“There is a grain of truth in every fairy tale”: Andrzej Sapkowski,Creator of The Witcher
In one of the scenes in “The Witcher”, a stranger appears in a local kingdom Cintra’s court of a queen called Calenthe to ask for her daughter’s marriage. The stranger looks like a half beast/half human and claims his right over her daughter by something called “The Law Of Surprise”. The Law states that if you have saved someone’s life then he/she can claim anything from the other person at any time they choose to be apt. The Queen orders his execution and soldiers attack him only to be saved by Geralt (the titular Witcher). As the daughter Pavetta vomits and her suitor Duny reveals that his relationship with her is a year long and she carries his child. As this happens Geralt claims the future child of Pavetta as his own and endorses his demand by implying the Law Of Surprise.
In yet another timeline, Yennefer, an impoverished low life with a disfigured face and crooked spine summons a magician to ‘repair’ her body at the cost of giving out her power to give birth to a child. The image is striking at the point where Yennefer looks gorgeous and can bed any man she wants but she can’t have a child.
This is a unique place where every luxury, every power has an equal tradeoff. Almost every major incident in the 8 episodes of “The Witcher”, there is a barter of sorts and largely one sided..
The above incidents and characters make the world of “The Witcher”, Netflix’s latest production to take on “Game Of Thrones”. “The Witcher” has been adapted from Andrzej Sapkowski’s bestselling books of the same name and the top selling video game of the same name.
The show has been led by showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich for Netflix and stars Henry Cavill, Indian-Brit debutante Anya Chalotra, Lars Mikklesen (Brother of Mads Mikklesen) and a host of British, Asian and African actors.
The aim of this essay is to have a detailed and yet selective look at “The Witcher’s” TV adaptation and explain its basic ethos and message. I won’t talk about the books and source materials at length.
WHAT AND WHO IS THE WITCHER?
“The Witcher” is a world set in medieval times (1100-1300 AD) where Geralt (Henry Cavill) works as a Witcher. The Witchers are monster hunters and half mutants themselves. They are extremely skillful warriors and usually operate like bounty hunters. Geralt’s various work assignments takes him to various kingdoms and cities.
This world consists of Mages (magicians and sorcerers) and their pecking order. It’s here when their “Headmistress” Tissaia purchases Yennefer from a local farmer for “4 marks”. As she is dirty, filthy with an abnormal hunch and crooked face, she seems useless at first but ultimately becomes her best apprentice. As she rises in the ranks, she becomes a highly rated Mage with a lot of superpowers. But she loses her capability to bear a child.
As the turn of events progress, Geralt encounters Yennefer and saves her from giving her life to a Jinn ( a genie) by asking for a wish when she is performing the ritual to get back her powers of being a mother.
In another timeline, in the Kingdom of Cintra, Queen Calenthe approves the marriage of her daughter Pavetta after a bloodbath between Geralt and her soldiers to a cursed beastly looking warrior called Duny to honor the Law of Surprise and in turn Geralt ends up asking for Pavetta’s daughter Ciri.
The whole story of the show meanders around how Geralt meets Ciri after both of them endure various events and wars in their own lives. This is the major construct of the story. In addition, Yennefer’s relationship with Geralt and her rise from oblivion to a powerful Mage takes the center stage. Geralt on his journey meets up with Dandelion, a lovable Bard from the court of Cintra who becomes his best friend and several others.
The show chronicles the events in the kingdoms of Cintra, Nillfgard, Aedern which are in the South and the Kingdoms of The North.
HOW TO WATCH THE WITCHER?
As the “Witcher” saga has been sourced from over 7 books written by Anderzj Sapkowski , it can be tedious for first time viewers to enjoy this show in its entirety.
The show has multiple timelines. I recommend that you watch each episode in sequence and maybe take notes at the end of each episode as all events are interconnected. It’s best to focus on the central characters of Geralt, Ciri, and Yennefer. They all have their set of accompanying events with them. For eg. Yennefer has multiple lovers and battles her own issues but she is largely seen from the prism of being a Mage and her fellow students at Tissaia’s magic school called Aretuza.
Also, please don’t be confused by the various names, just stick to the three main characters and their journey.
The Episodes 6,7,8 and the Episode no. 1 are unmissable. In fact, the first episode sets the tone for the rest of the show. The battle finale between the Mages led by Yennefer and Nilfgaard’s soldiers is very engaging as it showcases their various powers and magical qualities.
THE WITCHER’S PERFORMANCES
The show helmed by Lauren Hissrich (The Daredevil, Umbrella Academy) and directed by Alik Sakharov (Director of various Game of Thrones episodes) in most of the episodes. It looks like both of them and their teams have managed to create a new, engaging world. But what separates this show from its peers is the limited number of protagonists like Geralt, Yennefer and Ciri. Their character arcs along with the various complexities/laws of this universe make them very interesting. From a first glance, Geralt doesn’t look very different than leaders of other stories in this genre, but his unique profession makes him like a “mid level professional” of sorts who has to fend for bread and butter everyday. His struggles surprise you and even put you down but Henry Cavill brings a lot of credibility to his look.
The choice of Anya Chalotra as Yennefer is quite fascinating. Yennefer in the books is essentially a European character but Chalotra rises upto the challenge. In fact, her Indian-Asian looks enhance the character of Yennefer. She morphs effortlessly from a disfigured girl called “Piglet” initially to a stunning Mage who controls a certain respect in her community.
The Cast is extremely diverse with Indians, Asians, Britishers, Americans, Mexicans and Africans rounding up. The Witcher has been positioned to look and feel like a Global show.
The focus of the show is so focused on its three main protagonists that monster battles, dragons, etc. don’t look that important.
I would give “The Witcher” a 7 out of 10 for the First season with a 9 out of 10 for Episodes no. 1 and no. 9 . The show creates its own world successfully and doesn’t really resemble “Game Of Thrones” in most parts. As I write this review, “The Witcher” has been renewed for a second season!