The Witcher series review: Under a spell

Ektaa Malik
The Witcher review
The Witcher review

The Witcher review: Henry Cavill works as the silver-haired Witcher.

The Witcher cast: Henry Cavill, Anya Chalotra and Freya Allan
The Witcher creator: Lauren Schmidt Hissrich
The Witcher rating: 3.5 stars

Every major streaming network is trying to fill the huge Game of Thrones shaped hole that now exists in pop culture. Amazon Prime Video attempted Carnival Row, replete with fae, elves and other beasts; Apple TV has See, where they blend science fiction with a dystopian vibe; and we now have Netflix throwing in their hat with The Witcher. The eight-part series, which is based on Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski’s books and short stories, is no Game of Thrones, but is a riveting fantasy show in its own right. Superman Henry Cavill is the titular Witcher, Geralt Of Rivia, a mutant and a skilled swordsman, who hunts monsters for money. The ‘White Wolf’, as he is often addressed, is shunned by society on the continent, but he is not the only one. The dominant humans dispense the same treatment to anyone who is ‘different’, be it elves, dwarves, gifted people or supernatural beasts. The them vs us narrative is sown early on in the show, and it only gets magnified as it progresses.

Sufficiently tortured and a master of the brooding act, Geralt of Rivia is on a quest as he travels the continent, killing one monster after another. His cold exterior hides a heart of gold (why are we not surprised?) and he believes in reforming and saving monsters rather than killing them. His paths cross with Yennefer of Vengerberg, played by British-Indian actor Anya Chalotra. Yennefer is a skilled ‘mage’ (magician) who has her past demons to exorcise and who is on a similar quest. But even as they deal with life-threatening situations amidst hair-raising action sequences, the quest lingers on. The missing piece of the puzzle is teenaged Princess Ciri, who is bound to both of them, unknown to them. Go figure.

We meet haranguing creatures, a kikimora, a golden dragon, a djinn, a succubus, a doppelganger and many others, each more horrifying than the last. The world-building in The Witcher is on point, as we see many expansive outdoor locales, quite a welcome break from the otherwise grey and dark-toned Game of Thrones and its ilk. Influences of Slavic mythology are all too apparent, and we can assure you, they are here to stay. The geeks and the nerds of the world have found their new Dungeons and Dragons. The other thing that is now crystal clear, Game of Thrones is now a certified genre, and given its mammoth success and impact, it is little wonder that every network wishes to cash in on it.

It is heartening to see women leading the way — Queen Calanthe wields her sword with abandon as she meets with the Nilfgaard army, Yennefer too matches Geralt step by step in battle — though the repetitive violence and bloodshed might make you cringe.

Themes of migration, acceptance and a new global-world order are recurring in the show. The narrative could well be set in today’s time, and not some Slavic ancient folklore and myth alone. There is also a nod to the haves and the have-nots.

A heaving emotional speech by Yennefer, who too has been a victimised by society for her differences – she was sold for four marks by her family, sets you thinking about Shylock’s famous speech in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice. In a corrupt and cruel world, where everyone is talking about exclusivity and expulsion, Geralt’s code of conduct and morality serve as a beacon of hope and inspiration. Wish we could have something similar to Geralt Of Rivia, Greta Thunberg comes quite close though. The Witcher works because it sticks supremely close to the source material of the books, which have quite a cult following in Poland and Eastern Europe. The details are quite right, as Sapkowski is a creative consultant on the show. The intrigue factor is kept sufficiently high, without resorting to sensational gimmickry, though there is ample nudity and bloodshed. What The Witcher might lack in scale, it definitely makes up for in heart and hope.

Henry Cavill works as the silver-haired Witcher, with his voice tempered to a rather husky, gravelly tenor but we would have liked more of his backstory. With a second season already been greenlit, there is ample time for that.