Long ago in the nineties, a Polish writer named Andrzej Sapkowski wrote and published stories about a Witcher. A computer game series followed that catapulted the series into world-wide fame. Then there was a comic. And now there is a hit Netflix show. After the Mandalorain last week, let’s have a look.
What is a Witcher?
Imagine a medieval fantasy world with magic and elves and a shitload of monsters. Remote villages and royal courts alike are plagued by curses and hellish creatures.
When you find that kind of shit at your doorstep, who do you call? A Witcher.
The Witchers are a kind of mercenary cult of humans changed by magic and drugs to be superhuman. The members fight monsters for money. Unfortunately, the cult didn’t fare too well, and there are not that many Witchers left.
Geralt of Rivia is one of the last, but also one of the most powerful. He fights monsters for money. Then Geralt gets mixed up with the heir to the throne of Cintra, and a witch called Yennefer of Vengerberg.
The Netflix shows follow the line of the books, using the short stories and overarching tale to create an epic fantasy show.
Geralt — played by Henry Cavill — is the Witcher. He has long white hair, magic, and potions, which he uses to be a badass. I suppose Henry eats a few packets of cigarettes before each shoot to give him the gravelly voice. After Doug Cockle made it one of the Witcher’s trademarks in the video games, he was kind of forced to, I suppose.
I’m still unsure whether or not Cavill is the best actor for the job. He does very well, but sometimes he looks… well, silly, with his white wig and dark stubbly chin. I would have liked to see Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime from Game of Thrones) give it a try, but hey, maybe he would have sucked balls.
Ciri — played by Freya Allan — is a princess, run out of her castle by a foreign invasion. Her grandmother tasks her with finding Geralt. She’s a mystery, and we slowly learn there’s more to her than meets the eye.
Then we have Yennefer of Vengerberg — played by Anya Chalotra. Yennefer is born with a hunchback to a poor family. She feels that she is destined for more, and ruthlessly pursues her goals. She becomes a witch, and magically removes her hunch and makes herself beautiful. Then she wants to get out of paying the price for that. As with all characters in the story, she is neither good nor bad, but somewhere in the grey in between.
Motivation and tension
Like I wrote last week, the Witcher, like the Mandalorian, has an episodic approach. The episodes feature stories that stand reasonably separate, but do fit in the overarching plot.
The Witcher doesn’t tell the stories in order. Some stories in the same episode might be taking place decades apart. Other stories might precede stories from earlier episodes, and so on. This can be confusing, but if you just let yourself be taken along for the ride, it can add to the tension and world-building.
Where this show shines and the Mandalorian fails, is that the Witcher shows the motivations of characters. The writers show Yennefer living in a poor home where she is abused and belittled by her father and forced to live with the pigs. We come to understand why she wants to be more at all costs and it makes her interesting as she turns from a seemingly daft girl to a ruthless schemer.
The world and visuals
Like the Mandalorian, the Witcher looks beautiful. Of course, the Mandalorian is a scifi special effects extravaganza, and the Witcher is more moody. The Witcher paints a brooding, muddy-dark world, overrun by petty warlords and deadly monsters.
Where the Mandalorian hides its flaws behind a veneer of effects and scenery, the Witcher uses the dark visuals to augment its story. The result is a riveting fantasy television show that I find more appealing than, for example, Game of Thrones.
The Witcher is an awesome show. The Witcher 2 video is one of my favorites, and this show does it justice.
And maybe there’s another lesson here. You can create a pretty show regardless of how bad the underlying story is, but you can’t create a great show without a good story. Which it why the Mandalorian fails and the Witcher does not.
Of course, the Mandalorian has a higher rating on IMDB, so maybe I’m just being a snob. Or Baby Yoda — like cat pictures on the internet — is just too damn alluring.