The Witcher is A Visceral Take on Racial Fantasy
I know it's still too early to have a favorite show of the year, but I've already found mine in The Witcher. That doesn't mean the show does not come with its own caveats, of course. But so do all the best ones. Netflix's adaptation of the famous video game franchise, which in turn, is an adaptation of the works of author Andrzej Sapkowski, succeeds in taking mainstream fantasy to places it doesn't normally dare to venture.
I enjoyed Game of Thrones. Hell, I'd even recommend it, sans the last season. However, the series fell short of the novels in every which way, avoiding the tough questions and meaningful dialogues that the series was supposed to have around autocracy, capitalism, and yes, race. Instead, it turned the whole affair into a glorified rendition of blood, guts, and testosterone. It was fun to watch, and at times, it was even thoughtful. But the feeling didn't last.
Netflix's The Witcher succeeds in the very aspects that made Game of Thrones fall short of its expectations. The series is hardly a faithful adaptation to the novel in terms of content and timeline, but the underlying spirit of the novels is conveyed rather faithfully.
In a world besieged by bloodthirsty monsters and worse humans, Geralt of Rivia is a lone mercenary who travels from town to town, solving problems with a sword for the right price. But he isn't just any mercenary. No, Geralt is a Witcher. Schooled by an ancient fellowship of monster slayers in the art of the hunt, he is the one who hunts the creatures that go bump in the night in this strange fantasy world.
But, there's a catch. In the process of being trained in the art of monster hunting, Geralt and his fellow witchers were all changed in ways that stripped them of their right to accepted into human society. To hone their extraordinary reflexes, they were mutated, time and again, turning them into so-called freaks shunned by the rest of the world.
The witchers aren't the only sufferers of human social abuse, however. In this bizarre world transformed by an apocalyptic event known as the Conjunction of Spheres, elves, dwarves, mages, and intelligent creatures all live together, but they do not dwell in harmony. Interracial conflict often leads to widescale pogroms and massacres and the burning of witches, doppelgangers, and other creatures of magic is a threat that's very real.
Sapkowski's works are, in their essence, a low-fantasy meditation on human cruelty. The series boldly carries this torch forward. Elements of racism, sexism, and xenophobia are rampant throughout the series and its take on these subjects is more nuanced than you might imagine. And as a living bridge between humans and nonhumans, the witcher lies at the epicenter of this conflict.
All this, of course, is just to foreshadow the main plotline involving Ciri, the so-called Child of Destiny. Ciri is a child of the elder blood, a conduit for various forces and heir to multiple royal lineages. She's also promised to Geralt, his one shot at redemption in what has otherwise been a long and lonely life. Through Ciri, Sapkowski allows us a glimmer of hope, proof that decency and kindness can blossom even in times of great darkness.
It's a fantasy of epic proportions, and as you might have guessed, that is both a virtue and a vice. The Netflix series is limited to a mere eight episodes per season, a ridiculously short amount of time for such a vast and well-thought-out world. The series does its best to embody the spirit of the novels across its eight hour-long episodes but falls short in several places. Mostly this leads to a lot of confusion, with multiple timelines and overarching narratives slashed haphazardly atop one another.
I know it won't win me any fans for saying this, but I thought that Henry Cavill may have not been the best fit for this role. In a grounded fantasy world such as this, Cavill's existence felt over-the-top and cartoonish. But maybe that's just because I'm used to seeing him play Superman.
All things considered, however, I thought that this was not only an entertaining but also a transformative series, one that had the capacity to change the way you saw things. The epic soundtrack was just icing on the cake, of course. The special effects and combat sequences, I felt, could've used a little more coordination. But all in all, I was absolutely entranced from start to finish.
I know it doesn't require saying, but the first season of The Witcher is streaming on Netflix right now. If you haven't already, go finish it. And then leave your comments with your review of my review!