5 Ways To Improve Netflix’s The Witcher
Netflix’s The Witcher starring Henry Cavill arrives at an opportune time when many viewers are looking for a new medieval fantasy series to get into. At eight episodes, The Witcher’s first season is a bingeable mix of monster hunting action, sorcery and lust aimed at an adult audience. Henry Cavill is a great fit as the titular gruff-voiced, anti-hero Geralt of Rivia and Anya Chalotra is very good as the anguished mage Yennefer. Rounding out the main cast is the talented young actress Freya Allan as Princess Cirilla (or Ciri) whose mysterious destiny is closely linked to Geralt and Yennefer.
My initial impression of season 1 is from the perspective of having not read the books by writer Andrzej Sapkowski which this series is based on nor played the video games. Many fans of The Witcher love how the intricate, non-linear story lines come together by season’s end. There are also some fans offering constructive criticisms. This post is my personal take on how The Witcher Season 1 could have worked better for me. Feel free to share your own thoughts in the comment section below.
Be Warned Spoilers Ahead ….
Toss A Coin To Your Witcher (World Building)
For new fans who have not read the books or played the games, establishing the setting and rules in a fantasy world is a critical part of the storytelling. A good example that works in The Witcher is explaining how magic is not conjured out of nothing, rather there are always consequences. The balance between exposition and pushing the story forward is a concern that writers often face. I understand that the writers don’t want The Witcher to be a show where characters are constantly explaining stuff to each other. However, as first time viewers, we need to be reminded of geographical locations in relation to each other and connecting names to faces. Another specific example is while I realize more backstory will be provided to the powerful Nilfgaardian empire in upcoming seasons, it would help to establish them better since they appear to be an on-going antagonist.
Baptism by Ire (Pacing)
Bumping up The Witcher’s first season to at least 10 episodes would give more time for the show runners to gradually develop the story at an enjoyable pace. TV series are more like a book than a 2 hour movie in that they are designed to be long-form narratives. There isn’t a need for The Witcher to feel like the writers are cramming for a final exam. On a good note, I like that The Witcher is a combination of episodic storytelling with an on-going narrative. Unlike some other TV shows where the middle of the season stalls out, The Witcher is set up to incorporate many more short stories from the source material. Further, I understand that Yennefer’s origin story which is a strong aspect to season 1 is more developed than in the books. They could have taken this multi-episode arc approach to other intriguing characters like Renfri, Geralt’s love interest in episode 1. It could be that the production budget limited the number of episodes. Because The Witcher has become a popular show, the budget could get even bigger next season.
Timeline of Contempt (Story Structure)
When done right, I appreciate non-linear storytelling. For example in a flash forward in Breaking Bad when we see Walter White in an abandoned house, from the on-screen context we immediately know it’s set in the future and it pulls us into the story because we want to see what happened to our protagonist. By episode three in The Witcher, most viewers figure out that each of the main story lines aren’t happening at the same time. While conceptually this is an interesting choice and some fans love it, if it isn’t handled right it can come off as a writer trying to make the series appear more complex than it needs to be. I heard that Season 2 will be more linear. Breaking Bad’s writers make a differentiation between mystery and confusion. The Witcher doesn’t properly set up a compelling mystery.
Road of Destiny (Themes)
The mystery that The Witcher Season 1 teases is what or who exactly is Ciri? Although the series is called The Witcher, Ciri’s development will likely influence the degree to which fans will be invested moving forward. Maybe the writers wanted to avoid superhero tropes such as cliched reactions to one’s newfound powers. But a 12 year old girl would at least be asking what the hell is going on? I believe that the non-linear approach was chosen for a bunch of reasons, one of them is because it supports The Witcher’s main theme about destiny. Each characters’ story lines across time arrive at a predestined cross-road or that’s how it’s supposed to come across. Unfortunately, the writers don’t hint at what Geralt and Ciri are destined for and why it should matter to viewers who haven’t read the books.
The End Needs a Beginning (Backstory)
Geralt doesn’t believe in destiny, at least not in the same way as others characters. His origin story of being taken against his will as a child and made into a mutant probably has something to do with it. A Witcher, neither man nor mage and infertile is created for a singular purpose which Geralt excels at but also struggles against. If you have not read the books, after watching season 1 I would be interested to know if you can explain what a witcher is in one or two sentences? It would have helped to have seen Geralt’s trials and transformation depicted in a backstory. Perhaps the writers are saving this for the second season as they head to Kaer Morhen where Geralt was trained to be a witcher. Season 1 is supposedly the backstory to the actual saga. I’m okay that the writers don’t jam everything into eight episodes but we need to see it eventually.
If you feel that an important point is overlooked please feel free to share it below in a non-book spoilery way.