Reviews TV

The Witcher Season 1

Felt like a labour of love from all involved.

Image: Henry Cavill as Geralt of Rivia [Source: IMDB]

★★★★☆

The Witcher has burst onto the scene heralded as the ‘next Game of Thrones’. Mainly because GoT was this monstrously surprising success. Who would have thought giant tomes of novels about dragons, kingdoms and sex would be so popular. So now we turn to a new set of popular fantasy novels but this time they’ve already gauged some success in video game format. So popular in fact, I’m told the show has based some aspect more on the video game than the books they are based off. The story follows Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill) a monster hunter for hire (aka a Witcher) as he travels in search of work and coin. In his travels, however, he becomes entwined with destiny. As his own is linked to a princess yet to be born (Cirilla played by Freya Allan) and a powerful Sorceress Yennefer of Vengerberg (played by Anya Chalotra).

The series starts off very rocky. The cinematography has more in common with a dated videogame than it does modern television. Somehow it images to capture the exact same cinematography that countless aged and fairly recent straight to tv sci-fi movies have accomplished. A washed-out, over-saturated drab view of this world we are trying to fall into. Thankfully this does improve as the show does more to attempt mimicking the large battle sequences of Game of Thrones but doesn’t really escape the drab cinematography this season.

Equally on rocky footing, as the series begins is the narrative structure and delivery of much-needed exposition. The latter is muddled in terms of people even somewhat familiar with the world will not understand completely. Little is done to outline much of what is actually being said which makes the narrative harder to follow. Which you will discover if you are paying attention enough not to miss the easily passable clues – that the three-story arcs we are following between three different characters are happening are completely separate points in time. To begin with this makes the three arcs feel disjointed and you’re uttler unsure as to what is happening. But as soon as two of them merge the series really kicks into gear and the entire show is elevated. You begin piecing things together of a larger story at play but there is still room for lots of mystery as to why certain things are happening and this destiny people keep talking about.

Anya Chalotra really stole the show for me. After an explosive performance in episode two, she leads us down a rabbit hole of complexity that is Yennefer of Vengeberg. The character feels wholly interesting and greatly performed by Chalotra who brings all we have seen her go through and then some. Equally strong is Cavill as Geralt who at first perhaps to the script’s fault, comes across as too dry. There is being the strong silent type of character and then there is doing absolutely nothing at all. Thankfully this grows also, we start to see that yes – Witchers are human too. And it’s worth echoing the words from the author of the Witcher books – Cavill IS Geralt of Rivia.

Equally as perfect is the score throughout the series. Notably, a few songs here and there that stand above the rest, toss a coin to your witcher, oh valley of plen… As it brings the same Slavic/Celtic roots that the series has drawn inspiration from in the game. It brings an atmosphere that does separate itself from Game of Thrones as that felt more operatic, where is this does feel like mythic folklore. Speaking of mythic, the monsters – being a key part of those stories and certainly of monster hunter Geralt’s. Are very poor. In parts they are passable to a point of okay that doesn’t look terrible at least. The best of them being the strigga. But the overuse of CGI to bring these horrors to life is a big mistake. Often they grant the same shock as again – dated straight to tv sci-fi films. They look utterly out of place and in most parts completely laughably bad. In future they should really try to go for practical monsters where they can, and bring on more of a gothic horror atmosphere to the whole affair.

I did like the effort made to add some of the complexity that I’m sure they will build on to the monsters. In that, some look hideous and while many will attack they could be harmless. This does illuminate that passion put into the script, while it certainly has a few issues here and there. Overall it told the story with a great degree of care, it wanted us to fall in love with these characters and their stories, which I was fully on board with. By the time Geralt and another character meet in the finale I was already on board with their relationship – bound by destiny and all.

As the series enters the final episodes it hits max gear and the troubling aspects that seemed problematic in the beginning start to come together in such a satisfying and rewarding way that by the time you hear “Whos Yennefer” you feel a sense of satisfactory climax. As soon as I finished the Witcher I thought  – this was a true labour of love from all involved.

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