Reviews

THE WITCHER – Season 1 (spoiler-free review) – Wyrd & Wonder 2020

Image by Tanantachai Sirival @ 123RF.com

 

It took me some time to unravel my feelings about the first season of this Netflix series, because they are as complicated as the story shown on screen. Certainly it did not help that my attempt at reading what is considered the prequel book, The Last Wish, ended in a DNF since I found this collection of stories to be somewhat oblivious of the “show, don’t tell” rule I prefer to encounter in my reading material, and leaning heavily on long-winded, exhausting exposition –  not to mention what I perceived as the strong whiff of sexism that is apparent from the very beginning of the first story…

Still, I was curious about this saga, and the enthusiasm of an acquaintance, who read the books, played the games based on them and encouraged me to give the series a chance, fueled that curiosity: after all, I reasoned, it would not be the first time in which a failed reading experience turned into an entertaining visual one. Now that I’ve watched the first season I can see the potential in this story, while being still on the fence about the way it will turn out: only time will tell, of course, but that initial curiosity is still driving me to keep watching.

 

 

In short, and trying to avoid any kind of spoiler, the saga revolves around Geralt of Rivia, the titular Witcher – a cross between a bounty hunter for monsters and a wizard, a man of gruff disposition, long silences and a distinctive moral code. Other main players are the sorceress Yennefer, who is introduced as a deformed pariah whose unforeseen magical skills will gain her access to the magical academy of Aretuza and the fullness of her powers; and young princess Cirilla, last survivor of the ruling dynasty of Cintra, who is on the run from the invaders who ravaged her realm and looking for Geralt on the strength of her grandmother’s dying plea.

What struck me from the beginning was the feeling of disconnect between these narrative threads, not to mention my lack of understanding about how they were linked, and it was only through some web search that I understood they happen in different timelines that manage to merge only at the end of the last episode. I’m never bothered by the need to “work” through a complex story, gathering the various pieces of the puzzle, but The Witcher requires the keenest concentration from its viewers and gives the distinct impression that it does not care for stragglers: one either manages to go with the flow, or is left behind.  Well, if that’s a challenge, I’m more than ready to accept it  😉

Once understanding about the different timelines dawned on me, the progress became easier, and I could concentrate more on the characters, which are always the strongest element in any story, no matter the medium they live in. Geralt is indeed an intriguing character, especially because he’s introduced in medias res, with almost no background offered: he’s taciturn, blunt, uncaring of the scorn mixed with fear that follows him – on the contrary he seems to welcome being spurned by the rest of humanity because he does not look very keen on company. As a monster killer for hire, he should be callous and unscrupulous, but he soon reveals a personal form of integrity that compensates for the ferocity and brusqueness he wears as a coat of armor.

Princess Cirilla, on the other hand, looks like a piece of floatsam at the mercy of the tides, spending the good part of this first season being hunted and running away in fright, which does not help much in forming a connection to her – much of it is due to her youth, inexperience and the chain of events that destroyed her somewhat sheltered life, so I have great hopes that she might come into her own and turn into a character to root for. The few hints about something special about her, something that might place her on a different path than that of the victim, make me look forward to her future development.

Still, it’s Yennefer the one that most intrigued me and who holds the highest promise of turning into the kind of character I enjoy watching or reading about: when first she appears she is deformed, mistreated, shunned by her own family and even the enrollment in the magical academy of Aretuza does not seem to greatly change her status – that is, until she comes into the fullness of her talents and the transformation, mental and physical, begins. There is an intriguing duality in Yennefer, a powerless and unloved creature who comes into amazing, unearthly skills but at her core still retains part of that wretch who only wanted to be loved: the later Yennefer is not an entirely likable person, but when glimpses of her heartbreak become visible it’s impossibile not to feel for her and to forget that she can be a villain as well.

Where these characters drive the story, especially once it appears that they are fated to meet and – probably – to form some sort of alliance, the story itself could have been a little clearer, a little more… viewer-friendly in my opinion: granted, going into it with no previous notions gained either from books or video games might have made my journey more difficult in terms of understanding, but also much easier since I had no expectations of any sort.  What I can see, so far, is that this TV series calls out to viewers who are not afraid of making an effort in concentration and attention, promising to lay the whole picture along the way and doing it with a leisurely but steady pace.

I can’t say that I liked this first handful of episodes, but on the other hand I did not dislike it: I’m intrigued, and this might be enough to carry me forward to the next seasons.

 

My Rating for Season 1:

35 thoughts on “THE WITCHER – Season 1 (spoiler-free review) – Wyrd & Wonder 2020

  1. Interesting. It’s almost as if they want to attract people who have already read the books. I don’t mind a little brain work when I’m watching TV and movies, but it is a form of entertainment and this sounds like trying to figure out all the connections would be more work than fun😁

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  2. I would like (eventually) to watch The Witcher, and while nothing you’ve said here has put me off, I do feel more prepared now.
    A well balanced and super helpful post! 😊

    Liked by 2 people

  3. While I disagree with everything you say about the books 😉 (we even have a special post about women in Witcher), I don’t find much to argue about in what you say about the show… it’s just that I, as the Witcher Saga enthusiast, was annoyed enough to give it only 4/10.

