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2019 saw the ending of one of the biggest series of all time, Game of Thrones, and in its wake several new fantasy shows are hoping to take up its crown. The first of these big-name titles is The Witcher, which debuted on Netflix in December last year.
The Witcher series is based on the Polish novels by Andrzej Sapkowski, as opposed to the popular video game series of the same name: Following Geralt of Rivia (the titular ‘Witcher’), a monster hunter and magically created mutant riding across The Continent looking for work while trying (and usually failing) to avoid local politics and problems.
Alongside Geralt is the story of Yennifer, a sorceress who comes from humble beginnings to find power, beauty and long-life. Then there is Ciri, the granddaughter of a Queen and a princess of that realm, who finds herself on the run throughout most of the series, trying to stay one step ahead of the shadowy forces that are after her.
The show scores a lot of points with its casting. Henry Caville is fantastic as Geralt, from his deft swordplay through to his dry delivery (Geralt is a man of few words), he remains at all times a stoic presence, with just a hint of danger and amusement behind his eyes. The same goes for Anya Chalotra as Yennifer, whose character has the best of arc of the series (going from abused, deformed farmhand to all-powerful sorceress). Through her performance, we see both the vulnerable side of Yennifer while never losing sight of what drives her.
Geralt's adventures throughout the series take on ‘monster of the week’ approach, where each episode sees him investigating and eventually confronting something hideous which has been terrorising the local populous. The show is at its best in these scenes, with some genuinely frightening monster design (the Striga in the 3rd episode being a standout) and some standout fight choreography which rivals any other show or film.
What is less successful is how the show links these three separate stories together. What may not be initially clear to those unfamiliar with the books is that, although the adventures of each character run concurrently to each other, in actual fact they are often separated by years if not decades between them. Eventually, the three separate strands all weave together in a relatively satisfactory and smart manner, but those unfamiliar with the world may find themselves at a bit of a loss in the earlier episodes. However, it does set up a number of intriguing strands for the second season, which should be arriving towards the end of this year.
If you’re looking for dark, slickly produced new fantasy show, with some memorable characters, dashing swordplay and terrifying monsters, then The Witcher may just be your next favourite series.