Note: I’ve drunk a lot of wine, so this won’t be a particularly cohesive and well thought out review.
It was inevitable. Game of Thrones was a smash hit. It let fantasy out of the broom cupboard and it went mainstream. For a while, everything was good. Then season 7 came. Yes, that’s right, it became crap at 7, and you all know it. You can make the Hound say ‘cunt’ all you like, it doesn’t make for a good episode. Season 8 finally killed it, and it wasn’t a dignified death. All they had to do was see it home, resolve some ongoing plot threads and finish some character arcs and we’d still be talking about the phenomenon that was. Instead, the series wilfully dove headfirst into a cart of wyvern manure.
Still, the television world was left with a gaping hole. Mainstream audiences got hooked on fantasy. Armour, swords, intriguing characters, imaginative new worlds and more swords. The masses hungered for more, and producers are happy to feed… for a price.
I say this now: Fantasy is the best genre that was and ever will be. It’s just a fact. However, it is also the worst genre. It is a fickle beast is fantasy. It’s very easy to get wrong. For every ten fantasy novels, shows or video games you pick up, you’ll be lucky if one is good. The majority is so badly written it’s almost understandable when people say they just ‘don’t get fantasy’, which is a stupid thing to say because, as I’ve said, it’s the best.
I was intrigued when I heard Netflix was to produce a live-action series of The Witcher. Even more so when I discovered Henry Cavill was to play the titular role. My only experience with The Witcher was playing The Witcher III. I enjoyed it very much so. I thought the writing was strong and the characters well fleshed out. Tell a lie, I played the Witcher I a few years prior, but my PC kept crashing after 30 seconds. I thought it very unlikely the TV show would replicate this experience.
As it transpires, the TV show is being more faithful to the novels written by Andrzej Sapkowski from which the games were based. Let’s hope Sapkowski decided to include royalty payments in his contract this time, rather than agreeing to a one-off payment before demanding a ridiculous sum. You know, despite reportedly saying:
“They offered me a percentage of their profits. I said, ‘No, there will be no profit at all – give me all my money right now! The whole amount. It was stupid. I was stupid enough to leave everything in their hands because I didn’t believe in their success. But who could foresee their success? I couldn’t.”
It’s hard to get excited about a show based on a set of books the author had such little faith in that he doubted it’d make a good video game. I mean gamers will buy any old shit. And the Witcher games turned out to be good. Has the series done the same?
Well, maybe that’s too harsh. It has merit.
Having not read the novels, I can’t comment on how ‘faithful’ they are, but as a project in its own right: No… just no. For fantasy to work, immersion is key. If you’re not immersed, you’re just watching a bunch of people spout nonsense words. There are many things in this series (so far) that pull me out and leave me no longer immersed (unimmersed? Is that a word?).
First and foremost, it’s the acting.
Not Cavill, Cavill is untouchable. He looks the part, sounds the part and is the part. He could punch my own mother’s head clean off and I’d still offer him somewhere to sleep for the night.
Everyone else sounds like they’re reading from a card held off-camera by the screenwriter hastily scribbling the next line. The intonation and inflexions are all over the place if they’re there at all. It’s either overdone or wooden.
The Lord of the Rings had a solid and reliable cast which allowed people to get away with lines like ‘Of course he does. He’s a Baggins…not some blockheaded Bracegirdle from Hardbottle.’ No one in the Witcher could do the same!
The character of Jaskier (Buttercup in Polish. Dandelion in the game) is trying desperately hard to be the comic relief, but alas the script lets him down. The scriptwriters seem unable to grasp the fact that comic relief has to be comic, otherwise it doesn’t really work. His singing is irksome, particularly because they seem to be under the belief that using clearly pre-recorded and over-produced vocals will enhance a scene. They are incorrect in this. The script is all over the place. For starters, there’s the fact that there are at least three separate storylines occurring at once, all of which appear to be taking place at different times. I’ve seen many an online conversation where people seem to congratulate themselves on ‘working this out’ before it becomes much clearer three or four episodes in. The fact that there was any ‘working out’ to be done is testament to poor film making. Memento isn’t chronological, but you’re aware of that from the get go. It’s highlighted that there’s a difference. The Witcher just plonks different jarring times in front of you leaving what some would call ‘subtle clues’, but anyone with any sense would call fucking weird contradictions. All it would take is a bit of text showing the time jumps.
