I rarely rave about a show, and I never watch the same show twice. But for The Witcher, I made an exception. It was even better the second time round, because I caught all the little things I’d missed the first time, trying to figure out the timelines. Why is it so darn good? It’s produced by a woman.
It’s sword and sorcery, with all the tropes you can expect from medieval fantasy, but for women, with plenty of strong female characters. Yes, of course we have the titular Witcher, Geralt of Rivia, played by Henry Cavill. Can I just digress here for a moment to say how absolutely perfect Henry Cavill is for this role? I have always loathed him as Superman, but he was just made for Geralt of Rivia, monster hunter, who communicates mostly in grunts and monosyllables. Except when he’s around Yennefer of Vengerberg, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Set in a medieval world known as ‘The Continent’, the show is based on a book series by Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski. I haven’t read them yet, but I plan to, starting with The Last Wish which is a collection of stories preceding the main Witcher saga.
Warning: mild spoilers for Season 1 below!
Much has been made of the three different timelines in the show. Each of the three main characters has a different timeline, and it takes a few episodes to figure them out. Geralt’s timeline probably covers around forty years. Yennefer’s is more like sixty years. And Ciri’s is two weeks.
The Continent is peopled by humans, dwarfs, Elves (except humans have mostly killed them off), dragons (also mostly killed off – do we sense a pattern here?) and monsters. Lots and lots of ghastly monsters. Geralt is a Witcher, a mutant made by magic to hunt monsters. He doesn’t always make the right choices, but tries his best to. In this sense, he has a strong moral compass, and is far more ethical than the humans he comes across.
Yennefer of Vengerberg is a mage, and while I had some problems with her arc, she is an amazingly complex character, powerful and ambitious and also broken inside – in a way that no amount of magic can fix. The episode Bottled Appetites where she meets Geralt and Jaskier for the first time is probably my favorite.
Which brings me to Jaskier, bard and friend of Geralt, whether Geralt likes it or not. If you haven’t heard the earworm Toss a Coin to your Witcher you’re in for a treat. Or not. It’s a tune that insidiously grows on you. The more you hear it, the more deeply it burrows in your brain. Be warned.
The song comes at the end of the second episode, when Geralt and Jaskier are captured by Elves. When they are released, Jaskier makes up the song to praise Geralt’s heroic feats. That’s not how it happened, protests Geralt. Where’s your new-found respect (for the Elves)?
Respect doesn’t make history, says Jaskier, a statement which is both chilling and accurate. Stories make history. Songs make history. Jaskier’s lyrics might be both silly and untrue, but they spread Geralt’s fame throughout the Continent.
Geralt’s and Jaskier’s unlikely friendship is one of the best things about the show, and I hope we see Jaskier again in Season 2. But I don’t know how they’ll manage it. Jaskier is human, and ages as humans do. Geralt and Yennefer do not.
The third main character of the show is Ciri, princess of Cintra, and her timeline of just two weeks starts from the fall of Cintra until she finally meets her ‘destiny’ – I won’t tell you more. Just watch the show. Oh, here are a couple more links for you.
The sword fights in the first episode are incredibly well done. Here they are set to Britney Spears’s Toxic. Warning: very violent. You’re welcome.
While the show is based on the books, not the video games, there are definitely nods to the games as well. In particular, there is a scene of Geralt in a bathtub, which is something of a meme with the games. Here is a video game clip of Geralt in a bathtub. Warning: NSFW. You’re welcome.
The Witcher has been compared to Game of Thrones, but this is an unfair comparison. Medieval fantasy has many sub-genres. I have not seen or read Game of Thrones, and I don’t plan to. I don’t like grim-dark, and I loathe stories that make you fall in love with characters only to kill them off a little later. In The Witcher your heroes stay heroic, and stay alive. For now, anyway.