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    1. When one loves a book saga very deeply, it’s hard to accept its transformation into visual form: I had my problems with Peter Jackson’s vision of the LOTR, although not as many as some of my fellow Tolkienites, who wanted to burn him in effigy… 😀 😀 😀

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          1. Oh, I just recently watched Fellowship again… It was a torture. Visually stunning, I agree, but with regards to the actual Tolkien content – absolutely, crushingly horrible. But I am one of those who read books before the movies, and many times to boot, so I had a very firm vision of Middle Earth beforehand 😉

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            1. The vistas of Middle Earth offered by the movies were magnificent, and some of the CGI creations (Moria, anyone?) just astounding. Unfortunately some of the actors had to be chosen more for box-office reasons than faithfulness to the originals (I’m looking at you, Frodo Baggins! :-D) and PJ – or his scriptwriters – further decided that turning a few of them into comic relief was a good idea (original Merry and Pippin, for example, were not harebrained idiots). Listing all the details that annoyed me would create a long list, but still I will not join the torches-and-pitchforks crowds. I have come to the conclusion that I can watch the movies as I would an impressionist painting: getting too close to the detail tends to ruin the overall effect and so I try to squint and focus only on the… magic 😉

              Liked by 1 person

              1. I won’t be joining the pitchfork crowds anyway, but while I can readily admit Jackson with his LotR adaptation started a great time for fantasy in general, I simply can’t stand what he did with Tolkien’s creation – not only Merry and Pippin, but even Gimli or Elrond, or that cringeworthy Gandalf-Saruman fight, or… You said it yourself, the list is long 😉.
                I do however agree that New Zealand scenery is breathtaking and I feel very privileged to be able to visit those places in person! 😀

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                1. I remember watching the special contents on the DVDs and my surprise in hearing that many of the locations chosen for the Fellowship’s travels needed little or no CGI to enhance them. One thing is certain: the movies increased tourism for New Zealand, and the country truly deserved it… 🙂

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  4. I would rate the series as a whole higher because I loved it, but some of your thoughts mirrored mine almost exactly! I did not much care for the first few episodes either, this is one series that definitely gets better as it grows. However, I think it was the episode with the Striga that was the turning point for me, and it also cleared up a lot of confusion with the timeline. One thing I did was rewatch the previous episodes afterward, and they made so much more sense! My appreciation for the series grew after that, so on some level I do think the show was written to be rewatched but a shame that not too many will do that.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I will certainly rewatch once season 2 approaches: unlike other shows, it needs that extensive background knowledge to stand up on its own. And in consideration of my evolved outlook on the overall story, I believe that rewatching will not be a chore at all. 🙂

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  5. My only experience with this character is with the video game The Witcher: Wild Hunt. I know, I’m a troglodyte. It was a good looking game that I abandoned because the plot involved too many dead babies, so the books and Netflix show have never appealed to me.

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  6. Thank you for a brilliant, informative and spoiler-free review! I read the first two book in the series – well… one and half as I abandoned the second one. I didn’t much like the long info-dumps – but I can imagine that the story might well translate well onto the screen. Right now, though, I’m only watching anything for light relief and escapism and The Witcher certainly doesn’t seem to be ticking any of those boxes…

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  7. Excellent thoughts on this show that I share very much. I was disappointed by how it was all configured, especially when each PoV was almost given an equal amount of attention by the show’s director, forcing us to indulge some of the less impressive characters when they should’ve remained secondary, but still key figures in the story. I do hope that season 2 will handle the story’s structure better though. It has potential. It needs to capitalize on it! 😀

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    1. Being unfamiliar with the original story and characters ended up being a plus for me – I know what it means to have one’s hopes dashed with the translation from book to screen…
      The fact that it was a short season, as seems to be the norm these days, also helped in build the curiosity about what will happen next: if the creators wanted to build expectations, they were completely successful here! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Nice thoughts on this! I loved the Witcher when I finished the season but you’re right, since I’ve no background too of the story, we need to watch closely so we could understand the plot. The production was undoubtedly amazing though and the characters are interesting. 🙂

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      1. Right! Haha i really enjoyed it because of the aesthetics of the show but without solid background, we kinda feel lost on S1 😂

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  9. Nice review of the show!! I loved it and didn’t care for The Last Wish book either. The collection of short stories didn’t really work for me and I just couldn’t get invested. The show on the other hand… I can’t wait for the next season!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great review! I’m glad you liked the TV show a bit. I watched the TV show before reading the books, and I was actually glad I did it that way. It was super fun for me not knowing there was different timelines and it was a big plot twist to realize that! I am reading the books now and loving them. Looking back, the only thing I now don’t like about the show is how they portrayed Ciri. Like you said, in the show she is kind of weak and always running. In the book she is strong and snarky and pretty awesome!

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  11. I prefer the “show, don’t tell” too, and the exposition was quite… Difficult, but I loved the book anyway. I loved the first, enjoyed the second and liked the third (I use enjoy with a bit more “value” than like), and the thing that I loved more was the “end of an era” feeling that pervaded the books (and Geralt), so I was sceptic about the TV series because it is a hard thing to capture and I feared that without it I would not enjoy the watching. And if I was right about the absence of the “end of an era” feeling, I was wrong to fear. I enjoyed the show (but I am not a fan of Yennefer, both in the books and in the show. I think she is complex and well developed, but on a personal basis I dislike her) and I am glad that you enjoyed it and that you wasn’t bothered by the peculiar time line!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m not sure about having caught that end-of-an-era feeling in the show, although it’s implied that something is changing radically, so we’ll have to see. Still, it’s very early days for the tv series and I want to see another season before I can form a definite impression. Meanwhile, I want to give the books another chance: maybe what I learned from this first season will help me connect better with them… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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