is constantly struggling to decide if he has the power of choice or if he is truly a monster acting on his instincts.

A good example of this is seen within the Blaviken Market, at the end of episode one, where Geralt earns his less than pleasant nickname, ‘The Butcher of Blaviken’ because when he arrives, he is faced with little choice but to defend himself from Renfri’s gang, but many believe he could have shown restraint in his actions, but instead he chose to violently slaughter the gang.

Whilst Geralt believed he was saving the citizens, the citizens call him a butcher and throw stones at him, driving him out. So Geralt is left to wonder if he made a choice or if he acted on pure instinct.

His actions throughout the series are often questionable, being neither good nor evil, and so he fits within the chaotic neutral theme because despite everything that happens that is chaotic around him, he is never on one side of it, he’s always caught in the middle.

The quote he gives Stregobor in the first episode about evil, is very much true to the theme, because as he said, he’d rather not choose and that’s where the issue lies, because that makes us think he’s acting upon instinct despite the choices we see him make.

“Evil is Evil Stregobor. Lesser, Greater, Middling, it’s all the same. I’m not judging you, I haven’t only done good in my life either, but now…if I have to choose between one evil, and another, then I prefer not to choose at all,” Geralt to Stregobor – The Witcher S01E01.

Ciri and Jaskier are lesser chaotic characters. Jaskier is often around only because of his connection to Geralt. Though he is known for creating his own chaos due to his hobby of bedding women who are already wed to another man, but compared to the chaos the other characters create, this is very much a lesser chaotic life.

Ciri is a tougher one to understand. For now, she is certainly a lesser chaotic character, as her journey begins from escaping danger in the form of Nilfgaard, and as the series continues we see her character grow as she becomes closer to her grandmothers form of chaos within her characteristics. From a frightened young girl who is still unaware of what the real world can be like, to a young woman who is ready to take a life of a Doppler after being betrayed by it.

Her situations are often chaotic but through no fault of Cirilla herself which is why she remains a lesser chaotic character, because she has no idea why she is important or where her place is just yet until she finds Geralt as her grandmother instructed.

Music

No fantasy film or series is complete without an epic soundtrack to accompany it. Now of course I’m sure everyone who has watched the series or knows someone who has, knows that the song ‘Toss A Coin To Your Witcher’ is probably the most popular song from the series, but I want to talk more about the other music in the series.

Sonya Belousova & Giana Ostinelli created something spectacular with the soundtrack, which sends chills down my spine each time I listen to it. Their heavy, low beats and chilling acoustics really add to the events that unfold and build the perfect atmospheres for the scenes.

Songs such as Geralt’s Theme and Song of The White Wolf are truly enchanting to listen to and truly bring that sense of fantasy. The melodic vocals are powerful to the emotions yet soft to the ears of the listener.

Not only that but Song of the White Wolf genuinely gives the listener a background on Geralt, mentioning his home of Kaer Moahen as well as giving us a sense of how others see him, with the lyrics “bare not your eyes upon him”. This gives the song a much deeper purpose other than simply adding to the series atmosphere, because it is very much apart of the story itself.

Though I pushed it to one side at the start of this topic, I couldn’t finish this section without really bringing to light the incredible talent of Jaskier, or rather the man behind the character, the actor called Joey Batey, who performed the songs his character sings within the show, from ‘Toss A Coin To Your Witcher’, ‘Her Sweet Kiss’, and ‘The Fishmonger’s Daughter’, all of which not only prove his talent for singing, but also his range, because these 3 songs vary in tone and genuinely bring the character of Jaskier the Bard to life. I know some people questioned whether it was Batey himself that was singing but it has been confirmed and therefore cannot be argued that the cast, whether singing or not, brought their all to these characters to bring them to life.

Timeline

As many people have stated, the series can become confusing, given that the timeline is indeed all over the place, but this isn’t due to bad editing, or muddled up writing. The reason behind the mixed up timeline, which sees character like Calanthe, The Lioness of Cintra return, despite her death in the first episode, is because the series follows the format of the book ‘The Last Wish’, which is a collection of short stories, and so the series also mixes its timeline with short stories. Some of which involve Geralt and Yennefer, others Geralt and Jaskier, and some don’t involve Geralt at all.

Now I know some people still think they should have done it in order, but the beauty of this show is when you watch it all through and it all comes together towards the end. You learn how scenes and events are connected, you realize that not everything is as simple as going from A-Z in one run, and that mixing it up can make for a very interesting series, because you pay more attention to the story, to the characters and you learn to understand where in their journey they are.