Some might accuse me of being simplistic and needing everything signposted. But my argument is, I knew it was different times, it just didn’t make sense not to signpost, considering the ‘reveal’ is more a shrug and an ‘ok’ moment. It’s not a twist as such, it’s not building up to a dramatic moment. It’s just a narrative choice that without signposting makes for a confusing watch.
It’s quite clear that the writers wanted the mage Yennefer to be the main character, but were restricted by the fact that they were making a series called The Witcher, and the Witcher in question is Geralt of Rivia. Yennefer is the only one that seems to get a backstory, dull and drawn out as it is. Hunchbacked and ugly, she’s sold by her father to a witch who then trains her, she’s a quarter elf, she has some sex. She becomes beautiful. Not once do we really have it explained what a Witcher is, where they come from and why they’re made and all that. Which would help for some context for a show called The Witcher.
One of the big elements of the Witcher lore is The Conjunction of the Spheres, which is pretty much read out to you at the beginning of the Witcher games but is merely alluded to in episodes I’ve watched so far. So, there’s that.
Then there’s the fact that all the characters say one thing only to immediately do something completely different the next minute. The first episode has a wizard request that Geralt kill a woman, a princess born in an eclipse or something who has mutations that make her evil… or some shit. She’s coming to kill him on market day. Geralt has a big speech about choosing between a lesser and a greater evil and how all evil is evil and it’s not a choice he wishes to make. He doesn’t kill people, only monsters. The inevitable ‘but people are the real monsters’ response comes up a lot. Which is admittedly true, but Witcher’s are more concerned with the big hairy and generally more monstrous monsters. He then meets the woman in question, who provides a sad backstory and requests that Geralt kill the wizard instead. Geralt says no. Because he doesn’t kill people. Because then he’s the monster. Then they have sex… or do they? I don’t know it’s weird.
Then it’s market day. Geralt rushes back to the town, fearful of what might occur. He’s met by all the princess’ men, who he promptly kills. Then the princess emerges (no sign of a market happening), who he promptly kills. Then the wizard comes out and tries to get the body. Geralt promptly threatens to kill him. The wizard chastises him for butchering the men and bringing death and what not to the town and he’s forced to leave.
So, the wizard who asks Geralt to kill the woman drives him off for killing the woman. This is possibly to keep face within the city, but the Witcher who doesn’t kill men has killed a lot of men. There are ways to explain this lapse in judgement. But it’s a recurring symptom.
Episode 4 has the Queen of Cintra state to Geralt that it’s fortuitous he should be at the banquet, as he could deal with any nastiness should it kick off. Geralt once again states that he’s not a bodyguard for hire and doesn’t kill people. When asked why she can’t do it she says:
“I’m a queen, I need to act with a modicum of decency and fairness.”
Or something along those lines. 2 seconds later a Nilfgaardian presents himself as a marriage prospect. To which the queen tells him his country is shit and he should fuck off, which he promptly does. Showing she didn’t need Geralt at all, and also raises the question of why she bothered to invite the poor Nilfgaardian in the first place.
Then a hedgehog man turns up and a fight ensues and, naturally, Geralt proceeds once again to murder everyone.
It turns out her daughter loves said hedgehog man and asks for the queen’s blessing. There’s much jabbering about destiny. The queen then tries to stab the hedgehog man in a move that can only be described as ‘entirely predictable.’ This scene is incredibly comical, because the stabbing appears to happen in slow motion, but the daughter’s screaming reaction seems unaffected, making it appear as if the queen just really takes her time with stabbing.
After the banquet has been smashed to pieces and men lay dead on the floor, the queen gives her blessing having realised the error of her ways. Another man pops up and says, “the queen has also said yes to my engagement proposal,’ prompting no one to say “when? When the fuck did she do that? Before or after you stabbed up some of her men?’
Everyone stands together, including hedgehog man. They all hold hands forgetting the queen tried to stab him mere moments ago.
It’s a fucking mess. No one has a clue what’s going on. Yennefer portal hops everywhere to unsuccessfully escape an assassin and his bug creature only to easily force said bug creature to decapitate itself moments later. If you can do that, do that first! And this is after she complains about her idea of being a mage for king hasn’t worked out properly and she’s just there to ‘wipe the backsides of nobles’. Finally, something interesting happens and she runs away and those under her protection get killed. Despite the fact that she can portal places… which surely negated the need to take a carriage in the first place. Did I mention they were in a carriage at first? Who knows; I’m pissed.
Sword fights are good though, so I’ll probably keep watching.