We have seen Ciri grow throughout the series and have begun to see her become more like her grandmother, but then we return to see her once again as the innocent child we first met, and see that Geralt has in fact been in the area to see her. We also learn how the story came to be that Ciri is linked to Geralt.

Characters

As mentioned before in the music section of this article, the cast brought their all to these characters so let’s discuss some of them a little more.

Let’s begin with the primary focus of the series, Geralt of Rivia, portrayed by Henry Cavill, who has stated in interviews that he was a fan of both the books and the games long before landing the role. He understands Geralt as a character, and drew inspiration from his portrayals in the book and the games, especially when it came to the voice. Cavill explained that he drew inspiration from Doug Cockle’s portrayal as the voice of the video game version of Geralt, who gave Geralt a gruff, whisper like tone.

Cavill wanted to make his portrayal his own however, instead of just copying other portrayals, so he lowered the tone, made his voice deeper, and would often improvise his grunts within the scenes, meaning that his co-stars would sometimes have to guess if he was about to speak or if the grunt was all he needed within that conversation.

Many fans of the video games wanted a bearded Geralt, similar to his appearance in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, but many fans of the books, knew that Geralt doesn’t generally like beards, so Cavill knew it was a must to stick with the books version as it was certainly, though arguably, the more popular phenomenon, if not though, it was certainly the first.

Freya Allan brought the young Princess Cirilla to life in the series. As the Lion Cub of Cintra, it was important to see her grow as a character, and Freya’s performance really brought that sense of the characters arc to the series, because we watch her go from picking up a stick and backing away from danger, when she meets Dara in the woods, to picking up a knife and heading towards danger, when the two are attacked by the Doppler, later in the season.

Freya is able to brilliantly portray the emotions Ciri is going through, drawing us into the scenes, making us root for her success, whilst pleading that no ill fate befall Ciri because she’s such an interesting character who will evolve incredibly when the show returns for it’s second season.

I’ve already talked Jaskier and Joey Batey’ performance, but what I didn’t mention in that segment, was his performance without the singing. Joey was able to bring the charm, and somewhat annoying traits of the character to the series, as well as giving us the majority of the humour for the show, as he is without a doubt the comic relief despite only appearing in 4 out of the 8 episodes, he is without a doubt the most memorable character.

Anya Chalotra brought a powerful performance to portraying Yennefer of Vengerberg, the sorceress who’s life has been nothing less than a struggle. Her performance as the hunchbacked young woman who was sold by her family for very little, was powerful and emotional, gripping the viewer from the very first introduction to her. Then, even as a powerful and now beautiful sorceress, we still feel a sense of sympathy for Yen, as she struggles to deal with the sacrifice she made to become beautiful.

Her relationship with Geralt is certainly an uneven one and along with Cavill, Anya brings the feisty yet emotional Yennefer to life and gives us that unstable relationship that we have come to know from the books.

Whilst there are many more exceptional performances from the cast, whether it’s Jodhi May as the fierce and stubborn Calanthe, MyAnna Buring as the somewhat wicked yet motherly Tissaia, Royce Pierreson as the charming Istredd, or even Lars Mikkelsen as the troublesome and conniving Stregobor, every single member of this show’s cast and crew brought their A-Game to this series and gave us an exceptional fantasy series that will hopefully continue to be produced in this manner so that we are able to get the full story before the series ends.

Monsters

One of the biggest elements of The Witcher phenomenon is down to the creatures. After all, they are the sole reason Witcher’s exist in the first place. So when the series was announced, I was excited to see the monsters come to life, and the creators did not disappoint.

From the very first scene in the series, we see Geralt locked in a battle with a large and very intimidating Kikimora, and from then on I knew the monsters in this show were going to excite and horrify audiences including myself. The Witcher’s vast array of terrifying creatures has never been one that is supposed to make the audience think “I’d love to see one of those in real life” because they are meant to be true, horrifying monsters that no one would want to meet. Whether it’s a small yet very quick Ghoul, or the mythical sight of a Golden Dragon, there isn’t a creature in this series I’d want to truly meet in real life, and that goes especially for the Striga.

Conclusion

When I heard about the series, I finally read the first book, although ‘The Last Wish’ isn’t technically the first book in the main series, since that begins with Blood of Elves’ but still, I read the book that I knew this series was going to draw it’s primary inspiration from, and I was happy that I did, because it made me appreciate the show so much more than what I would have done, had I not read the book.

This series is a near perfect adaptation in my opinion, and of course there were changes because that’s what shows and films do, but what the crew have done with this show, from it’s writing to it’s design, as well as the cast bringing the characters into it with top notch performances, it’s easy to see why this easily became one of my favourite shows of all time already, and I cannot wait for more!

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